A Letter From an Indentured Servant in Virginia, 1623

New charters did not solve the problems of Virginia’s English settlers, who continued for many years to die in great numbers

of disease and malnutrition. In the spring of 1623, the following letter was written from Martin’s Hundred, a plantation

about ten miles upriver from Jamestown. Its author was Richard Frethorne, who had been indentured by his Anglican

parish with the permission of his parents.

The Poor Law of 1601 in England dictated the responsibilities of the parishes for providing for the poor. The law would not

allow the parish to support the parents until they indentured their children. His parents were probably too poor to take

care of their own needs and even less able to care for their family. Sending Frethorne to work in Virginia would relieve the

local population from supporting him, the parish, and his parents. From the perspectives of both the parents and the church

leaders, Frethorne would have his basic needs met under the terms of his indenture and even gain new

opportunities in Virginia.

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