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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Richard Frethorne
(fl. 1623)
Richard Frethorne was a young Englishman who came over to the New World in 1623 as an indentured servant and settled in Virginia, near the Jamestown colony. Other than the three letters to his parents included here, there is no historical record of his life. The letters, however, provide an illuminating picture of the hardships of colonization in the early seventeenth century, especially for the class of indentured servants.

  Combating homesickness, disease, hunger, discomfort, and isolation, Frethorne and his fellow settlers struggled to make a success of their fledgling community. But life in early Virginia was particularly difficult because of the shortage of supplies, the prevalence of disease, and tense relations with the Native Americans. On March 22, 1622, the Powhatan chief Opechancanough organized an attack on English settlements across the colony that killed between three hundred and four hundred people. This attack, ignited by the recent murder of the great warrior Nemattanew by the English, was intended to curb English expansion into native lands. As a result, the English abandoned many outlying settlements and moved closer to or into Jamestown itself, increasing the incidence of disease and death in the overcrowded village. The English retaliated by destroying Indian crops. Frethorne alludes to this attack, in which eighty people from his outlying settlement died, and which motivated the fear and harsh policies of the settlers toward the Indians. Tensions between the two groups escalated over the next decade and climaxed in another attack by Opechancanough in 1641, in which nearly four hundred English colonists were killed. It is not surprising, as Frethorne recounts, that many longed to be “redeemed out of Egypt” and return to their former lives across the Atlantic.

Liahna Babener
Montana State University

Ivy Schweitzer
Dartmouth College

In the Heath Anthology
from Richard Frethorne, to His Parents (Virginia, 1623) (1881)

Other Works
from Richard Frethorne, to His Parents (Virginia, 1623) (1623)

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Richard Frethorne, to his Parents and to Me?
An essay discussing the experience of reading a letter written to someone else and the ways in which Frethorne hails his audience.

Virtual Jamestown
Frethorne's account, "The Experiences of an Indentured Servant, 1623."

Secondary Sources