In some European countries including England some of the poor and many laborers were brought to the English colonies by way of ships to work on the farms within these colonies. Because of such an immense amounts of Tobacco crops being planted on these farms, a great deal of blood and sweat was needed for the cultivation of these crops. These poor workers were enticed by the idea of a new and better life in America. By the hiring of Indentured servants, the planters would have a greater chance of gaining economic success. Once the indenture (contract) was up the servants would also possibly receive “freedom dues” which appeared to be a ‘win, win’ on both sides. Unfortunately, this was seldom the case.
The year is 1623 and Richard Frethorne has written a letter about his life as an indentured servant just three months after arriving to the colony. As we can see from the author’s narrative, Virginia of 1623 was a different place from England. It was the first permanent English settlement in the new world (Jamestown). This land of marsh like consistency and vast forests contained some hostile Native Americans, (pirates, and rogues who could and did attack at any time). Subsequently these Indians resisted slavery; they protected their homeland and way of life.
The tone of the author is one of humility and despair. Being from England he has never imagined the lifestyle of the indentured servant, which is literally a life just a step above a slave. The difference being that a slave was considered personal property as was an indentured servant however, an indentured servant was only a servant for a specified time and a slave was slave for life. Mr. Frethorne has been brought to the point of begging and at the same time he is trying to inform his parents of the life he is living which is simply the lowest form of existence. He describes death and disease like scurvy and dysentery all around him. There is such an ache in his belly (hunger), he misses England terribly, he’s feeling isolated, his fellow shipmates are dying at such an alarming rate and these are only some of the things Mr. Frethorne is fighting against. His reasons for leaving home and becoming and indentured servant are not explained but, it is clear that he did not make the best life choice. Without capital Mr. Frethorne found himself in a predicament he could not get out of without help.
Richard Frethorne is disillusioned, sad and confused. Even knowing the reason for his current state, Richard longs for a better life or at least to have enough to eat for now. He explains to his parents trying to get them to understand what he is experiencing he states “You would be grieved if you did know as much as I do”. His diet is extremely poor, only consisting of water gruel (which he later calls it loblollie) and a mouthful of bread and beef. He writes that his meal in England for one day is more than what he eats in a week as a servant. His situation is precarious and back breaking work along with almost total famine have resulted in weakness of body and spirit. Mr. Frethorne describes the fear he has of the Indians coming again & again for they have already fought with them and made slaves of two of them.
The daily fear Richard Frethorne exhibits is palpable as he tries to communicate this as best he can to his parents while trying to give them a complete view of his life. The plantation is very weak and the numbers of the original group are quickly dwindling because of such hellacious living conditions. He states “there are only 32 to fight against 3000, if they (rogues) should come” and the closest help is at least 10 miles away. He also states the last time they came, 80 people were killed. This would scare the begeezus out of anyone, so his belief that GOD can protect and save everyone, gives him some solace. Coming from a family that was not at all wealthy but were at least more comfortable, he begs for help in the form of food.
There is nothing to comfort Mr. Frethorne and he sees no future improvement. He also informs his parents of the people he calls his friends, the Jacksons. He calls them “godly folks” who have loved him and protected during various times, especially when the servants would come to Jamestown. He is quite descriptive of the daily routine, no matter the weather while in Jamestown and if not for Goodman Jackson, his situation would surely be worse off than it is. With no money to purchase his needs they have stepped into help.
Having no clothing except for 2 rags that are used for shirts, one poor suit (that he claims is well guarded to keep it from being stolen), a pair of shoes, socks and two bands (collars) Richard Frethorne writes to his father saying, “if you love me you will redeem me suddenly , for which I entreat and beg”. He is truly in dire need. (Frethorne) (ushistory.org/us/5b.asp Indentured Servants)Richard Frethorne closes his letter by asking his parents anything they can send will be greatly appreciated as he informs them of what can be sent and what is best. He lets his father know what will happen in case of his death and ask to not forget him, “but have mercy and pity my miserable case”. He sends his love and regard to his family as well as, the Jacksons.