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.
Virginia’s history boasts many firsts. One of those firsts was the 1619 meeting of the House of Burgesses. It was a major event in that it was the first time a representative governmental body had met in the New World.
The meeting would set the example for future generations as Virginia and her sister colonies developed a tradition that would over time bring freedom not only to themselves, as at first, but to all, including those who were not represented in that first meeting.
It was my distinct pleasure to interview the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s Nancy Egloff. We discuss how the House of Burgesses formed and evolved in the 17th Century, as well as how the body evolved and influenced later generations. I trust you will find this episode informative and enjoyable.
Billings, Warren. “The General Assembly of 1619: Myths and Realities” in UNBOUND: An Annual Review of Legal History and Rare Books. Journal of the Legal History and Rare Books Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries, Volume 3, 2010. pp. 39-50.
Virginians exerted a measure of some independence in electing their own governors for a short time during the 1620s. But King Charles and his privy council as well as a cabal of London merchants wanted to take some power back for themselves. These groups accomplished their goal by appointing Captain John Harvey to be governor in 1628.
Harvey arrived in Virginia sometime during late winter, early spring 1630. He tried to impose a more centralized authority on the colony, but the Virginian’s wanted none of it.
When another well connected merchant entered into the mix, a wide rift separated Virginians from newly arriving Maryland settlers. John Harvey fell on the wrong side of that ever widening chasm, and lost it all. What became Harvey’s loss, however, became Virginia’s gain.
Virginia became officially became a Royal Colony in 1624. What did that mean? Would the newly formed freedoms be sacrificed on the monarchical altar? What about the rapidly expanding economy? Would that be brought back under governmental control, and suffer under mercantilistic ideas?
Virginia’s second generation had all of these questions and more in mind upon receiving news of the Virginia Company’s demise due to Royal interference. Sure, they suffered, and continued suffering for years to come, but they were figuring out life in the New World. The last thing they wanted was to be plagued by the Old World systems that they had risked their lives to escape.
As a result, 1620s Virginia became an era of change. Englishmen became Virginians, and those Virginians used their fledgling colonial freedoms to their fullest. Their work ensured a permanence hitherto unknown. It also ensured that Virginia was here to stay.
In hindsight it is easy to say that the Virginia Company was doomed. It had endured 17 years of hardship, but before Opechancanough’s 1622 raid, the situation seemed to be improving – in Virginia at least. Back in England serious company mismanagement ripped the venture apart.
King James, eager to be involved in some fashion, continued to keep an eye on Virginian developments, with special regard given to Edwin Sandys’ plans. James wanted to be rid of Sandys, but the able parliamentarian continued to sidestep the king at every turn. But Sandys’ maneuvering ended when a letter from a down and out Gloucestershire boy was published for king and subject to read.
The English had managed to fight back after Opechancanough’s raid, even gaining superiority by 1624. Yet, though the Powhatans suffered defeat in Virginia, their raids scored a direct hit against the Virginia Company at home. It was all King James needed to thoroughly investigate Company dealings, and in the end, shut down the Virginia Company of London. Thus, a new Virginia era would begin in 1624. She became a Royal Colony.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author. The Featured Image is of the Royal Seal from the House of Stuart located within the Memorial Church at Jamestown. Van Dyck’s King Charles is available on Wikipedia.
2019 Commemoration and I teamed up once again, and this time the podcast returned to Jamestown to interview Dr. James Horn.
Dr. Horn has made quite a name for himself in the history world with his most notable work being concerned with Colonial America. He is currently the President and Chief Officer at Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation at Historic Jamestowne in association with Preservation Virginia. Previously Dr. Horn served as Vice President of Research and Historical Interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Saunders Director of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, and taught at the University of Brighton, England for 20 years.
In addition to Dr. Horn’s considerable positions, he has written many books and articles which are cited often by leading academics and intellectuals alike. In October 2018 he is due to add to this already well-known body of work by publishing 1619: The Origins of American Society. Do, be on the lookout for that volume, as it promises to be a great addition to 1619 scholarship.
A few months ago 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution and I discussed doing some work together, and when I saw Mr. Townsend’s name on the shortlist of potential interviews, I knew that I wanted to connect with him.
Cainan is the Education Director at the R.R. Moton Museum in Farmville, VA, which was once a segregated school during the period before desegregation. Cainan had personal connections to the historic events that took place there in 1951 in that he is the great-grandson of John Townsend, one of the students who followed 16 year old Barbara Johns out of the school in protest.
Once Cainan began showing me around the Museum, I knew that this interview was going to be spectacular, and it certainly was. His clear and thorough understanding of the 1951 protest, as well as the events which unfolded throughout Virginia and influenced the country are captivating. I trust you, reader, will agree after listening to this interview.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of the Robert Russa Moton Museum located in Farmville, VA. All other images are from the exhibits located within the museum.
Music used for this episode – Gnossienne No. 2 by Erik Satie performed by the Empire Brass Quintet, available on iTunes.
Edwin Sandys took over the Virginia Company 12 years after she began. During that period, Virginia struggled from one horror to another. Sandys’ election came at a time when Virginia seemed to finally be taking prosperous shape, but though Virginia was proving to be profitable, the Company was in serious debt.
Sandys oversaw the incredible plantation boom as well as all of the important 1619 Virginian firsts, but though things were improving in the colony, political situations in England threatened the colony’s parent company.
Sandys had many powerful enemies, none more powerful than King James, who turned against the Virginia Company leader after the European Thirty Years’ War erupted. Sandys, the Member of Parliament, crossed the King over budgetary issues surrounding James’ desire to play a part in Europe. King James was not amused. He jailed Sandys, and then began craftily moving to undo the Virginia Company.
In spite of the King’s attempts, the Company persevered, that is, it lasted until a horrific report arrived in July 1622. That report left the Company in tatters once and for all.
The Virginia Colony made great strides throughout 1619, and arguably the greatest was the formation of representative government, the first such government formed in the New World.
The Company didn’t want to loosen the reigns as freely as they did, but once the steps were taken, the representatives didn’t look back. John Pory guided the proceedings, which lasted 5 days from July 30 to August 4, and set the tone for future Virginian as well as American government into motion.
Because of this precedent, the House of Burgesses is a more than worthy topic of study, especially in that the original House is still with us today as the House of Delegates, the lower body of the Virginia General Assembly, and many great men sharpened their political acumen therein.
For those who have not heard about the first English Speaking Thanksgiving in the New World, it started when a group of closely related English investors came together to plan a new life in Virginia.
They saw an opportunity to escape economic and religious hardships plaguing 17th Century England, enlisted a veteran Virginia settler, and shipped 35 settlers to an 8,000 acre land-grant on the James River in 1619.
Upon their arrival, the settlers offered their thanks to Almighty God as their first action at their new home, Berkeley Hundred. All of this was accomplished before their more famous counterparts, the Pilgrims, set sail in 1620.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is of colonial re-enactors at the First Thanksgiving Festival, which takes place annually at Berkeley Plantation.