Colonial American History

THE meddlesome King James, finding a majority of the London Company surely drifting toward republicanism, and disliking the freedom of debate in the General Assembly of Virginia, resolved to control the Company and the colony. "The Virginia House of Burgesses," said Gondamar, the Spanish envoy at the English court, "is but a seminary to a seditious Parliament." The king believed it; and at the election of officers for the Company in 1622, he tried to control the choice of candidates. He failed. Then he determined to deprive the Company of their charter, and, by taking control of the affairs of the corporation, regain what he had lost by granting them the liberal third charter. He sent a commission to Virginia, composed of his pliable instruments, to inquire into the affairs of the colony. They tried to coax and frighten the House of Burgesses into a relinquishment of the rights guaranteed to them by the terms of the charter. Finding these representatives of the people firm in support of their liberties, the commissioners recommended a dissolution of the charter. A pliant judiciary assisted the king in the measure, and in July, 1624, the patent was cancelled and Virginia became a royal province again. No material change was made in the domestic affairs of the colony. The monarch appointed Sir Francis Wyatt governor, with twelve councillors of state, but wisely refrained from interfering with the House of Burgesses. He boasted that he would make the colony more prosperous than ever, but he died soon afterward, and was succeeded by his son, Charles the First, on the 6th of April, 1625.

King Charles was a thorough disciple of his father in the science of what James was pleased to call kingcraft, the prime elements of which, as he exhibited it, were lying and deception. He was also as bigoted as his father in his belief in the doctrine of the divine right of kings to govern the people absolutely, and the sacredness of the royal prerogative or the enjoyment of special privileges not accorded to the people. He was only twenty-five years of age when he ascended the throne; and he was a pliant tool in the hands of the Duke of Buckingham, his father's base court favorite, who assisted in bringing to England as the queen of the young king, a Roman Catholic French princess, sister of the monarch of France. Three months after he became king, Charles received the princess at Dover and married her at Canterbury; but they did not enter London for some time because of the ravages of an epidemic there, by which over thirty-five thousand persons perished.

The queen brought with her a retinue of priests and other Roman Catholic attendants. The Protestant sentiment of a majority of the English people was alarmed. This fact, combined with the character of the king, which was uniformly marked by insincerity, deception, falsehood and treachery-the fruits of the favorite's training-made him feared, hated and despised by the honest portion of his friends, as well as his foes, and brought swift trouble upon himself and his country. There were causes which nourished opposition to monarchy, and cherished discontents. These soon led to a civil war, the beheading of the king and the abolition of monarchy in England for a season. Such was the sovereign with whom the American colonists had to deal for many years, while England was in a state of transition from absolutism or the unbridled rule of the monarch, to constitutional liberty or the enjoyment of rights guaranteed to the people by a constitution respected by the sovereign because his subjects have the power to enforce it. It was a state which Charles would not comprehend; and his stupid obstinacy plunged his country into war with itself, and also with France and Spain.

Charles did not materially change the political situation of the Virginians. His appointment of Sir George Yeardly, the magistrate who had established representative government in Virginia, was a guaranty that no such change would take place. But the king, who was selfish as well as weak, sought to enlarge his private fortune out of the profits of the industry of the Virginia planters of tobacco. He gave them the monopoly of production for the market of England, saying: "It may be well said that the plantation is built wholly on smoke which will easily turn into air, if either English tobacco be permitted to be planted or Spanish be imported." At the same time, he forbade the tobacco-growers selling their products to any persons excepting such as the king had appointed his agents. Among these agents was Sir John Harvey, who had been one of the governor's council, and who has been represented as a rapacious, unscrupulous, avaricious and cruel royalist.

These arrangements did not disturb the Virginians, and the colony prospered until Harvey was made governor in 1629, two years after the death of Yeardly. In 1628, not less than a thousand English people emigrated to Virginia. But the advent of Harvey in 1630 was the beginning of confusion. He was represented by his political foes as an enemy of the people, and he made himself unpopular because he advocated and promoted a system of land grants which would tend to place the soil of the province into the possession of a few landed aristocracy-and so be injurious to the prosperity of the colony. In various ways he offended the Republicans. Violent disputes arose, and after a war of words for several years, the House of Burgesses deposed Harvey and sent commissioners to England with an impeachment. The governor went with the commissioners. The king refused to hear any complaints against his agent, and sent him back clothed with power to rule the state independently of the people.

Harvey was succeeded in 1639 by Sir Francis Wyatt, whose administration was an uneventful one. It ended in February, 1642, when Sir William Berkeley, brother of Lord Berkeley (one of the earliest English proprietors of New Jersey), arrived at Jamestown with the commission of chief magistrate of Virginia. He was a fine specimen of a young English courtier, only thirty-two years of age. Handsome in person, educated at Oxford, polished by extensive travel on the continent and possessing exquisite taste in dress, he was one of the most elegant of the cavaliers of his time. Some salutary measures which he adopted at the beginning of his administration for the benefit of the people made him popular in Virginia; and his natural suavity of manners, and the generous hospitality dispensed at his mansion at Green Spring, not far from Jamestown, sustained that popularity for many years. He was a staunch loyalist, but not a bigoted one; and so prudent was the method of his adhesion to the cause of the king during the civil war from 1641 to 1649, that a greater part of the Virginians were in sympathy with him. There was a party for the Parliament, in Virginia, but it was not sufficiently strong to show any serious opposition to royal rule. The colonists were warmly attached to the Church of England, yet there were many Puritans there, for toleration had been the rule-Puritans had even been invited to come, with their ministers, when the peculiar character of the revolution, then going on in England, brought religious sects into political prominence. The Puritans in England were identified with the Republicans in their struggle with royalty. Governor Berkeley was of the cavalier class, and despised the non-conformists. He perceived that a great majority of the inhabitants of Virginia were warmly attached to the Church of England, and he conceived that to tolerate Puritanism in Virginia was to nurture a Republican party there. So he decreed that no Puritan minister should preach or teach publicly, except in accordance with the constitution of the Church of England. This was soon followed by the banishment of nonconformists from the colony. It was a calamity; but a heavier one soon fell upon the Virginians.

