Primary Resource

Letter from Richard Frethorne to His Parents (March 20, April 2–3, 1623)

In this letter to his parents, dated March 20 and April 2–3, 1623, the indentured servant Richard Frethorne of Martin's Hundred describes miserable conditions in the Virginia colony. Frethorne died sometime before February 16, 1624.

Transcription from Original

Loveing and kind father and mother my most humble duty remebred to you hopeing in God of yor good health, as I my selfe am t at the makeing hereof, this is to let you vnderstand that I yor Child am in a most heavie Case by reason of the nature of the Country is such that it Causeth much sicknes, as the scurvie and the bloody flix, and divers other diseases, wch maketh the bodie very poore, and Weake, and when wee are sicke there is nothing to Comfort vs; for since I came out of the ship, I never at anie thing but pease, and loblollie (that is water gruell) as for deare or venison I never saw anie since I came into this land, ther is indeed some foule, but Wee are not allowed to goe, and get yt, but must Worke hard both earelie, and late for a messe of water gruell, and a mouthfull of bread, and beife, a mouthfull of bread for a pennie loafe must serve for 4 men wch is most pitifull if you did knowe as much as I, when people crie out day, and night, Oh that they were in England without their lymbes and would not care to loose anie lymbe to bee in England againe, yea though they beg from doore to doore, for wee live in feare of the Enimy eu[er]ie hower, yet wee haue had a Combate with them on the Sunday before Shrovetyde [the beginning of Lent], and wee tooke two alive, and make slaves of them, but it was by pollicie, for wee are in great danger, for or Planta[ti]on is very weake, by reason of the dearth, and sicknes, of or Companie, for wee came but Twentie for the marchaunt[s], and they are halfe dead Just; and wee looke everie hower When two more should goe, yet there came some for other men yet to lyve with vs, of which ther is but one alive, and our Leiftenant is dead, and his ffather, and his brother, and there was some 5 or 6 of the last yeares 20 of wch there is but 3 left, so that wee are faine to get other men to plant with vs, and yet wee are but 32 to fight against 3000 if they should Come, and the nighest helpe that Wee haue is ten miles of vs, and when the rogues ou[er]came this place last, they slew 80 Persons how then shall wee doe for wee lye even in their teeth, they may easilie take vs but

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that God is mercifull, and can save with few as well as with many; as he shewed to Gylead and like Gilead[s] Souldiers if they lapt water, wee drinkee water wch is but Weake, and I haue nothing to Comfort me, nor ther is nothing to be gotten here but sicknes, and death, except that one had money to lay out in some thinges for profit; But I haue nothing at all, no not a shirt to my backe, but two Ragges nor no Clothes, but one poore suite, nor but one paire of shooes, but one paire of stockins, but one Capp, but two band[s], my Cloke is stollen by one of my owne fellowes, and to his dying hower would not tell mee what he did with it but some of my fellows saw him have butter and beife out of a ship, wch my Cloke I doubt paid for, so that I have not a penny, nor a a penny Worth to helpe me to either spice, or sugar, or strong Waters, without the wch one cannot lyue here, for as strong beare in England doth fatten and strengthen them so water here doth wash and weaken theis here, onelie keepe life and soule togeather. but I am not halfe a quarter so strong as I was in England, and all is for want of victualls, for I doe protest vnto you, that I haue eaten more in day at home then I haue allowed me here for a Weeke. you haue given more then my dayes allowance to a beggar at the doore; and if Mr [John] Jackson had not releived me, I should bee in a poore Case, but he like a ffather and shee like a loveing mother doth still helpe me, for when wee goe vp to James Towne that is 10 myles of vs, there lie all the ships that Come to the land, and there they must deliver their good[s], and when wee went vp to Towne as it may bee on Moonedaye, at noone, and come there by night, then load the next day by night noone, and goe home in the afternoone, and vnload, and then away againe in the night, and bee vp about midnight, then if it rayned, or blowed never so hard wee must lye in the boate on the water, and haue nothing but alitle bread, for whenee wee go into the boate wee haue a loafe allowed to two men, and it is all if we staid there 2 dayes, wch is hard, and must lye all that while in the boate, but that Goodman Jackson pityed me & made me a Cabbin to lye in alwayes when I come vp, and he would giue me some poore Jack[s] home with me wch Comforted mee more than pease, or water gruell. Oh they bee verie godlie folkes, and loue me verie well, and will doe anie thing for me, and he much marvailed that you would send me a servaunt to the Companie, he saith I had beene better knocked on the head, and Indeede so I fynd it now to my greate greife and miserie, and saith, that if you love me you will redeeme me suddenlie, for wch I doe Intreate and begg, and if

