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.
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.
Though Thomas Dale did not return to Virginia after his 1616 departure, he, along with John Rolfe, worked hard to encourage growth along the newly establishing James River Plantations.
Their work was greatly aided by Edwin Sandys, a rival to Thomas Smythe, the Virginia Company treasurer. Sandys’ ideas were not accepted by Smythe and his inner circle, but after years of rapidly accumulating debt, many in the Company thought a change was necessary.
Those changes began when the initial seven-year dividend promise from 1609 came due. The Company could not repay anyone’s investment, and in fact wanted to request more money. That’s when men like Edwin Sandys seized an opportunity.
Sandys and his followers wanted to offer property, private property, and that offering got the attention of hundreds throughout England.
Soon, investors, as well as adventurers seeking for a new life, began lining up to sail across the Atlantic.
Between 1616 and 1622 more than 8,000 settlers would risk their lives for a shot at prosperity deemed unimaginable in the Old World.
Dale received his often requested settlers at last, but Dale would not be there to see new plantations founded along the James River. Instead, other company men – Samuel Argall and George Yeardley, governors between 1616 and 1621, as well as many new investors, oversaw the massive transformation that forever changed Virginia and her history.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is the commemorative Flowerdew Hundred Windmill, which has since been dismantled and sent to Lubbock, Texas.
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.
Thomas Dale’s Virginia still suffered under his heavy-handed rule in the early 1610s, but the Rolfe/Pocahontas marriage as well as semi-relaxed private property laws began to have a noticeable affect upon the colony.
Rolfe took advantage of those newly relaxed laws by introducing a new tobacco strain, the Spanish, sweet-scented Orinoco along the James River. Soon after Rolfe’s successfully growing the weed, and sending a 1,200 lb crop to England, other Virginia colonists began growing the crop on the many plantations that sprung into life after 1613.
The Virginia Company began granting land to new settlers both old and new after Samuel Argall ascended to the Lieutenant Governorship. More than 30 plantations were founded upon which Tobacco became the chiefly grown crop. Virginia was now showing signs of profitability, and many believed it to be due in part to the Rolfe/Pocahontas marriage as well as Rolfe’s experimental work. They were now Virginia’s most famous people, and England wanted to see this early modern power couple.
The Rolfe’s journeyed to England in 1616, were a hit, helped bolster the Virginia Company’s books. But the successful junket came at a price. The Powhatan natives were affected by the dirty English civilization. Pocahontas fell ill and died at the outset of their return journey to Virginia. Further, one of Pocahontas’ attendants, Tomocomo, spread his negative reviews to powerful Powhatan leaders upon his return.
Those words had an affect, as Opechancanough, Powhatan’s successor, let the words fester, and began plotting an attack against the English.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is the only known picture of Pocahontasfrom her lifetime. It was done by Simon Van de Passe upon Pocahontas visit to England. The next image is The Death of Pocahontasby Junius Brutus Stearns.
The Virginia Company rapidly changed between Lord Delaware’s 1611 departure and Thomas Gates’ 1612 return. It almost ceased to exist, but somehow endured.
Virginia also endured, but that was in spite of Thomas Dale’s arrival and institution of a stricter disciplinary system. His actions, however, meshed with the events taking place in England. He pushed further inland, founded a new city, Henricus, and asked for more settlers to inhabit newly conquered land near Virginia’s second city.
Yet the Virginia Company was in no position to supply those settlers. That is, they weren’t able to supply those settlers until a number of schemes rode new waves of excitement, Bermuda’s colonization was leveraged, and a lottery was staged.
Even at that, Prince Henry’s stunning death threatened to destroy Virginia altogether. But the times were changing, and Virginia was about to feel the effects of new policies.
The cannon blast that welcomed the Sea Venture survivors was a fitting salutation for the arriving settlers. It only took them a few days to realize that Virginia was not a place in which they wanted to remain. So, they began leaving by June 1610. But just as they were sailing away, a Divine intervention changed the course of the colony’s history.
Thomas West, Lord Delaware, the new governor, arrived. He ordered the retreating colonists back to Jamestown, from where Delaware would dictate control.
He established new laws, work groups, and fought back against the belligerent Powhatan Tribes.
But before too long, Delaware succumbed to one of his chronic illnesses, and he returned back to England. Where did that leave the colony? According to Delaware it was in good shape. It was in good enough shape to send more supplies and people under Thomas Dale in 1611.
The Starving Time was the lowest depth of Jamestown’s despair, but while the deaths mounted in Virginia, the Sea Venture castaways were enduring their own struggles on Bermuda.
The island had everything that Virginia did not, but though food was in abundance, and the climate was mostly desirable, it was not where the Sea Venture was supposed to land. That being the case, Thomas Gates used his authority to organize an escape.
But not everyone wanted to leave, so a series of mutinies began hampering the castaways. They persevered through it all, and by May 1610 the castaways were unwittingly trading paradise for hell.
The Jamestown colonists had endured much before winter 1609, but nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to endure.
John Smith’s departure, Powhatan’s declaration of war, George Percy’s incompetence, as well as the foolish communistic structure that the Virginia Company employed doomed those who made the journey across the Atlantic.
It was just a matter of time before catastrophe struck, and when it finally did come, it came all at once.
Approximately 300 colonists began enduring the most severe hardships imaginable, then they began doing the unthinkable. Then they died.
In the end more than 240 did not make it to the end, which came in May 1610, when the Sea Venture survivors finally started sailing up the James River.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is the the famous discovery of Jane, the teenage girl who succumbed to cannibalism during the Starving time. The second picture is of the many graves found within James Fort that date back to 1607.