Annual address of the president of the American Historical Association, delivered at Washington, DC. December 1934. From the American Historical Review 40, no. 2 (January 1935): 217-31.

The Emergence of the First Social Order in the United States



There have been two conscious or unconscious social orders in the United States, where another great crisis is now forcing men to reëxamine the philosophies of their predecessors. The first of these began with the Stuart Restoration and ended in 1865; the second emerged slowly between 1823 and 1861, took definite economic form in 1865, and reached the acme of its power, if not its end, in 1929. There are many serious thinkers in the American intellectual realm to-day who feel that a third social order is slowly emerging, that democracy is going to be tried at last on a national scale. Hence it may not be out of order to describe and assess the first phase of the old plantation life which began when the Clarendon Code was applied to England, assumed a more dogmatic and arbitrary character soon after a clever New Englander showed the South Carolinians how to make a thousand bales of cotton grow where one had grown before, and came to its tragic end when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

If one would understand the making of the social and cultural life of the Old South, he must study the troubled Europe from which our model-setting ancestors came during the seventeenth century. There the wars for religious liberties were paralleled by the economic and social disasters due to the incoming shiploads of gold and silver from Central and South America. And while wars created artificial markets that suddenly collapsed, and the discovery of vast stores of the precious metals upset the value standards of the time, the rapid growth of English industry and drastic changes in agricultural life added to the social chaos from which hundreds of thousands of the more ambitious unemployed of Western Europe escaped to the stormy islands of the West Indies or the dangerous forests of North America. The common man of the Stuart and Bourbon absolutisms was in a worse plight in 1607 and 1660 than his successor of our day; and it was the common man of the seventeenth century who set the patterns of life for which most Americans and most Western Europeans sadly contend to-day.1


During the first fifty years of British discoveries and settlements in North America, Bacon and Coke, Hooker and Sandys, Hampden and Milton, Lilburne and Baxter, Hobbes and Locke argued, wrote, quarreled, and fought over every principle of religion, self-government and personal freedom known to mankind. Although newspapers were already in existence, forty thousand pamphlets circulated among the English people during the first half of the seventeenth century. Rarely has there ever appeared in so short a period so many men of high intellectual ability and moral integrity–never quite so many ready to die for their ideals. Even the illiterate of the mid-seventeenth century must have known a good deal about the everlasting problem of equitable government.

From the turmoil of Stuart England there came hundreds of entrepreneurs who hoped to build on the protected peninsulas and islands of the North American mainland ducal and manorial estates like those which had been the models in European economic and social life for five hundred years. When all Europe took to smoking and chewing tobacco, when sugar came to be of common use about 1650, the opportunities of grand-scale agriculture were most appealing to the more ambitious emigrants. However, it was not easy to persuade unemployed folk–more numerous in proportion and more helpless then than now–to migrate to and become workers on the proposed manorial estates. Storms and strange diseases caused the death of one-fourth of all those who ventured to cross the Atlantic in hundred to two hundred ton ships; and more than a fourth of those who settled in Virginia and Maryland died within two years. Thus it was only the bravest and most self-respecting of the unemployed who yielded to the persuasions of entrepreneurs and ship captains to migrate to North America.

The terms on which the poorer freemen and the unemployed of England agreed to cross the dangerous Atlantic were vital elements in the make-up of the early North American character. Most men and women who went to the Chesapeake Bay country between 1620 and 1660 stipulated that they would take the risks and become indentured servants for five or six years only on definite terms. And entrepreneurs who controlled vast areas of land, like the second Lord Baltimore or the lesser Claibornes and Willoughbys of Virginia, were glad to meet these demands. They paid six pounds each for transportation of servants to their new destinations and signed contracts in which they promised indentured workers, at the expiration of their terms, a tract of land, a new suit of clothes, a heifer, two pigs, firearms, and the simpler farm implements. These were basic conditions upon which the majority of white people became citizens of the North American colonies from Maine to Georgia. Nor can these people be regarded as poor ne’er-do-wells, as so many historians have seemed to think.2

With these guarantees in black and white, the would-be manor lords of Virginia and Maryland were sure to meet with difficulties. Indentured servants were crowded into little cabins on their masters’ estates; but with vast stretches of Indian lands not far away, these workers were not disposed to become submissive serfs. If treatment was rough, pressure too great, and marriage among the servants punished too severely, they ran away to the frontier where they could hunt and fish for a living and buy lands from the Indians for bagatelles; and such great numbers of servants did run away that more laws were enacted on that than any other subject during a period of thirty years. But the laws could not be enforced effectively where half the population sympathized with the runaways; nor were the punishments of runaways so severe as the law prescribed when vestrymen of the churches and justices of the courts were often ex-servants.3 Thus the plantation areas were unruly democracies.

