Contributing Editor: Liahna Babener
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Virtually no historical data about Frethorne is available, so placing
him in the context of the Jamestown colony is a bit difficult, since he
settled near--rather than in--that assemblage.
In the absence of corroborating information, the writer's candor about
his own experience is convincing. He used vivid details to describe his
discontent, deprivation, and discomfort. The small specifics of daily life
(quantities and kinds of food, items of clothing, catalogs of implements)
and the data of survival and death (lists of deceased colonists, trade
and barter statistics, numerical estimates of enemy Indians and their military
strength, itemized accounts of provisions, and rations records) lend credibility
to Frethorne's dilemma and enable students to empathize with his distress.
Students respond to reading Frethorne with questions like these:
What happened to Frethorne?
Did he remain in the New World, return home, or die?
Did he receive provisions from his parents?
Why is there no other historical record of his life or his fate?
Why was there so much rancor over provisions, and why couldn't the English
authorities address the scarcity?
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
I invite students to imaginatively recreate, through the detail in the
text, the world Frethorne inhabited, gleaning his world view as a white,
Christian, European (English), and presumably working-class man. What assumptions
does he make about the mission of settlement, the character of the New
World, the nature of the native peoples, the relationships between colonists?
What does he expect in terms of comfort and satisfaction? What class attitudes
does he reveal? Compare his implicit vision of the New World with the region
he actually encounters. What religious, social, political, ethical beliefs
does he bring to his account, and how do they shape his view of his experience?
What can be inferred about the constraints upon indentured servants--and
the lives they led--from Frethorne's record?
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
1. Consider the "letter" as a literary genre, exploring issues
of format, voice, reliability and self-consciousness of speaker, assumed
2. Discuss the letter as a social history document as well as a personal
record and literary construct.
3. Discuss the strategies of persuasion and justification employed by
the speaker. How does he win over his parents' support and pity through
rhetorical tactics as well as emotional expression?
4. Consider the literary precedents and background of biblical allusion
related to Frethorne's letter.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
1. Use other letters and firsthand accounts from colonists in the New
World: cf. letter from "Pond," a young Massachusetts settler,
to his parents in Suffolk, England (repr. in Demos, John, ed., Remarkable
Providences, 1600-1760. New York: George Braziller, 1972, p. 73).
2. Use Pond to compare New England and Jamestown experiences.
3. Use chronicles by Bradford,
--recording both personal and communal life in the colonies--to discover
the diversity of such experiences, the impact of his background and ethos
upon Frethorne's viewpoint in these letters. Use women's accounts to identify
4. Use Calvinist pieces to contrast the relatively secular focus of
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
1. (a) Invite students to itemize the basic assumptions (world view
components) that Frethorne brings to his experience--these then become
the basis for class discussion (as we discern them from evidence in the
(b) Ask students to try to determine what aspects of Frethorne's appeal
have been calculated to move his parents to aid him. How does he use persuasive
and manipulative techniques (or does he?) to affect them?
2. (a) Write out responses to (a) and (b) above.
(b) Using other primary sources, imaginatively recreate the world of
Jamestown by inventing your own letter or diary entry or newspaper story
or other fabricated "document" that conveys a vivid sense of
(c) Write an imagined reply from Frethorne's parents.
There is no secondary source material on Richard Frethorne, so one must
reconstruct his world to know him.
Edited anthologies of primary source documents (cf. Demos) that diversify
the voices of recollection have been the most useful for doing so. Social
histories of the colonial period and feminist reconstructions of the age
and enterprise of settlement and of the authorial process have done the
most to alert me to the matrix of issues one should explore when using
a memoir or other personal document.