The Fall of Communism in Virginia
by Murray N. Rothbard
Thursday, February 23, 2012
In fact, the Virginia colony was not doing very well in drawing off England’s surplus poor. Besides transporting vagrants and criminals to Virginia, the London Company and the City of London agreed to transport poor children from London to Virginia. However, the poorest refused the proffered boon and the company moved to obtain warrants to force the children to migrate. It seemed, indeed, that the Virginia colony, failing also to return profits to the company investors, was becoming a failure on every count.
The survival of the Virginia colony hung, in fact, for years by a hair-breadth. The colonists were not accustomed to the labor required of a pioneer, and malaria decimated the settlers. Of the 104 colonists who reached Virginia in May 1607, only 30 were still alive by that fall, and a similar death rate prevailed among new arrivals for many years. As late as 1616, only 350 colonists remained of a grand total of over 1,600 immigrants.
One major reason for the survival of this distressed colony was the changes that the company agreed to make in its social structure. The bulk of the colonists had been under “indenture” contracts, and were in servitude to the company for seven years in exchange for passage money and maintenance during the period, and sometimes for the prospect of a little land at the end of their term of service. The contract was called an indenture because it was originally written in duplicate on a large sheet — the two halves separated by a jagged line called an “indent.” While it is true that the original contract was generally voluntary, it is also true that a free society does not enforce even temporary voluntary slave contracts, since it must allow for a person to be able to change his mind, and for the inalienability of a person’s control over his will and his body. While a man’s property is alienable and may be transferred from one person to another, a person’s will is not; the creditor in a free society may enforce the collection of payment for money he may have advanced (in this case, passage and maintenance money), but he may not continue to enforce slave labor, however temporary it may be. Furthermore, many of the indentures were compulsory and not voluntary — for example, those involving political prisoners, imprisoned debtors, and kidnapped children of the English lower classes. The children were kidnapped by professional “spirits” or “crimps” and sold to the colonists.