Nor was this all. The Chesapeake Bay lands did not produce good tobacco more than five or six years in succession, save perhaps on limited river fronts. Consequently, permanent attachment of less ambitious workers to the soil was not possible. Plantations were always moving and changing. The masters of a few great estates lived in fair-sized houses on river banks during the second half of the seventeenth century; but a far greater number of planters were constantly migrating westward or southward. Moreover, the downward trend of prices, except in the short period of uncontrolled British trade, 1642-1660, made the entrepreneur’s and the manor lord’s status quite uncertain. The guarantee of lands and freedoms to indentured servants defeated the formation of the stratified social order which was thought necessary. Although there was the appearance of religious discipline and control in Virginia, it was only an appearance.3 People were not compelled to attend church. The bishop of London might name pastors to vacancies, but the salaries and terms of service depended on local vestries popularly elected. Everybody was required by church decrees to bury their dead in consecrated ground; yet many if not most landowners buried deceased members of their families in their gardens or on cherished hilltops. And, although the Prayer Book of James II’s time was supposed to express every man’s creed, quite a third of Virginia church members were dissenters or deists at heart. Thus prospective homesteads for all who wished them, the right to elect assemblies, and freedom of religious beliefs and conduct, that is, self-guided democracies, defeated all efforts before 1660 to set up a landed social order reflective of the reactionary ideals of the well-to-do. However, when the clever Edward Hyde and George Monck maneuvered Charles II back to his father’s throne, one more grand effort was made.


There has rarely been a group of leaders who so seriously shifted the course of modern history as did the little clique who surrounded Charles II from the summer of 1660 to the autumn of 1667. Only three of them, Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon after the Restoration, Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury after 1673, and John Lord Berkeley, brother of the Virginia governor, were of high aristocratic stock. The others were self-made men who knew even better than Clarendon and Shaftesbury the art of personal aggrandizement: George Monck, earl of Albemarle, Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, Sir George Carteret, onetime pirate and the “richest man in England”, Sir George Downing of Harvard College, and two merchants, Martin Noell and Thomas Povey.4 Nearly all of these were members of the privy council and thus guided the policy of the crown; these controlling members of the council were also the masters of His Majesty’s famous board of trade and plantations which worked out the new British colonial and commercial program; they likewise dominated both the East India Company and the new African slave trade corporation, in which the Duke of York and the king’s “devoted” sister, the Duchess of Orleans, were heavy stockholders. Every important political and economic interest of Restoration England was thus under the control of eight intimates of His Majesty who were “interlocking” directors of one political and three commercial boards.5

Their purposes were clearly revealed in the Clarendon Code of 1662-1665, which decreed a complete surrender of all dissenters to the State Church, dismissed at a single stroke twelve hundred clergymen, cast such men as John Bunyan and Richard Baxter into prison, and sometimes executed groups of religious or political opponents who refused to surrender. If church folk held private meetings, they were expelled from the country and subject to execution if they returned. The next items of the control program were included in the Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1663: according to these, all British commerce was subjected to the strictest regulation. No ship could sail the seas unless two-thirds of its crew were British sailors. No sugar or tobacco from any of the plantations might be sold to other than English merchants, who demanded and enjoyed a monopoly of the home market; and His Majesty laid taxes on these colonial imports two to four times as high as the returns paid the original producers. French wines and silks might not go to any American colonists except through English hands; and no Dutch slave ship might enter plantation harbors. No one was allowed to take money out of England, except a few travelers; and no colonials might buy or sell commodities to French or Spanish neighbors who paid them in silver or gold. In 1662 the African slave company began its efforts to drive the Dutch slave traders off the west coast of Africa.6 And to complete the process and avoid domestic interference, the House of Commons, composed of the king’s friends, was to be adjourned from session to session and no elections were to be permitted except to fill vacancies, and these were to be carefully managed. To defeat Dutch interference, a pact was made with the emerging Louis XIV, kinsman of Charles II, and treaties were negotiated with Spain and Portugal which gave England control of the entrance to the Mediterranean, ownership of Bombay, and free access to Latin American ports. Would the elaborate program succeed and all the settlements of New England, the South, and the West Indies be brought into complete subordination?


