Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our Family's Colonial Era, Part VI

Tobacco, Slavery, Democracy and Our Family
by Glenn N. Holliman

If one analyzes the 17th Century Virginia economy carefully, it makes for disturbing reading. The Christopher Hollimans and, of course, the rest of the colony grew a crop (tobacco) that if used normally shortens the lives of most people.

Even King James I wrote during his reign (1603- 1625) a book , called "A Counter Blast to Tobacco" castigating the use of the Indian weed. He was the first but not the last political leader to urge persons to quit the habit. (This same king gave us the King James Version of the Bible which our ancestors read and cherished.)

Of course, until 1776, the Crown's tobacco tax fattened the coffers of the English throne just as cigarette taxes swell the treasuries of the U.S. and the states today.

King James I of England models the latest in London hat wear fashion in the early 1600s

Generally, before 1700, this crop was often hoed and harvested by indentured servants from England. However, by the early 1700s, more and more newly imported African laborers tended the weed. These new Americans of a darker skin hue, soon found themselves in ever more secure legal chains on land taken by the English-Americans, usually forcefully, from Native Americans. The Virginia House of Burgesses, composed mainly of wealthier planters, passed laws as early as 1660 declaring that both captured Native American and African-Americans as 'property' who could be held in bondage and sold as human chattel.

Did these first Holliman generations hold slaves, even though holding human chattel was still an ill-formed institution in the late 1600's Virginia? The 1691 will of Christopher Sr. mentions nothing of human property, but one of his grandson’s, Thomas Holliman, does record in his will of 1762 the leaving of five slaves to his various sons. One slave, named Peter, was to be sold and the income produced to be divided amongst some family members. Other relatives began to note slaves, although not more than a few African Americans, in their wills by the early and middle 1700s.

The Christopher Hollimans and their descendants seemed to have been ‘average southerners’, yeoman, land-owning farmers if you will. In 1860 only one out of every four southern heads of households owned slaves. Most of our Alabama Hollimans listed no slaves in census reports of 1860, although kinfolk by marriage did so. Historians report that average number of slaves owned by a southern head of household was four, or roughly that of a family. The gigantic slave plantations of Gone With the Wind are largely fiction, although some such 'human factories' did exist.

Perhaps as with many early Virginians, the first Holliman generation tilled only a small portion of land for tobacco, the cash crop, utilizing the rest for corn, vegetables, wood fuel and range for hogs, poultry and cattle. There were six children who grew to adult hood to assist with the work in this 17th century generation.

For the record, let us note three events in the year 1619 that influenced American history and our family. One, the House of Burgess, a parliament if you will, met for the first time in Jamestown - the first example of representative democracy. Two, that same year a Portuguese transport sold Africans in Virginia who were held as slaves. Three, across the James River, a new settlement was born, the shire, later to be called after a founder's English home, of Isle of Wight County.

So paradoxically democracy and slavery, our nation's birth defect, were introduced the same year in the same colony. To this day our family has been greatly influenced by these events. And across the James River, the shire where Christopher Holliman, Sr. prospered, was founded that same fateful year of 1619!

(For sources used for this article and more information, please refer to Sources and Publications on this blog.)

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