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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
Evolution of the Virginia Colony, 1610-1630
The Miserable Condition of Virginia, 1623 (May or June)

Although the author of the following document is not known for certain (the editor of the Records of the Virginia Company speculates that the author was Alderman Johnson), the author clearly was privy to some inside information about the Virginia colony. According to the document, what was actually happening in Virginia, despite the reforms claimed by the Virginia Company? What are some of the specific problems the author identifies? Where does the author place most of the blame for this state of affairs?

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Disorders in the Company and Colony in the 4 last yeares

[4] The transporting of great multitudes of people to Virg. wthout sufficient pvision of victualls to feed them or of houses to entertaine them at their arriuall and it is mortall for new comers to ly of the ground.

[5] The shortness of provision for food wch the Company and priuate Aduenturrs haue sent wth their Tenants wch was onely a smal quantity of meal sufficient to feed them for 6 monethes for the most pt.

[6] The chaingeing of those pvisions by the officers who gaue them Virginia corne in exchainge, the beating [eating?] whereof being exceeding painfull togeather wth the bareness & suddaine chainge of dyett (they haueing nothing but that and water) brought them into ffluxe.

[7] The badness of the pvisions for food especially the meale being so meane and base. . .

[8] The pestring of ships wth such a multitude of passengers & store of goods in the heat of Summer by wch means and the short allowance of food to the passengers they land half starued and bring wth them their owne deaths and infect others in the Country.

[9] In 3 yeares their dyed about 3000 psons in Virg [were dead before the massacre] for wch mortality noe other cause hath been shewed but the want of houses, pestring of ships, shortness & badness of food . . .

[10] The excessive prizes of the Comodityes sent from hence by way of marchandize. Ffor Instance, Corne this yeare sold to the Collonie for 12 [pounds] the hogshead or 80 [pound] of Tobacco, and the Planters being most of them Tenants at halues, and by order from hence to plant but 100 waight of Tob: for euerie man, he for 12 monethes bread payes 2 yeares labour, and for Clothes tooles and other necessaries he hath nothing left wherwith to furnish himselfe and so becometh vnsupportablie miserable. . . .

[13] The manie wild and vast proiects, set on foote all at one time, vizt 3 Iron Workes, saw mills planting of Silkegrasse, Vines, Mulberry trees &c. all wch were inioyned to be effected in the space of 2 yeares, by a handfull of men that were not able to build houses, and plant Corne to lodge and feed themselues, and so came to nothing.

[14] The large proporccon of 50 acres of land allotted to euerie Person that was shipped to Virginia being by order of Court presentlie to be set out, hath bred a vastaccon there, and the old Planters leaueing their habitaccons in Townes had likewise verie large Diuidents set out by wch Cou[r]ses the best and most habitable places lye vnmanned the Townes almost [a]bandoned, and the Plantaccons [farre] seuered and therby extreamelie weakened. this mischeife being increased by a Clause inserted in euerie Pattent, that they shall not inhabite within 5 miles of the principall seate of anie English formerlie planted.

[15] By reason of theis two pceding Courses the Gouernour [Sir George Yardly] was forced to make a dishonorable peace with the Natiues, leaueing vnreuenged the death of some of or people barbarouslie murdered by the Virginians, and the strength of the Collonie at a most vnseasonable time diuided into so manie small bodyes that it did euen invite the Sauages to execute the late horrid Massacre. . . .

[18] Double and Contradictorie [letters] often come from the Cheife officers of the Collonie to the Companie hither by whose procurement it is desired may be examined the publique [letters] speakeing for the most part all good, and giueing assurance of aboundance and prospite when as the priuate letters [of] the same Persons Craue large Supplies, and declares much miserie . . . wch practise hath procured bitter effects, manie haueing beene thereby allured to goe out verie meanelie prouided seduced with the hope onelie of an imaginarie plenty.

[20] Remoueing of the old Planters from their habitaccons Cultivated lands and places of securitie, whereby manie of them were extreamelie impouerished and manie pished [perished] in the late massacre.

[21] The [Couetousnes &] Improuidence of the Officers and Planters in Virginia who aymeing [aiming] onelie at profit by planting of Tobacco haue suffred Tillage to decay, neglected the planting of Corne, and forsaking the more healthfull parts of the Countrie, set themselues downe vpon such grounds as are fittest to plant Tobacco.

[22] A strange improuidence of the [Companie] here in sending so few Cattle within theis 4 yeares there not being 200 in all sent for aboue 4000 Persons wch in that tyme haue beene transported thither.

[23] The want of experienced and skilfull officers and Comanders to gouerne th'affaires of the Collonie and the Conferring of those places for fauour freindship and alliance is Conceiued to be an inexcusable Errour and a maine Cause of the late massacre, and [of the] miserie hapned [to] the plantaccon as also th'arming of the Sauages with weapons and teaching them the vse of gunnes.

[24] As ther is a Redundance of lawes to gouerne the Companie here so ther is a Just Cuase of Complaint for want of lawes whereby to gouerne the Collonie there, for though the Planters 3 yeares since in a Parliamentarie fashion were assembled and made lawes to gouerne themselues yet haue they not beene Confirmed here, and the Councell in Virginia gaue if for a Reason that they make no new lawes because those formerlie made are not yet here ratified or disallowed.


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