Chapter 7: Virginia Obtains Civil Liberty
THE golden anticipations of the London company from the colonization of Virginia had not been realized, for it had grasped at sudden emoluments. Undaunted by the train of misfortunes, the kingdom awoke to the greatness of the undertaking, and designs worthy of the English nation were conceived. The second charter of Virginia, which, at the request of the former corporation, passed the seals on the twenty-third of May, 1609, intrusted the colonization of that land to a very numerous, opulent, and influential body of adventurers. The name of Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, appears at the head of those who were to carry into execution the grand design to which Raleigh, now a close prisoner in the Tower, had aroused the attention of his countrymen. Among the many hundreds whose names followed were the earls of Southampton, Lincoln, and Dorset, George Percy, Sir Oliver Cromwell, uncle to the future protector, Sir Anthony Ashley, Sir Edwin Sandys, Sir Francis Bacon, Captain John Smith, Richard Hakluyt, George Sandys, many tradesmen, and five-and-fifty public companies of London; so that the nobility and gentry, the army and the bar, the industry and commerce of England, were represented.
The territory granted to the company extended two hundred miles to the north, and as many to the south of Old Point Comfort, “up into the land throughout from sea to sea, west and north-west,” including “all the islands lying within one hundred miles along the coast of both seas of the precinct.”
At the request of the corporation, the new charter transferred to the company the powers which had before been reserved to the king. The perpetual supreme land was to be chosen by the shareholders and the exercise of the functions of legislation and government was independent of the monarch. The governor in Virginia, whom the corporation was to appoint, might with uncontrolled authority, according to the tenor of instructions and laws established by the council, or, according to his own good discretion, even in criminal, not less than civil; and, in the event of mutiny or rebellion, he might declare martial law, being himself the judge of the necessity of the measure, and the in its administration. If not one valuable civil privilege was guaranteed to the emigrants, they were at from the power of the king; and the company could at its pleasure endow them with all the rights of Englishmen.
Lord Delaware, distinguished for his virtues as well as rank, received the appointment of governor and captain-general for life; and was surrounded, at least nominally, by stately officers, with titles and charges suited to the dignity of a flourishing empire. The public mind favored adventurers, with cheerful alacrity, contributed free-will offerings; and such swarms of people desired that the company could despatch a fleet of nine vessels, containing more than five hundred emigrants.
The admiral of the expedition was Newport, who, with Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers, was authorized to administer the affairs of the colony till the arrival of Lord Delaware. The three commissioners had embarked on board the same ship, which, near the coast of Virginia, was separated by a hurricane from all its companions, and stranded on the rocks of the Bermudas. A small ketch perished; so that seven ships only had arrived in Virginia.
After the departure of Smith, the old colonists, and the newcomers, no longer controlled by an acknowledged authority, abandoned themselves to improvident idleness. Their ample stock of provisions was rapidly consumed, and further supplies were refused by the Indians, who began to regard them with a fatal contempt. Stragglers from the town were cut off; parties, which begged food in the Indian cabins, were murdered; and plans were laid to starve and destroy the whole company. The horrors of famine ensued, while a band of about thirty, seizing on a ship, escaped to become pirates, and to plead desperate necessity as their excuse. In six months, indolence, vice, and famine reduced the number in the colony to sixty; and these were so feeble and dejected that, if relief had been delayed but ten days longer, they must have perished.
Sir Thomas Gates and the passengers, whose ship had been wrecked on the rocks of the Bermudas, had reached the shore without the loss of a life. The uninhabited island, teeming with natural products, for nine months sustained them in affluence. From the cedars which they felled, and the wrecks of their old ship, they constructed two vessels, in which they embarked for Virginia, in the hope of a happy welcome to a prosperous colony. How great, then, was their dismay, as in May, 1610, they came among scenes of death and misery and scarcity! Four pinnaces remained in the river; nor could the extremity of distress listen to any other course than to make sail for Newfoundland. The colonists desired to burn the town in which they had been so wretched, but were prevented by Gates, who was himself the last to desert the settlement. “None dropped a tear, for none had enjoyed one day of happiness.” On the eighth they fell down the stream with the tide; but, the next morning, as they drew near the mouth of the river, they encountered the long-boat of Lord Delaware, who had arrived on the coast with emigrants and supplies. The fugitives bore up the helm, and, favored by the wind, were that night once more at the fort in Jamestown.
