The death-knell of the American Dream is sounded by Wertenbaker in these words:
It would be expected, then, that even the most exhaustive investigation could reveal but a few indentured servants, coming over after 1660, who succeeded in establishing themselves in the Virginia yeomanry, and such, indeed, is the case. Fortunately we have at hand for the period in question the means of determining this matter with an exactness impossible for the first half of the century . . . it is safe to say that not more than five or six percent of the indentured servants of this period succeeded in establishing themselves as independent planters.
The foregoing was based on an exact scientific study of family names. The consequences of this trend had enormous repercussions upon the hopes of many of those who had come to Virginia to establish themselves in a new land of abundance and opportunity. Wertenbaker's obituary of the American Dream is summarized in these words: 46
The glorious promises which the country had held out to him [the Virginian yeoman] in the first fifty years of its existence had been belied. The Virginia which had formerly been so largely the land of the little farmer, had become the land of masters and slaves. For aught else there was no room.
In another volume the same author states: 47
The South fell largely under the control of an aristocracy of large slave-holders . . . while the "poor white trash" who owned no slaves were kept in a condition of economic and political dependence.
History has shown, also, that those who chose to flee to the uplands in order to eke out an existence on the hillsides only jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. No honorable status or stable standard of living was within reach of those who threw up their shacks on the mountain sides.
The little man who came early and got a small foothold on security was displaced; the little man who came later found not even a respite from his misery; America was, from the day of his arrival, another system of social class rigidity, from which he had presumably hoped to escape.
Shortly before 1860 this freezing out process was still proceeding on its relentless schedule. "The poor whites on the banks of the Congaree (S.C.) . . . are the descendants of former proprietors . . . but for generations their fathers have been gradually selling off to the richer planters." 48
Bruce reports that the individual plantation grew larger and larger as the number of slaves increased. "The tendency toward engrossment of the soil . . . was just as strong in 1861 . . . as it was two hundred years earlier." 49 This was true in spite of the Jeffersonian laws against primogeniture and entail.
Such is the general outline of trends in opportunity in Virginia in the middle period of her colonial development and an indication of the continuation of those trends. For the thirsty poor, opportunity in Virginia was an ocean of salt water. Or, if one prefers another figure, even the early opportunity was an "Indian gift"; there was a string attached.
A review of the likelihood of a poor man's rising and becoming part of respectable society will not be complete, however, until a survey is made of the different classes, as such.
Slaves and free blacks. The early blacks, like the early servant, had a better chance of improving his situation than did those who arrived later. Woodson states: 50
These first African captives in America, moreover, were largely house servants who had almost as much freedom as members of their master's families. There is evidence that the blacks brought to Jamestown in 1619 were placed among families in this way [as indentured servants], and one of those very blacks became the master of a servant himself.
And in another volume the same author makes the following statement: "As the blacks were first brought here as indentured servants and only thereafter were debased to the status of slaves, some of the race became free during this transition." 51
45. Ibid., pp. 97 - 98.
46. Ibid., p. 151.
47. Wertenbaker, op. cit. (14), pp. 19 - 20.
48. Arthur W. Calhoun, A Social History of the American Family, vol. II (Cleveland, 1918) p. 349.
49. Philip Alexander Bruce, The Rise of the New South, (Philadelphia, 1905) p. 422.
50. Carter G. Woodson, Negro Makers of History (Washington, 1928) p. 25.
51. Carter G. Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830 (Washington, 1925) p. xlvi.