Colony of Virginia


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Map of Virginia Colony

Colonial Map of Virginia from  1758

Virginia, COLONY OF, the name given to an undefined territory in America (of which Roanoke Island, discovered in 1584, was a part) in compliment to the unmarried Queen, or because of its virgin soil. It was afterwards defined as extending from latitude 34 to 45 North, and was divided into north and south Virginia. The northern part was afterwards called NEW ENGLAND (q. v.).

Map of Virginia ColonyThe spirit of adventure and desire for colonization were prevalent in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and circumstances there were favorable to such undertakings, for there was plenty of material for colonies. Soon after the accession of James I., war between England and France ceased, and there were many restless soldiers out of employment - so restless that social order was in danger. There was also a class of ruined and desperate spendthrifts, ready to do anything to retrieve their fortunes. Such were the men who stood ready to go to America when Ferdinando Gorges, Bartholomew Gosnold, Chief-Justice Popham, Richard Hakluyt, Captain John Smith, and others devised a new scheme for settling Virginia.

The timid King, glad to perceive a new field open for the restless spirits of his realm, granted a liberal patent to a company of " noblemen, gentlemen, and merchants," chiefly of London, to plant settlements in America, between latitude 34 and 38 North, and westward 100 miles from the sea. A similar charter was granted to another company to settle between lat. 41 and 45 N. The space of about 200 miles between the two territories was a broad boundary-line, upon which neither party was to plant a settlement. In December, 1606, the London Company sent three ships, under Capt. Christopher Newport, with 105 colonists, to make a settlement on ROANOKE ISLAND (q. v.). They took the long southern route, by way of the West Indies, and when they approached the coast of North Carolina a tempest drove them farther north into Chesapeake Bay, where they found good anchorage. The principal passengers were Gosnold, Edward M. Wingfield, Captain Smith, and Rev. Robert Hunt. The capes at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay Newport named Charles and Henry, in compliment to the King's two sons.

Virginia Colonists

Early Settlers in Virginia

Landing and resting at a pleasant point of land between the mouths of the York and James rivers, he named it Point Comfort, and, sailing up the latter stream 50 miles, the colonists landed on the left bank, May 13, 1607, and there founded a settlement and built a village, which they named Jamestown, in compliment to the King. They gave the name of James to the river. On the voyage, Captain Smith, the most notable man among them see (SMITH, JOHN), had excited the jealousy and suspicion of his fellow-passengers, and he was placed in confinement on suspicion that he intended to usurp the government of the colony. It was not known who had been appointed rulers, for the silly King had placed the names of the colonial council in a sealed box, to be opened on their arrival. It was found that Smith was one of the council, and he was released. Wingfield was chosen president. Smith and others ascended the river in small boats to the falls at Richmond, and visited the Indian emperor POWHATAN, who resided a mile below.

Early in June Newport returned to England for supplies and more emigrants. The supplies which they brought had been spoiled in the long voyage, and the Indians around them appeared hostile. The marshes sent up poisonous vapors, and before the end of summer Gosnold and fully one-half of the adventurers died of fever and famine. President Wingfield lived on the choicest stores, and was preparing to escape to the West Indies in a pinnace left by Newport, when his treachery was discovered, and a man equally notorious, named Radcliffe, was put in his place. He, too, was soon dismissed, when Captain Smith was happily chosen to rule the colony. He soon restored order, won the respect of the Indians, compelled them to bring food to Jamestown until wild fowl became plentiful in the autumn, and the harvest of maize or Indian corn was gathered by the barbarians. Smith and a few companions explored the Chickahominy River, where he was captured and condemned to die, but was saved by the King's daughter. See POCAHONTAS.


Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain Smith

Everything was in disorder on his return from the forest, and only forty men of the colony were living, who were on the point of escaping to the West Indies. Newport returned with supplies and 120 emigrants early in 1608. They were no better than the first. There were several unskillful goldsmiths, and most of the colonists became gold-seekers and neglected the soil. There "was no talk, no hope, no work, but dig gold, work [earth supposed to be] gold, refine gold, and load gold." Some glittering earth had been mistaken for gold, and Newport had loaded his ship with the worthless soil. Smith implored the settlers to plough and sow. They refused, and, leaving Jamestown in disgust, he explored Chesapeake Bay and its tributary streams in an open boat. In the course of three months he traveled 1,000 miles and made a rude map of the country. Newport arrived at Jamestown soon after Smith's return in September, with seventy more emigrants, among them two women, the first Europeans of their sex seen in Virginia proper. See DARE, VIRGINIA.