It was on the tenth day of June that the restoration of the colony was begun. “Bucke, chaplain of the Somer islands, finding all things so contrary to their expectations, so full of misery and misgovernment, made a zealous and sorrowful prayer.” A deep sense of the infinite mercies of Providence revived hope in the colonists who had been spared by famine, the emigrants who had been shipwrecked and yet preserved, and the new-comers who found wretchedness and want where they had expected abundance. “It is,” said they, “the arm of the Lord of Hosts, who would have his people pass the Red sea and the wilderness, and then possess the land of Canaan.” “Doubt not,” said the emigrants to the people of England, “God will raise our state and build his church in this excellent clime.” Lord Delaware caused his commission to be read; and, after a consultation on the good of the colony, its government was organized with mildness but decision. The evils of faction were healed by the unity of the administration, and the dignity and virtues of the governor; and the colonists, in mutual emulation, performed their tasks with alacrity. At the beginning of the day they assembled in the little church, which was kept neatly trimmed with the wild flowers of the country; next, they returned to their houses to receive their allowance of food. The hours of labor were from six in the morning till ten, and from two in the afternoon till four. The houses were warm and secure, covered above with strong boards, and matted on the inside after the fashion of the Indian wigwams.
The country became better known. Samuel Argall, who in the former year had visited Virginia as a trading agent of Sir Thomas Smythe, and now came over again with the expedition of 1610, explored the neighboring coast to the north. At nine in the morning of the twenty-seventh of July he cast anchor in a very great bay, and gave it the name of Delaware.
Security and affluence were dawning upon the colony. But the health of Lord Delaware sunk under his cares and the climate; after a lingering sickness, he left the administration with Percy, and returned to England. The colony, at this time, consisted of about two hundred men; but the departure of the governor produced despondency at Jamestown; “a damp of coldness” in the hearts of the London company; and a great reaction in the popular mind in England. “Our own brethren laugh us to scorne,” so the men of Jamestown complained; “and papists and players, the scum and dregs of the earth, mocke such as help to build up the walls of Jerusalem.”
Fortunately, the corporation, before the retirement of Lord Delaware was known, had despatched Sir Thomas Dale, “an experienced soldier,” with supplies. In May, 1611, he arrived in the Chesapeake, and assumed the government, which he soon afterward administered upon the basis of martial law. The code, printed and sent to Virginia by the treasurer, Sir Thomas Smythe, on his own authority, and without the order or assent of the company, was chiefly a translation from the rules of war of the United Provinces. The Episcopal church, coeval in Virginia with the settlement of Jamestown, was, like the infant commonwealth, subjected to military power; and, though conformity was not strictly enforced, yet courts-martial had authority to punish indifference with stripes, and infidelity with death. The normal introduction of this arbitrary system, which the charter permitted only in cases of rebellion and mutiny, added new sorrows to the wretchedness of the people, who pined and perished under despotic rule.
The letters of Dale to the council confessed the small number and weakness and discontent of the colonists; but he kindled hope in the hearts of those constant adventurers, who, in the greatest disasters, had never fainted. “If anything otherwise than well betide me,” said he, “let me commend unto your carefulness the pursuit and dignity of this business, than which your purses and endeavors will never open nor travel in a more meritorious enterprise. Take four of the best kingdoms in Christendom, and put them all together, they may no way compare with this country, either for commodities or goodness of soil.” Lord Delaware and Sir Thomas Gates confirmed what Dale had written, and, without any delay, Gates, who has the honor, to all posterity, of being the first named in the original patent for Virginia, conducted to the New world six ships, with three hundred emigrants. Long afterward the gratitude of Virginia to these early settlers was shown by repeated acts of benevolent legislation. A wise liberality sent with them a hundred kine.