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you cannot get the marchaunt[s] to redeeme me for some little money then for God[s] sake geta a gathering or intreat some good folk[s] to lay out some little Sum of moneye, in meale, and Cheese and butter, and beife, anie eating meate will yeald great profit, oile and vyniger is verie good, but ffather ther is greate losse in leakinge, but for God[s] sake send beife and Cheese and butter or the more of one sort and none of another, but if you send Cheese it must bee very old Cheese, and at the Chesmongers you may buy good Cheese for twopence farthing or halfepenny that will be liked verie well, but if you send Cheese you must haue a Care how you packe it in barrells, and you must put Coopers Chips between eu[er]ie Cheese or els the heat of the hold will rott them, and looke whatsoeu[er] you send me be it neu[er] so much looke what I make of yt I will deale trulie with you I will send it ou[er], and beg the profit to redeeme me, and if I die before it Come I haue intreated Goodman Jackson to send you the worth of it, who hath promised he will; If you send you must direct yor letters to Goodman Jackson, at James Towne a Gunsmith. (you must set downe his frayt) because there bee more of his name there; good ffather doe not forget me, but haue m[er]cie and pittye my miserable Case. I know if you did but see me you would weepe to see me, for I haue but one suite, but it is a strange one, it is very well guarded, wherefore for God[s] sake pittie me, I pray you to remember my loue my love to all my ffreind[s], and kindred, I hope all my Brothers and Sisters are in good health, and as for my part I have set downe my resolu[ti]on that certainelie Wilbe, that is, that the Answeare of this letter wilbee life or death to me, therefore good ffather send as soone as you can, and if you send me anie thing let this bee the marke.

ROT IMT
Richard Ffrethorne
Martyns Hundred

The names of them that bee dead of the Companie came ou[t] with us to serue vnder our Leifetenants.

John Flower John Sanderford Geor: Goulding A little Dutchma[n]
John Thomas Rich: Smith Jo: Johnson one woman
Tho: Howes John Oliue o[u]r Leiftennant his father and brother one maid
John Butcher Tho: Peirsman Tho: Giblin one child
Willm: Cerrell Geo: Banum

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All theis died out of my m[aster's] house, since I came, and wee came in but at Christmas, and this is the 20th day of March and Saylers say that ther is two third[s] of the 150 dead already and thus I end prayeing to God to send me good successe that I may be redeemed out of Egipt. So vale in Christo.

Loueing ffather I pray you to vse this man verie exceeding kindly for he hath done much for me, both on my Journy and since, I intreate you not to forget me, but by anie meanes redeeme me, for this day wee heare that there is 26 of English men slayne by the Indians, and they haue taken a Pinnance of Mr [John] Pountis, and haue gotten peeces, Armour, sword[s], all thinges fitt for Warre, so that they may now steale vpon vs and wee Cannot know them from English, till it is too late, that they bee vpon vs, [and we Cannot knowe them from English, till it is too late, that they bee vpon vs,] [sic] and then ther is no mercie, therefore if you loue or respect me, as yor Child release me from this bondage, and saue my life, now you may saue me, or let me bee slayne, with Infidelle, aske this man, he knoweth that all is true and Just that I say here; if you do redeeme me the Companie must send for me to Mr Harrod [William Harwood] for so is this Mrs name.

Apr: the 2 day
Yor loueing sonne
Richard Ffrethorne

Moreou[er] on the third day of Aprill we heard that after theis Rogues had gotten the Pynnace, and had taken all furnitures as peeces, sword[s], armour, Coat[s] of male, Powder, shot and all the thinges that they had to trade withall, they killed the Captaine, and Cut of his head, and rowing with the taile of the boat formost they set vp a pole and put the Captaines head vpon it, and so rowed home, then the Deuill set them on againe, so that they furnished about 200 Canoes with aboue 1000 Indians, and came and thought to haue taken the shipp, but shee was too quicke for them wch thing was very much talked of, for they alwayes feared a ship, but now the Rogues growe verie bold, and can vse peeces, some of them, as well or better then an Englishman, ffor an Indian did shoote with Mr Charles my Mrs Kindsman at a marke of white paper, and hee hit it at the first, but Mr Charles Could not hit it, But see the Enuie of theis slaues, for when they Could not take the ship then or men saw them threaten Accomack that is the next Planta[ti]on and nowe ther is no Way but starueing ffor the Gou[er]nour

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told vs and SrGeorge [Yeardley], that except the Seaflower come in or that wee can fall foule of theis Rogues and get some Corne from them, aboue halfe the land will surelie be starved, for they had no Crop last yeare by reason of theis Rogues, so that wee haue no Corne but as ships do releiue vs, nor wee shall hardlie haue anie Crop this yeare, and Wee are as like to perish first as anie Planta[ti]on, for wee haue but two Hogshead[s] of meale left to serue vs this two Monethes, if the Seaflower doe stay so long before shee come in, and that meale is but 3 Week[s] bread for vs, at a loafe for 4 about the bignes of a pennie loafe in England, that is but a halfepenny loafe a day for a man: is it not straunge to me thinke you? but What will it bee when wee shall goe a moneth or two and never see a bit of bread. as my Mr doth say Wee must doe, and he said hee is not able to keepe vs all, then wee shalbe turned vp to the land and eate bark[s] of trees, or mould[s] of the Ground therefore with weeping teares I beg of you to helpe me. O that you did see may daylie and hourelie sighes, grones, and teares, and thumpes that I afford mine owne brest, and rue and Curse the time of my birth with holy Job. I thought no head had beene able to hold so much water as hath and doth dailie flow from mine eyes.

But this is Certaine I neu[er] felt the want of ffather and mother till now, but now deare ffrend[s] full well I knowe and rue it although it were too late before before I knew it.

I pray you talke with this honest man he will tell you more then now in my hast I can set downe.

Yor loueing Sonne
Richard Ffrethorne
Virginia 3d April 1623

[Indorsed by Sir Nathaniel Rich:] Coppie of Richard Ffrethorne [letter] to his ffather Ap. 1623.