Colonial Seal of VirginiaThese emigrants were no better than the first, and Smith entreated the company to send over farmers and mechanics: but at the end of two years, when the settlement numbered 200 strong men, there were only forty acres of land under cultivation. In 1609 the company obtained a new charter, which made the settlers vassals of the council of Virginia and extended the territory to the head of Chesapeake Bay. Lord De la Warr (Delaware) was appointed governor of Virginia ; Sir Thomas Gates, deputy-governor; Sir George Somers, admiral; Christopher Newport, vice - admiral, and Sir Thomas Dale, high-marshal, all for life. Nine vessels, with 500 emigrants, including twenty women and children, sailed for Jamestown in June, 1609. Gates and Somers embarked with Newport, and the three were to govern Virginia until the arrival of Lord Delaware. A hurricane dispersed the fleet, and the vessel containing these joint rulers or commissioners was wrecked on one of the Bermuda Islands. Seven vessels reached Jamestown. The new-comers were, if possible, more profligate than the first-dissolute scions of wealthy families, who " left their country for their country's good."

Smith continued to administer the government until an accident compelled him to return to England in the fall of 1609. Then the colonists gave themselves up to every irregularity; the Indians withheld supplies; famine ensued, and the winter and spring of 1610 were long remembered as the starving time. The Indians prepared to exterminate the English, but they were spared by a timely warning from Pocahontas. Six months after Smith left, the settlement of 500 souls was reduced to sixty. The three commissioners reached Jamestown in June, 1610, and Gates determined to leave for Newfoundland with the famished settlers, and distribute them among the settlers there. In four pinnaces they departed, and were met at Point Comfort by Lord Delaware, with provisions and emigrants. Failing health compelled him to return to England in March, 1611, and he was succeeded by a deputy, Sir Thomas Dale, who arrived with 300 settlers and some cattle. Sir Thomas Gates came with 350 more colonists in September following, and superseded Dale. These were a far better class than any who had arrived, and there were then 1,000 Englishmen in Virginia. New settlements were planted at Dutch Gap and at Bermuda Hundred at the mouth of the Appomattox. In 1616 Deputy-Governor Gates was succeeded by Samuel Argall, but his course was so bad that Lord Delaware sailed from England to resume the government of Virginia, but died on the passage, at the mouth of the bay that bears his name.

Cultivating Tobacco

George Yeardley was appointed governor in 1617, and he summoned two delegates from each of seven corporations or boroughs to assemble at Jamestown, July 30. These delegates formed a representative assembly, the first ever held on the Western Continent. A seal for the colony was adopted by the company. It was made of beeswax, covered with very thin paper, and stamped on both sides with appropriate devices. On one side were the royal arms of Great Britain, and on the other an effigy of the reigning monarch, with the sentence in Latin "Seal of the Province of Virginia." Kneeling before the monarch was an Indian presenting a bundle of tobacco, the chief product of the country. In the seal was a figure representing Queen Anne. The original from which the engraving on preceding page was copied was somewhat defaced. It was sent to the colony almost immediately after the beginning of Queen Anne's reign, with instructions from the secretary of the privy council to break up the seal of her predecessor, William III., and send the fragments to England.

The same year 1,200 colonists arrived, among whom were ninety " respectable young women," to become the wives of planters, who were purchased at a profit to the company and were paid for in tobacco, then become a profitable agricultural product. Within two years 150 respectable young women were sent to Virginia for the same purpose. Homes and families appeared, and so the foundation of the commonwealth of Virginia was laid. Already the Indians had been made friendly by the marriage of Pocahontas to an Englishman. The tribe of gold-seekers had disappeared, and the future of Virginia appeared bright. The King injured the colony by sending over 100 convicts from English prisons, in 1619, to be sold as servants to the planters, and this system was pursued for 100 years, in defiance of the protests of the settlers. The same year the colonists bought twenty negro slaves of a Dutch trader, and so slavery was introduced (see SLAVERY). On July 24, 1621, the London Company granted the colonists a written constitution for their government, which provided for the appointment of a governor and council by the company, and a representative assembly, to consist of two burgesses or representatives from each borough, to be chosen by the people and clothed with full legislative power in connection with the council. This body formed the General Assembly. Sir Francis Wyatt was appointed governor, and brought the constitution with him.