The promptness of this relief merits admiration. In May, 1611, Dale had written from Virginia; and the last of August the new recruits, under Gates, were already at Jamestown. So unlooked for was this supply that, at their approach, they were regarded with fear as a hostile fleet. Who can describe the joy at finding them to be friends? Gates assumed the government amidst the thanksgivings of the colony, and endeavored to employ the sentiment of religious trust as a foundation of order and of laws. “Lord bless England, our sweet native country,” was the morning and evening prayer of the grateful colony, which now numbered seven hundred men. Dale, with the consent of Gates, went far up the river to found the new plantation, which, in honor of Prince Henry, a general favorite with the English people, was named Henrico; and there, on the remote frontier, Alexander Whitaker, the self-denying “apostle of Virginia,” assisted in “bearing the name of God to the gentiles.” But the greatest change in the condition of the colonists resulted from the incipient establishment of Private property. To each man a few acres of ground were assigned for his orchard and garden, to plant for his own use. Henceforward the sanctity of private property was recognised. Yet the rights of the Indians were little respected; nor did the English disdain to appropriate by conquest the soil, the cabins, and the granaries of the tribe of the Appomattocks. It was, moreover, the policy of the government so “to overmaster the subtile Powhatan” that he must perforce join with the residents from abroad in submissive friendship, or “leave his country to their possession.”
When the court of Spain learned that the English were taking to themselves the land on the Chesapeake, it repeatedly threatened to send armed galleons to remove the planters. In the summer of 1611 a Spanish caravel with a shallop anchored near Point Comfort, and, obtaining a pilot from the fort, took soundings of the channels. Yet no use was made of the knowledge thus acquired; the plantation was reported to be in such extremities that it could not but fall of itself.
While the colony was advancing in strength and happiness, the third patent for Virginia, signed in March, 1612, granted to the shareholders in England the Bermudas and all islands within three hundred leagues of the Virginia shore; a concession of no ultimate importance in American history, since the new acquisitions were soon made over to a separate company. But it was further ordered that weekly, or even more frequent meetings, of the whole company might be convened for the transaction of ordinary business; while all questions respecting government, commerce, and the disposition of lands, should be reserved for the four great and general courts, at which all officers were to be elected and all laws established. The political rights of the colonists were not directly acknowledged; but the character of the corporation was entirely changed by transferring power from the council to the company, through whose assemblies the people of Virginia might gain leave to exercise every political power belonging to the people of England. At the same time lotteries, though unusual in England, were authorized. They produced to the company twenty-nine thousand pounds; disliked by the nation as a grievance, in 1621, on the complaint of the house of commons, they were suspended by an order of council.
There was no longer any doubt of the stability of the colony. They who had freely offered gifts, while “the holy action” of planting it was “languishing and forsaken,” saw the “pious and heroic enterprise” assured of success. Shakespeare, whose friend, the “popular” earl of Southampton, was the foremost man in the Virginia company, shared the pride and the hope of his countrymen. As he heard of James river and Jamestown, his splendid prophecy, by the mouth of Cranmer, promised the English the possession of a hemisphere, through the patron of colonies, King James:
Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
His honor and the greatness of his name
Shall be, and make new nations.
From Virginia came the first check on French colonization in North America. In the spring of 1613, in a vessel which carried fifteen guns and a crew of sixty men, Argall set forth on a fishing voyage to the Isle of Shoals. In the waters of New England he heard of the establishment of the French on Mount Desert isle. Its founder, Madame de Guercheville, had not only purchased the rights of De Monts, but had obtained a royal grant to colonize any part of America from the great river of Canada to Florida, excepting only Port Royal. Her earliest colony, consisting of three Jesuits and thirty men, had planted themselves on an inviting hillside that sloped gently toward the sea, and were sheltered in four pavilions, which had been the gift of the queen dowager of France, Mary of Medici. Of a sudden they beheld a ship tricked out in red, bearing the flag of England, with three trumpets and two drums sounding violently, sailing under favoring winds into their harbor swifter than an arrow. It was Argall, with a force too great to be resisted. After cannonading the slight intrenchments, and a sharp discharge of musketry, he gained possession of the infant hamlet of St. Saviour. The cross round which the faithful had gathered was thrown down, the tents were abandoned to pillage, and the ship in the harbor seized as a prize, because captured within the limits of Virginia. The French were expelled from the territory, but with no further act of inhumanity or cruelty; a part of them found their way to a vessel bound for St. Malo, others were taken to the Chesapeake.
On making his report at Jamestown, Argall was sent once more to the north, with authority to remove every landmark of France in the territory south of the forty-sixth degree. He raised the arms of England on the spot where those of France and De Guercheville had been thrown down, razed the fortifications of De Monts on the isle of St. Croix, and set on fire the deserted settlement of Port Royal. In this manner England vindicated her claim In less than a century and a half the strife for acres which neither nation could cultivate kindled war round the globe; but for the moment France, distracted by the factions which followed the assassination of Henry IV, did not resent the insult to her flag; and the complaint of Madame de Guercheville was presented only as a private claim.