Sir William Berkeley, most eminent of all the plantation governors, was in London from the early summer of 1661 till the autumn of 1662, instructed and highly paid by his people to resist all commercial restraints upon the tobacco planters. He lived with his eider brother, Lord John, and could hardly escape the influence of another brother, Lord Charles, or ignore the confidential relations of three other kinsmen of the same name with the Duke of York and the aging Catholic Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria. Before he departed he received a gift of £2000 from the king and was made one of the eight lords proprietors of the vast territory between Virginia and Florida, the other leading proprietors being Lord John Berkeley, Albemarle, Carteret, Clarendon, and Shaftesbury. The domain was to be divided into 48,000-acre tracts, each presided over by a landgrave of ducal rank who was to subdivide his domain into manors of 12,000 acres each. Sir William, who already owned tracts of land in the region, was made temporary supervisor and authorized to appoint a governor of the dissenter settlement soon to be known as Albemarle. About a year after Sir William’s return, Lord John Berkeley was made joint overlord of New Jersey, with Sir George Carteret as his partner. Two years before the South Carolina settlement was made, Thomas Lord Culpeper and two or three other favorites of the governing clique were granted the six-million-acre area between the Rappahannock and the Potomac rivers. In 1673 Culpeper was promised the governorship and made feudal lord of Virginia. As the joyous Berkeley returned to his post on the James River, Charles Calvert, eldest son of the second Lord Baltimore and governor of Maryland, was already trying to cure the persistent democracy of the Maryland palatinate. Thus the democratic settlements from the Hudson to the St. Johns rivers were to be feudalized and fitted into the marvelous structure which Clarendon and his fellows had organized.

But the Navigation Act policy had reduced the price of tobacco from twopence to a halfpenny the pound. This halfpenny tobacco was matched by a similar decline in the price of sugar all over the West Indies, where twenty years of free trade had given all the mainland colonists high-priced markets for their minor products, including meats, lumber, and barrel staves. The Restoration, the repudiated debts of the Cromwell régime, and the drastic commercial controls produced a terrible depression in England and all the colonies which continued unbroken for twenty-eight years.7

To this depressed area and atmosphere Sir William endeavored to apply the London reforms: He decreed that there were to be no more elections of members of the house of burgesses, except to fill vacancies; he persuaded the churches to abandon membership elections of their vestries and make them self-perpetuating social religious organizations; any ship captain who brought a Quaker to Virginia was to be fined 5,000 pounds of tobacco–a Baptist equally unwelcome; and he continued the policy of having members of the council preside over county courts, fill vacancies, and recommend appointments of sheriffs. He persuaded the burgesses in 1663 to lay heavy taxes for the building of thirty-two new brick houses in little Jamestown, and all leading Virginians were required to build or own a house in or near the capital for social and relief purposes. The rates of wages and the cost of materials were fixed on artificial levels. Every landowner was given an allowance or a reduction of taxes if he planted mulberry trees for the development of a silk industry which was to block French imports of silk into the British empire. In the autumn of 1663 the Virginians and the Marylanders agreed to plant only limited crops of tobacco, in the hope of raising prices, but the agreement was violated. There was, however, so much dissatisfaction with the governor and his new régime that he asked and received a guard of twenty uniformed soldiers to accompany him wherever he went.

