The Commonwealth came to Virginia in 1652. Berkeley was out. The Virginia General Assembly then elected Richard Bennett, one of Parliament’s approved commissioners who was sent to force Virginia and Maryland into submission. Bennett was an extremely well connected man in both colonies, therefore he was the perfect person to answer Parliament’s call. But that call took slightly longer to answer than expected.
Once Berkeley surrendered his position, Bennett had little trouble in steering an increasingly-distant-from-England Virginia under the Protectorate. There were outliers, such as the Eastern Shore; however, who wanted to be separated from the colonial mainland. The best that could be done there was grant a form of semi-autonomy that many from the peninsula across the bay benefited.
Most did indeed prosper during this time, largely because of increasingly decentralized government that gave power into the smaller, local courts. But there were some who suffered.
Indians, mostly those who were out of state that began moving into lands left uninhabited by the shrinking Powhatan Confederacy, came into contact with English settlers on the frontiers during this period, and violence plagued both English and Indian settlements. The Assembly wanted to ensure peace, but they had little power to enforce their authority on the frontier lands so distant from Jamestown.
In time, the Assembly lifted many trade restrictions formerly existing between the English and Indians, which would go a long way to lessening tensions – though not completely.
Bennett’s finished his Parliamentary commissioned work after his gubernatorial tenure ran out. The second part of his commission was to subdue Maryland, a colony in which Bennett was quite familiar, since he and other Puritans fled there in the late 1640s.
Maryland’s proprietor, Lord Baltimore, a Royalist installed Puritan William Stone as his colony’s governor in 1648. Regardless of Stone’s religious stance, Parliament wanted to remove Baltimore from controlling the colony, because of his support for Charles II. Bennett and William Claiborne successfully removed Stone, and fended him off after the Battle of Severn in 1655, which allowed Parliament to reign supreme over the Chesapeake colonies.
But Parliament really didn’t care too much about Virginia and Maryland, at least that’s the impression both lands felt due to such scanty correspondence from London after 1652. Colonists decided that this was a good thing, and only increased their self-government, often in opposition to the government’s desire, as the Interregnum’s last governor, Samuel Matthews, Jr. discovered.
Perhaps in time Matthews and Parliament would have turned the screws on Virginia’s growing independence, but Matthews died soon after the Assembly overruled his command to dissolve, and Richard Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell’s son and heir chose to resign his position as Lord Protector in 1659. The Interregnum was over, and a familiar face soon returned to govern Virginia once again.
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- Billings, Warren. A Little Parliament: The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century. Richmond, VA: Library of Virginia, 2004.
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- Walsh, Lorena S. Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
- Washburn, Wilcomb E. Virginia Under Charles I and Cromwell 1625-1660. Kindle Edition.
- Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson. Virginia Under the Stuarts: 1607-1688. New York: Russell and Russell, 1959.
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- Wise, Jennings Cropper. Ye Kingdom Of Accawmacke: Or The Eastern Shore Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century. Richmond, VA: The Bell Book and Stationary, CO. 1911.
- Biography of Peter Jones – Historic Petersburg Foundation, Inc.
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All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of Colonel Edward Hill and Pamunkey Chieftan Totopotomoi.
Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “Edges Run” by Mipso, also available on iTunes.
2 thoughts on “Virginia During the Interregnum”
Do you know where I can find a portrait of Richard Bennett, governor of the Virginia Commonwealth from 1652 – 1655? He is the brother to my 10th great grandfather, Thomas Bennett (1603 – 1668)
Hi Joe, sorry, to my knowledge no portrait was ever painted or survived.