Chapter 5, Page 45
Colonial Bedford County +
1740 - 1789
To understand the Hall -
Overstreet families, one
must know something
about the area in which
they lived, the times, and
the forces at work in their
In England land scarce and labor plenty
In Virginia land free and labor scarce …
--the London Company, 1630
Free land and opportunity for employment was as attractive to our forebearers in 1740 when they came down into the southern counties of Virginia as it had been to the first colonists to that colony one hundred years previously. This time, however, they came not directly from England but by a more circuitous route: from Pennsylvania through the mountains into the region or across the northeast corner of Virginia from Maryland. Some few, who were not of the Tidewater aristocracy came from the east coast area of the colony and into the region - which was commonly known as the Piedmont area.
The rich planters of eastern Virginia did not discourage this migration, as their less fortunate fellows would form a barrier against the French claims to the west and also hold in check the Indian tribes that roamed the western and southern edges of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas.
There was also a lesser known reason for encouraging the settlement of this area of Virginia. It was: by 1740 the colonly was on the verge of having a larger black population than white and these poorer persons going into the frontier county would not be large slave owners; thus, restoring the balance of power to the whites and holding down possibilities of slave uprisings.
Land and tobacco were the two symbols of wealth on the eastern seaboard of the colonly. Fortunes were great as still evidence by the palatial homes that survive along Chesepeake Bay and in the splendors of restored Williamsburg. Robert Carter, for example, left an estate upon his death in 1722 of 300,000 acres, a thousand slaves, and $10,000 cash.
A few men accumulated a great deal of land. The original land grants may be the Enlish monarchy had gone mostly to titled nobility and wealthy combinations of merchants. A tiny elite held vast tracts of property and wealth. Many of these landholders never visited their properties but dealt through agents station in the new world.++
A group of wealthy Virginia planters (including George Washington) formed the Ohio Company, receiving 200,000 acres in the West plus the promise of 300,000 more if they would settle 100 families there within seven years.
Colonial Virginia was just like the mother country in its customs, the close association of church and state, in education patterns and stratification of its residents. To be a recognized citizen and to hold office, the individual had to be an Anglican, a freeholder: that is, to have an inheritable interest in land, own land in fee simple or at least hold an estate for the life of another.
Tithing to the church was compulsory and tithing was the colonial equivalent of taxes. All males, sixteen and up, excepting negroes, were titable, unless exempted by court as charity cases. Each parish was inventoried annually to make certain the rules were enforce.
If you were a Presbyterian or at a later date a member of the new Methodist sect you were suspect. It was generally good politics and business to comply with the ruling group. Our Hall ancestors, until just before the American Revolution lived in this kind of a society.
Frontiers are hard to hold and to control and those rich planters at Williamsbug could not foresee the intimate consequences of their schemes for selling land and having the borders protect agains the Indians and the French by their more humble contemporaries. It took the American Revolution and a complete up-setting of church and state and the method of government to undo their neat little world.
Bedford county during the colonial period was just such a frontier. It consisted of vast stretches of sparsely settled country, raw wildnerness, no road and a rugged bunch of eventual dissenters to inhabit it. It was difficult to government from far-distant Williamsburg and the parishes of the church were so large that the Bishops could scarcely control them. Justice tended to be administered on a local scale, even though the officials were technically 'of the right type.' The Williamsbug group used the officers of William and Mary college to appoint Surveyors and Early Justices. (A county Justice was an important and powerful figure in colonial Virginia.)
From the very first, the settlers in Bedford county and the large territory from which it was carved were in combat with the Indians and forced to defend their properties. They were as self-sufficient as possible and actually the Revolutionary War started for them long before 1776 as they participated in battles with the Indians.
The Bedfordians were forced to become a very independent people and in the eyes of their wealthy brethren to the east a cantankerous, troublesome group. In general they were poorly educated, less refined and certainly not given to the wearing of silks and satins. In various ways they compromised with the governing class, but were not very successful in the process.
In 1774 the Otter (Creek) Presbyterians in Bedford county said that they would 'support the established church (Episcopal) and asked that they not be harassed in any way because of their dissenting natures.' They assured the church leaders that they would support their own pastor and pay their own expenses, from their lands and slavery and that a good accounting would be made so that the established church (and government) would in no way suffer. Double taxation if you please!
