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Early Virginia settlements prohibited lawyers, Baptists

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JOHNathan CAPPS
Ellis county Press
The Ellis County Press continues with background to an upcoming documentary on the Hatfield-McCoy feud:

Earlier in this series, readers learned about the oral folklore connected to the memory quilt of a mountain woman known as Aunt Sally Cameron. Sally was a descendant of Seeb McLaughlin, an Ulsterman who came alone to America to seek his fortune and left his beloved Mary in Ireland with her family.

Once in America and separated from his old ties in Northern Ireland, Seeb had no contact with Mary, and as he grudgingly faced reality, he probably realized he held little hope of seeing her again. 

It is likely Seeb McLaughlin, like many Scots-Irish immigrants of his time, was of the yeoman class, a workman with acidly simple tastes and a compulsion for thrift. It is certain he prospered after relocating to the back country of Virginia, where Seeb was able to acquire property near other settlers much like himself.

Perhaps Seeb, along with other Virginia settlers such as the Hatfield and McCoy families, studied the great barrier of blue ridged mountains under the evening sun and wondered what was beyond.

The first Virginia settlements were located snug against the coast and along the navigable rivers, which served in place of roads. Founded as a commercial enterprise, Virginia yielded only disappointment to those who held expectations of quick wealth.

Investors and settlers anticipated gold in abundance. They found none. Fur trade with the American Indians failed to pay, because furs in the warmer climates didn't match up with furs from the north.

Along the coastal lowlands, rice and indigo sometimes fared well. But tobacco, grown further from the sea, eventually became the economic foundation of the colony, and brought opportunity for ambitious settlers and a serious need for a labor force. This demand for labor lasted for decades.

Under the old English system, the eldest son of a landowning family took over the family estate while the others often took to the colonies. It is likely the younger sons of the Hatfield and McCoy families came to Virginia to take advantage of opportunities.

Records show at least 137 shiploads of bond servants were brought to Virginia from the jails of London. Many of these English were in prison for debts and petty offenses. Often, the bonded servant served a term of seven years, more or less. Many of these went to the back country at the end of their term, if they didn't run off before it expired.

After settling in the western reaches of frontier Virginia, Seeb McClaughlin experience a life far different from those who lived near the coast.

He likely encountered parties of American Indians coming along a trail known as the Great Trading Path, which stretched from the Tennessee River through Virginia and Maryland to Philadelphia.

At times these early settlers were called on to defend against Indian raiding parties, who usually came when the weather was warm and dry. Though winter might be severe, it provided a time of relative safety from the raiders. The expression ‘Indian Summer' came into usage about this time, referring to an extended period of danger.

Perhaps while Seeb defended and worked his land, thoughts of Mary filled his head, and he vowed to never forget her. Perhaps he saw her in his mind's eye as more beautiful than she ever was. And perhaps, at that very moment, Mary and her family sailed into a crowded harbor on the bustling Virginia coast. 

Colonial Virginians enjoyed being an ocean away from English rule and were allowed to experiment a bit with partial self-government. Taking advantage of the opportunity and perhaps running amok, Virginians soon banned lawyers and Baptists from the colony, along with schools and printing presses. These prohibitions soon led to chaos and were eventually removed.

With new found prosperity, the budding genteel class of Virginia took on great pretensions. It became quite fashionable for elegant ladies to dip snuff from their own personal snuff box using a brush or a twig with frayed ends.

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Nelson Propane

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