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The Virginia Wife-Market
by [?]


The first English settlement in America that came to anything was made in the most absurd way possible. A great company of London merchants set about the work of planting an English colony in Virginia, and they were very much in earnest about it too; but if they had been as anxious to have the scheme fail as they were to make it succeed, they could hardly have done worse for it than they did in some respects.

They knew that the colonists must have something to eat and must defend themselves against the Indians, and so it ought to have been plain to them that the first men sent out must be stout farmers, who could cut down trees, plough the ground, raise food enough for the people to eat, and handle guns well, if need be. The work to be done was that of farmers, wood-choppers, and men who could make a living for themselves in a new country, and common-sense ought to have led the London Company to send out nobody but men of that kind to make the first settlement. Then, after those men had cleared some land, built some houses, and raised their first crop, men of other kinds might have been sent as fast as there was need for their services.

But that was not the way in which the London Company went to work. They chose for their first settlers about the most unfit men they could have found for such a purpose. There were one hundred and five of them in all, and forty-eight of them–or nearly half of the whole company–were what people in those days called “gentlemen”–that is to say, they were the sons of rich men. They had never learned how to do any kind of work, and had been brought up to think that a gentleman could not work without degrading himself and losing his right to be called a gentleman. There were a good many “servants” also in the party, and probably most of them were brought to wait upon the gentlemen. There were very few farmers and not many mechanics in the party, although farmers and mechanics were the men most needed. There were some goldsmiths, who expected to work the gold as soon as the colonists should find it, and there was a perfume-maker. It is hard to say in what way this perfume-man was expected to make himself useful in the work of planting a settlement in the swamps of Virginia; but, as there were so many fine “gentlemen” in the party, the perfumer probably thought his wares would be in demand.

None of the men brought families with them. They were single men, who came out to this country, not to make comfortable homes for wives and children, by hard and patient work, but to find gold and pearls, or to grow rich in some other quick and easy way, and then to go back and live in ease in England.

It is a wonder that such men ever succeeded in planting a settlement at all. From the first it does not seem to have been clear to them that they ought to raise plenty of food for themselves and learn how to live by their own work. They expected the company in London to send them most of their food and everything else that they needed. They had plenty of rich land and a good climate, but they expected to be fed by people three thousand miles away, across a great ocean.

Luckily, there was one man of sense and spirit among them–the celebrated Captain John Smith–who got them to work a little, and, after many hardships and two or three narrow escapes from failure, the colony was firmly planted.

The London Company sent out ships every year with supplies and fresh colonists; but, strange as it seems, most of the men sent were unmarried, and even those who had wives and children left them in England.