Writing Virginia’s history has a long history itself reaching back to the 17th century. Telling those stories has evolved and expanded in various ways during the past 400 years reflecting differing angles, viewpoints, and ideologies. Brent Tarter’s work is part of that long history, and he adds a new volume in which he attempts to give voice to those differing angles and viewpoints.
The volume in focus is entitled Virginians and Their Histories, a title meant to highlight the people who make Virginia’s story what it is. Tarter draws from decades worth of research work to bring this book together. It’s such a work that when Mr. Tarter and I discussed doing an interview, it soon became apparent that one recording wouldn’t do his work justice. To that end, here is the second installment, which covers the beginning of the 18th Century to the events leading up to the Civil War.
The families making up the First Families list intermarried with one another throughout their generations. Arguably no family played a more central role in those marriages than did the Burwells.
Marriage lifted Lewis Burwell II out of a fatherless middling status in that his mother Lucy remarried twice, elevating both her and her son’s station each time. Lucy’s last marriage to Colonel Philip Ludwell Sr. solidified their inclusion among Virginia’s most powerful colonial elite.
Lewis only added to his now elevated position by also marrying well. He first wed Abigail Smith, cousin to Nathaniel Bacon Sr, and then Martha Lear, William Cole’s widow. He was an intelligent planter, merchant, and builder, and that work brought him much praise throughout the colony. He was involved in moving Virginia’s colonial capitol from Jamestown to Williamsburg, as well as laying out the new power-center’s infrastructure. This work would have seen him enter the Governor’s Council, but the situation went awry when his daughter Lucy refused to marry Governor Francis Nicholson.
In the end, Lewis and family endured long enough to see Nicholson’s downfall instead of their own. The Burwell name remained and grew upon Lewis’ foundation, thus leaving her imprint upon the colony, Commonwealth, and later United States. Their influence was such that a West Point family named a son after the great Lewis Burwells of history. That son went on to achieve great things as well, and he’s still highly revered, especially by his beloved Marine Corps.
The English Civil war claimed victims in Virginia, and the most prominent casualty was William Berkeley.
Berkeley’s first administration has been painted as rather successful, and for good reason. He had made peace with the Powhatan Confederation, increased trade with other colonies, as well as other countries, such as the Dutch, and he greatly aided in solidifying Virginia’s colonial government. For at least these major reasons Berkeley earned high praise from his Virginian constituents. But though high praise often followed Berkeley, there were still those who fell afoul of the Governor.
Much opposition accounts also had what seemed to be valid issues. The most prominent of those issues centered around religious freedom. Berkeley was a staunch Royalist, who supported the Anglican Church, but his increasingly powerful opponents were Puritans that sided with the Parliamentarian cause. That being the case, when King Charles I lost his head in 1649 the English government had to address their Royalist supporting Virginia governor.
The Mathews-Claiborne faction moved to spearhead Parliament’s response. Religious freedom certainly influenced their cause, but Berkeley’s decision to spurn the Navigation Acts which forbade Virginia to trade with anyone other than the English fueled the faction’s fire. In the end, Berkeley could not withstand his enemies combined weight, nor would Berkeley lead the colony into a bloody war. He submitted, to a point, and retired to his Green Spring Plantation, a subject of Cromwell’s England with powerful Royalist connections.
The English Civil War undoubtedly colored Sir William Berkeley’s first administration. Berkeley’s first Assembly answered the issue concerning a revived Virginia Company, but once King Charles sent his reply across the Atlantic war had already broken out in England.
Berkeley was a staunch Royalist, but Virginia had many ties to those in Parliament. Some of those ties were economic, and many were religious. Therefore, Berkeley had to deftly navigate tricky waters in such a way that allowed him to proclaim his allegiance, while also appeasing opposition, and opposition that included the powerful William Claiborne.
Though Berkeley had many years in Virginia to look forward to, the seeds for trouble were being sown as soon as that first Assembly meeting. But seeds for a strong Royalist enclave were also being planted deep into Virginia’s heart, and Berkeley was the main planter.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is Charles Landseer’s depiction “The Eve of the Battle of Edgehill, 1642” found at Wikipedia.
William Berkeley lived during an exciting though volatile era. England was transforming into a powerful modern country, and William worked hard to put himself close to all the action. He used powerful connections which were tied to the monarchy in ways that most Englishmen could only wish for. But though Berkeley enjoyed those connections, he was often uneasy about his future.
William had reason to worry, especially after the Bishops Wars proved to be a massive failure for King Charles and England. Growing discontent swelled ranks against the Crown, and those attached to it. Many within the administration saw trouble on the horizon and fled the kingdom for places they deemed safer. Berkeley’s connections urged him to do the same, and it seemed that he would follow those connections to the continent. But at the last minute, the ever ambitious Berkeley organized a stunning change of heart.