Meantime the captivity of the daughter of Powhatan, who had been detained at Jamestown as a hostage for the return of Englishmen held in captivity by her father, led to better relations between Virginia and the Indian tribes. For the sake of her liberation the chief set free his English captives. During the period of her stay at Jamestown, John Rolfe, “an honest and discreet” young Englishman, daily, hourly, and, as it were, in his very sleep, heard a voice crying in his ears that he should strive to make her a Christian. After a great struggle of mind and daily and believing prayers, he resolved to labor for the conversion of the “unregenerated maiden;” and, winning the favor of Pocahontas, he desired her in marriage. The youthful princess received instruction with docility; and soon, in the little church of Jamestown which rested on rough pine columns fresh from the forest, she stood before the font that out of the trunk of a tree “had been hewn hollow like a canoe, openly renounced her country’s idolatry, professed the faith of Jesus Christ, and was baptized.” “The gaining of this one soul,” “the first fruits of Virginian conversion,” was followed by her nuptials with Rolfe. In April, 1614, to the joy of Sir Thomas Dale, with the approbation of her father and friends, Opachisco, her uncle, gave the bride away; and she stammered before the altar her marriage vows.
Every historian of Virginia commemorates the union with approbation; men are proud to trace from it their descent. Its immediate fruits to the colony were a confirmed peace, not with Powhatan alone, but with the powerful Chickahominies, who demanded to be called Englishmen. But the European and the native races could not blend, and the weakest were doomed to disappear.
Sir Thomas Gates, who, in March, 1614, had left the government with Dale, on his return to England employed himself in reviving the courage of the London company. In May, 1614, a petition for aid was presented to the house of commons, and was heard with unusual solemnity. It was supported by Lord Delaware, whose affection for Virginia ceased only with life. He would have had the enterprise adopted by the house and king, even at the risk of a conflict with the Spaniards. “All it requires,” said he, “is but a few honest laborers, burdened with children.” He moved for a committee to consider of relief, but nothing was agreed upon. The king was eager to press upon the house the supply of his wants, and the commons to consider the grievances of the people; and these disputes with the monarch led to a hasty dissolution of the commons. It was not to privileged companies, parliaments, or kings, that the new state was to owe its prosperity. Agriculture enriched Virginia.
The condition of private property in lands among the colonists, depended in some measure on the circumstances under which they had emigrated. For those who had been sent and maintained at the exclusive cost of the company and were its servants, one month of their time and three acres of land had been set apart, besides an allowance of two bushels of corn from the public store; the rest of their labor belonged to their employers. This number gradually decreased; and, in 1617, there were of them all, men, women, and children, but fifty-four. Others, especially in the favorite settlement near the month of the Appomattox, were tenants, paying two and a half barrels of corn as a yearly tribute to the store, and giving to the public service one month’s labor, which was to be required neither at seed-time nor harvest. He who came himself, or had sent others at his own expense, had been entitled to a hundred acres of land for each person; now that the colony was well established, the bounty on emigration was fixed at fifty acres, of which the actual occupation and culture gave a right to as many more, to be assigned at leisure. Besides this, lands were granted as rewards of merit; yet not more than two thousand acres could be so appropriated to one person. A payment to the company’s treasury of twelve pounds and ten shillings obtained a title to any hundred acres of land not yet granted or possessed, with a reserved claim to as much more. Such were the earliest land laws of Virginia: though imperfect and unequal, they gave the cultivator the means of becoming a proprietor of the soil. These changes were established by Sir Thomas Dale, a magistrate, who, notwithstanding the introduction of martial law, has gained praise for his vigor and industry, his judgment and conduct. Having remained five years in America, he appointed George Yeardley deputy governor; and, with Pocahontas and her husband as the companions of his voyage, in June, 1616, he arrived in his native country.
