1. Introduction. In this section, I will attempt to provide some cultural characteristics of Northern Neck life in the 1600s and 1700s, to include subjects such as: marriage; religion; education; entertainment; travel; and other practices. By doing this, I am seeking a greater understanding of how life might have been then, a better understanding of my Northern Neck ancestors’ lives in the 1600s and 1700s, and how those times and lives compare with what I am experiencing today. Many of the cultural attributes practiced in the Northern Neck were imported from England. This had a unifying, converging influence on the culture and what life was like in the Northern Neck.
2. Class Structure. The Northern Neck was a very hierarchical society in the 1700s, less so in the 1600s. In my thinking, six general levels of society emerged during the 1700s: a first level of large land holders; a second level of yeoman planters, higher-level land owners, and higher-level service providers; a third level of ordinary planters, lower-level land owners, and lower-level service providers; a fourth level of more valued indented servants, tenant farmers; a fifth level of less valued indented servants, laborers; and the sixth level, African slaves. Class separation was much based on land ownership – the primary means to income and wealth. The society both in the 1600s and 1700s was very patriarchal, with husbands and men dominating. Relationships between women were based on their husbands’ positions.
In the first level of large land owners, positions men held in the community were very important – such positions as being on the church vestries, officer rank in the local militia, and positions in the county and colony government. Competition between men in this group, especially younger men, was likely intense, with pecking orders being established. Interactions with England were very important, with many of the young sent to England for education. Cultural trends in England greatly influenced the large landholder class. Beginning in the early 1700s, members of this class made an especial effort to acquire possessions (houses and other assets) that would distinguish them from other class levels.
Prior to the 1720s, the large landholder first level did not stand out as much; less distinction between the levels existed. The 1720s represented a noticeable shift between the levels when the first level became much more interested in distinguishing itself with possessions and positions. This is possibly a result of greater incomes, economic success, and wealth generation, beginning in the 1720s. Such success provides the initiative and wherewithal for a cultural shift to happen. And with the economic shift possibly comes a difference in how the separated groups view themselves and the world.
Especially in the 1700s, before Independence from England, this top-class structure level is likely to be very insulated, meaning member socialization was primarily with other members of this top level. Little socializing was done with others in lower classes. This accounted for most of the marriages taking place between members of families in this (the same) class level. The insulated nature of this level likely helped to perpetuate the privileges that this class had in the Colony.
The yeomen planter, higher-level land owner, and higher-level service provider (the second class level) likely had similar views and aspirations as the larger land owner first class level but frustrated by a limitation of capacity (resources) to act accordingly.
The third class level of ordinary planters, lower-level land owners, and lower-level service providers likely was primarily concerned with family welfare and making the most of, and not losing, the opportunities that they had.
In the tenant farmer, more-valuable indentured servant level (fourth class level) and the less-valuable indentured servant (fifth class level), a primary concern was likely what was to become of them after they completed their indentured servant period. How they thought about this probably differed and related to the skills that they had (skills that mostly accounted for the separation between the fourth and fifth class levels).
In the African slave level (sixth class level), a primary concern was likely the present - having enough to eat, avoiding sickness and disease, surviving. African slaves likely had little concerns with the world beyond their daily lives, becoming free, and avoiding suffering.
Although class distinctions made up the culture that existed in the 1700s Northern Neck, historians have suggested that there was an existing sense among the classes of a concern for the common good, of promoting the community for the benefit of all. Even though there was in the wealthy land owner class insulation from other classes in certain ways, there was also a sense of responsibility in this class to do public service in government, in churches, and in the militia, out of a concern for the common good and benefit of the community.
With respect to the class-level differences in the 1700s, the amount of wealth and the ability to generate wealth seems to be a primary factor for class-level differences. That seems to be also the case today. Population separation by wealth (amounting to class separation), as then, continues today (as it is likely to have existed throughout history). As wealth-generation capacities become more pronounced and profound, made possible by the economic circumstances of the times, even greater class separation by wealth seems to be possible and realized. This certainly is the case today in America when so much is written and spoken of “the top one percent”, “such a small percentage of the population has such a high amount of the wealth”, etc. This situation today beckons back to the Northern Neck in the 1700s in terms of looking for supporting models, patterns, and historical occurrences.
How one views the world seems often to be related to the class level one is in, which correlates with wealth-generating capacities and successes.
From the tables of my ancestors (Section I, Introduction), there are seven male names that I believe are most connected to me as male ancestor lines: Ball, Carter, Champe, Claughton, Cralle, Garner, and Washington. And therefore throughout this family history, I try to provide as much as possible on what I consider interesting and important details and conclusions related specifically to these seven family names, and also more generally, what life might have been like for these seven families living in the Northern Neck in the 1600s and 1700s.
