Colonizing Virginia is an umbrella project covering the colonial period of Virginia history. It will begin with the first Englishmen set foot on a tiny island called Jamestown in 1607 and end with the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Prior to the year 1607, a period of one hundred and fifteen years from the discovery of San Salvador by Columbus, several attempts were made to effect settlements in various parts of North America, including Roanoke; but none had proved successful.
The Colony of Virginia, was established in 1606 by a group of wealthy London businessmen who petitioned King James I for a charter to establish a colony in the New World by the Virginia Company who set out to establish a permanent English settlement in the Americas. In 1607, the first enduring English colony in North America was settled, following failed proprietary attempts at settlement on Newfoundland by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583, and Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1580s.
The founder of the new colony was the Virginia Company, with the first two settlements in Jamestown on the banks of the James River and Popham Colony on the Kennebec River in modern-day Maine, both in 1607. The Popham colony quickly failed due to a famine, disease, and conflict with local Native American tribes (the Powhatan Confederacy) in the first two years. Jamestown was also at the brink of failure before the arrival of a new group of settlers and supplies in 1610. Tobacco became Virginia's first profitable export, the production of which had a significant impact on the society and settlement patterns.
The British were in competition with the Spanish who had established colonies in central and South America and had stolen vast amounts of treasure and wealth from the native inhabitants. The English were eager to find similar wealth in the northern part of the Americas. They also wanted to establish permanent towns in the New World to stake a claim for the British government. In 1607, 104 men traveled from England and landed in the Chesapeake Bay. They traveled up the James River to establish a settlement out of sight from passing Spanish pirates who might sack the town or steal the supplies.
In 1624, the Virginia Company's charter was revoked by King James I, and the Virginia colony was transferred to royal authority as a crown colony. After the English Civil War in the mid-17th century, the Virginia colony was nicknamed "The Old Dominion" by King Charles II for its perceived loyalty to the English monarchy during the era of the Commonwealth of England.
From 1619 to 1776, the legislature of Virginia was the House of Burgesses, which governed in conjunction with a colonial governor. Jamestown remained the capital of the Virginia colony until 1699; from 1699 until its dissolution the capital was in Williamsburg. The colony experienced its first major political turmoil with Bacon's Rebellion of 1676.
After declaring independence from Great Britain in 1775, before the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted, the Virginia colony became the Commonwealth of Virginia, one of the original thirteen states of the United States, adopting as its official slogan "The Old Dominion". The entire modern states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, and portions of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania were later created from the territory encompassed, or claimed by, the colony of Virginia at the time of independence.
The name "Virginia" is the oldest designation for English claims in North America. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh sent Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to explore what is now the North Carolina coast, and they returned with word of a regional king (weroance) named Wingina, who ruled a land supposedly called Wingandacoa. The colony was also known as the Virginia Colony, the Province of Virginia, and occasionally as the Dominion and Colony of Virginia or His Majesty's Most Ancient Colloney and Dominion of Virginia
The name Virginia for a region in North America may have been originally suggested by Sir Walter Raleigh, named for Queen Elizabeth I, in approximately 1584. In addition the term Wingandacoa may have influenced the name Virginia." On his next voyage, Raleigh learned that while the chief of the Secotans was indeed called Wingina, the expression wingandacoa heard by the English upon arrival actually meant "What good clothes you wear!" in Carolina Algonquian, and was not the name of the country as previously misunderstood. "Virginia" was originally a term used to refer to North America's entire eastern coast from the 34th parallel (close to Cape Fear) north to 48th parallel. This area included a large section of Canada and the shores of Acadia.
In the initial years under the Virginia Company, the colony was governed by a council, headed by a council President. From 1611 to 1618, under the orders of Sir Thomas Dale, the settlers of the colony were under a regime of martial law that became known as Dale's Code. See also: List of colonial governors of Virginia
Although Spain, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands all had competing claims to the region, none of these prevented the English from becoming the first European power to colonize successfully the Mid-Atlantic coastline. Earlier attempts had been made by the Spanish in what is now Georgia (San Miguel de Gualdape, 1526–27; several Spanish missions in Georgia between 1568 and 1684), South Carolina (Santa Elena, 1566–87), North Carolina (Joara, 1567–68) and Virginia (Ajacán Mission, 1570–71); and by the French in South Carolina (Charlesfort, 1562–63). Farther south, the Spanish colony of Spanish Florida, centered on St. Augustine, was established in 1565, while to the north, the French were establishing settlements in what is now Canada (Charlesbourg-Royal briefly occupied 1541–43; Port Royal, established in 1605).
As the English expanded out from Jamestown, encroachment of the new arrivals and their ever-growing numbers on what had been Indian lands resulted in several conflicts with the Virginia Indians. For much of the 17th century, English contact and conflict was mostly with the Algonquian peoples that populated the coastal regions, primarily the Powhatan Confederacy. Following a series of wars and the decline of the Powhatan as a political entity, the colonists expanded westward in the late 17th and 18th centuries, encountering the Shawnee, Iroquoian-speaking peoples such as the Nottoway, Meherrin, Iroquois and Cherokee, as well as Siouan-speaking peoples such as the Tutelo, Saponi, and Occaneechi.