Virginia Mountaineers

Virginia Mountaineers

The first laws of the commonwealth were thirty-five in number, concisely expressed, repealed all former laws, and clearly showed the condition of the colony. The first acts related to the Church. They provided that in every plantation there should be a room or house " for the worship of God, sequestered and set apart for that purpose, and not to be for any temporal use whatsoever "; also a place of burial " sequestered and paled in." Absence from public worship " without allowable excuse " incurred the forfeiture of a pound of tobacco, or 50 lbs. if the absence were persisted in for a month. Divine public service was to be in conformity to the canons of the Church of England. In addition to the Church festivals, March 22 (0. S.) was to be annually observed in commemoration of the escape of the colony from destruction by the Indians. No minister was allowed to be absent from his parish more than two months in a year, under pain of forfeiting one-half of his salary, or the whole of it, and his spiritual charge, if absent four months. He who disparaged a minister without proof was to be fined 500 lbs. of tobacco, and to beg the minister's pardon publicly before the congregation. The minister's salary was to be paid out of the first-gathered and best tobacco and corn; and no man was to dispose of his tobacco before paying. his church-dues, under pain of forfeiting double. Drunkenness and swearing were made punishable offences.

The levy and expenditure were to be made by the Assembly only; the governor might not draw the inhabitants from their private employments to do his work; the whole council had to consent to the levy of men for the public service; older settlers, who came before Sir Thomas Gates (1611), " and their posterity" were to be exempt from personal military service; the burgesses were not to be molested in going to, coming from, or during the sessions of the Assembly; every private planter's lands were to be surveyed and their bounds recorded; monthly courts were to be held by special commissioners at Elizabeth City, at the mouth of the James, and at Charles City, for the accommodation of more distant plantations; the price of corn was to be unrestricted; in every parish was to be a public granary, to which each planter was to bring yearly a bushel of corn to be disposed of for public use by a vote of the freemen, and if not disposed of to be returned to the owner; every settler was to be compelled to cultivate corn enough for his family; all trade in corn with the Indians was prohibited; every freeman was to fence in a garden of a quarter of an acre for the planting of grape-vines, roots, herbs, and mulberry-trees; inspectors, or " censors," of tobacco were to be appointed; ships were to break bulk only at James City; weights and measures were to be sealed; every house was to be palisaded for defense against the Indians, and no man was to go to work in the fields without being armed, nor to leave his house exposed to attack; no powder was to be spent unnecessarily, and each plantation was to be furnished with arms. Persons of " quality " who were delinquent might not undergo corporal punishment like " common " people, but might be imprisoned and fined. Any person wounded in the military service was to be cured at the public charge, and if permanently lamed was to have a maintenance according to his "quality"; and 10 lbs. of tobacco were to be levied on each male colonist to pay the expenses of the war. This war was that with the Indians after the massacre in 1622, and much of the legislation had reference to it, such as an order for the inhabitants, at the beginning of July, 1624, to fall upon the adjoining savages " as they did last year."

Berkeley, Virginia

Berkeley Virginia

In 1624, of the 9,000 persons who had been sent to Virginia, only a little more than 2,000 remained. The same year the London Company was dissolved by a writ of quo wan-auto, and Virginia became a royal province. George Yeardly was appointed governor, with twelve councillors. He died in 1627, and was succeeded by Sir John Harvey, a haughty and unpopular ruler. Harvey was deposed by the Virginians in 1635, but was reinstated by Charles I, and ruled until 1639. Sir William Berkeley became governor in 1641, at the beginning of the civil war in England, and being a thorough loyalist, soon came in contact with the republican Parliament. The colonists, also, remained loyal, and invited the son of the beheaded King to come and reign over them. Cromwell sent commissioners and a fleet to Virginia. A compromise with the loyalists was effected. Berkeley gave way to Richard Bennett, one of the commissioners, who became governor. But when Charles II. was restored, Berkeley, who had not left Virginia, was reinstated; the laws of the colony were revived; restrictive revenue laws were enforced; the Church of England-disestablished in Virginia-was re-established, and severe legislative acts against Nonconformists were passed. Berkeley proclaimed Charles II. " King of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Virginia," and ruled with vigor. Under Berkeley, the colonists had become discontented, and in 1676 they broke out into open rebellion, led by a wealthy and enterprising young lawyer named NATHANIEL BACON.

Map of Virginia

Map of Virginia Colony as Described by Captain Smith

Charles II. had given a patent for Virginia (1673) to two of his rapacious courtiers (Arlington and Culpeper), and in 1677 the latter superseded Berkeley as governor. He arrived in Virginia in 1680, and his rapacity and profligacy soon so disgusted the people that they were on the verge of rebellion, when the King, offended at him, revoked his grant and his commission. He was succeeded by an equally unpopular governor, Lord Howard of Effingham, and the people were again stirred to revolt; but the death of the King and other events in England made them wait for hoped  for relief. The Stuarts were driven from the throne forever in 1688, and there was a change for the better in the colonies. In 1699 Williamsburg was founded and made the capital of Virginia, where the General Assembly met in 1700. The code was revised for the fifth time in 1705, when by it slaves were declared real estate, and this law continued until 1776. Hostilities with the French broke out in 1754, they having built a line of military posts along the western slope of the Alleghany Mountains, in the rear of Virginia, and at the head-waters of the Ohio. To one of these posts young George Washington was sent on a diplomatic mission towards the close of 1753. by Dinwiddie, governor of Virginia. That was Washington's first appearance in public service. He performed the duty with so much skill and prudence that he was placed at the head of a military force the next year, and fought the French at and near Fort Necessity. During the French and Indian War that ensued, Virginia bore her share; and when England began to press her taxation schemes in relation to the colonies, the Virginia House of Burgesses took a patriotic stand in opposition, under the leadership of PATRICK HENRY (q. V.). From that time until the breaking out of the Revolutionary War the Virginians were conspicuous in maintaining the rights of the colonies.

