And cheerfully at seaThe Colony of Virginia was the first English colony in the world. The colony existed briefly during the 16th century, and then continuously from 1607. The name Virginia was first applied by Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth.
Success you still entice
To get the pearl and gold,
And ours to hold
Earth's only paradise! (Michael Drayton, Ode to Virginia 1606),
The Treaty of Madrid (1670) established the limits of Virginia and Spanish Florida at latitude 32° 30″. Later agreements, based on de facto occupation, established limits around the watersheds of the Pee Dee and Fear rivers. Spain also expanded its claims to the north of the Florida province of Muscogui.
Population swelled with Cavaliers during and after the English Civil War, as Virginia was sympathetic to the Crown rather than the Puritan Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell.
When the parliamentarians were successful, Governor William Berkeley (1642-1652) offered an asylum in Virginia to gentlemen of the royalist side; whereupon the parliament dispatched a small fleet to the colony, and the governor, unable to offer resistance, was forced to resign his authority, but received permission to remain on his own plantation as a private person. The Virginians were only mildly royalist and they yielded without a struggle; the Commonwealth granted them greater freedom in self-government. Puritan Richard Bennett was made Governor answering to Cromwell in from 1652 to 1656. Taking advantage of the death of Oliver Cromwell and a cavalier majority, Berkeley regained his governorship in 1658 from governor Mathews. Berkeley re-established autocratic authority over the colony. In order to protect this power, he refused to have new legislative elections in order to protect a House of Burgesses that supported him. Berkeley also strongly opposed public education and enacted laws to preserve Church of England and punished any minister who preached outside the teachings and doctrine of it, thus oppressing Puritans, Quakers, and any other religious minority.
The Freeholders rebellion of 1663 ousted Governor Berkeley. With his overthrow the established planter elite lost its exclusive influence and favoritism. The political levers shifted to the all freemen and land proprietors. The shared interests among all social classes of the colony in protecting the "commonalty" and advancing its welfare became the norm was enshrined in the rewritten Charter of 1663. Religious freedom was explicitly guaranteed. It also furthered the policies advocated by the settlers of an offensive posture to drive out Indians and dispose of their lands.
By the 1670s Virginia had extended down south (Cape Fear River) within the original limits of its Third Charter (1612) and to the west up to the Appalachian mountains. The promise of land attracted many West Indians planters to establish in the new territories. the abundance of land appealed many frustrated planters and common people in contrast to the compact West Indies. The brought with them plantation system with cash crops and slavery. The religious toleration, political representation, relaxed taxation, and large land grants appealed to many.
By the early 18th century the declining supply of white labourers increased the demand and and purchase of slaves. Harsher restrictions and regulations on the freedom, supervision and punishment of black slaves were enacted.
The rewritten Charter of 1663 established the primacy of the House of Burgesses, the assembly of elected representatives and part of the bicameral General Assembly. Only the House of Burgesses can dissolve itself and elects its Speaker. The Governor, Governor's Council and Colony’s Secretary are elected by the House. The Colony’s Secretary is also a member of the Council. The Council is also the upper house of the General Assembly. All county offices are appointed positions by the General Assembly on proposal of the Governor's Council.
All men that are not slaves or indenture servants can vote and hold public office. Each county sends two burgesses to the House; towns could petition to send a single representative. Most burgesses were also members of the gentry class, though the colonists they represented were usually small landowners and tenant farmers.
The Council members advised the Governor or the Lieutenant-governor, on all executive and administrative affairs of the Colony. The Council and the Governor jointly constituted the highest court in the colony, known as the General Court.
- Samuel Mathews (1656-1658, Cromwellian)
- Sir William Berkeley (1658-1663, Cavalier)
- Major-General Richard Bennett (1663-1674, Cromwellian-Countrymen)
- Col. Nicholas Spencer, Jr. (1674-1700, Cromwellian-Countrymen)
Virginia's politics is configured by the opposition of large landowners (planters) on one side and freeholders on the other. They are respectively called cavaliers and countrymen. The later with Cromwellian sympathies. A third party are the Governor's couriers or agents. Alliances are fluid and conditions by the political and economical issues of the day.
The Church of England is the official Reformed church of Virginia. It follows the conjoined polity or Ussher scheme. However it has some distinctive features that come from its historical development in Virginia. The General Assembly passes laws governing the church, sets clergy salaries, create and combine parishes. The local vestries, that are also the civil authorities of the parishes, annually select and contract the clergy, and oversee the day-to-day operation of the parish church and clergy. A common practice of the vestries is to hire lay readers rather than ministers because the costs are lower. The authority of collecting and assigning tithes, triers and ejectors falls both to the General Assembly and the vestries.
Under the religious settlement, most of the Puritans that had not left to Maryland became members of the Church of England. However a minority established Congregational Churches. In Virginia there are also congregations of Baptists and Quakers, the former being the largest group.
Virginia is divided in counties, towns and parishes. The main county offices are the board of commissioners, judges, sheriff, constable and clerks. The county courts are composed of justices of the peace, all appointed by the General Assembly and Governor, and met monthly. They are responsible for handling land ownership changes, processing wills, and dealing with minor crimes. The towns, that have the same powers as the county, are Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Norfolk.
The parishes are governed by a vestry that as civil and religious authority. One of the vestry's most important duties was setting the annual parish levy, and also administering the poor laws and maintain local roads and provide ferry services. The members of full vestry meeting, elect a select vestry to carry out its duties until the next regular meeting
Tobacco constituted a major percentage of the total agricultural output of Virginia until the 1670s. Vast plantations are built along the rivers of Virginia, and social/economic systems developed to grow and distribute this cash crop. In the 1670s the new lands were opened to other plantations crops besides tobacco, not available before such as cotton, sugar, indigo, and rice.
Culture and Education
The first printing press used in Virginia began operation in Jamestown on 1672, along the first newspaper, the Virginia Gazette.
In 1667 the General Assembly mandated the establishment of parish free schools opened to all children that required them. Private Grammar Schools were also opened in Jamestown, Williamsburg and Norfolk.
The Virginia College and Free School is the higher education establishment whose land purchase and initial funds were authorized by an act passed by the General Assembly in 1672. It as three divisions: Grammar School, Natural Philosophy School and Divinity School. It also manages a Free School for Boys.