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"Doe Not Forget Me": Richard Frethorne, Indentured Servitude, and the English Poor Law of 1601

"Doe Not Forget Me": Richard Frethorne, Indentured Servitude, and the English Poor Law of 1601 sAnDRAL.DAHLBeRG UniversityofHouston- owntown D " Doe Not Forget Me" RichardFrethorne,IndenturedServitude, andtheEnglishPoorLawof1601 In 1616, John Smith admonished Englishmen to "gaine to our Natiuemother- ountrieakingdomtoattendher"thatwouldatthesame c timeprovide"imploymentforthosethatareidle"(Description343).Smith boasted that "Virginia doth afford many excellent vegitables and living Creatures"insuchabundancethatcolonists--bothmasterandservant-- "may take with hooke or line what he will" (Map 151; Description 343). Smith's narratives, in concert with the writings of adventurers Thomas HarriotandThomasMorton,andreligiousrefugeesWilliamBradfordand JohnWinthrop,reflectthevariedexperiencesofmiddlingmenwhoare oftenassociatedwithwhatBenjaminFranklinlaterdescribedasa"general mediocrity"inAmerica.Themajorityofseventeenth- enturycolonialimc migrants,however,wereneitheradventurersnorrefugees,andmostdid notshareSmith'sorBradford'smiddlingstatus.Ofthemorethan198,400 people who immigrated to the English American colonies in the seventeenthcentury,67percent(132,100)wereindenturedservants,slaves,and felons--allofwhomwereunfree,andofwhomatleast96,600wereindenturedservants.Unfortunately,fewarchivalartifactsremaintoattesttothe conditionsoftheirlivesortoidentifythemasindividuals(Fogleman44).1 FourremarkableexceptionsarethelettersofRichardFrethorne,themost familiar of which are those written to his parents from Virginia in 1623. Frethorne's often ignored letter to a Mr. Bateman is, however, of much moresignificancebecauseitrevealsthatFrethornewasindenturedbyhis parishundertheprovisionsoftheEnglishPoorLawof1601andwasnot, asiscommonlyassumed,avoluntarilyindenturedtradeapprentice.The informationaboutFrethorne'sparishindentureintroducesimportantdetailsabouthislifeandthecontextofhisservitudethatreshapeourunder{1 2}eARLYAMeRICAnLIteRAtURe:VoLUMe4 7,nUMBeR1 standingofFrethorneandalterourpedagogicalandscholarlyengagement withhisletters. RichardFrethornearrivedinVirginiaaroundChristmasin1622onthe Abigail,ashipoverloadedwithpassengersandarmor,butlittlefood.The AbigailarrivedtenmonthsafterraidsbythePowhatanIndiansdestroyed crops and killed hundreds of English settlers, so the passengers on the Abigailknewthattheywererepopulatingawar- orncolony.Frethornewas t senttoMartin'sHundred,asettlementespeciallyhardhitbythePowhatans.InMarchandApril1623Frethornewrotefourletters,threetohisparentsandonetoMr.Bateman.Intheletters,FrethornepaintedadireportraitofhislifeinVirginia:hewashungry,hehadinsufficientclothing,and helackedconsistentaccesstoshelter.TextualanalysisofthelettertoBatei manidentifiesFrethorneasaparish- ndenturedpoorchildandhisdirect appealindicatesthatBatemanwasthechurchwardenwithadministrative controlofFrethorne'sVirginiaindenturesandthusthepersonauthorized toredeemhiscontract.Archivalevidenceconfirmsthisanalysis. English churchwardens maintained Poor Law records in conjunction with other human events in the parish--baptisms, marriages, and burials--thatmadeparishpoorchildrenvisibleascivicandhistoricalbeings. Unfortunately,theVirginiaCompanymaintainedfewservantrecordsduringtheearlyyearsofthecolony.Shipmanifestsrecordedthenumbersof servant passengers, but only in rare instances were names attached. The dearthofdatanearlycleansedparish- ndenturedpoorchildrenfromthe i evidentiaryrecord.Ironically,Frethorne'sletters,andtheindifferenttreatmentofindenturedservantsheconveyed,survivedbecausetheywerepoliticallyadvantageoustothearistocratswhooversawcolonialoperations, includingthosewhochampionedforchildrenlikeRichardFrethorneto be"disposedof "inVirginia.TheletterswrittenbyFrethornethusprovide unique insights into the plight of a substantial, unfree colonial population.In1623,inthedepthsofdespairandravagedbyhunger,RichardFrethornebeggedthathisparents,Bateman,andhisparishionersinLondon "doenotforgetme"("LettertoHisParents"60).Nearlyfourhundredyears later,Frethorneisnotonlyremembered,buthispoignantlettersgiveus theclearestunderstandingoftheconditionsfacedbyuntoldthousandsof poorchildrenwho,likehim,wereparish- ndenturedservantsinVirginia's i earliestdays. Theperspectivesoftworecentcriticalapproachesinformmyanalysis IndenturedServitudeandtheEnglishPoorLawof1601{3 ofFrethorne'sletters:transatlanticorhemisphericstudiesandcriticalclass analysisthatfocusesonpoverty.AccordingtoRalphBauerinTheCultural Geography http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Early American Literature University of North Carolina Press

