A fictional series based upon Colonial times in Virginia
With the plumeting of the fortunes of old English estates, many sons had reached the end of the hiearchary. Those persons, propelled, sold everything they owned anded establish themselves in the wild virgin lands of Virginia where the promise of acreage was based upon the number of servants brought with them. And during the 1650s, the production of tobacco drove new settlers into the region. John Laurence was such a man.
John Laurence awoke in a dark bedroom with but one stream of sunshine creaking through a new encasement of windows shipped from London. The vast space between the floor and high ceilings whistled with spiggets of cold airy spots inside an unfinished room as he donned a robe made of home-spun sheep’s wool. That morning he dressed without the help of Dondi, an old family servant which he’d brought to the colonies from the Old World. One glance in a rusty mirror afforded him an ill view of his uncombed thinning hair falling loosely around the ears.
All night he’d had unsettling dreams of that disagreeable voyage. First there was the smell of acrid marsh which grew between rotten plank boards on the pier and a complaining wife who larched at the sight of wharf rats scrambling about the unloaded casks.
It was as vivid as though it were yesterday. His desire to please a reluctant wife whose nagging complaints of being upsurped in the middle of the night to venture to a primitive land left him feeling that his duties as a husband were inadequate. Yet his desire to acquire acreage in the New World pushed him forward coupled with the fact that his own family had left him an ancient cottage in need of repairs and largely without the comforts of life.
What good was it to be the last earl of a dwindling estate east of London when the urgency of his creditors were pressing for payment of old debts? The time frame was 17th century England and the unstable monarchy of Charles II who arose to the throne after the execution of his father, Charles I. The great fire of London (Sept 2–6, 1666) gutted the medieval city of London inside the old Roman city wall, wiping out the economy of more than 70,000 residents.
John Laurence attempted to regroup, however, like so many of the old barons, he could no longer pay his household staff nor manage a handful of serfs attached to the premises. The desperate sufferers of the fire were either driven into debtor’s prison or placed themselves in bondage for seven years in the Virginia colony with a promise of 50 acres after service.
And somehow John Laurence convinced the his scrawny house servants and aging serfs that a future of 50 acres each would guarantee them personal freedom and independence. Yet he wondered, would these scrawy englishmen who had nowhere else to go, stand up under the rigors of country life?
But his worries dissipated when the captain of the vessel first made port at Belfast where a goodly number of Scotch-Irish lads were boarded. Herein was profit for the captain as he offered passengers indentured servants in exchange for passage money.
The headright system meant that planters could claim fifty acres of land for every indentured servant they brought over, and in time headrights and tobacco became established as accepted currency. In return for passage, clothing, board and lodging, an indentured servant became the property of the master for a term of years. For John Laurence, the muster, combined with his house servants, would invest him with some 1250 acres of land.
Laurence eyeballed a conspiciously muscular scottish lad with strong arms and hands, square jaw and a full head of salty ginger hair.
“Where is that lad from?” He asked the captain.
“The Highlands. I believe most of these lads were dispossessed of their lands. The lad wears a clan badge.”
A handsome young Scot with ginger hair tucked under a badge pinned tam asserted himself by stepping forward. He wore a long coat with plain sleeves, made of green and red plaid cloth which flowed to the knees and opened in the front revealing a basket hilt sword. Other clan members wore plaid trews and belted plaids with the upper part pulled over the shoulders concealing an assortment of sheathed dirks.
The lad spoke up. “I am Mohr Hauk of Kell. Aye, me lands were taken over by sheep farmers.”
“How many are in your group?” Laurence asked.
“Fifteen is all what’s left of us, sir.”
Laurence bristled. He’d observed that Hauk was somewhat cocky and controlling of the others. But then he had a second thought. Perhaps the lad possessed a desirable temperament for overseer.”
“Mohr Hauk,” he addressed, “my plans are to build a large tobacco plantation in Virginia.”
Hauk raised one of his thickly embedded eyebrows and took a step backwards.
“Tobacco is similar to the barley and oats grown seasonally in the highlands,” John Laurence explained, “except that it requires many field workers to plant, harvest and cure the plant. The job will require long hours of working outside in the fields, some carpentry work, smything, and whatever else is required. “
“Aye, do ye suppose that we ehre wallydrags, unaccustomed to plowing dusty, hoary soil ? We ehre nought lairds nor yeomen, rather serfs. We know well the wooden plough and iron coulter pulled by oxen. For centuries, our families built and repaired the master’s barns, fences, and cairns, so I would vow that we ‘ath the experience ye speak of. As for meself, promise me a good a stretch o’ prime soil, and I am willing work the seven years.”
John nodded, acknowledging the others standing beside the husky Hauk. “Since you so strikingly introduced yourself, I would inform you that we are neither nobility nor gentry, and that we sold everything that we owned to pay for this voyage. But I would be pleased to pay passage for you and your lads in exchange for the seven years.”
Hauk stepped forward and shook the hand of his new master. “Aye, the deal is pledged.”
Then Hauk turned away and faced his lads. “Ehyre we willing to do 7 years of labor in exchange for fifty acres of Virginia land?”
A resounding shout of “Aye!” reassured John Laurence.
The voyage was not without its issues. Also onboard was a regiment of red-coats carrying the new lighter matchlock muskets. Their presence spurred the Scots to speak loudly of the inept firing power of the muskets compared to the sword, and the unwelcome presence of the red-coats in the highlands by their Stuart king. The regiment had been called out to defend the Royal Governor, Sir William Berkeley against Indian raids at his Green Springs plantation.
Too, Mary experienced considerable discomfort in her wooden bunk bed in the belly of the ship. She was wrought with spells of nausea and vomiting from the swaying winds and rough seas. Mary did not know it then, but she was expecting her first child. A single afternoon of high winds and stormy clouds could easily change the mood of any passenger into a rage. Perhaps he had made a mistake by making a deal with the obnoxious scots instead of his own countrymen.
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