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ARTICLE V.-A RECORD OF “THE OLD DOMINION.”
It is but a small province, indeed, of the great Dominion that the particular Record now put forth discloses to us. Nar. rowly circumscribed, however, though it be in territorial extent; though within its borders there be neither famous city, nor notable town, nor even so many clustered habitations of men as to be fairly called a village; yet in this contracted area, at any time for near three centuries past, all that has made Virginia what she has been, instead of something else, has existed in the highest degree. Ex pede Herculem. It is not for us to study the minute anatomy of that monumental figure which Raleigh reared to the honor of his ancient maiden queen. But the close examination of even one small member may give better acquaintance with the whole than the broad and distant view, though never so comprehensive and complete, from which the inspection of petty details is excluded.
They were a loyal company, that “London Company" which planted the “First Colony of Virginia," years before their rival
Plymouth Company” had moved to set the "Second Colony of Virginia," otherwise called “New England," upon the northern American coast. The broad and stately river which invited them into the heart of the continent, they called, after the meanest of all Stuarts, the James. From the same ignoble source they derived the name of their earliest attempt at an urban community, which soon became the victim of the first American rebellion, the only absolutely abandoned town in the English colonies. And when they had fixed this dishonoring mark upon the noble river, which could not run away, and upon the infant Jamestown, which speedily fell into annihilation and left nothing but its name, they proceeded to imagine
“James City,” which seems never to have been more than a name, and from which non-existence the actual County of James City, having real territorial limits and municipal existence, derived its curious name. Thus, too, having first called the county of Henrico from the earliest hope and heir of the Stuart
dynasty, they proceeded to commemorate that second born who soon succeeded to the fatal heritage, and, constituting a Charles City in the air, a name without a local habitation, they made a - Charles City County" to be called after it. And this county, than which nothing could be more thoroughly Virginian, is the province of the Old Dominion with which we have now to do.
There is not much of it. Twenty miles long it lies upon the broad James River, flowing southeasterly to the ocean. like distance on its northeastern side it is bordered by that stream whose unmelodious name has since been a sound of terror to so many thousand hearts, the Chickahominy. And the peninsula which these two rivers enclose, upon an average is not ten miles wide from their junction to the northwestern limits of the county.
What there is of it, however, is thoroughly and characteristically Virginian. Here, as through all eastern Virginia, the land lies in pleasant undulations of hill and valley, not interrupted by sudden or rugged rocky heights. Through the heavy clayey soil course abundant streams; and thick forests rapidly repossess the field from which they were centuries ago evicted, if men relax but for a short time their limitless strug. gle with nature. Over almost two hundred square miles of a region unsurpassed in natural attractiveness, in a delightful climate, less than five thousand inhabitants disperse themselves in purely agricultural pursuits, after nearly three hundred years of colonization ; nor does it seem probable that the density of population has greatly changed since very early in that period.
Virginians, too, to the back-bone, have been these people of Charles City County at all times, as characteristically as their little province was Virginia. Half of them, to be sure, were black Virginians; but they too, until a day comparatively recent, were in effect if not in law adscripti gleba, bearing the old Virginia surnames and proud of them, and from generation to generation working the ancestral acres into corn and tobacco. The owners, however, of these acres, in all the broad Dominion there were none with better right to the harmless boast of being the “First Families;" for the earliest English
roofs in America were raised along this peninsula. Here were maintained for centuries those stately mansions where generous living and lavish hospitality reduced from year to year the paternal estates, and delivered them in due time to the son, burdened with incumbrances, their revenues anticipated, but with a constantly growing pride of family to be supported at whatever cost. At these successive “Landings” along the James, upon which the "great house” looked from across a broad sloping lawn, for centuries the ships had discharged their cargoes direct from Bristol, leaving the year's supplies of English wares upon the plantation, with the wines, in ample store, for the cellar, and often the books for the library. Sometimes, after the “ Middle Passage” of that triple voyage which was once so common, from Liverpool to Guinea, to Virginia, and home, they landed at these wharves a freight charged with greater woes for Charles City County than any Cassandra had yet been found to imagine. And on their return the ship's sides were well stuffed with the year's tobacco crop, the young master perhaps going in the cabin for an old country education and travel. Even to this day, after all vicissitudes, through all disasters, the old names of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries m:intain themselves near their family seats, and lead in the councils of this simple community. Nor are the county names even of the present century without high distinction. Virginia is proud of being “the mother of Presidents;" but not even in Virginia-nowhere but in the little Massachusetts town which gave father and son to be heads of the nation-can another county be found which contains, almost within cannon-shot, the birth-places of two Presidents- of two, indeed, who, born but a few miles apart, were inducted together into the two highest offices in the land.
