“With few exceptions, the most distinguished families in the Colonial history of Virginia were founded in the Seventeenth century. It was in this century that there emigrated from England the Armisteads, Banisters, Bassetts, Blands, Bollings, Beverleys, Burwells, Byrds, Carys, Corbins, Carters, Claibornes, Custises, Fauntleroys, Fitzhughs, Harrisons, Lees, Lightfoots, Ludwells, Masons, Pages, Peytons, Randolphs, Robinsons, Scarboroughs, Spencers, Thoroughgoods, Washingtons and Wormleys — families that represented the nearest approach to an organized aristocracy which North America has seen, and which constituted in their association with the eighteenth, if not with the seventeenth century, the stateliest social body known so far in American history.
The fundamental influence leading the founders of these families and families of equal social standing in the Colony to emigrate from England to Virginia was the active and enterprising spirit which has pre-eminently distinguished the English race immemorially.
[…] The history of no other nation furnishes a movement of population comparable in magnitude and duration with that which led to the settlement of the whole Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Georgia. Vast as it was, it was only the beginning of the English colonization. When the Revolution tore the American communities from the side of the Mother Country, the flood of English emigration westward slackened and practically died away, but before another hundred years had passed it had spread itself far into the Australasian seas; new English cities, crowned with all the triumphs of the modern arts, and teeming with a happy and prosperous population, had arisen under the Southern cross; from Table Mountain far beyond the Zambesi, English dominion had broadened out in South Africa; England’s commissioned Viceroy was enthroned at Calcutta, her uncommissioned at Cairo; while in the West, in spite of Saratoga and Yorktown, she still owned half a continent and counted her loyal subjects by the millions. These were the achievements of her sons who had inherited that spirit of enterprise and adventure, not to be daunted by fear of a deadly climate or an Indian foe, which had sustained the souls of men who, before the close of the seventeenth century had hewn down the forests in Eastern Virginia; had brought the land under cultivation; had established homes; had founded a carefully ordered social and political system, and thrown over all the aegis of English Law.”
From Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, by Phillip Alexander Bruce, 1907