The immigrants who came to Virginia came from every county of England, and a majority of the indentured servants “hailed from sixteen counties in the south and west of England – the same area that produced Virginia’s elite.” The majority settling in the Berkley Hundred “whether sponsors, tenants at labor or indentured servants, were . . . born and bred in Gloucester.”
And it is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of Virginia’s early servants came from London’s poor. Like many other peoples and countries, the English themselves passed through a phase of slavery, serfdom and indentured servitude, on their way to emancipation and liberty.
Servants and Slavery in England
“Most of Virginia’s servant immigrants were half-grown boys and young men. Three out of four were between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. Only 3 percent were under fifteen, and less than 1 percent was over thirty-five – a sharp contrast with Massachusetts.
More than a few of these youngsters were “spirited” or kidnapped to Virginia. Parliament in 1645 heard evidence of gangs who “in a most barbarous and wicked manner steal away many little children” for service in the Chesapeake colonies. Others were “lagged” or transported after being arrested for petty crime or vagrancy.
Virginia’s recruiting ground was a broad region in the south and west of England, running from the weald of Kent to Devon and north as far as Shropshire and Staffordshire. Its language and laws were those of the West Saxons, rather than the Danes who settled in East Anglia, or the Norse who colonized the north country, or the Celts who held Cornwall and Wales.
During the early Middle Ages slavery had existed on a large scale throughout Mercia, Wessex and Sussex, and had lasted longer there than in other parts of England. Historian D.J.V. Fisher writes that “the fate of many of the natives was not extermination but slavery.”
This was not merely domestic bondage, but slavery on a large scale. During the eighth and ninth centuries, the size of major slave holdings in the south of England reached levels comparable to large plantations in the American South. When Bishop Wilfred acquired Selsey in Sussex, he emancipated 250 slaves on a single estate. Few American plantations in the American South were so large even at their peak in the nineteenth century.
By the time of American colonization, both slavery and serfdom were long gone from this region. But other forms of social obligation remained very strong in the seventeenth century.”
(Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, 1989, David Hackett Fisher, excerpts pp. 231; 241-243)