Discourse And View of Virginia

An Electronic Edition · William Berkeley (1605-1677)

Original Source: Sir William Berkeley, A Discourse And View of Virginia. William H. Smith, Jr., Publisher Norwalk, Connecticut, 1914.

Copyright 2003. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided

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BEfore I enter into the consideration of the advantages this
Kingdom of England has by the Plantation in Virginia, I think it necessary to
make a short description of the Situation of it, as to the Climate; and then
tell what natural helps it has to make it a glorious and flourishing Country:
And when this Discourse shall produce a concession of the natural advantages it
has above all other His Majesties Plantations, I shall lay down the Causes,
both intrinsic and accidental, why it has not in all this supposed long tract
of time produced those rich and staple Commodities, which I shall in this
Discourse affirm it is capable of. 1.

And, First, for the Climate: It lyeth within the Degrees of
37. And 42. (Mariland included) which by all is confess’d to be a situation
capable of the diversities of all Northern and Southern commodities, some Drugs
and Spices excepted, which Florida, on whose borders we are newly seated, may
also probably produce. 2.

Into the Bay of Virginia, formerly called Chesapeack Bay,
runs six eminent Rivers, none twenty miles distant from another; three of which
exceed the Thames, both in extent and progression of the Tides; these cause
and continue the admir’d fertility of the Countrey, and by their greatness and
contiguity temper those heats, which the dryer places of Africa are subject to,
in the same degrees of latitude. 3.

Up these Rivers Ships of three hundred tons fail near two
hundred miles, and anchor in the fresh waters; and by this means are not
troubled with those Worms which endamage ships, both in the Western Islands of
America, and in the Mediterranean sea. And to avoid a larger discourse of it, I
will here note it, that our ships once past the Lands end, are in no danger of
Pirats, Rocks, or Lee-shores, till they come to their Port, and fewer ships
miscarry going to Virginia, then to any Port at that distance in the world.

Now for those things which are naturally in it, they are
these, Iron, Lead, Pitch, Tar, Masts, Timber for Ships of the greatest
magnitude, and Wood for Pot-ashes. 5.

Those other Commodities, which are produced by industry, are
Flax, Hemp, Silk, Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Cotton, all sorts of Pulse and
Fruits, the last of which in that pefection, that if the taste were the onely
judge, we would not think they were of the same species with those from which
they are derived to us from England. The vicious ruinous plant of Tobacco I
would not name, but that it brings more money to the Crown, then all the
Islands in America besides. 6.

Now this is ascertained and confessed, that such staple
commodities, as Iron, Silk, Flax, Hemp, and Pot-ashes, may be easily raised in
Virginia, an high imputation will lye upon us, why we have not all this time
endeavoured to evidence the truth and certainty of it, to our own and the
publick advantage. 7.

To this I will answer, that the long time of seating of
Virginia is a general and popular error: For though the first ships arrived in
Virginia in 1606. yet by reason of many almost insuparable difficulties, the
increase of the number of Planters was hardly perceptible: For, first, that, as
all unclear’d Plantations, was unwholsom; then all they eat came from
and provided for those they never saw nor cared for, was not likely to be very
good. Then the Indians quickly grew jealous of them, and forced them to fight
for every foot of ground they held, and in the year 1622. in one night murdered
all but four or five hundred. So that from that time we must begin the account
of the Plantation: nor is this all, for many years after this, the danger and
scarcity of the Inhabitants was fo famed through England, that none but fuch as
were forced could be induced to plant or defend the place; and of those that
came, there was not one woman to thirty men, and populus virorum is of no long
duration any where. But since the year 1630. the place began to be of more
plenty and security, for the Indians, though not subdued, were terrified to a
suspension of arms, the Planters then first began to fence their grounds and
plant Corn; the few Cattel they had, increased to such numbers, that they were
able to help their neighbour Plantations. And now I believe, that there is no
Plantation of the English would more abound in Cattel, Hogs, and all sorts of
Fruit, than Virginia, if they had but a mean price to quicken their industry,
and make their providence vigilant. 8.

