Thursday, June 21, 2007

Just Another Indentured Servant?

During most of the time I lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia many moons ago I was either hugely pregnant or I was toting a baby around. The ongoing situation was not very condusive to sightseeing in and around my temporary home while Dear Hubby was in the Navy.

There I was in a veritable hotbed of history---one location even bore my maiden name---and I, historical freak that I am, was stymied by motherhood.

Now before you get the wrong idea let me state Dear Son was welcomed with open arms and ample lap. I simply look back on those two years spent in and around the sights of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Jamestown, and can’t believe I allowed so many historical gems to slip through my fingers.

I did manage to make it to Williamsburg, but another place I toured was the Adam Thoroughgood House the subject of my wordless entry this week.

Frumteacher correctly identified the location while The Tour Marm finally linked the house and my hints to a news story concerning the height of Americans. When I heard the story I began to wonder how it could be used with students. Then I remembered my visit to the Thoroughgood house. I was the tourist that asked the stupid question regarding how small the furniture in the house was. I think my question was, “Did ya’ll cut this stuff down? It looks like doll furniture?”

It did. I’m only slightly over five feet and I towered over the table and chairs. The docent informed us that during the early colonial period people were much shorter and the furniture would have been normal to people living in the 17th Century.

Now let’s take a look at the news story from Good Morning America yesterday.

A study completed by the University of Munich and Princeton University found the U.S. had the shortest population in the industrialized world and the reason may have to do with way people live.

From the Daily Kent Stater back in March:

In the United States, the current average height of an adult man is 5 feet, 9 inches, and for an adult woman, it is 5 feet, 3 inches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Netherlands, though, men average 6 feet tall while the average woman is 5 feet, 7 inches, according to the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.

What’s that you say? So what? Well…….

What if I shared pictures of colonial furniture from the 17th century and discussed why things appear so low to the ground?

What if I then shared the news story?

This could possibly be an interesting way to pose an ongoing mystery for students to work on for several weeks. Why were early colonists so short? How did Americans get the distinction of being the tallest? All year long we could refer back to the story and analyze new information in relation to the growing height of Americans. Finally….how did America loose their title? Again, another mystery would be posed.

Ok….if that doesn’t float your instructional boat Adam Thoroughgood is a great early colonist for students to learn about. Many of my students tend to think about indentured servants as no better than slaves themselves. Thoroughgood’s story was common of many young men in England during the late 1600s and early 1700s. Since he was the seventh son of an Anglican vicar he was not the first born son and had no hope of an inheritance even though his family was very prominent in Kings Lyn, Norfolk, England, so at age 18 he sailed for the colonies as an indentured servant.

Once he worked his contract he was able to own land and he became very involved by serving in the House of Burgesses, Governor’s Council, and Justice of the Court. Records indicate he was also a captain in the milita. After Virginia became a royal colony many places were renamed or named for the first time. Thoroughgood is given credit for naming New Norfolk County (later the city of Norfolk) in 1624 after his home in England.

Thoroughgood increased his land holdings when he returned to England and persuaded 105 new colonists to sail back to Virginia with him. For his trouble he received 5,000 acreas and his actions insured George Washingon would be born as one of the new colonists was Augustine Warner, Washington’s early ancestor. The ancestor of George Mason, another important Patriot, was also in that colonist group.

Thoroughgood died at an early age (36). The Adam Thoroughgood House…though it bears his name…was not a place where he ever lived. It is believed it belonged to his son. Unfortunately Thoroughgood’s grave along with others from the time period is now submerged in the water and mud of the Lynnhaven River. Some unconfirmed stories state swimmers in the early 1800s could still feel the tombstones with their toes.

The house itself is a symbol of upward mobility in early American society and shows how architecture did change over time. While there were some alterations to the structure during restoration in 1957 the brick is a common building material used in Virginia at the time the house was built. The chimney on the north side is set within the wall in order to warm the house again north winds while the chimney on the south end of the house is on the exterior.

So, I'm going to print out those articles about Americans getting shorter and I'm going to head to the basement and stuff the copies in my Early Colonization unit book. You never know....they might come in handy.


The Tour Marm said...

Firstly, I apologize for being so dogged in my pursuit of the answer.

I'm a bit skeptical about statistics; I don't dispute the findings, just the reasons.

Here is my theory:

My former roommate is marrying Kuinert, a lovely fellow from the Netherlands, this coming August. And yes, he is tall, and so is she. In fact, everyone in his family is over six feet tall! He was attracted by her height, amongst her other fine qualities.

My roommate will be the first non-Dutch person in his family. According to him. the Dutch tend to marry Dutch, despite the influx of immigrants to the Netherlands. It is a relatively small, insular-like country with a culture that is much different from her neighbors. So there is an argument of something akin to inbreeding

In colonial days, the British tended to marry the British. The great families of Virginia plantation owners intermarried. (I'm related to several people in the Kinsale area, in at least two ways! (My own father ( over 6 feet tall, first married outside the family (my mother) and then his second marriage was to his second cousin!)

The United States has in the past 50 years accepted so many immigrants from Asia and Central and South America, which have had historically, shorter populations. After a generation or two, these new Americans start to assimilate and intermarry. These unions, once deemed unacceptable, are now commonplace.

I believe this is a more feasible explanation.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful lesson idea, it really is an interesting way to look at history in a modern perspective. I love the detail about the chimneys.

Tour marm's idea does sound feasible. It would be interesting though to find out more about the lengths of Scandinavian and German people. I don't think their approach to 'intermarriage' is very different and they do tend to have the same looks.
BTW, I am 5"8 and most people around me here, including women, are even taller.

Thanks for linking to my blog in your post! ;)

Mister Teacher said...

One of the reasons I LOVED my trip over to the Netherlands...
The women over there are all tall, thin, blonde, and GORGEOUS!!