"Doe Not Forget Me": Richard Frethorne, Indentured Servitude, and the English Poor Law of 1601

Early American Literature , Volume 47 (1) – Mar 31, 2012

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University of North Carolina Press
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Abstract

sAnDRAL.DAHLBeRG UniversityofHouston- owntown D " Doe Not Forget Me" RichardFrethorne,IndenturedServitude, andtheEnglishPoorLawof1601 In 1616, John Smith admonished Englishmen to "gaine to our Natiuemother- ountrieakingdomtoattendher"thatwouldatthesame c timeprovide"imploymentforthosethatareidle"(Description343).Smith boasted that "Virginia doth afford many excellent vegitables and living Creatures"insuchabundancethatcolonists--bothmasterandservant-- "may take with hooke or line what he will" (Map 151; Description 343). Smith's narratives, in concert with the writings of adventurers Thomas HarriotandThomasMorton,andreligiousrefugeesWilliamBradfordand JohnWinthrop,reflectthevariedexperiencesofmiddlingmenwhoare oftenassociatedwithwhatBenjaminFranklinlaterdescribedasa"general mediocrity"inAmerica.Themajorityofseventeenth- enturycolonialimc migrants,however,wereneitheradventurersnorrefugees,andmostdid notshareSmith'sorBradford'smiddlingstatus.Ofthemorethan198,400 people who immigrated to the English American colonies in the seventeenthcentury,67percent(132,100)wereindenturedservants,slaves,and felons--allofwhomwereunfree,andofwhomatleast96,600wereindenturedservants.Unfortunately,fewarchivalartifactsremaintoattesttothe conditionsoftheirlivesortoidentifythemasindividuals(Fogleman44).1 FourremarkableexceptionsarethelettersofRichardFrethorne,themost familiar of which are those written to his parents from Virginia in 1623. Frethorne's often ignored letter to a Mr. Bateman is, however, of much moresignificancebecauseitrevealsthatFrethornewasindenturedbyhis parishundertheprovisionsoftheEnglishPoorLawof1601andwasnot, asiscommonlyassumed,avoluntarilyindenturedtradeapprentice.The informationaboutFrethorne'sparishindentureintroducesimportantdetailsabouthislifeandthecontextofhisservitudethatreshapeourunder{1 2}eARLYAMeRICAnLIteRAtURe:VoLUMe4 7,nUMBeR1 standingofFrethorneandalterourpedagogicalandscholarlyengagement withhisletters. RichardFrethornearrivedinVirginiaaroundChristmasin1622onthe Abigail,ashipoverloadedwithpassengersandarmor,butlittlefood.The AbigailarrivedtenmonthsafterraidsbythePowhatanIndiansdestroyed crops and killed hundreds of English settlers, so the passengers on the Abigailknewthattheywererepopulatingawar- orncolony.Frethornewas t senttoMartin'sHundred,asettlementespeciallyhardhitbythePowhatans.InMarchandApril1623Frethornewrotefourletters,threetohisparentsandonetoMr.Bateman.Intheletters,FrethornepaintedadireportraitofhislifeinVirginia:hewashungry,hehadinsufficientclothing,and helackedconsistentaccesstoshelter.TextualanalysisofthelettertoBatei manidentifiesFrethorneasaparish- ndenturedpoorchildandhisdirect appealindicatesthatBatemanwasthechurchwardenwithadministrative controlofFrethorne'sVirginiaindenturesandthusthepersonauthorized toredeemhiscontract.Archivalevidenceconfirmsthisanalysis. English churchwardens maintained Poor Law records in conjunction with other human events in the parish--baptisms, marriages, and burials--thatmadeparishpoorchildrenvisibleascivicandhistoricalbeings. Unfortunately,theVirginiaCompanymaintainedfewservantrecordsduringtheearlyyearsofthecolony.Shipmanifestsrecordedthenumbersof servant passengers, but only in rare instances were names attached. The dearthofdatanearlycleansedparish- ndenturedpoorchildrenfromthe i evidentiaryrecord.Ironically,Frethorne'sletters,andtheindifferenttreatmentofindenturedservantsheconveyed,survivedbecausetheywerepoliticallyadvantageoustothearistocratswhooversawcolonialoperations, includingthosewhochampionedforchildrenlikeRichardFrethorneto be"disposedof "inVirginia.TheletterswrittenbyFrethornethusprovide unique insights into the plight of a substantial, unfree colonial population.In1623,inthedepthsofdespairandravagedbyhunger,RichardFrethornebeggedthathisparents,Bateman,andhisparishionersinLondon "doenotforgetme"("LettertoHisParents"60).Nearlyfourhundredyears later,Frethorneisnotonlyremembered,buthispoignantlettersgiveus theclearestunderstandingoftheconditionsfacedbyuntoldthousandsof poorchildrenwho,likehim,wereparish- ndenturedservantsinVirginia's i earliestdays. Theperspectivesoftworecentcriticalapproachesinformmyanalysis IndenturedServitudeandtheEnglishPoorLawof1601{3 ofFrethorne'sletters:transatlanticorhemisphericstudiesandcriticalclass analysisthatfocusesonpoverty.AccordingtoRalphBauerinTheCultural Geography

Journal

Early American LiteratureUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Mar 31, 2012

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