An other great imputation lyes on the Countrey that none but
those of the meanest quality and corruptest lives go thither. This to our
Maligners we would easily grant, if they would consent to the omen of it; for
was not Rome thus begun and composed? and the greatest honour that was given to
Romulus and his City was this, that his feverity and discipline in his time,
made them formidable to their neighbours, and his posterity masters of the
world. But this is not all truth, for men of as good Families as any Subjects
in England have resided there, as the Percys, the Barkleys, the Wests, the
Gages, the Throgmortons, Wyats, Degges, Chickeleys, Moldsworths, Morrisons,
Kemps, and hundred others, which I forbear to name, left I should misherald
them in the Catalogue. But grant it were thus, is this any imputation to the
place, that those that come from hence with those ungoverned manners and
affections, change them there for sober and thrifty passions and desires, which
is evident in most that are there; and those that will either experimentally or
morally weigh the nature and conditions of men, shall find, that naturally this
change will follow the alteration of our conditions: For who experimentally in
England are more prodigal and riotous then the younger brothers of it, who have
least Fond to maintain and continue either of them? who lesse careful to their
Estates then those, whose early negligence hath engaged them to the Usurer? and
the natural reason is evident, for it is hope and a proposed end that quickens
our industry, and bridles our intemperance; but when Cui bono shall be objected,
wretchlesnesse and a desire of present pleasures will invade us: But this is
not so in our Plantations; for we find there that if we will be provident and
industrious for a year or two, we may provide for our Posterity of many Ages;
the manifest knowledge of this makes men industrious and vigilant with us, who
here having no Vineyards to dresse stood idle in the Market-place till the
eleventh hour. 9.

But we will confesse, that there is with us a great scarcity
of good men; that is, of able Workmen, at whose doors ought this defect to lie?
not at ours, who would procure them could they be perswaded at high prices; but
indeed our liberty to do good onely to our selves, is the main obstacle of our
progress to staple commodities in our Plantations, for onely such servants as
have been brought up to no Art or Trade, hunger and fear of prisons bring to
us, which we must entertain or have none: And I think that Lawyer had reason,
who being chid by the Judge for often bringing scandalous causes before him;
told him, they were the best he could get to be brought to him. 10.

Had the Dutch Virginia, they would make it the Fortresse;
Mart and Magazin of all the West Indies, for (as I at first intimated) the
Rivers will securely harbour twenty thousand Ships at once; the Country
produceth all things necessary for those Ships and the men that sayle in them,
nothing wanting for the supplies of war or peace, but it was ever our misery
not to take our aims the distance of an Age. 11.

But half that time to the making us, and enriching this
Kingdom by our labours, will not be required; for I can with assurance affirme,
that if we have from hence resolute instructions and indulgent encouragements,
within seven years we shall not need the Northerne nor Southerne East
Countries, to supply us with Silk, Flax, Hemp, Pitch, Tar, Iron, Masts, Timber,
and Pot-ashes; for all of these, but Iron, we want only skilful men to teach us
to produce them the cheapest and readiest way; but the making of Iron will
require abler purses then we are yet masters of. 12.

Yet in another Paragraph I shall propose that, which if
granted to us, will enable us of our selves to accomplish this and other great
concernments. 13.

It must be confessed, that Barbadoes fends a better commodity
into England, then Virginia yet does; but withall it must be acknowledged, that
one Ship from Virginia brings more Money to the Crown, then five Ships of the
the same burthern do from the Barbadoes. But had we ability or skill to set
forward those staple commodities I mentioned, of Silk, Flax, Hemp, Pitch,
Pot-ashes, and Iron, a few yeares would make us able to send more Ships laden
with these, then now the Barbadoes do with Sugar. 14.

Amongst many other weighty Reasons, why Virginia has not all
this while made any progression into staple Commodities, this is the chief.
That our Governours by reason of the corruption of those times they lived in,
laid the Foundation of our wealth and industry on the vices of men; for about
the time of our first seating of the Country, did this vicious habit of taking
Tobacco possesse the English Nation, and from them has diffused it self into
most parts of the World; this I fay being brought to us from Spain at great
prices, made our Governour suppose great wealth might be raised to particulars
by this universal vice, and indeed for many yeares they were not deceived, till
that increasing in numbers, and many other Planations following the same
design, at last brought it as now it is to that lownesse of price, that the
Customes doubles the first purchase; that is, the Merchant buyes it for one
penny the pound, and we pay two pence for the Custom of that which they are not
pleased to take from us. 15.

This was the first and fundamental hinderance that made the
Planters neglect all other accessions to wealth and happinefs, and fix their
hopes only on this vicious weed of Tobacco , which at length has brought them to
that extremity that they can neither handsomely subsist with it, nor without
it. 16.