One of the conclusions I have come to about the seven families is which of my six class levels, defined in the above paragraphs, I place each family in. In Section X (Ancestors Living in the Northern Neck in the 1600s and 1700s – Balls, Carters, Champes, Claughtons, Cralles, Garners, and Washingtons), I identify the class levels that I think each of the seven families would most likely be in (in the 1700s), based on my analysis of information found throughout this family history. Here are the class levels concluded in Section X:
The class level conclusions provided in the table above is based on many factors such as the amount of land and other assets owned, and community positions held. Another factor that I think might be relevant is the number of times the family name appeared in the Virginia Gazette, an official Colony publication, printed from 1730 to 1780 (see Subsection 6, Language and Communication, below, for more information on the Virginia Gazette). The following table presents the number of times the family name appeared in the Virginia Gazette from 1730 to 1780:
This Virginia Gazette data supports placing Carter and Washington in class level one and is supportive of Claughton, Cralle, and Garner class levels. But the Ball and Champe results are not consistent with their assigned class levels. Other factors need to be considered. With respect to “Ball”, the 668 number is certainly inflated because “ball” is used frequently in Virginia Gazette postings referring to “dances” and also possibly in other uses such as a type of ammunition used in the 1700s.
By the end of the 1700s, the golden age of Northern Neck tobacco growing as a source of great wealth was coming to an end. And with this, the large landing-owning planter class would begin to disappear. Large land holdings, land that does not produce income, becomes a liability, an expense, as taxes have to be paid. Selling the land becomes difficult, as no one else has a way of monetizing the land. And with this, comes the disappearance of the large land-holding planter class one (in my Class-Structure scheme above).
Throughout this study, I provide several data sets obtained from historical records that suggest class levels of individuals and families. These include:
Positions held in government, church, military, etc.
Named places, e.g., creeks, mills, ferries, etc.
Indentured servants sponsorships
Number of slaves owned
Mentions in the Virginia Gazette
Class levels that I place ancestors in are influenced by these data sets.
3. Marriage. Marriage culture (traditions) were much different than today. Most women were married by age 20. Intra-family marriages were common, e.g., first cousins marrying first cousins; widowed men and women marrying those from their deceased husband or wife families. Most individuals did not remain unmarried long. The culture best supported those who were married. Because of the frequency of women dying at child birth, leaving widowers with children, there were many widowers anxious to remarry. But also, a high frequency of young married-men dying left many widows with children in need. For most women, the primary purpose in life was to be a wife, to be married, and to have children. Having children was a primary purpose of marriage. Expectations and occurrences of marrying within one’s class level were higher than today. Those who married usually lived close to one another before marriage (except for the first-class level), unlike today. Women had very set roles to play in the marriage. Divorce and separation were low. Widowed women were badly treated under the law with respect to inheriting their deceased husbands assets.
Requirements for two to marry were different compared to today. Written consent of the parents were needed if those marrying were less than 21 years. To obtain a license, a monetary pledge or guarantee had to be given to the court that no reasons existed for why the couple could not marry and that the groom would not change his mind. Before 1780, supposedly, marriage could only be performed by ministers of the Church of England. In the 1600s and early 1700s, widows usually did not remain single long, since men greatly out-numbered women and the women needed security. (In the later 1700s, the male-female ratio became more balanced.)
Marriages were usually big social events, even bigger than now (for most marriages). Celebrations at the bride’s parents house might last more than a day. Marriages were usually held in churches, a tradition that seems to continue to today, even when many of those getting married in a church today do not attend church (unlike in the 1600s and 1700s).
Several marriages to Indians occurred in the 1600s (until 1691, when a Virginia law prohibited such marriages). I believe there is good possibility in my ancestor past of a white male marrying an Indian woman . One of my ancestors (see tables, Section I, Introduction) was Spelman Garner (1740-1771).
Spelman Garner (1740-1771) was born and died in Northumberland County and her mother was Frances Spelman (1717-1799); born in Northumberland County and died in Westmoreland County, Virginia. My research discovered what I believed could be a possibility that Frances Spelman is a descendant of Captain Henry Spilman (1598-1623); born in Congham, England; died in Virginia). The spellings of the last names would be one indication of a connection. Henry Spilman is of interest historically because of his involvement in the settlement of Jamestown and his interactions with various Indian tribes that Jamestown residents and other settlers interacted with. He wrote about his Indian experiences; a writing that survives and which have been of historical importance in better understanding Jamestown and the first English settlers in the Virginia Colony.
A painting “Baptism of Pocahontas” is on display at the US Capital Building. This painting depicts the ceremony in which Pocahontas, daughter of the influential Algonquian chief Powhatan, was baptized and given the name Rebecca in an Anglican church. Reportedly, one of the figures in the painting represents Henry Spilman. The artist was John Gadsby Chapman and went on display in 1840.
Spilman interactions with various Indian tribes allowed him to learn some of the Algonquian language, giving him unique experiences and legitimacy in his Indian interactions. A belief exists that he married an Indian woman and had a son. According to at least one history, while Henry Spilman was associated with Jamestown, hostilities broke out between the Jamestown settlers and the Indians. Spilman was able to survive this, while many Jamestown settlers did not, and he eventually ended up in northern Virginia (the Northern Neck area), where he is believed to have died in 1623.