On March 20, 1775, a convention of delgates from the several counties and corporations of Virginia met for the first time. They assembled in St. John's Church in Richmond. Among the conspicuous members of the convention were Washington and Patrick Henry. Peyton Randolph was chosen president and John Tazewell clerk. A large portion of the members yearned for reconciliation with Great Britain, while others saw no ground for hope that the mother-country would be just. Among the latter was Patrick Henry. His judgment was too sound to be misled by mere appearances of justice, in which others trusted. The convention expressed its unqualified approbation of the proceedings of the Continental Congress, and warmly thanked their delegates for the part they had taken in it. They thanked the Assembly of the island of Jamaica for a sympathizing document, and then proceeded to consider resolutions that the colony should be instantly put in a state of defense by an immediate organization of the militia.

This meant resistance, and the resolutions alarmed the more timid, who opposed the measure as rash and almost impious. Deceived by a show of justice on the part of Great Britain, they urged delay, for it was evident that the numerous friends of the colonists in England, together with the manufacturing interest, would soon bring about an accommodation. This show of timidity and temporizing roused the fire of patriotism in the bosom of Henry, and he made an impassioned speech, which electrified all hearers and has become in our history an admired specimen of oratory.

The resolutions to prepare for defense were passed, and Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Robert C. Nicholas, Benjamin Harrison, Lemuel Riddick, George Washington, Adam Stephen, Andrew Lewis, William Christian, Edmund Pendleton, Thomas Jefferson, and Isaac Lane were appointed a committee to prepare a plan accordingly. Their plan for embodying the militia was adopted, and Virginia prepared herself for the conflict. Provision was made for the enrolment of a company of volunteers in each county. The convention reappointed the Virginia delegates to seats in the second Continental Congress, adding Thomas Jefferson, " in case of the nonattendance of Peyton Randolph." Henry had said, prophetically, in his speech, " The next gale that comes from the North will bring to our ears the clash of arms!" This prophecy was speedily fulfilled by the clash of arms at Lexington. His bold proceedings and utterances in this convention caused his name to be presented to the British government in a bill of attainder, with those of Randolph, Jefferson, the two Adamses, and Hancock. Governor Dunmore soon called a meeting of the Virginia Assembly to consider a conciliatory proposition made by Lord North. They rejected it, and in his anger he fulminated proclamations against Henry and the committees of vigilance which were formed in every county in Virginia. He declared that, should one of his officers be molested in the performance of his duty, lie would raise the royal standard, proclaim freedom to the slaves, and arm them against their masters. He sent his family (May 4) on board the British man-of-war Fowey, in the York River, fortified his " palace," and secretly placed powder under the magazine at Williamsburg, with the evident intention of blowing it up should occasion seem to require it. The discovery of this "gunpowder plot " greatly irritated the people. A rumor came (June 7) that armed marines were on their way from the Fowey to assist Dunmore to enforce the laws. The people flew to arms, and the governor, alarmed, took refuge on the man-of-war. He was the first of the royal governors who abdicated government at the beginning of the Revolution. From the Fowey Dunmore sent messages, addresses, and letters to the burgesses in session at Williamsburg, and received communications from them in return. When all bills passed were ready for the governor's signature, he was invited to his capitol to sign them. He declined, and demanded that they should present the papers at his residence on shipboard. Instead of this, the burgesses delegated their powers to a permanent committee and adjourned. So ended royal rule in Virginia.

In May, 1776, a convention of 130 delegates assembled at Williamsburg. After having finished current business, the convention resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the state of the colony. On May 15, resolutions which had been drafted by Edmund Pendleton were unanimously agreed to, 112 members being present. The preamble enumerated their chief grievances, and said, " We have no alternative left but an abject submission or a total separation." Then they decreed that their " delegates in Congress be instructed to propose to that body to declare the united colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance or dependence upon the crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this colony to such declaration, and to measures for forming foreign alliances and a confederation of the colonies; provided that the power of forming government for, and the regulation of the internal concerns of each colony be left to the respective colonial legislatures."

(See Thirteen Original Colonies)



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