Another hinderance has been, that there was never yet any
publick incouragement to affift the Planters in those more chargeable
undertakings, as Iron-Mines and Shipping. 17.

Another impediment, and an important one too has been the
dis-membring- of the Colonie, but giving away and erecting divers
Principalities out of it, as Maryland to my Lord Baltamore, and part of Florida
to my Lord of Arundell, these Grants will in the next Age be found more
disadvantagious to the Crown then is perceptible in this; and therefore I shall
not touch it (uncommanded) as to the politick part of it, but as to the
Oeconomick. I shall affirme that we can never make Lawes for the erecting
Staple Commodities, and setting a stop to our unlimited planting of Tobacco ,
whilst these Governments are distinct and independent, for on frequent tryals
when we begin to make provisions for these, our people fly to Maryland, and by
this means heighten our publick charges, and weaken our defences against our
perpetual enemies the Indians. Nor is this all, for by reason of these
interposing Grants, we have suffered the Dutch to enrich themselves on our
discoveries, who have in our precincts setled a Trade of Beaver with the
Indians, amounting to two hundred thousand skins a year, and supply our enemies
with Ammunition and Guns in greater proportion then we have them our selves,
but God be thanked as yet, they, their Towns and Trade are in the Kings power,
when ever he shall command them either to quit the Usurpations, or to
acknowledge their Subjection to him in those parts. 18.

Another great impediment has been, the confining the Planter
to Trade only with the English, this no good Subject or Englishman will oppose,
if it be found either beneficial to the Crown or our Mother-Nation; but if it
shall appear that neither of these are advantaged by it, then we cannot but
resent, that forth thousand people should be impoverish’d to enrich little more
then forty Merchants, who being the only buyers of our Tobacco give us what
they please for it, and after it is here, fell it how they plese; and indeed
have forth thousand servants in us at cheaper rates, then any other men have
slaves, for they find them Meat, Drink, and Clothes, we furnish our selves and
their Sea-men with Meat and Drink, and all our sweat and labour, as they order
us, will hardly procure us course clothes to keep us from the extremities of
heat and cold: yet if these pressures of us did advance the Customs, or benefit
the Nation, we should not repine; but that it does the contrary to both, I
shall easily evidence when commanded. 19.

Another hinderance has been, the want of a puplick Stock to
enable us to procure able men for the finding all forts of Mines, making Iron
of those Mines that are found, Ship-Carpenters, men skilful in Hemp, Flax, and
Silk, for the last of which no Country in the world is more naturally provided
that Virginia is; and as by the feet we guesse at the proportions of men, so we
can experimentally say, that within seaven years, if we are assisted and
commanded, we shall bring in yearly as much Silk into England, as now costs the
Nation two hundred thousand pounds of sterling at least. Flax, Hemp, and Pitch
would alwayes be according to the numbers and possibility of the labours of the
Planters. 20.

On the whole matter, let it be considered, whether or no the
English Plantations are not proportioned in a short time to supply us withall
those Commodities, which now we have at great charge and hazard from Turky,
Persia, Germany, Poland, and Russia: the Wines, Oyles, and Fruites of France
and Spain, our distance will ever hinder us from introducing at the same rates
we have it now from them. 21.

It has, as I intimated, been highly imputed to us by divers
wise men, who onely contemplate the natural richnesse of our Soyle, and by that
weigh and measure our faults and neglects, that we have not imployed our cares
and industry, in producting more staple commodities then hitherto we have
attempted. This none can more severely resent then the poor Planter himself in
frequent consultations has done, who by many tryals have found their case to be
like those Architects, who can design execllent Buildings, but have not skill
to square their Timber, or lay their Bricks, and for want of money to procure
men for these labours, their models remaine onely in their imaginations or
papers; This is our case, who without a publick assistance can neither survive
our property, or the remedys of it, without an universal present pressure, as
to the Inhabitants of the Colony; for men of manufacture will not be procured,
but on great wages, to leave their Countrey, and hazard (as they style it)
their lives: this the poor Planter cannot do, whose sweat and labours amount to
no more, then to clothe and provide for the ordinary necessities of his
indigent Family. 22.