Records indicate that a Clement Spilman (1620-1677) was born in Charles City County, Virginia, and died in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Charles City County is just west of Jamestown and Westmoreland is in the Northern Neck. Was Clement Spilman Captain Henry Spilman’s son? His birth date, 1620, would fit the possibility of being Henry Spilman’s son. His name would also. That apparently he was born in Charles County, Virginia, near where Henry Spilman might have been in 1620 and where Henry had opportunity to have a child (with an Indian woman); and that Clement dies in Westmoreland County, a part of the Northern Neck, where Henry Spilman is believed to have died, are also suggestive that Clement might have been Henry’s son.
Was Clement Spilman (1620-1677) the son of Capt. Henry Spilman and an Indian bride? I believe it is a possibility. Frances Spelman (1717-1799), one of my Northern Neck ancestors, is believed to be descended from Clement Spilman (1620-1677).
Two of my great, great grandparents (Rosalie O. Carter, 1818-1853, and Richard H. Crawley, 1820-1865) can trace their lineage back through the following marriages of Northern Neck residents in the 1600s and 1700s:
The above table indicates just how many ancestors we all have (a great number) as we go back beyond our great grandparents.
Researching records reportedly listing all marriages during the 1600s and 1700s in four counties of the Northern Neck (Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland; marriages in King George were not included), the following number of marriages are found where the male last name is one of the last male names in the above table (Champe is excluded because King George County was excluded from list of the 1600s and 1700s marriages):
So, a conclusion is that 195 marriages, during the 1600s and 1700s, in the Northern Neck counties Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland, might be traced back to six immigrants. These 195 marriages no doubt added a lot to the social, economic, security, and other aspects of life in the Northern Neck.
The six immigrants that many, if not all, of these 195 marriages, and descendants of the marriages, can be traced back to are:
In Section X, Ancestors Living in the Northern Neck in the 1600s and 1700s – Balls, Carters, Champes, Claughtons, Cralles, Garners, and Washingtons, I provide details related to these seven males and their family names as well as some of the females and their family names in the above Northern Neck Ancestor Marriages table.
It is interesting that in the above table (Northern Neck ancestor marriages) there are seven male family names but 21 female family names. This suggests to me that a family lineage has a much less genetic composition diversity with respect to the males than the genetic diversity provided by the females. In other works, it is the female that provides the greatest genetic diversity to the family lineage genetic composition. In other words, the males would pass on similar genes to the sons, but that each wife brings distinct genes to those sons. Providing an increased diversity to a male family line likely is a positive contribution; the lack of such diversity might lead to negative consequences.
Amongst my Northern Neck ancestors are indications of intra-family marriages being more common than today. In the 1649-to-1800-time frame, records indicate four marriages between men and women with the last name Ball; three with last name Carter; one with last name Cralle; and one with last name Washington.
4. Religion. Religion had a significant effect on the culture in the Northern Neck in the 1600s and 1700s. Church attendance was higher than today. Estimates are that attendance was 75%, or more, of the population. In 2014, regular church attendance in Virginia was estimated to be 40 to 50% of the population. Virginia’s church attendance percentages in 2014 rank higher than many other states, possibly a result of Virginia’s high church attendance in the 1600s and 1700s (assuming all of the Virginia Colony had similar attendance percentages to the Northern Neck).
Churches were the primary care givers for the poor, the sick, the orphans, and others in need, unlike today when governments play the larger role. During the 1700s, the churches in the Northern Neck (as well as the Virginia Colony government) were very intolerant of non-Christian perspectives. Non-Christians were prohibited from holding government office. Also, explanations for any tragedies, sicknesses, and turmoil being experienced by people were attributed to the “will of God”, a religious perspective at the time. These attitudes began to change in the second half of the 1700s, correlating with more “educated” people and a greater pursuit of learning.
I believe it is not a coincidence that the changes in the second half of the 1700s is happening at the same time that the so-called “industrial revolution” is beginning to place in England. In both locations, an important contributing factor is a more “educated” population and a greater pursuit of learning. In both places, there seems to be an “intellectual awaking” corresponding with the beginning of progressive acts and changes in society.
For most of the 1600s and 1700s, the Church of England (the Anglican Church) was the “official” church, the church of government. Several Church of England parishes existed in the Northern Neck during the 1600s, and later, such as: Boutracy; Chickacoan; Fairfield; Lee; Nomini; St. Stephen’s; and Wicomico. It seems to me that these parishes would, in their care for the poor, orphans, and the needy, as well as being a meeting place for the more prominent local citizens, serve as the area’s “first governmental structure and process”. These parishes will lead to the establishment of wider county government, taking over the roles that the parishes played.