In spite of all these efforts, there was no recovery in the tobacco colonies, and in 1666 the populations everywhere were suffering intensely. Four years later the governor thought to secure his power by pressing through the house of burgesses a law limiting the ballot, even for vacancy elections, to freeholders, a measure already adopted in Maryland. Sir William and his manorial council of Carters, Chicheleys, Lees, Ludwells, and Wormeleys maintained their autocratic position with great difficulty. In 1672 there was imminent danger of Virginia’s deserting the Stuarts and taking the side of the Dutch in their war for free trade. And there was even greater resentment in 1674 when the people learned that Lord Culpeper was to become a Virginia Lord Baltimore. Would the tobacco settlements definitely become a stratified and submissive social order?8

During the same years, the great lords proprietors were trying to apply their landgrave system in Carolina; but every report from pioneers on the Albemarle Sound and the Cape Fear River warned that no success was possible except upon the principle of homesteads for all, the rights of self-government, and religious freedom. John Locke insisted that such concessions must be granted, and Clarendon, who denied all religious freedom in England, agreed that Quakers, Baptists, and New England Puritans might have all they asked if they would buy lands and pay quitrents in their new domain. The first governor of the Charles Town settlement was a stern Puritan; and later a loyal Quaker occupied the same high station. For thirty years after the beginnings in the Albemarle region and on the peninsula between the Ashley and the Cooper rivers, the religious and political groups living on the lands of Clarendon, Carteret, and the Berkeleys refused to recognize the claims of landgraves and manor chiefs. It was the same kind of struggle that continued in Virginia between 1630 and 1660. But in 1692 the right to vote in the Carolinas was limited to freeholders as it had been limited in the tobacco country about 1670. Indigo and rice were coming to be staples which sold at high prices in England, and the more fertile stretches of land were acquiring high fixed values. The lords of manors seemed to have a chance of success, and there was everywhere the promise of a profitable social subordination.9

However, the drastic rule in England caused the migration, after 1670, of men like Giles Bland and the younger Nathaniel Bacon to the James River country where they found increasing resistance to the Berkeley authority. In a year or two the opposition was ominous, and in the spring of 1676 a violent revolution broke. Four-fifths of the people lent support to Bacon and Bland when they forced the election of a new house of burgesses and repealed all the control laws of the preceding thirteen years. In Maryland and upper Carolina there was ardent support of the Virginia return to democracy. But by the merest accident the retreating Sir William made a prisoner of Bland, and some weeks later Bacon was suddenly taken ill and died. There were no other competent democratic leaders available, and before the end of November the authoritarian governor was again on his throne with an increased number of guards around him. He had ordered the immediate execution of Bland, Drummond, and a score of his other opponents. Before the winter passed, his executions, imprisonments, and confiscations of property surpassed in number, if not in brutality, the similar performances of Charles II in 1660-1668. There would be no vestige of democracy left if the governor remained in office. Anxious people were leaving their homes and trekking to upper Carolina or the Virginia wilderness.

In Maryland, the work of Charles Calvert, although less arbitrary, from 1661 to 1675 gave evidence of greater success. Although religious liberty was not denied, the granting of vast strategic tracts of land to kinsmen and political favorites had given the declining lords of manors increased authority, and the limitation of suffrage was changing the character of the assembly. The Stuart method was more acceptable there than elsewhere. However, Virginia moved now quickly in the same direction. When Sir William Berkeley died in London in the summer of 1677, Lady Berkeley inherited all his estates and became the wealthiest person in all the Southern colonies. She was mistress of the Greenspring estate; she owned great tracts of land in northern Virginia and the Albemarle settlements, and she was one of the eight proprietors of the Carolinas. Her brother, Alexander Culpeper, an onhanger of the court of Charles II, drew a large income from the sales of lands in America, and her cousin, Lord Thomas Culpeper, was soon to assume the overlordship of Virginia.

Meanwhile, Herbert Jeffries, with mandates from Charles II, was trying to restore harmony among the terrorized Virginians. He was ignored and denounced by Lady Berkeley; and the majority of the council, led by Philip Ludwell, treated the new governor so badly that he took up his residence with Thomas Swann, a southside opponent of the emerging north-central Virginia aristocracy. Lady Berkeley assumed a leadership of the Virginia gentry which was hardly less effective than the governorship itself. For a period of three years she exercised an influence with the council and the burgesses which surpassed that of Margaret Brent, governor of Maryland in 1646. Although in 1680 she married Philip Ludwell, a third wealthy husband and president of the council, she remained “Lady Berkeley”. Her Ladyship was well known at Whitehall, and in 1690 she and her third husband became governors of the emerging aristocracy in South Carolina.10