To remedy this, and to procure us able men to set us in a way
of staple commodities, at my departure from Virginia I was desired by the
Assembly to make this Proposal to His Sacred Majesty and his Council, to adde
one penny more to the Customs of our Tobacco , and give it to the Countrey;
which, if granted, will pay all the publick charges of the Countrey, furnish us
with Magazines to resist the Indians, build Mills for Iron and Planks, procure
us on good Salaries able men for Silk, Cordage, Mines, and Flax; and all this
will be done at the expence onely of an indulgent Grant: for who payes this but
the poor Planter, whose Tobacco must fell for lesse, the more is imposed on it?
But a nearer way to a publick unquarrelled contribution they cannot find,
having this Axiom firmly fixt in them, That never any Community of people had
good done to them, but against their wills. 23.

In order to this we shall here declare what we have been
necessitated to do these last two years, when war and other emergencies had
involved the Plantation into debts inextricable in an ordinary leavy; which was
to lay a Tax of two shillings the Hogshead on every one exported. This though
the Merchant made us pay, yet we found it an easier and readier way to defray
the publick charges: this (if the propositions of the Customs be not granted)
we desire His Majesties Council will advance to three or four shilling the
Hogshead, which will pay all publick Officers, and enable us to begin the
making Iron, and other necessary works, for the enriching our native Kingdom
and our selves. And another Proposal they desired me to make, which is this,
That such Ships as were built in the Countrey, might carry their goods to what
Port they pleased. This they hoped would be easily granted, because by this
means the excellency of their Timber and Masts (of both which there is now a
visible scarcity in England) would be known, and when known the Timber of
England might be spared for many years, and Ships of the greatest magnitude
built there cheaper then possibly they can be in England; but if the first be
granted, we shall leave this to the wisdom, exigence and care of those His
Majesty imployes in those affairs. 24.

To conclude and animate the care, providence and indulgence
the Nation ought to have of forreign Plantations, let these few confiderations
be duly poised. 25.

First, it is not yet forty years when there was not one
Englishman in any Plantation of America, save onely four or five hundred left
in 1622. after the Massacre in Virginia; and now there is in the West Indies at
least three hundred thousand English, and of English extraction. 26.

Secondly, if we examine the Customs, we shall find the fourth
part of them arise from the Plantations in America. This is a wealth our
fathers never knew, and in humane probability will increase on us every year.

Thirdly, those commodities we were wont to purchase at great
rates and hazards, we now purchase at half the usual prices. Nor is this all,
but we buy them with our own Manufactures, which here at home imploy thousands
of poor people. 28.

Fourthly, when in the past Ages to disburden the Kingdom of
indigent younger Brothers, whom the peculiar policy of this Nation condemned to
poverty or War, we were forced to undertake the assistance of Rebels, which God
of late has revenged on our own bowels; now there can be no necessity of that
sin or misery, for a small summe of money will enable a younger Brother to
erect a flourishing Family in a new World; and adde more Strength, Wealth, and
Honour, to his Native Country, then thousands did before, that dyed forgotten
and unrewarded in an unjust War. I should now have ended, but that I think it
is expected from me, who have lived twenty years in America, that I should
declare the power, interest, and wealth we have by our Plantations in the West Indies. 29.

To do this, I shall first propose to the consideration of the
Reader, the few yeares we have had any footing in America, the eldest
Planation, Virginia excepted, not exceeding forty years, and yet so many
difficulties happily overcome. Our numbers there are now at least two hundred
thousand English, and if (as in humane probability they will) our numbers
double but every twenty yeares, in one Age more how great will our power,
strength, and reputation be in this new Weftern World? 30.

Secondly, let it be confidered what summes of Money was in
the last Age exhausted from us for Sugar, Cotton, Drugges, Dyings, and Tobacco ,
and how easily now we supply our selves with these, and also bring home enough
to balance many other [unclear: forraign] necessities. 31.

Thirdly, let us contemplate the respect we have from most of
the Princes and States of Europe, but our power and strength in America; the
I know would not willingly quit their interest in the Indies for ten
Millions of Money; yet all they have there is in the Kings power, when any just
occasion shall provoke his displeasure. 32.

The French, it is true, have not many considerable places
there: But yet the Indies, as they term it, are of so Friand agust, that they
would not willingly quit their holds in it, not their pretentions to it. 33.

But the Spainards, whose interest is greatest, is most
jealous of our power there, and we most formidable to him by it. 34.