The Virginia Anglican Church depended much less on the established ways of doing things present in England, e.g., a hierarchical government of bishops, archbishops, etc. The Northern Neck Anglican Church possibly was more depended on secular leadership and a secular vestry (serving as a government-like body). This secular experience possibly had a “cultural” influence on evolving views in the later 1700s on attitudes toward individual freedoms and how people should be governed. Northern Neck individuals, who came up under this culture, had a consequential input to important matters in the formation of the United States Government.
The top-two classes – the large landowners and the yeoman farmers levels – controlled the church administration – choosing pastors, handling property affairs, disbursing charity, etc. Qualified pastors were in short supply, as qualified pastors did not immigrate from England to the Northern Neck (and the Virginia Colony) in sufficient quantities to meet the demand for qualified pastors. Colony officials received many complaints about pastors. (One of the initiatives for starting a school - to become William and Mary College in Williamsburg, then the Virginia Colony capital - was to train qualified pastors, who were in high demand.)
Competition to the Anglican Church sprang up in the middle 1700s, when “separatist” groups, e.g., Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, started meeting. This was occurring during a period that became known as “The Great Awakening”. A motivation for this movement and the growth of the “separatists” churches was apathy and disengagement of the lower-class levels with the Anglican Church and its government affiliation. This apathy and disengagement corresponded with the lower-class levels’ feelings about the dominance of the upper classes, both in the churches and in government decision-making, which often benefited the upper classes. Messages in the separatists’ groups were of a contrasting character than in the Anglican churches. This had an effect on Northern Neck culture. These separatist groups were active in recruiting new numbers, likely an explanation for their success. By the 1780s, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches existed in the Northern Neck. Today, across the Northern Neck, the number of Baptist churches likely exceed the combine number all other church denominations.
What was happening in the middle 1700s, centered in religious life, and referred to as “The Great Awakening”, could be related to changes later in the 1700s (i.e., an intellectual awaking, discussed in a paragraph above). Example of such changes might be a greater tolerance for non-traditional views. I also feel that these “cultural” changes are tied into how colonists reacted in the later 1700s to their interactions with England and ultimately their pursuit of independence from England.
After the War of Independence in the 1770s and 1780s, the Anglican Church would cease to be an active church in America, and many of the Anglican Church communities ceased to exist and their church buildings stopped being maintained. Not until the early 1800s, when the Episcopal Church of America emerges, would the assets and many of the practices of the defunct Anglican Church be acquired and used.
At least two of my ancestors were active in Northern Neck church affairs. John Cralle (1724-1778), as a Baptist, was a strong proponent of the separation of the church from state affairs. And Robert Carter (1663-1732) gave land and money for the construction (in 1735) of Christ Church, an Anglican Church, which still stands and used in Lancaster County.
Religious fervent, in comparison to the New England colonies, seems to have been mostly absent from the Northern Neck culture of the 1600s and 1700s. Such absence possibly allowed for a more diverse cultural development, which seems to me to be an overall positive, and might account for the many competent leaders, with a variety of views, which emerged out of the Northern Neck as the new nation was forming.
5. Education. In the 1600s and 1700s, education, and obtaining one, was very much up to individuals and the families to which they belong. Few, if any, schools existed in most places in most Northern Neck areas. The larger and more wealthy landowners would send their children to England for schooling. Also these families would hire tutors, usually from Europe, to live in their homes as teachers. Reports indicate that in the late 1600s some individuals paid for “free schools” in the Northern Neck, providing reading and writing education. And such activities might have continued, probably haphazardly, into the 1700s, but likely on a small scale.
Churches were considered as a resource for providing education. Churches would hold education opportunities on Sunday afternoons, versus before church as would be assumed today. More on the scope of these opportunities, whether more than religious, moral subjects were taught, and the consequences of these Sunday afternoon sessions would be interesting to know. A limiting factor as to the value of these sessions likely were the quality of the church pastors; in general, Church of England parishes in the Northern Neck had a problem attracting quality pastors (see above Subsection 6, Religion, for more on the quality of Church of England pastors).
The first public schools in the Northern Neck started appearing in the late 1800s. Today ( 2021) the Virginia State Community College System operates three sites in the Northern Neck where students can take college courses.
Book possession was likely not large, although the wealthier landowners often had dozens of books. Smaller personal libraries were often dominated by books on religion. Records show that the immigrants from Maryland to the Northern Neck in the 1640s had books. (See Section II, Demographics, Subsection 3, Immigrants, and Section VI, Government, for more on these 1640s immigrants.) Education in the 1700s (and previous centuries) was more likely through oral interactions than from using print materials.
One of my ancestors, Robert Carter (1663-1732), reportedly had one of the larger libraries in the Virginia Colony, with hundreds of books. His book subjects included: religion; history; law; medicine; and physics.
Another Carter, Robert Carter III (1728-1804), a grandson of Robert Carter (1663-1732), had even a larger library than his grandfather. Robert Carter III’s library, with more than 1,500 books, could have been one of the largest in America at the time. Books were included in the following categories: Greek and Roman classics (an area of more interest then than today); religion and theology; travel and geography; entertaining literature (e.g., poetry, plays, and novels); and practical instructions.
