Worksheet for Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740 and From Servant to Freeholder and The Planter’s Wife

Worksheet for Anthony S. Parent, Jr.’s Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740, Middleton & Lombard Ch. 5-7,  Menard’s “From Servant to Freeholder” and Carr & Walsh’s “The Planter’s Wife.”

Introduction: Answer the following questions in short answer form (i.e. in a few pithy sentences): What is the gap in the historiography that Parent hopes to fill? What methodology does he intend to do that with? Why is the book organized into three parts?

Anthony Parent’s Foul Means attempts to fill in the pre-revolution historiographical timeline of 1660-1740 by examining the role that slavery played in the social formation of Virginia.

In Parent’s examination of Virginia’s slave society, Parent employs a class methodology in order to “comprehend slavery’s role in the formation of Virginia”[1]

Foul Means is organized into three parts, to chronicle the evolution of Virginia’s slave society, by examining “the origins, behavior, and ideology of Virginia’s great planter-class.”[2] Planter focuses on how the “dialectical tension with productive forces”[3] has affected the relationship between slave owners and slaves, ultimately leading to a slave society.

Chapter 1: The Land grab

According to Parent, what were the three conditions necessary in order for slavery to take hold in the British colonies? Summarize the Virginia land grab and the effect it had on indentured servant labor.

In order for a slave society to develop, three conditions were necessary, “private concentrated landownership, sufficient development of commodity production…, and an unavailability of an internal labor supply.”[4]

The beginning of the Virginia land grab began in 1650 after white settlers discovered in 1617 that tobacco could not only be grown, but was marketable. With the viability of tobacco as a cash crop, a planting frenzy began in Virginia making land not only a desired commodity, but the acquisition of more land a premium concern for settlers. To acquire more land, settlers immediately began eyeing Indian lands believing that Indians were underutilizing their land, and began to grasp at any provocation by the Indians in order to seize their land. Both settlers and land speculators engaged in a concerted effort aimed at acquiring Indian land by any means necessary, which included “chicanery, delusion, and intimidation.”[5] By the mid-seventeenth century the Indian population of Eastern Virginia was essentially vanquished, and speculators, who had been acquiring huge tracts of land, began to reap huge profits as more and more settlers began to arrive. Land had become a very valuable product, being sold at huge profits, as well as rented in labor and commodity exchanges.

One particular method employed by land speculators and tobacco growers for acquiring land was the use of headright patents. Under this system “an importer of labor received a headright patent for fifty acres by paying an immigrants fare to the colonies.”[6] Importers of labor, who engaged in this practice, could expect to acquire huge increases in land holdings, while at the same time increasing their labor force. The headright patent system allowed land speculators and growers willing to make a minimum investment the ability to reap huge financial rewards in land acquisition and labor. The headright patent program which was intended to draw immigrants to the colonies soon proved corrupt, as evidenced by the fact that “a few dozen speculators”[7] were able to amass incredible land holdings by claiming some 47,000 headright patents. As a result of this land engrossment, by the second half of the seventeenth century immigration to North America began to decline. Indentured servants realizing that land was no longer available simply saw no incentive in immigration, and as a consequence a shortage of labor followed.

Chapter 2: The Labor Switch

Describe the reasons for the switch from indentured servitude to slavery. What role did the Royal African Company play in the switch?

By the 1660’s the indentured labor force began drying up in Virginia, as the incentives for acquiring land in Virginia were no longer available, and economic conditions in England had now improved. The incentives which had compelled England’s poor, and working class to favor immigration no longer existed; in fact, England now viewed “the poor, not as a national problem, but as a natural resource.”[8] A shortage in indentured servants forced land owners to find alternative sources for their labor needs, so when the sugar economy in the Caribbean began to peak and slave prices dropped the transition from indentured servitude to slavery became an easy transition. Further adding to the advantages of slavery over indentured servants was that Africans were perceived as being “easier to control… [and] could not claim the rights of English subjects.”[9]

Charles II of England, realizing the great need for labor in Virginia and wanting at the same time to preserve English labor forces at home, issued a new patent to the Royal African Company in 1663 which authorized them to enslave Africans. The Royal African Company, which had been in the African gold market business up until 1663, was now by patent given a monopoly on slave trading to the colonies. The Royal African Company began in 1663 by delivering its first shipment of slaves, the first royally sanctioned enterprise charged with delivering slaves to the colonies. The Royal African Company, being the only firm authorized to import slaves to the colonies, was unable to meet the growing demand for slaves in Virginia, and in 1698 “Parliament opened the slave trade to independent merchants…”[10] Parliament’s opening of the slave trade “encouraged more slave traders to enter the slave business”[11] increasing competition, resulting in lower slave prices, and increased slave deliveries to the colonies.