Instead of moving to ancient, exotic locales, William Berkeley looked to the often plagued Virginia. He didn’t want simple comfort. He wanted to build a name. King Charles consented to Berkeley’s request, and Virginia would forever be changed. So too would England.
Virginia transformed during the first half of the 17th Century. Two men were behind most of that transformation – Samuel Mathews, Sr. and William Claiborne. Their extensive connections as well as growing New World wealth elevated both men to prominent positions in the colony.
They soon formed a powerful alliance that dominated the scene and clashed sharply with Governor John Harvey. In the end, Harvey lost, an old governor was reinstated, and then the power-brokers created a deal that allowed Virginia to move on from the Harvey nightmare.
Thomas Dale and his fellow Virginia Company leaders spent much time in Ireland before they trekked to Virginia. While they were subjugating the Irish, Dale and others learned a few things about how to set up a system of plantations.
It was reasoned that the best way to dominate a region was to first subdue it, and then build self-sustaining units on the newly conquered lands. Dale certainly subscribed to this school of thought, and began establishing a plantation system along the James River.
This system would not, however, be centered upon Jamestown. It was too unhealthy. Instead, Dale had Henricus built, but he planned an even larger power center on the bluffs overlooking the James and Appomattox Rivers that he called Bermuda Cittie.
Bermuda Cittie would then be the governing location overseeing a series of 5 separate plantations that were all established in 1613 –
Nether Hundred (Later called Bermuda Hundred)
West and Shirley
Diggs His Hundred
These 5 plantations, however, were not the only plots of land that had activity on them. Many claim that in 1614 Captain John Martin began working the lands of what is today Upper and Lower Brandon Plantation.
It’s hard to validate the claim, as it is hard to say much about any work done on these plantations, but the 351 settlers still alive by 1616 were busily, if not miserably, working lands along the James River. It was their work on increasingly independent lands that began making Virginia a desirable destination. A destination that attracted a greater migration after 1616.
One of the most indifferent Virginia Company investors became one of her most influential, but not on purpose. Sir Robert Rich and his son, also Robert, only bought one share in the Company’s third offering, but they gifted a man-of-war named the Treasurer.
The Treasurer sailed to attack Spanish shipping lanes and outposts, but Argall had work to do in Virginia first. He had to help establish a trade route with the Potomac tribe in the north. The first trip was profitable, but a second was needed just 3 months later. On this second journey Argall received a tip. Pocahontas was visiting the Potomac Tribe.
The Treasurer, the would be Spanish raider, now became one of the most famous, or infamous depending on your viewpoint, traps in all of Virginia’s history. Pocahontas was lured on board, and the course of history would certainly change for both the Powhatan’s and the English.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is The Abduction of Pocahontas by artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Painting located at the Virginia Historical Society.
John Smith started to right the ship, but he was beginning to pay a heavy price. He had severely strained relations both with the English and the Native Virginians.
Though he was making progress through Winter 1608 and into Spring 1609, that progress came at high cost. The Powhatans used intrigue and direct attack to dislodge John Smith, but Smith prevailed, sort of.
While events were unfolding in the New World, Christopher Newport arrived back in England with Smith’s letter, as well as two of Smith’s most formidable enemies. The Virginia Company was less than happy at their arrival, but this time, the Company leaders agreed in that something needed to change.
Thus, as Smith was fighting to stay alive in Virginia, he was losing his power as a new charter reformed the struggling Virginia colony. Smith didn’t know it, but he was nearing the end of his presidency, and the colony would never be the same again as a new group of settlers began to take shape in 1609.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of the four recently discovered graves located within the 1608 Jamestown Church chancel.
John Smith’s presidency started out well enough, but when the Mary Margaret arrived with Christopher Newport and 70 new settlers the situation in Virginia deteriorated rapidly.
Smith had created an understanding with the surrounding Powhatan tribes. Newport threatened that.
Smith was working to supply the colony in advance of the rapidly oncoming winter. Newport wanted to search for more gold, as well as explore the region.
Smith wanted to impose his command, but Newport offset the balance of council power, and in so doing undermined Smith’s presidency.
Smith would have to suffer, and he did at the hands of both Newport and Powhatan, but in the end, Newport left, and Smith regained control. It was a hard first 100 days, but Smith once again survived, and because he did, the colony would make it through to 1609.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured photograph is of a cooling glass six-lipped vase produced at the Jamestown Glasshouse. The secondary picture is of the original 1608 glasshouse primary kiln.
Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “The Fire” by Virginian band The Last Bison, available on Soundcloud.