Robert was a collector of books – but his methods of obtaining books, by necessity, was much different than today, when books can be ordered easily over the Internet. Robert would order books from England, peruse the Virginia Gazette (see the next Subsection 6, Language and Communications, for more on the Virginia Gazette) for book sales ads, and buy books at estate sales, all of which took much time and effort (again unlike today). The difference in time and effort in ordering/obtaining books then, in the 1700s, seems to me to be a good example of how much the supply/purchase infrastructure systems has evolved (in our favor).
Regardless of the levels of education and what education was absorbed, superstitions and conspiracy theories were widely spread and accepted then, in the 1600s and 1700s, as they are today. Astrology was popular. There seems to be a human need to trust simple, non-demanding, easily absorbed, unverified information provided by others to quiet the human nervous system, which may account for the large-scale, continuing acceptance of conspiracy theories in present-day America.
Reportedly in 1672, three unusual events occurred at approximately the same time that reflects the way that educational levels and inclinations to accept superstition and unexplained events can affect mass perceptions. The first of these events was a comet, now known as Biela’s Comet, widely observed in the Northern Neck. The second event was an unusual huge swan of passenger pigeons. Such swans could be miles long. (Passenger pigeons are now extinct.) And the third event was the emergence of loud noise-making cicadas from their long-term underground habitation. These three unusual events, occurring closely together in time, possibly promoted conspiracy theories and superstitions to explain what had happen. And with these theories and superstitions possibly came increased concerns for safety and security. It has been suggested that such concerns may have led to the increased tensions between the settlers and the Indians that were known to have taken place in the 1670s.
6. Language and Communications. Dropping into the 1600s and 1700s in the Northern Neck, one would hear speech and language much different than what one hears today. In many cases, understanding what one hears would be difficult. Accents and pronouncements would be different. Many residents would be speaking with accents, including those accents they came with when they immigrated. Jargon and slang existed that would not be understood by the modern hearer. Many words and terms were used that are not used today, not just in common, everyday communications, but in specialized areas such as medicine, farming, and construction. The written document would be difficult to read with grammar, spelling, alphabetic uses (e.g., f for s), great use of unrecognizable abbreviations, and other practices much different than today.
Another difference, somewhat related to language, was the way in which families would name their children. Names were frequently used over and over within a family. And often families would use the last names of previous ancestors in the first names of their children. One of my ancestors’ last name was Spelman, and a subsequent female offspring’s first name became Spelman. This approach to naming children is done some today, but I suspect, based on my 1600s and 1700s genealogical research experience, not as frequently today as then.
Another example of how communication methods developed and were used, in the late 1700s, was what became known as “liberty poles”. Erected poles would appear in communities throughout the Northern Neck, and other areas of the Virginia, and other colonies, that hung protests messages against the British. The term “liberty pole” began being used with a well-understood meaning. “Liberty poles’ is just one of likely many examples demonstrating how communication methods in the 1600s and 1700s were much different compared to now. Public bulletin boards also likely existed and served as a major way of communicating in the community. Also, in the 1700s, travelling orators emerged as a relatively common occurrence. Orators would travel from town to town where they would be given a platform/stage to speak from. A road (route 612), near Lottsburg in Northumberland County, is called Coan Stage Road. The road’s name makes one wonder whether somewhere along the road in the 1700s, an orator’s stage might have existed.
Almanacs began appearing in the 1700s and became a prominent source of information. The first Virginia almanac, named Virginia Almanack, was printed in the 1740s at the Williamsburg Printing Office, a private business started in the 1730s to print Virginia Colony government documents. The Williamsburg Printing Office became a very successful business, serving as an important source of printed materials for the Virginia Colony. The almanac, published annually, was sold in the hundreds. The printing office took orders by mail and could deliver the requests to many areas in the Colony. Books were available on many subjects.
The Virginia Gazette was the official newspaper of the Virginia Colony, published in Williamsburg from 1736 to 1780. In addition to articles originating with the publishers, and other contributors, individuals from throughout the Virginia Colony could submit (usually short – one paragraph) announcements on a variety of topics such as: items for sale; land and other items wanting to buy; seeking run-away slaves; death notices; etc. The newspaper likely served as the foremost method of printed communication and expressions of interests and concerns between Virginians in the 1700s (1730-1780). The Virginia Gazette was an important source of news about what was going on in other colonies and in Europe.
Virginia Gazette editions survive and have been digitized and are readily searchable. By searching on key terms, I believe some insights can be gained about the Virginia Colony during the 1730 to 1780 period. For example, searching on the 51 county names that existed in the 1770s provides how frequently the county name appears in the 1730 to 1780 publications. Here is the result of that search:
What accounts for the frequency that county names appear in the Virginia Gazette is not certain. One possibility is county land-sale notices placed in the Virginia Gazette. The Virginia Gazette served extensively as a “modern day” classified ad section and would be a place one would go to communicate land available for purchase and land wanting to buy. To support this conclusion is that many of the western Virginia counties, e.g., Halifax, Price Edward, Albemarle, Orange, and Frederick, had relatively high frequency numbers (see table above), which might be expected if eastern county residents would be seeking land no longer available in those eastern counties, and therefore searching for land still available in the western counties.