Chapter 3: Cyclical Crises, 1680-1723

Describe Virginia’s tobacco economy and how slavery did or did not fit into its cyclical nature. What role did each of these groups–planters, slaves, and merchants–play in the changing economy?

The way in which Virginia’s tobacco industry operated was that the great planters acted as a conduit for all tobacco transactions within the colonies between tobacco producers and the tobacco merchants in England. The smaller and middling planters delivered their product to the large tobacco growers who in turn, took their product in exchange for supplies, and other necessities. The large tobacco planters, who also produced tobacco through the use of slave labor, then sold their product along with that of the smaller growers to English merchants. So consequently anything which would impact the great or large tobacco growers would have had a trickle down affect. One way that this trickle down affect would have been realized was when tobacco prices dropped and the credit worthiness of the large planters was called in. This scenario had a wide ranging effect on all aspects of the economy, because of the stranglehold the great planters had on the tobacco industry.

 Parent argues that slavery was not a panacea for the boom or bust cyclical nature of the tobacco market. Slave labor unlike indentured servants or contract workers, required substantial capital investments, and consequently during periods of declining tobacco revenue this resulted in a debt crisis between tobacco planters and their merchant counterparts.

The planters who formed the upper tier of Virginia’s economic hierarchy played a critical role in the changing economy by continuing to purchase large numbers of slaves in order to, as Parent argues, “maintain their hegemony in land and labor.”[12] The result that these large purchases had on the economy was that it resulted in a debt crisis which “contributed to the depression”[13] of the whole of the country. The planters held such a great hold on the economy due to their extensive dealings with both smaller growers and merchants, that their chronic debt significantly impacted Virginia’s economy.

Slaves played a vital role in the changing economy as well, so much so that in 1708 the Council of State acknowledged, “’the great number of blacks’ had increased the hands employed in tobacco, resulting in overproduction and lower prices.”[14] As slave labor and tobacco production in expanded territories continued, an increase in production “created a surplus leading to a decade long depression beginning in 1720.”[15]

Merchants played a significant role in Virginia’s tobacco economy, because like the large planters, they too resided at the top of the tobacco hierarchy, buying and selling tobacco and all manner of supplies to the great planters. When the large planters began to default on their slave orders, the merchants no longer wanted to extend credit to the large planters, especially “once tobacco became underpriced and bills would likely be returned…”[16] Beginning in 1720 the merchants, in turn, helped to break the stranglehold that the large planters had on the economy by bypassing the large planters and dealing directly with the smaller growers. The result of this action by the merchants was that it helped loosen the grip that the large planters had held on the tobacco economy and economic conditions began to improve.

Chapter 4: The Laws of Slavery

Characterize (and to a certain extent categorize) the ways in which Virginia laws changed, creating a slave code, or a racial system of justice, that protected the slave system of labor and distinguished it from white servitude. Include in this discussion what the author dubbed the “discriminatory innovations.”

England had a cultural “predisposition to view blackness as symbolic of things dirty and evil”[17] and sought to implement a repressive system of slave justice in Virginia which would guarantee a slave labor force and create division between poor whites and blacks. In Virginia beginning in 1640 the first laws of a slave code began to emerge, which started to distinguish a system of justice based entirely on race. One of the first laws passed by The General Assembly prohibited blacks from bearing arms, except for freeholders. Furthermore at around the same time, the large planters began to implement forms of punishments for blacks which were much “more debasing”[18] than those for their white counterparts. This was followed by further legislation in 1667, when Virginia took an added step aimed at protecting slaveholders by producing legislation that would dispel the myth that being baptized Christian, implied freedom. The idea behind the legislation was that it would protect slaveholder’s property rights while indoctrinating “blacks with Christian precepts.”[19] Other laws that created a racial system of justice were laws barring fornication between whites and blacks, and laws prohibiting blacks from supervising white labor, regardless of their freedom status.

Chapter 5: Revolt and Response, 1676 – 1740

What evidence does Parent use in this chapter to demonstrate his argument that “blacks were not only conscious of their racial and class degradation but collectively attempted to change their condition?” Why does he view many of the colonial-era rebellions, especially Bacon’s, as class and not as race conflicts?