I will not presume to Counsel, but to give a Memorial I will;
that if now we vigorously and prudently manage our late acquired possessions in
the Heart and Navel of His Dominions, he will with great caution and respect
exasperate our King and Nation: And when our power is increased, and setled,
then evidently to one of these two conditions we shall bring him; either to
admit of a Trade with us, or have his Bullion come home in our Ships which of
these will be most advantagious I cannot readily tell; but both, or either will
be of high concernment to His Majesty and people. 35.

To do this with most ease and lesse charge, I think the best
expedient is to encourage and admonish the lesser Islands (all but the
Barbadoes) to remove thither, as they are, they are neither of any mutual
strength to themselves, nor contribute any honour or emolument to the Nation,
but when once they are incorporated into one body, how secure will they be
amongst themselves, how terrible to their opposers? and in case a good
temperment does produce a peace, how little will the charge be of assuring it
to be lasting; for the more men, the lesse need of Souldiers, and by
consequence the diffus’d charge of keeping them lesse burthensome then when it
is devolved on a few persons. To conclude, the King of Spains wealth is greater
in the Indies, then the King of England; but our Kings subjects swords are more
sharper then the Spainards, which we had lately evidenced, but that God would
not suffer the worst of men, Cromwell, to glory in the bravest of atchivements.

To make a Parallel betwixt Virginia and our other Island
Plantations in America, we will take the Mistresse of them all, Barbadoes, for
the other Islands, if now they were to be seated, would not be suffered
uselesly to exhaust to many men our of our Nation as now they do; who being
thinly planted and defencelesse, and exposed not only to the designs, but as I
may truly speak it to the divertisement of their Enemies, who only passing by
have taken the best of them without losing two dayes of their intended Voyage;
this Saint Christophers and the Tartugos have experimented, and their weak
resistance have made the Spainard have false apprehensions of our Courages and
Conduct: These then I will not particularly mention, but the Paragon shall be
betwixt Virginia and the Barbadoes, which does produce all those Commodities in
perfection, which the other Islands do but attempt to do this, I will
impartially mention their industrious vertues and our negligent defects; and
first, I will say that the bringing of Sugar and Cotton to be a Commodity of
English growth, was a work worthy of a publick mark of Honour and Reward; for
by it the Nation saves yearly a Million pounds sterling. Cottens, Indicos, and
Ginger were likewise noble undertakings; and to admiration perfected, and God
forbid, that emulation should make us forbear to speak or lessen the designs
and industry of the first promoters of these noble Commodities. But we shall
say, that it is pity those men had not a larger field to exercise their vertues
in, for like flowers they were quickly at their full growth and perfection, and
a Nil ultra is fixt on them, But that our desires to honour them may not
tacitly fix an accusation on us, I must here say, they had the happinesse to
have no Enemy to encounter, whose swords were continually in our bowels or
apprehensions; that they lay more in the way of Merchants and men of War, by
whom they got persons skilled in the Engines that made Sugar; that their
security from Enemies made Merchants, and other rich men, willingly venture
their Estates thither, and therefore the comparison being as I suppose to be
made between the places, and not the happy Conjuncture of the men that possesse
them, I shall boldly and truly affirm, that there can be no comparison between
the places relative to the future advantage of our Nation: For though Virginia
yet only produceth Tobacco , as to the main of her Traffick, yet it has produced
Silk, Flax, Hemp, Iron, Rice, Pitch, Tar, which are Commodities more lasting
and necessary then Sugar or Indico can be: and as our Numbers increase, so will
our Wealth, when our industry and assistance shall equal theirs, which is clean
contrary with them, who are already forced to expend one fifth part of their
Merchandise to provide Victuals for themselves and Servants. But the best
resolution of this, will be, that being both of one Nation, we blesse God that
has made us so instrumental to the Wealth and Glory of it. 37.


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Genre: Prose
Subjects: Colonial Society and Life, Politics
Period: 1650-1700
Location: Virginia
Format: Discourse

This text was first published in London in 1663.

The text of the present edition was prepared from and proofed against Sir William Berkeley, A Discourse And View of Virginia (Norwalk, CT: William H. Smith, Jr., Publisher, 1914). All preliminaries have been omitted except those for which the authors are responsible. Line and paragraph numbers contained in the source text have been retained. The letter "ſ" has been modernized to "s." In cases where the source text displays no numbers, numbers are automatically generated. In the header, personal names have been regularized according to the Library of Congress authority files as "Last Name, First Name" for the REG attribute and "First Name Last Name" for the element value. Names have not been regularized in the body of the text.