Ever since the massacre by the Indians in 1622, there had remained a deadly hostility between the two races. In 1643, the Virginia Assembly decreed that no terms of peace should be entertained with the Indians. Opechancanough was yet living and past ninety years of age. He had been on the Pamunkey, nursing his wrath for twenty years. Prudence only had restrained his nature, and now he was too old and feeble to make war, on his feet. But his malice was as keen and his will as strong as they had ever been in the days of his prime.

When, at length, Thomas Rolf, the son of Pocahontas, and then nearly thirty years of age, came from England by consent of the Virginia Assembly to visit his uncle, the aged emperor, and Cleopatra the sister of his mother, Opechancanough heard from his lips about the war between the English factions. The old emperor concluded that the time for him to strike a vengeful blow had arrived. He sent runners throughout his empire, and very soon a confederacy was formed over an area many hundred square miles in extent for the extermination of the Europeans. A day was fixed for the execution of the scheme. The confederates were to begin at the frontiers and sweep the country to the sea. Opechancanough was carried at the head of his warriors, on a litter, when early in April, 1644, the Indians began their horrid work. In the space of two days they slew more than three hundred of the settlers, sparing none who fell in their way. So they almost depopulated the region of the Pamunkey and York rivers. Governor Berkeley met the murderers with an armed force, and drove them back with great slaughter. Their old monarch was taken prisoner, and carried in triumph to Jamestown. He was so much exhausted that he could not raise his eyelids, and in that forlorn condition he was mortally wounded by a bullet from the gun of an English soldier who guarded him, and who was impelled by the remembrance of the bereavements he had suffered at the hands of the Indians, and of the agency of the old chief in the matter. The people out of curiosity gathered around the dying emperor. Just before he expired, hearing the hum of a multitude, he asked one of his attendants to raise his eyelids. When he observed the crowd, he raised himself from the ground, and in a haughty tone commanded an officer near him to summon the governor before him. When the magistrate came, the old monarch said, as fiery indignation gave strength to his voice: "Had it been my fortune to have taken Sir William Berkeley prisoner, I would not meanly have exposed him as a show to my people." He then stretched himself upon the earth and died.

With Opechancanough expired the Powhatan confederacy. After ceding large tracts of land to the Virginians, the chiefs acknowledged allegiance to the authorities of the province, and so passed away the political life of that once powerful empire. The colonists then had peace and prosperity. In 1648, there were twenty thousand Europeans in Virginia. "The cottages were filled with children, as the ports with ships and emigrants." The people were loyal to Charles because he left them in the enjoyment of liberty. They felt none of the oppressions, nor were they distracted by the disputes which afflicted their kindred at home. They exercised the freedom of an independent government; and when the king was beheaded, they opened wide their hospitable arms to the cavaliers who fled in horror from England. Many of these fugitives were of the gentry, nobility and clergy. They were valuable additions to the refined society of Virginia, and strengthened the royal cause in that province. When the king was slain, the Virginians acknowledged his exiled son as their sovereign; and Sir William Berkeley conducted the affairs of the colony as governor, under a commission sent to him by that prince, from Breda, in Flanders. Virginia was the last country belonging to England that submitted to the government of the rulers of the commonwealth which succeeded the monarchy.

The Republican Parliament was offended by this persistent attachment to royalty, and in the early spring of 1652, sent Sir George Ayscue with a powerful fleet to reduce the Virginians to submission. It bore commissioners of the Parliament, who were clothed with power to exercise conciliatory or harsh measures-to compromise, or to proclaim freedom to the slaves and to put arms in their hands to make slaves of their masters. Berkeley met the commissioners with firmness. They were astonished at the boldness of the Virginians, and deemed it more prudent to compromise than to coerce. They made satisfactory arrangements, by which the political freedom of the colonists was guaranteed. Berkeley disdained to make any stipulation for himself with those whom he regarded as usurpers, and he withdrew to his plantation at Green Spring, where he lived in retirement as a private person. The Virginians then elected Richard Bennet, governor. When news of the preparation of an armament for the subjugation of the colony reached Virginia, Berkeley and the cavalier party resolved not to submit, and they sent a messenger to Breda to invite Prince Charles to come over and be their king. He was preparing to come, with his mother and some others of his family, when affairs took a turn in England which foreshadowed a speedy restoration of the monarchy there. That event occurred in 1660, when the prince ascended the throne of his father, as Charles the Second, at the age of thirty years. The monarch did not forget the loyalty of the Virginians. He caused the arms of that province to be quartered with those of England, Scotland and Ireland, as an independent member of his empire. From this circumstance the title of the "Old Dominion" was given to Virginia. Coins, with these quarterings, were struck as late as 1773.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I