Such influences, added to those of the deceased Sir William Berkeley, hastened the social evolution so much desired in London. And in Virginia, Maryland, and lower Carolina, large land grants, limited suffrage, and county oligarchies at last produced the effects so long desired. There were Carrolls, Talbots, and Taneys in Maryland; Washingtons, Carters, Byrds, and Blands in Virginia; Barnwells, Middletons, and Rhetts in Carolina. These families survived, like British families, more than a hundred and fifty years. However, these manor lords and plantation chiefs were not aristocrats of the Duke of Newcastle type. Although many of them were distant relatives of British noblemen, there were hundreds of less known gentlefolk whose success limited the pretentions of the first families. There were many eminent members of legislatures and leaders of county courts whose fathers (or even themselves) had been indentured servants. The old manor ideal was greatly modified, and men like the Wormeleys, the Masons, and the Rhetts worked with their hands and associated freely, if not on terms of equality, with small farmers and struggling frontiersmen. No man gives a better example of this than George Washington himself. There was then in all the old Southern communities the beginning of a social order which had taken definite form before Negro slavery became important.


Once again outside influences operated to modify American institutions. The British government forbade–about 1665–the selling of English unemployed as indentured servants. The poor were needed for war purposes. The Scotch, Irish, and certain criminals might be sold; but there were not enough of these, especially for the development of New York and the Carolinas, and the colonial assemblies protested against the admission of criminals. About the same time, the masters of the African slave company, directors of the board of trade and plantations and molders of the king’s policy, made Jamaica the greatest slave mart in the world, and they constantly urged New Englanders, Virginians, and Carolinians to buy Negroes at fifteen to twenty pounds each, instead of white servants at eight or ten pounds each for shorter terms of service. It was not a bad appeal, and the fact that high officials of the government were financially interested did not lessen the pressure, although the Albemarles, Berkeleys, and Carterets were none too popular in the colonies. The early colonial instinct for democracy weakened the slavery appeal and delayed the movement. The migration of indentured servants was on the decline, yet there were in 1680 about 10,000 in the tobacco settlements, perhaps 4000 blacks, many of whom had been freed at the end of long terms of service.11

Except in the indigo and rice area of Carolina, toward the close of the century Negro slave labor was not considered profitable. However, the price of tobacco seemed fixed at a halfpenny the pound, except for the very best grades, and the greater planters were experimenting with slaves. Lady Berkeley, Ralph Wormeley, and a few others had already tried Negro workers on fairly large scale operations and found them profitable. A Negro, after a year’s training, did as much as a white servant, and his food and clothes cost hardly half as much as those of an indentured man or woman. The Negro could not run away to the frontier, because the Indians would kill him; he did not expect a heifer, a new suit of clothes, and two pigs if he were set free; and in case a black man were freed, he hardly knew what to do–he certainly could not claim a hundred acres of land. Hence a freed Negro was not a free man. Everywhere vestries and county courts had been pondering these questions and rendering decisions: If a Negro became a Christian, he must still remain a slave; if a Negro woman bore children, they were in some cases the property of her master, in other cases they were considered free at twenty-one; if a free Negro wished to vote, the privilege was sometimes granted. Thus definite laws were due just about the time manhood suffrage in Maryland and Virginia was changed to freehold suffrage.12

Between 1664 and 1682 the tobacco planters, so sorely troubled about prices and unpayable debts in England that they actually pulled up their crops over wide areas, enacted the first slave codes of Southern history, the South Carolinians having adopted the practices of Barbados. The Negro servant now became a slave for life; Negro children were the property of the owners of their mothers; a slave was forbidden to own or bear arms of any kind; there could be no assemblies or public speaking of Negroes at any time; no black person might leave his master’s plantation without a visa; if a slave struck a white person he was to receive forty lashes, no matter who was to blame; and if a master killed a slave it was not a crime, it not being assumed that masters would kill their slaves except in self-defense. If a master freed a slave after 1682, he must supply the means of transporting him to Africa, where no Negro wished to go. Slavery was, therefore, slowly emerging before the Revolution of 1688 came, and it eased a little the economic depression in all the tobacco region.

