The Cavaliers and Servants

by Sue Roe

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION

A four-part series on the largest groups of emigrants from the British Isles to Colonial America. They were: the PURITANS who came, primarily, from East Anglia to the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1629 and 1640; the CAVALIERS AND SERVANTS who came, primarily, from the south of England to Virginia between 1642 and 1675; the QUAKERS who came, primarily, from the English Midlands to Pennsylvania between 1675 and 1725; and the SCOTCH-IRISH who came, primarily, from the English/Scottish border counties (sometimes via northern Ireland) to Virginia (via Pennsylvania) between 1717 and 1775.

In ALBION'S SEED, David Fischer referred to this second group of immigrants as "Distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants". As we go along, I think you will see why. These were a group of people who emigrated mostly from the Southwestern English Counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devonshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and several others to the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia and Maryland between 1642 and 1675, the peak period being the 1650's. The reason for this migration was a bit more complicated. The Puritans had gotten control in England and the Anglicans were now being persecuted. So some of the people who left did it for the reason of religious persecution, just as the Puritans had. But there was a secondary motivation for some. The laws of inheritance in England gave all real property to the eldest son of the family. Some of those who left England were second or third sons of "elite" families who wanted to go to a place where they could have land of their own.

In the beginning, Virginia attracted people of mixed religious backgrounds. But the main religion was the Church of England (Episcopal). After Virginia became a royal colony, the Assembly passed laws making the Church of England the State Church in Virginia (1632). Over a period of time, it became more and more difficult for persons of dissenting religions to remain in Virginia.

About 25 percent of the persons in this second migration were from the English "elite"--they had wealth, social standing, and education in England. They were members of the Anglican Church and they were Royalist in their politics. The other 75 percent were from the lower classes and came as servants, many as indentured servants, to work on the large plantations established by the "cavaliers". These were poor, illiterate, and unskilled. Right away, there was a class system established in Virginia that did not exist and would not have been approved of in New England. In this migration, males outnumbered females by about 4 to 1. A majority of those who came were unmarried males between the ages of 15 and 24.

The family feelings were just as strong in this group as among the Puritans, but different in substance. There was much more emphasis on the extended family. Members of the same extended family tended to settle together and stay near each other. The unit of residence was the nuclear family, but the unit of association was the extended family. They flocked together in neighborhoods and buried their dead in family plots. (Unlike New England where there were common burial grounds in each town.) The terms "brother" and "cousin" were used more loosely--and can't always be taken literally when found in records. Households often included servants, lodgers and visitors. All were treated as family as long as they were in the household. Virginians didn't seem to be suspicious of strangers as New Englanders were.

In Virginia, families tended to be smaller--mainly because the death rate was much higher. There were more step-relationships for the same reason. This group shared the Puritans' strong imperative to marry. Bachelors and spinsters were condemned as unnatural and dangerous to society. But marriage was not a contract as in New England; it was a indissoluble union, a sacred knot that could not be untied. All marriages were performed in the state church (Anglican) and divorce was not allowed. There were 5 required steps to marriage: espousal, banns, religious ceremony, marriage feast, sexual consummation. Written permission from parents was required. Love was not thought to be necessary before marriage. When it didn't occur before, it was expected to follow. Parents had an active role in marriage decisions but didn't usually force a child to marry against his/her will. First cousin marriages were okay in Virginia and often happened. This followed their pattern of "keep it in the family". Marriage feasts were elaborate--unlike New England where they weren't allowed. The average age at marriage for a male was about the same as in New England, 25-26, but for females it was younger, 18-20. Some men did not marry because there simply weren't enough women to go around. Sexual relationships were supposed to be confined to marriage, but punishments were not so severe as in New England and females were punished more severely than males.

The naming patterns for children followed the customs of Southwest England. Children were often named for family members, but in a different pattern than New England. The eldest son was named for his paternal grandfather, next son for the maternal grandfather, next for the father. The same pattern was used for girls. They used fewer Biblical names than in New England and often named children for Kings and Knights--favorites were Robert, Richard, Edward, George, and Charles. They also used names of Christian saints not found in the Bible and English folk names--favorites were Margaret, Jane, Catherine, Frances, and Alice. But the Biblical names of Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah were just as popular as in New England. Infant Christening was practiced.

The parents in Virginia were more indulgent than the parents in New England. Children were actually encouraged to be self-willed, but they were also expected to observe some rather elaborate rituals of self-restraint. The elder patriarch idea was very strong and much ritual surrounded it also. There were few schools. Children of the elite class were educated at home and the poor remained illiterate. There were no townships as in New England. People settled on plantations and there were small market villages.

The best source of records is the Episcopal Church, where all baptisms, marriages and deaths were recorded. There was a period of about 100 years when everyone had to do these things in the state church, even if not a member.

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If you would like to study these groups in more depth, I recommend that you read the book, ALBION'S SEED: FOUR BRITISH FOLKWAYS IN AMERICA by David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989. Much (but not all) of the material in this "Recipe" is from that book.
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