William Berkeley arrived in Virginia during the winter 1642. He had many obstacles to overcome, even before he left England, but once he handled those obstacles he started to build a solid foundation from which to govern Virginia.
In spite of former Governor Harvey’s failures, he did put a few things in place that Berkeley could build upon, such as increased domestic government. Berkeley decided to keep those innovations in place, and work through those established channels to get the job done.
Berkeley’s approach to Virginia’s affairs endeared him to the many opposing factions. He’d need all the help he could get to govern the colony, especially considering the ambiguous political situation upon Berkeley’s arrival.
A potentially volatile Powhatan tribe made Berkeley’s position all the more tenuous. But the new governor was up to the task, and the beginning of his first gubernatorial tenure signaled a time of stability unseen in the colony. Virginia was now poised to advance like never before.
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.
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.
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.
No one saw this coming. Not in England or in Virginia. The English and Powhatan Tribes had been living quite peacefully together for almost a decade by 1622, but after both Pocahontas and Powhatan’s deaths a few years prior, Opechancanough had nothing standing in his way to stop him from enacting his murderous plan.
Opechancanough was not yet completely in control of the Powhatan tribes, but his authority was second to none. Opitchapam might have been the supreme Werowance, but everyone, English and Indian alike, knew who was in charge.
Diplomatic ties all went through Opechancanough, and those actions seemed to ensure that all was well in Virginia, but all wasn’t well, and when one of the Powhatan’s most iconic warriors, Nemattanew, or Jack of the Feather, was killed in March 1622 the mood changed. But the English completely missed the warning, and for that, they would suffer.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author. The Featured Image is of the Matthias Merian 1628 woodcut which depicts the 1622 Raid. The Opechancanough/John Smith encounter is from Smith’s own 1624 General History of Virginia. The final picture illustrates the destruction at Wolstenholme Towne.
The most expansive plantation building phase along the James River exploded into life after the 1618 tobacco crop sold for an eye catching £5,000. At that moment the English knew that there was indeed something worthwhile to the Virginia venture.
Tobacco was certainly the increasingly powerful king in early Virginia, but the Virginia Company wanted to diversify. To that end, what would have been the first college in America, The East India School, was planned, the first ironworks at Falling Creek, was established, salt-farming on the Eastern Shore was set up, dozens of plantations dotted the James and Appomattox Rivers, settlers poured in to take advantage of new opportunities, and the first representative governmental assembly was formed.
There was a lot going on to be sure. But some settlers attempted to keep focused upon a more serious reason why they were undertaking such toilsome ventures, which is why another first took place amidst the continuing great migration. 35 settlers at newly formed Berkeley Hundred celebrated the First Thanksgiving on December 4, 1619.
This episode covers all of this and more. Have a listen!
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 annual First Thanksgiving Festival, which takes place at Berkeley Plantation.
Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “Haunted” by Charlie Simpson, also available on iTunes.