To ‘Fix the People on the Soyle’:
An Ecological Study of Family, Land, and Settlement in Colonial Henrico County, Virginia, 1611-1675
by Elizabeth A. Morgan*
The relationship between family and environment has changed over time in American history. This dissertation explores the origins of family-environment relationships in colonial America by documenting the origins of family-land relationships on the seventeenth century frontier of Henrico County, Virginia. The questions about family-land relationships which
framed the study were generated from the theoretical perspective of human and family ecology. Within an historical community study research design, data were collected and analyzed by means of prosopography, geographic mapping, and ethnographic reconstruction. The results of the study were presented in conceptual narrative form.
The study identified the first two generations of pioneer families who shaped a predominantly familial settlement pattern in Henrico County. The finding of an early familial settlement pattern was based on the predominance of family-land patent linkages which characterized all extant data on private landownership in Henrico County from 1617-1675. Settlement of
the first generation of Henrico families emerged through trial and error out of the Jamestown experience and the 1611 founding of Henrico by ancient planters. Settlement of the second generation of Henrico families coincided with the recognition of Henrico as a distinct frontier in mid-seventeenth century Virginia.
The ecology of Henrico pioneer families was manifested on family plantations where the convergence of private agriculture, family formation, and private landownership brought stability and permanent settlement. The geography and biography of settlement expanded Henrico’s river frontier and developed denser kinship and neighborhood networks. The culture of
settlement in Henrico was rooted in fee-simple landownership, farm-building, and family inheritance. Henrico family plantations or family farm ecosystems developed human and physical capital necessary for economic growth and competence.
Henrico pioneer families left an historical legacy of the American family as “Settling Community.” Their family ecology was shaped by local stewardship of land and people in order to survive and make homes for themselves in a new environment. The free but relatively poor men and women of Henrico pioneer families who gained access to freehold land were
among the first to pursue the American Dream in the New World.