In other words they made a plea for local autonomy.
They may have received some small concessions, but surely not very satisfactory ones.
There were no Halls nor Overstreets listed among the petitioners of this Presbyterian church, one of the oldest in Virginia. In general, this group represented an upper middle-class of persons which the Halls were not to enter unti a later time.
Just prior to the American Revolution a wave of Methodism swept through the area. This was a church of the common people and in religious activities people frequently find outlet for their feelings about other areas of human relationships. This has been true through all history.
Running through several issues of the Virginia Historical Magazine are the letters of John Early, a M.E. church (South) Bishop of the colonial period. (Early was of the same family, later to produce a famous Confederate General.)
Early tells of the camp meetings of local groups and the general spread of Methodism through the area. As he travels, he visits Bedford county frequently, as his parents live there.
To Early's dismay, his family and many of his friends are 'staunch Calvinists' and unswayed by the fervent Methodism that is sweeping the county. The history of the Halls shows no such fervor, but the Overstreets were apparently swept up by it, as show by their history in the Illinois country at a much later date.
There must have been some Quaker connections in the Hall family during their Pennsylvania years but no evidence of membership in that sect even though Bedford county and the area that became Campbell county contained large numbers of them. For political reasons, a number of the early Halls were Anglicans - smart business - but membership in that church as far as the Illinois group is concerned, never existed. Later, in the 1830's many of them became Campbellites (The Christian Church), but this was long after Virginia days. Their marriage records indicate that they were mainly Methodists, using ministers of that church 'to tie the knots.' Baptist gradually gained foothold in the area; one family member becoming a preacher in that church. Today, their descendants still living in Virginia as most likely to be members of that church.
The Halls, Overstreet and their kin were not Tidewater Virginians, they were 'back county' people: overflows from Pennsylvania were religious tolerance existed.
This new element forced changes in Virginia's politics. These new Virginians demanded representation in the government and began to press for the needs of the common man. They had cut their ties with Europe and were little impressed with claims upon their loyalty by a distant king and a government beyond the ocean. At first little heed was paid to their complaints - but, their day was to come.
The American Revolution was a much more complicated affair than what was taught in our schools. The aristocrary of Virginia wanted 'home rule' but wanted to 'rule at home.' The disfranchised were the humble folk and their leaders the 'young radicals', backed by the people of the back country. The Revolution was transformed by pressure from the democracy into a 'social as well as a political movement,' aiming at equal rights for rich and poor alike. Actually, many were 'free' in their own minds before they talked about independence. In the working out of the Revolution, a place of honor in the struggled should be given to the part played by the small landholders on the frontier.
With the background The Grandfathers of colonial Virginia can be better understood and appreciated.
Bedford county evolved as follows: the area was part of the Isle of Wight county in 1639; in 1652 it was Surrey county, Brunswick in 1740, Lunnenburg in 1746 and finally Bedford in 1754. Later portions of it became Campbell and Franklin counties. +++
The county was named for Lord Russell, the Fourth Duke of Bedford, who was Secretary of State for Great Britain, 1748-1757. The area is filled with streams as it lies at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. The Twin Peaks of Otter there are considered very scenic.
The county lies between Lynchburg and Roanoke with the Roanoke (Staunton) River its principal waterway. It is essential rural in character even today. It has had three county seats: New London of colonial times; Liberty during the Revolution and finally the small city of Bedford.
In 1790 the county had a population of about 10,000. Of this number, about 1800 were free, white males above 16 years of age and over 2,500 free while males under 16. There were about 1700 white females (no problem in obtaining husbands!) and over 2700 slaves! The entire state of Virginia at that date had about 750,000 people, of which the slave population was almost 300,000.
+ Colonial America ended when Washington became President of The United States
++ It will be noted in the property transactions of John Hall, d. 1794, that land was obtained from the 'patents' of Richard Randolph, through his agent, Richard Stith. The Randolphs held large blocks of land.
+++ Campbell - 1784, Franklin - 1786