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Politics, Economics, and Colonialism:

Its Affect on Culture, and Heritage

1607-1870

 

By Stephen E. Harris, M.Div.

 

In December of 2002 Spiritually Yours, a faith based organization of Hampton Roads, was made aware of the issue of sensitivity, as it relates to the indigenous cultures of the Commonwealth of Virginia, as they relate to the Jamestown2007.  Spiritually Yours had been working on a project that was the study of the Reconstruction era Black churches of Surry County, Virginia.  The Historical Society and Museums of Surry County, Virginia, Inc. suggested that we study ‘all’ of the churches in Surry, and so this project began.

 

Our initial subject was Colonization and Education: Churches and Education in Surry VA 1607-1870.  This seemed to be an interesting approach to the study of the period from the beginning of the American Colonization period.  This would be inclusive of the Revolutionary War era and would culminate at Reconstruction.  There is a myriad of resource material data available on education in the colonies but mostly it begins with William and Mary.  The early education responsibility was placed on the local Parish church systems with conversion of souls being the first order of the day and communication being second.  As the two cultures; Indian, and European met, there seemed to be the order of communication, first, through interpreters, and sign language, and later, the aspect of conversion to the Christian faith.  

 

There are no church records that have been found of the original Anglican Churches save some letters and correspondence sent back to England by the early missionaries and Parish leaders.  The Anglican church was in existence primarily in the older colonies or Commonwealths of Virginia and Massachusetts.  Prior to the beginning of the eighteenth century in Surry is the initial focus of this study.  The records that shed a factual knowledge of any churches in Surry are found in the Deed and Court Record books, located in the Surry County Courthouse (1652—present).

 

There are volumes written and discussed on politics, economics and colonization by scholars on the era of the inception of the History of the United States.  The Anglican Church of England played an enormous part in the early period of colonization.  There are many facts buried in the archival church records in England, and the United States that were not able to be gleaned ten years ago, but are now available to anyone that is seeking personal genealogical fulfillment.  And so this project began, in the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University in the Fall of 1996.  The person that was the focal point of this study was the founder of First Church of Newport News, Baptist, the Reverend Thomas Henry Poole, Sr. (1840-1912), considered to be an African American but through research of his great grandson it appears that Rev. Poole and both of his legal wives were, themselves Native American Indians, more will be said about them later.

 

Little has been discussed in the colonization of America, regarding the cultures and heritages of the American Indian, the European, and the African cultures.  The first thought is that 1. The Native Indians were savages, and 2. The Africans were slaves.  This is not a true representation of the facts.  The colony of Virginia was first called the James Cittie Plantation of the Virginia Company of London.  The founding of America was foremost for entrepreneurial adventures.  Those that came to the colony were coming for reasons of advancing themselves from a class system that they would be unable to do in England.  These adventurers were called ‘ancient planters.’  If they came before 1619 as servants, and paid their own passage, they were granted land by the King.  If the London Company arranged to have their passage paid it was termed an indenture of servitude is the adventurer paid for the passage.   More will be said about this later, but you can imagine the political ramifications that developed with investors in England acquiring land in Virginia, and never having been to the colony but only seeing an income from products that were sent to England, from Virginia first came tobacco.  This was not thought to be a very good commodity by the King.

 

Historians have attempted to dissect, digest, and (interpret) the diversity of the facts that have been catalogued from the discovery of America until the present.  American Indian, European and African are the logical order of contact for this project.  Heritages are a little more complex to delineate, but for this study we will delineate the order of contact as Scandinavia[1], French, Spanish, Portugese, Italians, French, and lastly, British.  this happened prior to 1560.  

 

Through miscegenation the three cultures, under discussion in four generations, can become undistinguishable from each other.  “Interracial unions have a long history in America” was the title of an article written in the Virginia-Pilot Hampton Roads Section Sunday January 4, 2004.  The author George Tucker covered a few known cases of miscegenation in our country’s early history.

 

As we focus on the era of American colonization to the Revolution we find the three cultures became assimilated to the point of individual families becoming unidentifiable as to their origin and cultural heritages.  By the Revolutionary War period there, had become a homogenized Virginia American colonial heritage that was already blended culture, distinguishable by classes.  The upper class of landowners, the free class of service trades, and merchants, the servant class of slaves, and indentured, and the ordinary worker that lived by any means necessary for survival.  This last class is inclusive of the Indians, free Europeans, and free Africans born from two, or more generations of free people.  

 

More and more information has been surfacing from the past twentieth century.  Let us not look at the overall picture from an historical perspective, and anthropological perspective and a sociological perspective.  Let us get personal and let us look at one ‘ancient planter’ listed as ‘Mr.’ Robert Poole, a missionary from England, who arrived in the colony of Virginia in May 1611.  This is seventeen generations to the birth of my first granddaughter to whom I dedicate this book. 

 

Historian Robert D. Johnston in The Making of America: The History of the United States from 1492 to the Present, speaks of wisdom and sensitivity in making sure that the language in the book was simultaneously accessible and intellectually engaging for a young audience.[2]  I would suggest that we scholars revisit our notes, that we have taken for granted, and to become sensitive to the cultures, inclusive of the roles that all of the cultures bought forth to this country.



[1] Note:  Vikings: or Viking ship; Sail-and-oar vessel widely used in northern Europe for more than 1,500 years.  It was a 45-75-ft (14-23-m) galley with up to 10 oars on a side, a square sail, and a 50-60-man capacity. Double-ended and built with overlapped planks, it was exceptionally sturdy in high seas. Examples have been found from as early as 300 BC. It carried the Vikings on their piratical raids of the 9th century and bore Leif Eriksson to America in 1000. Dutch, French, English, and German merchants, and warriors also used it.

[2] Johnston, Robert D. The Making of America: The History of the United States from 1492 to the Present. National Geographic. Washington, DC. 2002


Note: See Rev. Harris's paper, Descendants of Missionary Robert Poole.

Page revised 26 April 2005 for Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc. © Stephen Harris