During the four decades of almost continuous European war, 1672-1713, the tobacco and rice planters turned more and more to the slave system. The increasing number of privateers and pirates who slipped into mainland harbors, sold slaves and took tobacco or rice at high prices, increased speculation everywhere. Nor was England able to guard mainland and West Indian coasts against unlawful Dutch, French, and New England traders. Nearly all the troubled Europeans who could escape poured into Pennsylvania as poor freemen or indentured servants, Negroes being taken to the plantation areas. From little Baltimore to the emerging Beaufort of lower Carolina the slave process went on, and at last prosperity seemed to be restored, prosperity based on freer trade and increasing numbers of blacks.

Nor was there neglect of culture ideals. William and Mary helped the Virginians establish the first college in the Old South. A similar school was founded in Charles Town. Some young men went to Oxford and Cambridge and afterwards studied law under famous English masters. Young women lingered in London in the hope of being seen at court and learning how to dress and behave like true gentlefolk. All the Southern assemblies permitted lawyers to function in local and general courts and make money in devious ways–a practice which had been frowned upon and forbidden in the earlier days.

During these years the planters fixed themselves, built handsome brick houses on river promontories, surrounded them with dozens of one-room cabins for Negroes and beautiful gardens and lawns for their family recreations. White servants who did not move to the free frontier lands became share-tenants or slowly degenerated into “poor whites” whose descendants became more helpless and more numerous as the emerging aristocracy expanded westward and southward. The “great house” of a Lee in Virginia or a Middleton in Carolina was during the eighteenth century not unlike the castle of a Seymour or Craven in southern or western England. There were porters, carriage drivers, gardeners, valets, cooks, and maids who occupied privileged positions as compared with their fellow slaves; there were scores of men and women who worked from sun to sun in the fields and the forests under Negro foremen and white overseers; and there were white folk who came on occasion to the “great house” with hat in hand to get contracts covering their operations, or to take directions about the management of their poor sandy farms.13

There was a schoolhouse near the “great house” where a poor Oxford or Cambridge graduate or the local preacher taught the planter’s children, as well as those of his poor neighbors, the three R’s, and sometimes Latin literature; there was a great dining-room where kinspeople or friends often came three-score miles to birthday or marriage feasts and dances; as the eighteenth century advanced there were stables for riding and driving horses; and there was in many, if not most cases a river harbor or landing place where hundreds of hogsheads of tobacco were exported annually and where people took ship for long sojourns in England. The master of the modified manor was generally a vestryman of the Established Church, although he was apt to be a deist; he was also a justice of the county court, and he had a little office in the corner of his great yard or grove where he had law books and often tried cases of minor significance; and he was apt to be a member of the legislature of his colony, sometimes a member of the sacrosanct colonial council with a commission signed by His Royal Majesty himself. He was not the landgrave or the baron that so many of the entrepreneurs of 1630 and 1663 had expected to become: he was the self-made planter without a title, rather crude in manner and dress, but enterprising and speculative in character. The service he rendered as vestryman or justice of the county court was never compensated–it would have been a dishonor widely criticized for him to take or ask payment from the county treasury; he regarded himself as a public servant. But he rarely paid the quitrents due to the British government; he frequently procured great tracts of land on the border of his province through the listing of names that did not exist and even the addition of ciphers to the figures in his grant. And he often gave freed white servants small tracts of land in order to make them freeholders and to command their allegiance in electoral contests, a custom which continued for a hundred and fifty years. But it was not easy to rear successful heirs, although the English custom of giving the major part of one’s estate to the eldest son still prevailed. Since one’s land was exhausted in eight or ten years and his slaves doubled in number every twenty years, poverty would be the lot of one’s eldest son and slaves would be a liability.14

But the structure was fairly complete everywhere before William and Mary mounted the throne of the Stuarts; and the vast expanse of free lands and the numberless Negroes one might import from Africa gave some promise of increasing wealth and social eminence. However, the relaxing trade policy of the new monarchs and the twenty-five years of terrible wars in Europe hastened the growth of the new American feudalism and gave it a definite and fixed character before 1720.