Two of my ancestors (in the ancestors tables above in Section I, Introduction), Thomas Hull Cralle (1766-1815) and Elizabeth Mary Claughton Cralle (1766-1808), would migrate from Northumberland County to Halifax County in the late 1700s. Perhaps they saw in the Virginia Gazette a Halifax County land-for-sale notice, prompting their migration to Halifax County.
On another search of the Virginia Gazette, I was hoping to gain some insight into what life might be like living in the 1700s in the Virginia Colony. The following table shows 45 terms I searched, and the number of times they appear in the Virginia Gazette.
Some of the conclusions I reached from these results are:
Terms dealing with economic, welfare concerns, e.g., land, plantation, tobacco, property, etc., appear very frequently;
Cultural and life style terms such as death, church, entertainment, marriage, education, and carriage appear fairly frequently;
The term fire appears at a high frequency, suggesting that concerns with fire likely were paramount, and that fire prevention and extinguishing still needed much development; and
The term revolution started appearing frequently in the 1770s.
7. Food and Drink. Another area where differences exist in the 1600s and 1700s, compared to today, is in food and drink consumption. More meats were eaten at breakfast then and chocolate was frequently eaten at breakfast. Meats slaughtered in hot weather could not be salted before spoilage, and therefore less meat was eaten in the summer. Individuals preparing alcoholic fruit beverages (with fruit from orchids owned by the individuals) was common. Alcoholic consumption was important in the 1600s and 1700s and perhaps for culturally different reasons compared to today. Food security and variety was much less then than now. Seafood, such as trout and oysters, because they were plentiful in the Northern Neck waters, probably were more frequently consumed, since other foods were less plentiful. Rum and beer was popular. Wheat was usually considered a preferable food source compared to corn. There was a wide-spread recognition between what one ate and one’s health and welfare.
From the earliest immigrants, growing food was of the highest priority – recognized as necessary for survival. Discussions, plans, and strategies would likely be related to food in ways much different than they are today. Self-sufficiency with respect to having enough to eat was likely one of the highest priorities for everyone. A danger of not having enough to eat was likely much higher then than today. Because of these factors, much experimentation related to food preparation, preservation, and security was likely, leading to innovation and progress.
Kitchen preparation of food was much different, more difficult, with refrigerators, microwaves, and modern utensils not available. Cooking was over open fires, especially in the 1600s. By the 1700s, brick ovens were being built into fireplaces. Not being able to refrigerate foods was a huge difference compared to today. Much more time was spent in food preparation then now. Meats had to be salted for preservation, changing meat eating habits. Eating utensils were different in many ways. Spoons were more commonly used as the principle eating utensil, compared to forks (if spoons were used, as eating with finders and hands occurred, especially in the 1600s). Drinking vessels were shared in the 1600s, less so in the 1700s. Before the middle 1700s, pottery and porcelain was rarely used, but rather pewter. Availability of many food preparation items, today common, were nonexistent then. Items available did improve over time, with the late 1700s being much different than the 1600s.
The larger, richer landowners had certain rituals at meals, such as toasts. Many imported large amounts of wine from Europe and considered wine drinking as an important act distinguishing them from others in society. The well-to-do began to acquire sets of glasses, plates, and utensils in the 1720s.
In an archaeological excavation of an ancestor plantation house (Robert Carter; 1663-1732), remains of over 1,000 bottles of wine were found.
8. Clothes and Fashions. Clothes and their fashions were different in the 1600s and 1700s compared to today. With clothes worn on formal occasions, clothing was less revealing of the body – likely fully covering and concealing of the body – whereas today clothing attempts more to accentuate the body. Much more fabric was used then by individuals, but there was less choice of fabric materials. Getting dress took a longer amount of time. What one wore was met to portray status, to project a class image. Buttons and shoes were often used for decorative effects. A fabric, called osnaburg, woven in flax, was frequently used. Ordinary, non-formal clothing, usually made of cotton, varied little, and was not particularly noteworthy. Clothes were made from naturally-occurring materials, such as bone and wood for buttons, cotton and flax for cloth, and calamanco (a glassy woolen fabric of satin) for shoes.
Although a lot of clothing was imported from England, especially by the wealthier, spinning wheels were available, producing thread or yarn from which cloth could be made on looms. Natural dyes were available. Young women apprentices were often taught spinning skills.
Hats of various sizes, including wide brim, were commonly worn both by women and men, and men wore wigs on formal occasions. Men wore knee-length stockings, with pants stopping at the knee. Shoes and belts would have buckles. Swords would be worn on special occasions for ornamental reasons. Cut lace and cravats were worn around the neck. Women wore full-length dresses. Use of lots of color was considered to enhance one’s appearance.