The Virginia princess, instructed in the English language, and bearing an English name, “the first Christian ever of her nation,” was wondered at in the city; entertained with unwonted festival state and pomp by the bishop of London, in his hopeful zeal to advance Christianity by her influence; and graciously received at court, where, on one of the holidays of the following Christmas season, she was a guest at the presentment of a burlesque masque, which Ben Jonson had written to draw a hearty laugh from King James. A few weeks later she prepared to return to the land of her fathers, but died at Gravesend as she was bound for home, saved from beholding the extermination of the tribes from which she sprung, and dwelling in tradition under the form of gentleness and youth.
With the success of agriculture, the Virginians, for the security of property, needed the possession of political rights. From the first settlement of Virginia, Sir Thomas Smythe had been the presiding officer of the London company; and no willingness had been shown to share the powers of government with the emigrants, who had thus far been ruled as soldiers in a garrison. Now that they had outgrown this condition of dependency, and were possessed of the elements of political life, they found among the members of the London company wise and powerful and disinterested friends. Yet in the appointment of a deputy governor the faction of Smythe still prevailed; and Argall, who had been his mercantile agent, was elected by ballot to supersede Yeardley as deputy governor of the colony. He was further invested with the place of admiral of the country and the adjoining seas, an evidence that his overthrow of the French settlements in the north was approved.
In May, 1617, Argall arrived in Virginia, and assumed its government. Placed above immediate control, he showed himself from the first arrogant, self-willed, and greedy of gain. Martial law was still the common law of the country, and his arbitrary rule “imported more hazard to the plantation than ever did any other thing that befell that action from the beginning.” He disposed of the kine and bullocks belonging to the colony for his own benefit; he took to himself a monopoly of the fur trade; he seized ancient colony men, who were free, and laborers who were in the service of the company, and forced them to work for himself.
Before an account of his malfeasance in office reached England, Lord Delaware, the governor-general, had been despatched by the company with two hundred men and supplies for the colony. He was followed by orders to ship the deputy governor home, where he was “to answer everything that should be laid to his charge.”
The presence of Lord Delaware might have restored tranquillity; his health was not equal to the voyage, and he did not live to reach Virginia. Argall was therefore left unrestrained to defraud the company, as well as to oppress the colonists. The condition of Virginia became intolerable; the labor of the settlers continued to be perverted to the benefit of the governor; servitude, for a limited period, was the common penalty annexed to trifling offences; and, in a colony where martial law still continued in force, life was insecure against his capricious passions. The first appeal ever made from America to England, directed not to the king, but to the company, was in behalf of one whom Argall had wantonly condemned to death, and whom he had with great difficulty been prevailed upon to respite. The colony was fast falling into disrepute, and the report of the tyranny established beyond the Atlantic checked emigration; but it happily roused the discontent of the best of the adventurers. When on the fifth of October, 1618, the news of the death of Lord Delaware reached London, they demanded a reformation with guarantees for the future. After a strenuous contest on the part of rival factions for the control of the company, the influence of Sir Edwin Sandys and his friends prevailed; Argall was displaced, and the mild and popular Yeardley was elected governor in his stead, with higher rank. On the twenty-second of November the king gave him audience, knighted him, and held a long discourse with him on the religion of the natives. Vessels lay in the Thames ready for Virginia; but, before the new chief magistrate could reach his post, Argall had withdrawn, having previously, by fraudulent devices, preserved for himself and his partners the fruits of his extortions.
On the nineteenth of April, 1619, Sir George Yeardley entered on his office in the colony. Of the emigrants who had been sent over at great cost, not one in twenty then remained alive. “In James citty were only those houses that Sir Thomas Gates built in the tyme of his government, with one wherein the governor allwayes dwelt, and a church, built wholly at the charge of the inhabitants of that citye, of timber, being fifty foote in length and twenty in breadth.” At the town of Henrico there were no more than “three old houses, a poor ruinated church, with some few poore buildings in the islande.” “For ministers to instruct the people, only three were authorized; two others had never received their orders.” “The natives were upon doubtfull termes;” and the colony was altogether “in a poore estate.”
From the moment of Yeardley’s arrival dates the real life of Virginia. Bringing with him “commissions and instructions from the company for the better establishinge of a commonwealth,” he made proclamation “that those cruell lawes by which the ancient planters had soe longe been governed, were now abrogated, and that they were to be governed by those free lawes, which his majesties subjectes lived under in Englande.” Nor were these concessions left dependent on the good-will of administrative officers. “That the planters might have a hande in the governing of themselves, yt was graunted that a generall assemblie shoulde be helde yearly once, whereat were to be present the governor and counsell with two burgesses from each plantation, freely to be elected by the inhabitantes thereof, this assemblie to have power to make and ordaine whatsoever lawes and orders should by them be thought good and profitable for their subsistence.”
