The Letters of Richard Frethorne About New World

The letters of Richard Frethorne, an indentured servant in 17th century Virginia, painted an unflattering picture of colonial America of that time. They presented the lives of destitute workers in the New World in the worst possible light. In the letters which were addressed to his parents Frethorne wrote about his numerous problems in order to persuade his father to pay for him so he could go back to England.

Richard described in great detail every hardship he had to endure in the course of three months he spent in America prior to writing his first letter. One of the reasons of his “daily and hourly sighes, grones, and teares” was low quality food. The colonists were only given porridge and bread, and one loaf of bread was supposed to feed 4 men at once. They were not given any meat such as deer or venison, and it was impossible for workers to hunt for it because they had to work the entire day. The lack of food and its low quality led to the colonists suffering from diseases such as scurvy and diarrhea.

Another reason was the constant threat of an attack by Native Americans. Frethorne mentioned one of the raids on their plantation during which the colonists managed to capture and enslave two of the raiders. However, according to the letter, it did not improve their plight: there were 32 plantation workers against 3000 enemies. Frethorne also mentioned the slaughter of 80 people the last time “rogues” attacked them.

More than that, Richard’s financial state was quite poor, which he also complained about in his letter. He claimed to have “nothing at all, no not a shirt to my backe”, all his clothes turned into rags, and his coat was stolen by a fellow colonist. It is remarkable that Richard mourned his coat not because it kept him warm, but because he could not sell it. Money was needed to buy “spice, or sugar, or strong Waters” from the ships coming from England. They arrived at Jamestown, which was 10 miles away from where Frethorne worked and lived, and it took him and his fellow workers a whole day to get there and then one more day to return.

Everything mentioned above leads the reader to think that Richard was in quite a poor state and needed any help he could get. However, it is hard to fully believe that everything was that bad, considering that the purpose of the letter was to persuade Frethorne’s father to buy his release. Richard might have exaggerated his sufferings, and the reader has no way to prove him right or wrong. It is hard to draw conclusions about the lifestyle of the first American colonists based on these letters alone.

It is interesting to learn about all the hardships the first colonists had to go through: poor living conditions, low-quality food, a constant threat of an attack by Native Americans and many more. It shows that regular workers, such as Richard Frethorne and many others whose names have been lost to history, were the backbone of every country, since they were the ones who built it. Some of them could not handle the colonist lifestyle and wanted to go home, but some persevered and kept doing their jobs. It shows the strength of human character and its tenacity and proves that humans are capable of much more than they expect. While Frethorne’s character proved to be too weak for such hard work, the reader can sympathize with him because colonists deserved better working and living conditions. The fate he faced remains unknown, and one can only hope his parents listened to his pleas and bought his release.

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