In the period following the English Civil War, the exiled King Charles II of England hoped to shore up the loyalty of several of his supporters by granting them a significant area of mostly uncharted land to control as a Proprietary in Virginia (a claim that would only be valid were the king to return to power). While under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Colony, the proprietary maintained complete control of the granting of land within that territory (and revenues obtained from it) until after the American Revolution. The grant was for the land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers, which included the titular Northern Neck, but as time went on also would include all of what is today Northern Virginia and into West Virginia. Due to ambiguities of the text of the various grants causing disputes between the proprietary and the colonial government, the tract was finally demarcated via the Fairfax Line in 1746.
With the boom in tobacco planting, there was a severe shortage of laborers to work the labor-intensive crop. One method to solve the shortage was through the usage of indentured servants.
By the 1640s, legal documents started to define the changing nature of indentured servants and their status as servants. In 1640, John Punch was sentenced to lifetime servitude as punishment for trying to escape from his master Hugh Gwyn. This is the earliest legal sanctioning of slavery in Virginia. After this trial, the relationship between indentured servants and their masters changed, as planters saw permanent servitude a more appealing and profitable prospect than seven-year indentures. As many indentured workers were illiterate, especially Africans, there were opportunities for abuse by planters and other indenture holders. Some ignored the expiration of servants' indentured contracts and tried to keep them as lifelong workers.
In the late 17th century, the Royal African Company, which was established by the King of England to supply the great demand for labor to the colonies, had a monopoly on the provision of African slaves to the colony. As plantation agriculture was established earlier in Barbados, in the early years, slaves were shipped from Barbados (where they were seasoned) to the colonies of Virginia and Carolina.
In 1619, the Anglican Church was formally established as the official religion in the colony, and would remain so until shortly after the American Revolution. Establishment meant that local tax funds paid the parish costs, and that the parish had local civic functions such as poor relief. The upper class planters controlled the vestry, which ran the parish and chose the minister. The church in Virginia was controlled by the Bishop of London, who sent priests and missionaries, but there were never enough, and they reported very low standards of personal morality. By the 1760s, dissenting Protestants, especially Baptists and Methodists, were growing rapidly and started challenging the Anglicans for moral leadership.
Jamestown: The first successful settlement in the Virginia colony founded in May, 1607. Harsh conditions nearly destroyed the colony but in 1610 supplies arrived with a new wave of settlers. The settlement became part of the Virginia Company of London in 1620. The population remained low due to lack of supplies until agriculture was solidly established. Jamestown grew to be a prosperous shipping port when John Rolfe introduced tobacco as a major export and cash crop.
Starving time: The period early in any settlements development when food and supplies are scarce due to lack of preparation, unfamiliarity with the surroundings, weather, and inability to successfully grow crops. The starving time usually cost a large percentage of the settlers lives and lasted for the first few years.
English colonist and farmer who greatly aided the colony. Rolfe is credited with introducing tobacco as a crop for export, which ensured the colony of profits as well as bringing eight years of peace between Indians and colonists through his marriage to Pocahontas.
Virginia was founded primarily for the purpose of profit by the joint-stock owned Virginia Company of London. It was also important in giving England territorial claims in America to match Spanish and French expansion, and to also give England markets and resources in the New World.
Problems and failures of Virginia: Included trouble with Indians and a "starving time" in the winter of 1609 which the colony barely survived. Virginia also suffered from debt, a high death rate, fraudulent local officials, and more Indian trouble. The problems eventually made the Virginia Company go bankrupt.
Headright system: System enacted first in Virginia then in Baltimore to attract people to the sparsely populated colonies. The system worked by granting large amount of land to anyone who brought over a certain amount of colonists. In Baltimore, anyone bringing five adults at their own expense would receive two thousand acres.
House of Burgesses: A regular assembly of elected representatives that developed in the Virginia colony in the 1630’s. The House of Burgesses was split into two chambers in 1650, creating the House of Burgesses and the Governors Council. The House was a bicameral legislature that was a model for our congress.
Successes of Virginia: Virginia succeeded politically in terms of creating the House of Burgesses as a semi-democratic assembly and forcing governors to cooperate with the legislature. They did this through the power of the purse as governors did not control money, and therefore depended on the legislature for they salaries.
Cavalier: The group of supporters of Charles I in the English Civil War which lasted from 1642-1648. The term Cavalier continued to be used to mean any supporter of the British crown, especially Americans who were British sympathizers during the American Revolution.
See also the following topics in Wikipedia:
- English colonial empire
- Former counties, cities, and towns of Virginia
- History of Virginia
- History of Virginia on stamps
- Jamestown Exposition
- List of colonial governors of Virginia
- Southern Colonies
- Anne Orthwood's bastard trial, showing the development of law in the Colony of Virginia
For further Reading:
- Learn NC - The Founding of Virginia
- Wikipedia - Colony of Virginia
- Virginia Colony
- History of the USA - Virginia
- Celebrate Boston - Colony of Virginia, A Brief History
- Course Notes - Virginia Settlement
- The English Come to Virginia
- Cliffs Notes - Chesapeake Colonies: Virginia, Maryland
- American History From Revolution to Reconstruction - Instructions for the Virginia Colony 1606