In conformity with these instructions, Sir George Yeardley “sente his summons all over the country, as well to invite those of the counsell of estate that were absente, as also for the election of burgesses.”
Nor did the patriot members of the London company leave him without support. At the great and general court of the Easter term, Sir Thomas Smythe, having reluctantly professed a wish to be eased of his office, was dismissed, and Sir Edwin Sandys elected by a great majority governor and treasurer. For deputy, John Ferrar was elected by a like majority. Nicholas Ferrar, the younger brother of the deputy, just turned of six-and-twenty, one of the purest and least selfish men that ever lived, who a few months before had returned from an extensive tour on the continent of Europe, was made counsel to the corporation; and the conduct of business gradually fell into his hands. He proved himself able and indefatigable in business, devoted to his country and its church, at once a royalist, and a wise and firm upholder of English liberties. In the early history of American colonization the English character nowhere showed itself to better advantage than in the Virginia company after the change in its direction.
It was therefore without any danger of being thwarted at home that on Friday, the thirtieth day of July, 1619, delegates from each of the eleven plantations of Virginia assembled at James City.
The inauguration of legislative power in the Ancient Dominion preceded the introduction of negro slavery. The governor and council it with the burgesses, and took part in motions and debates. John Pory, a councillor and secretary of the colony, though not a burgess, was chosen speaker. Legislation was opened with prayer. The assembly exercised fully the right of judging of the proper election of its members; and they would not suffer any patent, conceding manorial jurisdiction, to bar the obligation of obedience to their decisions. They wished every grant of land to be made with equal favor, that all complaint of partiality might be avoided, and the uniformity of laws and orders never be impeached. The commission of privileges sent by Sir George Yeardley was their “great charter,” or organic act, which they claimed no right “to correct or control;” yet they kept the way open for seeking redress, “in case they should find ought not perfectly squaring with the state of the colony.”
Leave to propose laws was given to any burgess, or by way of petition to any member of the colony; but, for expedition’s sake, the main business of the session was distributed between two committees; while a third body, composed of the governor and such burgesses as were not on those committees, examined, which of former instructions “might conveniently put on the habit of laws.” The legislature acted also as a criminal court.
The church of England was confirmed as the church of Virginia; it was intended that the first four ministers should each receive two hundred pounds a year; all persons whatsoever, upon the Sabbath days, were to frequent divine service and sermons both forenoon and afternoon; and all such as bore arms, to bring their pieces or swords. Grants of land were asked not for planters only, but for their wives, “because, in a new plantation, it is not known whether man or woman be the most necessary.” Measures were adopted “toward the erecting of a university and college.” It was enacted that, of the children of the Indians, “the most towardly boys in wit and graces of nature should be brought up in the first elements of literature, and sent from the college to the work of conversion” of the natives to the Christian religion. Penalties were appointed for idleness, gaming with dice or cards, and drunkenness. Excess in apparel was restrained by a tax. The business of planting corn, mulberry-trees, hemp, and vines was encouraged. The price of tobacco was fixed at three shillings a pound for the best, and half as much “for the second sort.”
When the question was taken on accepting “the great charter,” “it had the general assent and the applause of the whole assembly,” with thanks for it to Almighty God and to those from whom it had issued, in the names of the burgesses and of the whole colony whom they represented: the more so, as they were promised the power to allow or disallow the orders of the court of the London company.
A perpetual interest attaches to this first elective body that ever assembled in the western world, representing the people of Virginia, and making laws for their government, more than a year before the Mayflower, with the pilgrims, left the harbor of Southampton, and while Virginia was still the only British colony on the continent of America. The functions of government were in some degree confounded; but the record of the proceedings justifies the opinion of Sir Edwin Sandys, that “the laws were very well and judiciously formed.”
The enactments of these earliest American law-givers were instantly put in force, without waiting for their ratification by the company in England. Former griefs were buried in oblivion, and they who had been dependent on the will of a governor, having recovered the privileges of Englishmen, under a code of laws of their own, “fell to building houses and planting corn,” and henceforward “regarded Virginia as their country.”
