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Andrew Leahey

History 135

Midterm Essay #3

Explain the Breen essay on Virginians and then discuss this quote

from it: "The isolation of plantation life continued but so did the

competition that underlay planter relationships." Be sure to include

a discussion of variant values.

The T.H. Breen essay, "Looking Out for Number One: Conflicting Cultural

Values in Early Seventeenth-Century Virginia" explores the varying values of

Virginians from settlers of other colonies. Breen tells us that the "crucial

formative values transferred to Virginia were religious and political" and that

Virginians were "products of the English Reformation" [Breen,68]. The

Englishmen lured to Virginia had different motivations from those of the

other colonies. As such, they did not represent a "cross section of English

values" [Breen, 69] They were, in large part, composed of roughneck-type

individuals, fresh from wars in Ireland, adventurers, and other men who felt

that the promises of Virginian riches were their only hope for profitable

enterprise. These men were desperate, comfortable with violence, and acted

as individuals, not colonists or members of a society.

More than just an individualistic approach to society, there was a

money-above-all ideology in Virginia. Men were hesitant to themselves

volunteer for military duty, or give up any of the servants for it, as this

would mean a dip in their profits from tobacco farming. Attempts to make
military duty a profitable enterprise were entirely unsuccessful, as it was

known the Indians made poor slaves, and land was so plentiful, any gained

by risking one's life was gained at too high a price. "Variant" values, or the

"sense of living only for the present or near future, a belief that the

environment could and should be forced to yield quick financial gains"

[Breen,70] and the assumption that everyone was looking out for

themselves were rampant in the colony. As such, the types of people in

Virginia were polarized, at least in the eyes of their fellow Virginians; you

were either free or dependent, an exploiter or a resource. The isolated type

of lifestyle a planter lived, coupled with the competition between fellow

farmers, helped to bolster this mistrust of everything and everyone outside

of your own parcel of land and nuclear family.

It is no surprise, then, that Virginians held the pre-Independence

Government in no high regard, and considered most orders from that

governmental body as a personal affront to their freedom. Their lack of

willingness to defend themselves however, ironically, caused them to be

more dependent on England for defense. In addition to relying on the

government for safety, since unlike New Englanders they lacked the belief in

defense being a community affair, Virginians turned to military mercenaries

of sorts. These men were interested in little more than turning a profit and

thus, with their elaborate and often ill-conceived plans, did not make good

on their promises of protection.

So then, the quote from the essay, "The isolation of plantation life

continued but so did the competition that underlay planter relationships",

refers to the type of lifestyle planters in Virginia were engaged in. In a field
where the harder you worked, the more money you would make, there was

little time for social interaction or engagements. In addition to this, the large

quantities of land required for the dominant industry of the colony, tobacco

farming, insured that you were living a distance from your closest neighbor.

This neighbor, also engaged in tobacco farming, was your direct competition.

Demand follows supply; every farmer growing the same crop as you helps to

reduce the price you can hope to get for your harvest. This bred mistrust

amongst neighbors, and fellow colonists, and continued the circle of isolation

and competition for Virginian farmers.

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