The old belief that the Virginia aristocracy had its origin in a migration of Cavaliers after the defeat of the royalists in the British Civil War has been relegated to the sphere of myths. It is widely recognized that the leading Virginia families--the Carters, the Ludwells, the Burwells, the Custises, the Lees, the Washingtons--were shaped chiefly by conditions within the colony and by renewed contact with Great Britain.
nsidered unnecessary, and heredity was accepted as a sufficient explanation of the existence and characteristics of the Virginia aristocracy.
We shall attempt to show that this view is erroneous. Recent investigation in Virginia history has made it possible to determine with some degree of accuracy the origin of the aristocracy. Yet the mixed character of the settlers, and the long period of time over which immigration to the colony continued make the problem difficult of accurate solution, and the chances of error innumerable. Out of the mass of evidence, however, three facts may be established beyond controversy, that but few men of high social rank in England established families in Virginia; that the larger part of the aristocracy of the colony came directly from merchant ancestors; that the leading planters of the 17th century were mercantile in instinct and unlike the English aristocrat of the same period.
Much confusion has resulted from the assumption, so common with Southern writers, th
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