In the late 1600s and early 1700s, fashions were mostly influenced by England and France, with France especially influencing women fashions. Fashion did change over time, based on many factors. Towards the later 1700s, utility, simplicity, and economy of clothing began to come into vogue. Clothing specialists were recruited from England by the rich landowners to help establish clothing wardrobes. The textile industrial revolution in the late 1700s had a great influence on clothing and its fashion.
9. Entertainment and Socializing. Entertainment, relaxation, and socializing included dances (balls), horse racing, card games, backgammon, billiards, pipe smoking, attending plays, fox hunting, and boxing. Because of the great amount of time needed for work and survival, relaxation periods were special periods, highly valued, and looked forward to.
Dancing would take places at weddings. Violin was usually one of the instruments used for music. Balls were held frequently, where both more formal minuet-like and English country styles of dances took place. Balls provided many functions not easily available otherwise in the 1700s, such as: a premier opportunity for men to meet women; demonstrating one’s pride in dressing and socializing; relaxation and enjoyment; and for promotion of business and professional interests. Reactions to balls then likely had a meaning not easily understood today. There were individuals who taught dancing and played music for fees, some of whom travel from area to area. One such traveling dancing teacher was a Charles Stagg, who frequently taught ancestor Robert Carter’s (1663-1732) children dancing. Being able to dance was considered an important skill to have.
Also important social skills were card playing, fiddle playing, and boxing.
Horse racing was quite popular among the richer landowners. Great pride was associated with quality horse ownership and winning races. Betting took place. At least three racing tracks were maintained in the Northern Neck in the 1600s and early 1700s: at Coan; Yeocomico; and Willoughby’s Oldfield. A frequent race was between two horses for a quarter of a mile. The horse owner often was the rider. Horses, which served as status symbols, and horse racing were important socializing activities.
John Garner (1639-1702) (an ancestor) attended a horse race in 1693 at Willoughby’s Oldfield with his all-white horse, Young Fire. Apparently there was a dispute in one of the races that Young Fire was in, ending up in court. Rodham Kenner (1671-1706) (also an ancestor) raced at Yeocomico.
Pipe smoking was a frequent pastime, enjoying more popularity then than today. It reflected a culture unique to its times. Pipe sizes, materials, and designs varied over time and were not used for long periods before being discarded. Archaeological digs have discovered many sites with discarded pipes and archaeologists and historians have used pipe characteristics to pinpoint dates associated with finds.
Plays were presented, probably more frequently later in the 1700s. Fox hunting was popular in the 1700s among the richer land owners. George Washington, the son of one of my ancestors, Mary Ball (1708-1789), listed in the tables in Section I, Introduction, frequently fox hunted. Boxing was known to take place in the 1600s. Because of the absence of good lighting at night, with only candles, entertainment and socializing were limited during the night hours. Churches were also important opportunities for socializing.
Examined probated will records from the 1700s have discovered references to items labeled as important for entertaining guests, such as tea cups. This suggests that having tea with guests was an important social occasion.
Having a portrait painted was a frequent activity of the richer landowners. Itinerate painters would make the rounds to do the paintings. Such paintings are often the only likenesses we have of the subjects. Being able to see a portrait of oneself probably represented an experience to those in the 1700s that is unimaginable to us in the 2000s, where pictures of ourselves have become ubiquitous. John Wollaston was an English painter who was active in the middle 1700s as a portrait painter in the Northern Neck. My Northern Neck ancestors listed in the tables in Section I, Introduction, who had portraits painted include: Robert Carter (1663-1762); Judith Armistead Carter (1665-1698); John Carter III (1689-1742); John Champe, Jr. (1698-1763); Mary Ball (1708-1789); and Sarah Champe Carter (1740-1814).
10. Travel. Travel across the Northern Neck was by horse (and in very short distances by foot). Indian paths from the earlier 1600s might have served as the initial roads. It is believed that 20 to 30 miles on horseback was the average day’s travel. This met that traveling from one end of the Northern Neck to the other (a distance of about 75 miles) would take three days (75 miles distance divided by 25 miles average day travel). When Mary Ball (one of my ancestors in the tables in Section I, Introduction) married Augustine Washington, Mary would likely travel by horseback from her home in the south of Lancaster County, on the Rappahannock River, to Augustine’s home on Pope’s Creek, in Westmoreland County, on the Potomac River, a distance of about 45 miles. Her trip then would be an overnight trip.
On this overnight trip, Mary would likely stay at an overnight tavern (called an ordinary in the 1700s). Ordinaries usually had overnight accommodations and served food. Ordinaries would likely be present at chosen strategic locations, where travelers would be in need of overnight accommodations, e.g., half-way between a frequently-made, two-day trip. Ordinaries often took on the names of their owners, who would be the preparers of food provided to the guests. Food was frequently what the owner would be eating and therefore only one selection available to the guests. Ordinaries also were often a meeting place for local citizens and would serve beer and rum (the two most consumed alcoholic beverages in the 1700s). Provisions for horses would also likely be available. Apparently, ordinary rates were established by the Virginia Colony government.