Parent cites numerous incidents of black insurrections as evidence that blacks were not only conscious of their degrading condition, but took actions aimed at relieving their condition. Parent argues that enslaved Africans collectively resisted slavery as soon as they were brought aboard ships in Africa, and that “slave traders had to guard against insurrection diligently”[20] especially when the Africa coast was still in eyeshot. In fact the point that shipboard rebellion “indicated a predilection among captives to regain their freedom,”[21] only bolsters the argument that blacks viewed their condition as degrading and took action to change their condition soon after being captured. Once in North America enslaved blacks continued to engage in insurrections aimed at escape. One case in particular that supports Parent’s argument was the insurrection of 1710 which occurred in the lower James River area, where an unusually high number of black slaves were concentrated. In this example enslaved blacks “conspired to escape by force of arms”[22] and then planned to resettle in the neighboring North Carolina frontier. Other instances which followed, such as the 1722 conspiracy case, also provide further evidence of how enslaved blacks acted collectively in opposing slavery, and took action whenever the prospect of freedom was possible.

While many of the black insurrections cited by Parent in Foul Means can be deemed as actions for attaining freedom, not all were race conflicts. In fact Parent would argue that many other rebellions involving enslaved blacks, such as Bacon’s Rebellion, were in fact class conflicts promoted by white freedmen who merely enlisted black support with a promise of freedom. The great planters in 1739 were so worried about class conflicts that they adamantly opposed the use of white servants in the militia because they feared that they would form alliances with enslaved blacks in order to try and achieve their objectives.


Chapter 6: Class Conflicts, 1724-1740

How does Parent answer his own question: “Were mercantile or planter interests to blame for the upsurge in racial slavery?” Within the context of class, how were the two groups different? Which group seemed to control the slave economy and how were they able to do it?

Parent makes the argument that mercantile interests were definitely at blame for an upsurge in racial slavery. The great planters understood that more slaves working in tobacco production equated to greater tobacco production and consequently resulted in a tobacco supply that exceeded demand. To help curb overproduction, large tobacco producers tried to “raise revenue and control production by limiting slave importation”[23] through various import duty legislation. Many merchants through lobbying efforts of their own, “were determined to deter the great planters’ efforts to employ the duty”[24] , since their own vested interests lay in the uninterrupted continuation of slave trade. The merchants had a viable market for slaves in the colonies within the middling and small planter class, and were successful to a great degree in thwarting legislation being pushed by the great planter class which could result in lower imports of slaves. As a result of the successful efforts waged by the merchant class, racial slavery continued to increase through the importation of slaves.

Within the societal hierarchy, the great planters who had enjoyed an equal footing with their European merchant counterparts soon would find themselves increasingly “subjected by the crown to the role of colonial.”[25] At the same time, the merchant class began to exert greater influence within arenas that had commonly been the purview of the planter class. Prior to this upsurge from the merchant class, the great planter class enjoyed the top tier of colonial society through an established patriarchal system which had gone unchallenged. That relationship was beginning to fray, as “merchants began to challenge the great planters’ control of the hinterland by buying tobacco and trading enslaved blacks”[26] causing splits within the colonial hierarchy.

The slave economy which had been under the control of great planters up until the 1730’s was now slowly shifting to the control of the merchant class, as merchants began to circumvent the sale of enslaved blacks, by dealing directly with lower level planters. Merchants also weakened the grip of the great planter’s hold on the slave economy by persuading “Parliament to pass the Colonial Debts Act of 1732.”[27] This legislation gave the merchants the power to collect on debts by seizing property, including land and slaves. The planter class as a result of this legislation began to feel like “quarry,”[28] and as a consequence was less inclined to act as conduit for slave transactions with smaller planters, resulting in their diminished status within the slave economy.

Chapter 7: The Emergence of Patriarchism, 1700 – 1740

In this chapter, Parent argues that the great planter class developed an ideology of patriarchism in order to justify its dominance. Explain this ideology as both Parent and the planters themselves understood it, and then summarize its development. Be sure to include the position of small planters, women, children, and slaves within this ideology.

The ideology of patriarchism understood by both the great-planters and Parent was one fashioned after the biblical patriarchs themselves. Within this ideology, the patriarch stood at the top of the hierarchy, and in turn would govern over society and its members “regulating the lives of its members and expecting deference in return.”[29]

The development of this patriarchal ideology emerged in the 1720-30’s in response to the declining status of the great planters under their colonial relationship with England. In response to their declining status, Virginia’s great planters embraced patriarchism as a way in which they could not only elevate their provincial identity but also “secure their power in Virginia society.”[30]

The position of other members of society within the patriarchal ideology system was closely controlled. Great planters imposed their hierarchical position on smaller planters through the use of symbols, outward appearances, and social practices. They accomplished this through the pretentious use of “salutations, dress, and manner of play.”[31]

The white women within this patriarchal system were relegated to the “domestic sphere”[32] as influential supporters of the patriarch, while also being touted as beacons of culture and refinement.

