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Wake Forest professor co-authors new history of Virginia

April 11, 2007

On April 26, 1607, three ships arrived off the coast of Virginia and landed at the site that would become the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

Four hundred years later, Anthony S. Parent Jr., professor of history at Wake Forest University, is one of four authors to chronicle the history of Virginia in a new book, “Old Dominion, New Commonwealth:  A History of Virginia, 1607-2007,” scheduled for publication by University of Virginia Press in May.

Historians Ronald L. Heinemann, John G. Kolp, William G. Shade and Parent collaborated to provide a comprehensive, one-volume history of the state, the first of its kind since the 1970s.

Parent authored the first three chapters of the book.  He traces the natural history of the region and provides an overview of some of its earliest inhabitants, including the Algonquins, who settled along the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers flowing into it more than 5,000 years ago.  Originally a hunter/gatherer culture, they eventually began cultivating crops such as corn, beans and squash that also helped sustain the English settlers during their first years at Jamestown.

The settlers’ interactions with the Indians, both friendly and hostile, from 1607 to1690 are covered in Parent’s section.

"At America’s birth in Jamestown, the English and the Powhatans struggled to the death, ending in English victory,” Parent said.  “From there, our national romance of emerging free institutions, pioneers and cavaliers begins.  However, we must not forget our history of unfree laborers, both indentured and enslaved, and the history of racism that evolved.”

In the book, he discusses the arrival of the first Africans in the colony in 1619.  “These first Africans were likely Kimbundu-speaking Christians from Ndongo, Angola, where 4,000 had been captured in 1618,” Parent writes.  “Although probably considered slaves by their captors, they apparently were accorded the status of indentureship in the Virginia colony.”

Parent, who grew up in California and earned his doctorate in history at UCLA, first became interested in Virginia history because it was where slavery began.  “I wanted to start at the beginning and find out what was going on,” Parent said.

He was invited to co-author the “Old Dominion” book after the publication of his first book, “Foul Means:  The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740,” was published in 2003.

Parent recently presented his research on slavery in colonial Virginia at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Minneapolis March 30. 

"For decades, we have lacked a modern account of Virginia’s rich, tumultuous, and consequential history, which has shaped so much of our nation’s past,” said Nelson D. Lankford, editor of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  “Now, we have it. … All Virginians, indeed all Americans, will find their story appealing.”

On April 14, Parent and his co-authors will discuss “Writing a Four Hundred Year History of Virginia:  Challenges and Opportunities” at the closing session of the 2007 Virginia Forum, a two-day history conference at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

He is also teaching a first-year seminar at Wake Forest called “Before and After 1607:  Virginia” and a graduate course titled “America’s Birth:  Myth and Memory.”  The two courses explore the clash of Indian, European and African cultures.

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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