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[Detail] Thomas Jefferson

Colonial Settlement

An avid reader, Jefferson collected thousands of manuscripts for his personal library. The Virginia Records Manuscripts, 1606-1737, are among his collected works. The records provide insights into the early history of the colony. “Instructions to the Governor and Council of State in Virginia,” dated July 24, 1621, is one of the earliest handwritten documents in the collection.

The collection also includes the Peyton Randolph Manuscript of Virginia Laws, 1662-1697, consisting of hundreds of laws and ordinances. Two of these laws were “An act for prohibiting the unlawful assembly of Quakers” and “An act for establishing a fast” as a means of reparations for the “sins of the colony.”

  • What do the two laws cited above suggest about the role of religion in the life of the Virginia colony?
  • Skim through the collection of laws. What else can you deduce about life in Virginia in the mid to late 17th century?

The collection also includes “The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, In the Years 1675 and 1676.” The document was printed in the Richmond Enquirer in September 1804; it had been copied from an original manuscript by President Jefferson, who had received the document from Rufus King, Jefferson’s minister to Great Britain. King had purchased the document at a bookshop in London. Jefferson wrote an introduction to the document, which can be viewed in the text version.

  • Why did Jefferson feel this document had particular value?
  • What questions might you have about its authenticity?
  • How was Jefferson trying to shape readers’ response to the document through his introduction? Why might he want to do so?
  • What does the account reveal about relations with Native Americans in colonial Virginia?
  • How does the information in this account differ from accounts of the events in secondary sources? How might you resolve any differences?
  • In the last paragraph of the introduction, Jefferson said that, based on this document, “Nathaniel Bacon will no longer be regarded as a rebel, but as a patriot.” Do you agree? Why or why not?