The children within the patriarchal system also had to submit to strict patriarchal control, particularly the male children, who were raised to be “assertive and reliant”[33] so that they would be best positioned for the day when they would eventually assume the role of patriarch. Female children for their part were trained to “assist their husbands in the management of the estate”[34] while continuing in the tradition of being guardians of virtue.

The enslaved within the patriarchal system were the subjects of many different and often de-meaning methods aimed at control. Patriarchs employed co-opting methods such as the assumption of the fictive role of father figure, where the patriarch would name, care, and attempt to create a sense of dependency amongst the enslaved.

The patriarchal system which was implemented in response to the declining stature of the great planters in their relationship with England was also implemented as a means of dealing with the inherent contradictions which existed in the master/slave relationship.


Chapter 8: Baptism and Bondage, 1700-1740

Articulate the ways in which religion became an “essential component in the formulation of their (the great-planter class) identity.” To what extent or in what ways did great planters have to change their religious beliefs and/or practices to accommodate slavery?

Parent points out that Christianity was an integral part of the great planter class. Members of the great planter class did not view themselves necessarily in racial terms, but instead thought of themselves as Christian. So it was within the hierarchical framework of the Anglican Church, that the great planter class was able to draw support for establishing their own patriarchal system. This patriarchal system stood in sharp contrast to the values that they as free Englishmen had previously come to believe in, since now their entire self-worth was predicated on their “dominion over enslaved blacks.”[35]

The fundamental connotation that Christianity and freedom were God given rights was an issue that the great planters struggled with. The great planter class was forced to make accommodations to this aspect of their Christian beliefs when in the 1720’s “church, crown, and colony settled on Christianity as a method of controlling an increasingly restless black population.”[36] Members of the planter class were forced to alter their belief that a correlation between Christianity and freedom were fundamental. Slave owners hoped that by converting slaves to Christianity they would instill a sense of obedience, and a resignation toward patriarchal authority.

Coda: Foul Means Must Do, What Fair will Not

According to Parent, “The choice of slavery was deliberate, odious, and foul” (p. 265). In your judgement, how well does he make this argument?

Parent makes an excellent case in his denigration of slavery. Specifically what Parent does best in making his case, is to cite the cost to each and every actor of slave society. It goes without saying that the enslaved themselves suffered the greatest denigration through “the ruthless acts of repression”[37] visited upon them, but no member of Virginia’s slave society escaped unscathed. The slaveholders for instance who viewed themselves not along racial lines but as Christians, sold out their beliefs and their identities when they began “prostituting Anglicanism”[38] in order to justify their actions in order to control another race. Slave owners quest for more land and wealth also resulted according to Parent in the disenfranchisement of Native Americans, and also resulted in heaping further indebtedness upon the poorer whites in society. In summary, Parent makes his best case for condemning slavery by demonstrating how the maintenance of slavery which included killings, abuses of law, and religion had effectively destroyed the very fabric of human decency that it came into contact with, “and it is this legacy that we still live with today.”[39]

Lois Green Carr and Lorena Walsh, “The Planter’s Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeenth-Century Maryland”: Summarize the experience of the women studied by Carr and Walsh. How did their experiences compare to that of their male counterparts in the Maryland?–to their female counterparts in old England? Overall, did it make sense for a white woman to immigrate to early colonial Maryland?

Lois Green Carr and Lorena Walsh describe the experiences of women in seventeenth century Maryland as one of hardships and high mortality rates. Although men far outnumbered women, making it easier for women to marry, women still married later in life, experienced higher than normal child mortality rates,  shorter life spans, and yet still probably could expect to outlive her husband. Maryland women like their English counterparts would both have married at roughly the same time in life, but in England the probabilities of dying during childbirth would have been significantly lower. However women living in North America would have had more independence than their English counterparts, since their families would have been separated by 3000 miles of ocean, and as such would not have had fathers or brothers “hovering to monitor her behavior.”[40] Yet women did come, believing in the prospect of marrying above their economic status and improving their lives.