And this, too, is, above all, the “sacred soil" of Virginia. Not only sacred by early history and tradition, but doubly hallowed by recent sufferings and sacrifice. All over these hills and valleys were pitched the camps of invader and defender, gathered against each other from Canada to Mexico. The northern navies swarmed along the James; over the land men fought and fell and sickened and died, for their country's sake as they all thought, by myriads. Directly across the
western line of the county stretched the high ridge called Malvern Hill, where furious battle and timely victory averted from the national army the destruction which impended over it. And just below, at Berkeley and Westover and Harrison's Landing, the great beaten army reached the shelter of its ships' guns, and took breath for those renewals of conflict which were so long in reaching final success. Surely this ought to be indeed the “sacred soil !" Out of these latter times the Record of old times has come to
How much of the Records contained in the old Court House of Charles City—that House which, with but a blacksmith's shop or so, alone constituted the shire-town of the county-escaped the ravages of the war we do not know. But one great folio—whether saved or stolen does not appear-in this year 1875 came to light in a city close to the Canada frontier, in the hand of an old Peninsular soldier, who would part with it for a consideration. And after a generous man had ransomed it to restore it to its proper custody, the present writer stopped it long enough to draw off this little sketch of the picture it gives of ancient Virginian laws, and manners, and political and social life.
It is a great leather-bound folio, of six hundred pages, from which but two leaves are missing. Upon its first page is its title, inscribed in a large and ornate hand:
“A Book of Orders of Court Begun April Court Anno Domini 1737. By Lewellin Eppes Cl* [Clericus) Curiæ."
And the last entry in the book bears date of March Term, 1750 (1751.)
Not very critical or eventful were these fourteen years, in Virginian or American history. All these British colonies along the vast Atlantic seaboard contained then but about a million people, organized into almost primitive communities, whose avocations were little else than ploughing the land or the
Even the great capital city of Philadelphia counted then but twelve thousand souls.
When the book was first opened, the second Hanoverian George sat upon the throne of the Stuarts. Under him the great Walpole was carrying on the affairs of a great constitutional empire through such a system of parliamentary corrup
tion as has never since been rivalled until the days of Oakes Ames. His majesty's colony of Virginia, meanwhile, had been for some time under the government of one William Gouch, whose very name has lapsed into oblivion, and of whose eighteen years' administration the historian records that “the undisturbed calm of it leaves almost a blank in the history of Virginia.” The new colony of Oglethorpe, stamped at its very birth with the name of those Hanoverian kings against wbom it was so soon to rise in rebellion, had not yet been planted half a dozen years. Out of that infant colony of Georgia, almost at the very day our record opens, was just escaping like a criminal that singular man who was shortly to lead in England, if not indeed to begin and set in motion, the greatest moral revolution which the world has seen since the founding of Christianity; to establish the greatest schism since Luther, from a church of which he never ceased to be a loyal member: to organize the strongest priestly order since Loyola, wbile always disavowing authority to confer orders upon any: John Wesley, whose devoted asceticism seems never to have saved him, to the end of his fourscore years and eight, from the wretchedest relations with women, was flying with his brother Charles from indictments by the grand jury, and civil claims for damages; having, it seems, thought too well of women who were bad, and spoken too ill of women who were good. As Wesley landed in England, there was just setting sail for the place he fled from that scarcely less famous, but very different apostle, George Whitfield, coming to lead in these colonies the great religious reaction which had already begun under Jonathan Edwards, and which, during the precise period covered by these records, was producing prodigious effects throughout these young communities, from New England to Georgia. Only four years before, in 1733, “Wil
. liam Byrd of Westover [in this same county of Charles City] Esquire," and his neighbor Peter Jones, had laid out, but a dozen miles or so up the rivers James and Appomattox, which meet just opposite this county, the town plats, which were soon to be the cities of Richmond and Petersburg. And at the time the book was begun, there was playing about his father's house on the banks of the not distant Rappahannock, a little boy, just past five years old, whose name was to fill a larger place in his