A restored building in Heathsville, Northumberland County, is the site of a tavern (ordinary) operating in the late 1700s, called Hughlett’s Tavern. Heathsville likely would be along the route that Mary Ball, and others from Lancaster County, would travel to get to other parts of the Northern Neck. Perhaps Mary stayed at Hughlett’s Tavern.
Several ferries across Northern Neck rivers existed. The ferries would be known by the owners’ names. A ferry across the Rappahannock River, not far from Fredericksburg, existed. Although the ferries charged a fee, a few ferries were free for the poor. The ferry vessel would be pulled across the river by use of a rope stretching from shore to shore. Two ferries (engine powered) still are operated (2020) in the Northern Neck by the State of Virginia, one across the Western branch of the Corrotoman River and the other across the Little Wicomico River.
In the 1700s, the main, most frequently used, routes from Williamsburg to Annapolis went across the Northern Neck. These routes were only possible because of ferries crossing the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. One such ferry was from Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County in the Northern Neck to Maryland.
Travel in the 1600s and 1700s served a critical communications role (served today by many ways not available then). Travelers were a predominate method of getting news and information. Visits to neighbors were frequent, probably more so then today. Travelers would likely be seen often on the paths and roads. A lack of road signs and markers existed, which caused problems navigating the Northern Neck for the unacquainted. Travel between the other locations in the Virginia Colony and to the Maryland Colony was frequent.
The differences in the amount of time spent traveling, the distances traveled, and the methods of travel between the 1600s/1700s and today are so great that it might be this aspect of life (travel) that we find the greatest separation in how people of the two periods think about themselves and view the world they live in.
11. Holidays. Christmases would be much different from today’s Christmas season. A pre-Christmas preparatory period did not exist like today. Christmas day might be different, depending on one’s church affiliations, with the Anglican Church more celebratory and the separatists churches (e.g., Baptists and Presbyterians) more subdued. Christmas day was more likely seen as the beginning of a 12-day special period, not just a one-day event. Gift giving was limited and when gifts were given it was usually from parents to children and masters to underlings, and more likely given on New Year’s Day then Christmas. Christmas trees were not present, but evergreens and berries possible.
During the 12-day period of Christmas, a parade might be held, put on by Masons (Masons were a much different, a more prevalent, influential, politically active group in the 1700s then today). The 12-day period was a popular time to have balls and also to have weddings. New Year’s Eve was not celebrated but rather New Year’s Day, with social gatherings and meals. Visits were popular on New Year’s day, wishing one another a good forthcoming year. Firings of guns were likely on New Year’s Day.
I do not know of other holidays that might have existed during the 1600s and 1700s.
ancestor class label table
ancestor family name
Virginia Gazette appearances table
number of times in Virginia Gazette
Northern Neck ancestor marriages
Ball, Joseph (1649-1711)
Johnson, Mary Bennett (1650s?-1721)
Ball, William (1615-1680)
Atherold, Hannah (1615-1695)
Carter, John (1613-1669)
Ludlow, Sarah (1665-1668)
Carter, John III (1689-1742)
Hill, Elizabeth (1703-1773)
Carter, Robert (1663-1732)
Armistead, Judith (1665-1698)
Champe, John (1698-1763)
Thornton, Jane (1707-1767)
Champe, John Sr. (1670-1763)
Champe, William (1644-1747)
Pope, Elizabeth Jane (1646-1675)
Claughton, John (1659-1726)
Pemberton, Ann (1665-1725)
Claughton, Richard (1696-1773)
Lampkin, Mary (1698-1780))
Claughton, Richard II (1730-1815)
Lewis, Priscilla (1745-1815)
Cralle, John (?-1728)
Matthew, Anne (1678-1728)
Cralle, John (1724-1771)
Garner, Spelman (1740-1771)
Cralle, Thomas (1695-1726)
Kenner, Hannah (1695-1784)
Cralle, Thomas Hall (1766-1815)
Claughton, Elizabeth (1766-1808)
Crawley, Thomas Garner (1787-1841)
Brandon, Nancy Ann (1790-1858)
Garner, John (1634-1702)
Keene, Susanna (?-1716)
Garner, Parish (1705-1761)
Spelman, Frances (1717-1799)
Garner, Richard (1594-1643)
Layce, Katharn (1604-1635)
Washington, Augustine (1694-1743)
Ball, Mary (1708-1789)
Washington, John (1631-1677)
Pope, Anne (1639-1668)
Washington, Lawrence (1659-1698)
Warner, Mildred (? -1701)
number of marriages table
number of marriages
country of origin table
county immigrated to
James Claughton, Jr.
Virginia Gazette data
Isle of Wright
King & Queen
Virginia Gazatte search table
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