Richard Frethorne
    (fl. 1623)

    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 audience, etc.

    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, Smith, Wingfield --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 gender issues.

    4. Use Calvinist pieces to contrast the relatively secular focus of Frethorne's chronicle.

    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 document).

    (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 colonial life.

    (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.