The patriot party in England, who now controlled the London company, engaged with earnestness in schemes to advance the numbers and establish the liberties of their plantation. No intimidations—not even threats of blood—could deter Sir Edwin Sandys, the new treasurer, from investigating and reforming the abuses by which its progress had been retarded. At his accession to office, after twelve years’ labor, and an expenditure of eighty thousand pounds by the company, there were in the colony no more than six hundred men, women, and children; and in one year the company and private adventurers made provision to send over twelve hundred and sixty-one persons.
To the other titles of “the high empress” Elizabeth, Spenser had, just before the end of the sixteenth century, added that of “queen of Virginia;” King James, who was already the titular sovereign of four realms, now accepted as the motto for the London company’s coat of arms: “Lo! Virginia gives a fifth crown.” A strong interest took hold of the people of England; gifts and bequests came in for “the sacred work” of founding a colonial college and building up the colonial church. There were two poets, of whose works Richard Baxter said that he found “none so savoury next to the Scripture poems.” Of these, George Sandys, son of the archbishop of York, himself repaired to Virginia as its resident treasurer, to assist in establishing “a rich and well peopled kingdom;” and George Hart, the bosom friend of Nicholas Ferrar, expressed the feeling of the best men of England when he wrote:
Religion stands on tip-toe in our land,
Readie to passe to the American strand.
The quarter session, held on the seventeenth of May, 1620, was attended by near five hundred persons, among whom were twenty great peers of the land; near a hundred knights of the kingdom; as many more officers of the army, and renowned lawyers; and numerous merchants and men of business. It was the general wish of the company to continue Sir Edwin Sandys in his high office; but, before they proceeded to ballot, an agent from the palace presented himself with the message that, out of especial care for the plantation, the king nominated unto them four, of whom his pleasure was the company should choose one to be their treasurer. Desiring the royal messenger to remain, Southampton entered into a defence of the patent, and added: “The hopeful country of Virginia is a land which will find full employment for all needy people, will provide estates for all younger brothers, gentlemen of this kingdom, and will supply this nation with commodities we are fain to fetch from foreign nations, from doubtful friends, yea, from heathen princes. This business is of so great concernment that it never can be too solemnly, too thoroughly, or too publicly examined.” Sir Laurens Hyde, the learned lawyer, asked that the patent given under the great seal of England, the hand and honor of a king, might be produced. “The patent!” “The patent!” cried all; and, when it was brought forth and read, Hyde went on: “You see the point of electing a governor is thereby left to your own free choice.” It was then agreed that the election should be put off until the next great and general court in midsummer term; and a committee of twelve, with Southampton at their head, was in the interim to beseech his majesty not to take from them the privilege of their letters patent. Their right was so clear that the king explained away his interference, as he had intended no more than to recommend the persons whom he nominated, and not to bar the company from the choice of any other.
When at the quarter session, near the end of June, Sir Edwin Sandys, yielding to the ill-will of the king, withdrew from competition, “the whole court immediately, with much joy and applause, nominated the earl of Southampton;” and, resolving “to surcease the balloting box,” chose him by erection of hands. In response, he desired them all to put on the same minds with which he accepted the place of treasurer.
He made the condition that his friend, Sir Edwin Sandys, should give him assistance; and these, with Nicholas Ferrar, were the men who for a time managed “the great work of redeeming the noble plantation of Virginia from the ruins that seemed to hang over it:” the first celebrated for wisdom, eloquence, and sweet deportment; Sandys, for knowledge and integrity; and Nicholas Ferrar, for ability, unwearied diligence, and the strictest virtue. All three were sincere members of the British church: the first, a convert from papacy; the last, pious even to a romantic excess. All three were royalists, and all three were animated by that love of liberty which formed a part of the hereditary patriotism of an Englishman.
