Even rural life was not clustered into villages, but spread out among individual household farmsteads, themselves not compact. At least for white Virginians, then, society was a world of households that came together only on public occasions. (Black slaves, according to Isaac, lived a more communal life, but still subject to the same geographic dispersion.)
All households were not equal, however; they varied in the extent of land and number of slaves, and therefore in wealth. The result, within a framework of household autonomy, was a hierarchical society, with the gentry receiving the deference of ordinary planters (a term which at this time lacked the aristocratic connotations it has today; Isaac, p. 16 note). Local society and politics were dominated by the gentry, and by their personal ties to one another and to their humbler neighbors.
The population of Virginia was growing rapidly (p. 12), but the growth was outward, not toward greater density in already-settled districts. Within a particular district, life as portrayed by Isaac has a timeless flavor, as though conditions had remained largely unchanged for centuries. There is in fact a tension here, because in 1740 the colony had only existed for four generations, and the rise of a local gentry was more recent still -- still taking place, in fact, as through the tobacco inspection acts of the 1730s (p. 137). Isaac takes note of this, yet still conveys the sense of a society that seems to have b