William of Orange had represented the principle of free trade so long before his famous Putsch of 1688, that he could hardly be expected to enforce his dethroned father-in-law’s stern decrees against his own Dutch subjects who always paid a Virginia or a Carolina planter twice as much for tobacco or sugar as a British monopolist would pay. There was, then, a less rigid commercial control in London, although Stuart laws were not repealed, which gave the planters their second era of prosperity. Planter estates with scores of slaves and half-scores of children adorned the banks of rivers and navigable inlets all the way from the upper Chesapeake Bay to the Savannah River. The Virginia landlords looked hopefully over the Blue Ridge mountains in 1716, and the slaveholding Huguenots of Carolina found their ways far up the enriching Cooper and Santee valleys about the same time. There was hardly a question anywhere now of the right of a white man to own a black man; and the profits of the system were such that new and more severe slave codes were enacted in all the colonies between 1705 and 1719. Negroes were so tightly clamped in their servile status that occasional revolts frightened the master class and naturally tightened the curious relations of poor whites to their wealthier neighbors. But there was no thought of emancipation, although up-country freemen and small farmers warned against the increasing importation of slaves.

Nor was the unceasing war of Louis XIV without great influence. It gave freer rein to the privateers and pirates who infested the central and western Atlantic as never before. These ruthless robbers and traders, with retreats on the north shore of Cuba, carried trinkets and liquors to the west coast of Africa and brought slaves to Charleston and the Chesapeake Bay in sharp competition with the regular British commercialists. Nor were the energetic New Englanders unwilling to participate in this marvelous upbuilding of the Old South.

The Louis XIV wars had another decisive influence upon American institutions. Thousands of distressed Germans began to migrate as poor freemen or indentured servants to William Penn’s Quaker democracy. And the increasing number of slaves in the plantation area diverted Scotch and Irish poor folk in the same direction. For fifty years the process continued, and the result was a new democratic experiment in Pennsylvania, and the more definite fixing of the slave system upon the South, the complete social control of the wealthier class, and the gradual emergence of a unique leadership in American history. This planter element of the Old South which hardly amounted to more than twenty-five thousand souls in 1720, gave rise to more distinguished and long-lived families than any other five million people known to American history. And any student of public life is amazed at the number of statesmen which this privileged class gave the world in 1776–leaders who like Washington, Mason, and Jefferson, were always ready to free their scores or hundreds of slaves and become relatively poor farmers for the good of their fellows.

The first American social order was thus a curious product of the arbitrary policy of the Earl of Clarendon, the democratic instincts of poor freemen and indentured servants, and a long and bitter struggle of five million Englishmen and their Continental allies against twenty million Frenchmen trying to dominate the continent of Europe.

William E. Dodd was professor of history at The University of Chicago.


  1. Sir Frederick Morton Eden, The State of the Poor, in three volumes published in 1797, gives ample information. []
  2. G. N. Clark, The Later Stuarts, 1660-1714, p. 25, shows that in a population of 5,500,520 there were 1,400,000 with incomes of £6 to nothing a year. From other evidence I am of the opinion that there was nearly a million unemployed after 1661, except in war time. []
  3. Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia, gives a good account of social classes in Virginia during the 17th century. []
  4. Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, History of His Own Time, vol. I, bk. II, gives contemporary appraisals of these characters. The Dictionary of National Biography (British) gives corrective facts. []
  5. Charles M. Andrews, British Committees, Commissions, and Councils of Trade and Plantations, 1622-1675, gives valuable information on this subject. []
  6. George Louis Beer, The Old Colonial System, 1660-1754, vol. I, gives a full account of the laws of trade and navigation. []
  7. Beer, vol. II, ch. VIII, gives an inadequate account of this depression; the author was unaware of the real causes. []
  8. Hening, II, 518 and 534. []
  9. Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina under the Proprietary Government, gives all the facts necessary for the understanding of the social evolution there. []
  10. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography gives numerous sketches and articles on these subjects, but there is no account in print of the curious socialization represented by Lady Berkeley, and Lords Culpeper and Howard of Effingham. []
  11. Elizabeth Donnan, ed., Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America, vol. I, gives best documentary account of the origin of slavery in the Old South that is likely to appear. []
  12. Helen T. Catterall, Judicial Cases concerning American Slavery and the Negro, gives all available court records on these subjects. []
  13. Fairfax Harrison published in 1923 A Frenchman in Virginia: being the Memoirs of a Huguenot Refugee in Virginia, 1686, which gives many interesting touches upon the social and class distinctions of the plantation system. []
  14. Avery O. Craven, Soil Exhaustion in Virginia and Maryland, gives an excellent account of this problem in an early tobacco region. []