Under their harmonious direction the policy of the former year was continued; and more than eleven hundred persons found their way annually to Virginia. “The people of Virginia had not been settled in their minds,” and as, before the recent changes, they retained the design of ultimately returning to England, it was necessary to multiply attachments to the soil. Few women had dared to cross the Atlantic; but now the promise of prosperity induced ninety agreeable persons, young and incorrupt, to listen to the advice of Sandys, and embark for the colony, where they were assured of a welcome. They were transported at the expense of the company, and were married to its tenants, or to men who were able to support them, and who willingly defrayed the costs of their passage, which were rigorously demanded. The adventure, which had been in part a mercantile speculation, succeeded so well that it was proposed to send the next year another consignment of one hundred; but, before these could be collected, the company found itself so poor that its design could be accomplished only by a subscription. After some delays, sixty were actually despatched, maids of virtuous education, young, handsome, and well recommended. The price rose from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty pounds of tobacco, or even more; so that all the original charges might be repaid. The debt for a wife was a debt of honor, and took precedence of any other; and the company, in conferring employments, gave a preference to married men. With domestic ties, habits of thrift were formed. Within three years, fifty patents for land were granted, and a state rose on solid foundations in the New World. Virginia was a place of refuge even for Puritans.
Before Virginia had been planted, King James found in his hostility to the use of tobacco a convenient argument for the excessive tax which a royal ordinance imposed on its consumption. When the weed had become the staple of Virginia, the sale of it in England was prohibited unless the heavy impost had been paid, and a new proclamation forbade its culture in England and Wales. In the parliament of 1621 Lord Coke reminded the commons of the usurpation of authority on the part of the monarch who had taxed the produce of the colonies without their consent and without an act of the national legislature.
Besides providing for emigration, the London company, under the lead of Southampton, proceeded to redress former wrongs, and to protect colonial liberty by written guarantees. In the case of the appeal to the London company from sentence of death pronounced by Argall, his friends, with the earl of Warwick at their head, excused him by pretending that martial law is the noblest kind of trial, because soldiers and men of the sword were the judges. This opinion was overthrown, and the right of the colonists to trial by jury sustained. Nor was it long before the freedom of the northern fisheries was equally asserted, and the monopoly of a rival corporation successfully opposed. Lord Bacon, who, at the time of Newport’s first voyage with emigrants for Virginia, classed the enterprise with the romance of “Amadis de Gaul,” now said of the plantation: “Certainly it is with the kingdoms of earth as it is in the kingdom of heaven, sometimes a grain of mustard-seed proves a great tree. Who can tell?” “Should the plantation go on increasing as under the government of that popular Lord Southampton,” said Gondomar, then Spanish ambassador in England, “my master’s West Indies and his Mexico will shortly be visited, by sea and by land, from those planters in Virginia.”
The company had silently approved the colonial assembly which had been convened by Sir George Yeardley; on the twenty-fourth of July, 1621, a memorable ordinance established for the colony a written constitution. The prescribed form of government was analogous to the English constitution, and was, with some modifications, the model of the systems which were afterward introduced into the various royal provinces. Its purpose was declared to be “the greatest comfort and benefit to the people, and the prevention of injustice, grievances, and oppression.” Its terms are few and simple: a governor, to be appointed by the company; a permanent council, likewise to be appointed by the company; a general assembly, to be convened yearly, and to consist of the members of the council, and of two burgesses to be chosen from each of the several plantations by the respective inhabitants. The assembly might exercise full legislative authority, a negative voice being reserved to the governor; but no law or ordinance would be valid unless ratified by the company in England. It was further agreed that, after the government of the colony should have once been framed, no orders of the court in London should bind the colony, unless they should in like manner be ratified by the general assembly. The courts of justice were required to conform to the laws and manner of trial used in the realm of England.
Such was the constitution which Sir Francis Wyatt, the successor of the mild but inefficient Yeardley, was commissioned to bear to the colony. The system of representative government and trial by jury thus became in the new hemisphere an acknowledged right. On this ordinance Virginia erected the superstructure of her liberties. Its influences were wide and enduring, and can be traced through all her history. It constituted the plantation, in its infancy, a nursery of freemen; and succeeding generations learned to cherish institutions which were as old as the first period of the prosperity of their fathers. The privileges then conceded could never be wrested from the Virginians; and, as new colonies arose at the south, their proprietaries could hope to win emigrants only by bestowing franchises as large as those enjoyed by their elder rival. The London company merits the praise of having auspicated liberty in America. It may be doubted whether any public act during the reign of King James was of more permanent or pervading influence; and it reflects honor on Sir Edwin Sandys, the earl of Southampton, Nicholas Ferrar, and the patriot royalists of England, that, though they were unable to establish guarantees of a liberal administration at home, they were careful to connect popular freedom inseparably with the life, prosperity, and state of society of Virginia.