Some of the differences between men and women living in Maryland were that men could expect to live an average age of roughly forty-three, while women “may have had even shorter lives”[41] due to the illnesses such as malaria which proved particularly fatal for women during pregnancy. Those women who did survive childbirth “tended to outlive their husbands”[42], and as such were often left with a life of heavy labor as they not only had to raise children, but a tobacco crop as well. Another characteristic of this period was that due to the high mortality rate for both sexes, men often married and fathered more “families than the sex ratios otherwise would have permitted.”[43]

Overall though, women coming to Maryland experienced opportunities that did exist for women living in England. One such opportunity was the greater prospects for marriage that existed in Maryland. Because of the disproportionate number of men versus women, women were afforded many more choices in selecting husbands. Another consideration for Maryland women was that an expanding economy in North America offered women the chance to marry men with capital, something that was nearly possible for poor women to do in England. Despite these opportunities however, women could expect a life of hardship, separation from family and loved ones, and not to mention the very real prospect of an early death making their decision a risky endeavor at best.

Russell Menard, “From Servant to Freeholder: Status Mobility and Property Accumulation in Seventeenth-Century Maryland”: Summarize Menard’s contributions to our knowledge about men and property in the early Chesapeake. Overall, why was it worth the risks for a poor Englishman to immigrate to Maryland in the 1600s? Does this work seem to compliment or contradict Parent in any ways?

Menard’s From Servant to Freeholder, throughthe reconstruction of early land records, provides a compelling argument to establish how servitude offered a “hard-working Englishman without capital”[44] the opportunity to acquire land, and carve a place out for himself in Maryland during the first half of the seventeenth century. Menard demonstrates how early Englishmen were able to parlay their servitude experience to immigrate to Maryland, and then through processes such as leaseholds were able to accumulate the capital necessary in order to acquire land of their own. The opportunities for an Englishman coming to Maryland in the first half of the seventeenth, far outweighed the risks, which for the poor in England were simply non-existent.

When comparing the writings of Menard with that of Parent, Menard complements Parent in many ways. Both historians depict an early seventeenth century North America were land opportunities were available, and indentured servitude provided a ready labor force. However both Menard and Parent also acknowledge that as tobacco prices dropped and land became less available in the second half of the seventeenth century, the flow of immigration into the colonies dropped sharply, and as Parent notes forced planters to look elsewhere for a labor force.




Green-Carr, Lois, and Lorena S. Walsh. “The Planter’s Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeenth-Century Maryland.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 34, no. 4 (1977): 542-571. Accessed September 15, 2012.


Menard, Russell R. “From Servant to Freeholder: Status Mobility and Prosperity Accumulation in Seventeenth Century Maryland.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 30, no. 1 (1973): 37-64. Accessed September 15, 2012.


Middleton, Richard, and Anne Lombard. Colonial America: A History to 1763, 4th ed. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.


Parent, Anthony S. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.


[1] Anthony S. Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 2

[2] Ibid

[3] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 3

[4] Ibid, 9

[5] Ibid, 19

[6] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 26

[7] Ibid, 28

[8] Ibid, 59

[9] Richard Middleton and Anne Lombard. Colonial America: A History to 1763, 4th ed. (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 165

[10] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 76

[11] Middleton and Lombard. Colonial America: A History to 1763, 165

[12] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 86

[13] Ibid, 90

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid, 93

[16] Ibid, 94

[17] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 106

[18] Ibid, 109

[19] SAL, II, 260, Brown Good Wives Nasty Wenches, 135-136; Warren M. Billings, “The Law of Servants and Slaves in Seventeenth Century Virginia,” VMHB, XCIX (1991), 58 in Anthony S. Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 113

[20] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 136

[21] Ibid, 141

[22] Ibid, 151

[23] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 178

[24] Ibid, 179

[25] Ibid, 194

[26] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 174

[27] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 183

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid, 200

[30] Ibid,198

[31] Ibid, 210

[32] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 214

[33] Ibid, 217

[34] Ibid, 218

[35] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 264

[36] Ibid, 249

[37] Ibid, 266

[38] Ibid

[39] Parent. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 268

[40] Lois Green-Carr and Lorena S. Walsh. “The Planter’s Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeenth-Century Maryland.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 34, no. 4 (1977): 542-571. Accessed September 15, 2012., 550

[41] Ibid, 542

[42] Ibid, 555

[43] Green-Carr and Walsh. “The Planter’s Wife, 560

[44] Russell R. Menard. “From Servant to Freeholder: Status Mobility and Prosperity Accumulation in Seventeenth Century Maryland.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 30, no. 1 (1973): 37-64. Accessed September 15, 2012., 38

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