Lydia Davis's Head, Heart: A Poem Analysis


Richard Frethorne Letter Overview

Richard Frethorne, an Englishman and indentured servant, arrived in the Jamestown colony in 1623. He then made his home in Virginia. He describes the depressing aspects of life there in a letter to his “loving and kind mother and father.” The Letter paints a very ominous picture of what an average indentured servant in Colonial America might experience.

Richard Frethorne Letter Overview


Three months after his arrival in the colony, Richard Frethorne sent a letter to his family detailing his life. In a letter to his parents, Richard Frethorne described the severe challenges he is encountering in the new world. In particular for indentured servants, Frethorne’s heartbreaking letter paints an illuminating picture of the difficulties of settlement. He admitted to his parents that he was not at all happy and that he missed them and his native country a great deal.

He talks about the difficult obstacles he encountered in Virginia. The Virginia of 1623 was very dissimilar to England. The English settlement there was Jamestown’s first to become a stable one. Virginia’s planters enjoyed large tracts of land and a prosperous tobacco industry. They needed low-cost servants to work in the fields. When they hired them, they encountered fierce opposition from the Indians and were unable to convert them into slaves, so they turned to Englishmen as their servants. In his letter, he expresses his feelings about living in early Virginia. Due to the lack of food and medical supplies, the prevalence of illnesses and other diseases, and the unfavorable relations with local Americans, life in Virginia was primarily challenging and difficult for him.

The author’s tone in this letter is one of desperation and modesty. He claims, “And there is nothing to be gained here except sickness and death, and I have nothing to comfort me.” Richard Frethorne is confused, miserable, and full of disillusionment. He struggles to relax both physically and emotionally. He has most definitely not imagined the indentured servant’s daily life, which is in reality a life that is barely above that of a slave. The country, in Mr. Frethorne’s words, “is such that it causeth much sickness, as the scurvy and the bloody flux and diverse other diseases, which maketh the body very poor and weak,” and as a result, “I your child are in a most heavy case.” He tells his parents that his life is the lowest form of existence and that he is literally on the verge of begging. He describes the sickness and death all around him, including scurvy and dysentery. His stomach hurts so much, he misses England so much, he feels alone, his shipmates are passing away at an alarming rate, and these are just a few of the things Mr. Frethorne is struggling with.

Richard Frethorne Letter Overview

Being an indentured servant made Richard Frethorne extremely miserable. For the British to quickly populate and profit from American colonies, indentured servitude was a very common strategy. Nothing less than indentured servitude can be considered a form of slavery. Several underpaid laborers from some nations, including England, were sent to the English colonies to work on the farms. The promise of a new and improved life in America lured these poor laborers. The planters would have a better chance of experiencing economic growth if they employed the indentured servants.

Frethorne claims that he believes that, “if I die before it come,” he may not even live to see his parents’ response. Frethorne’s pleading letter makes it abundantly clear how difficult an indentured servant’s life was. Indentured servants’ fundamental rights were not spelled out in writing. These poor servants were frequently forced to work overtime, kept in constant hunger, and brutally treated. It was unlikely that a slave would prosper even if they survived their indentured servitude. What kind of life will Frethorne lead after his years as a servant, even if he survives them? He will undoubtedly be diminished both physically and mentally as a result of the awful treatment. It appears likely that he will return to England after his years of servitude are over based on the way he speaks of the country. Again, this is probably not what the British government would prefer.

Richard Frethorne Letter Overview


This letter effectively depicts the painful early development of a country that will be totally dependent on brutal and unjust forms of slavery. Before the influx of the large number of African slaves, Frethorne’s life as a servant provides us with an understanding of how those without rights are treated. This poignant letter provides us with a fleeting glimpse into the origins of slavery in America from a first-person perspective. It demonstrates to us that the United States was not founded on just laws and universal freedom, but rather on the heroic efforts of those who had no rights and the British government. a government that became obsessively addicted to the revenue it was receiving from an unpaid workforce. In the centuries that followed, this profit-driven system permeated American culture and established a standard for how much money can be made with the least amount of work.