Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Yeardley, George

YEARDLEY, Sir GEORGE (1580?–1627), governor of Virginia, son of Ralph Yeardley, merchant-taylor of London, was born about 1580; his brother Ralph was a London apothecary. Having served in the Low Countries, he sailed with Sir Thomas Gates [q. v.] to Virginia in June 1609 on board the Deliverance, and was shipwrecked in the Bermudas. He eventually reached Virginia in May 1610. In April 1616 Sir Thomas Dale, the governor, returned to England and appointed Yeardley his deputy. Yeardley relaxed the exceedingly severe system of government adopted by Dale; at the same time he showed firmness in his dealings with the Indians, and under him the colony seems for the first time to have prospered. In May 1617 he was superseded by (Sir) Samuel Argall [q. v.] In the following year Yeardley visited England. On 18 Nov. 1618 he was appointed governor of Virginia for a term of three years; on the 24th was knighted at Newmarket by James I, who had a long conversation with him upon the religion of the Indians; and in the following January he sailed to the colony. In July he, acting under instructions from the Virginia Company, summoned the first colonial assembly. On 8 Nov. 1621 Yeardley was succeeded by Sir Francis Wyatt [q. v.]; when, however, early in 1626, Wyatt retired from office, Charles I appointed Yeardley his successor, and he held the reins of government from 17 May until his death on 10 Nov. 1627.

During his three administrations important events in the life of the colony had taken place. The ‘first representative assembly in the western hemisphere’ had met at Jamestown on 30 July 1619. In 1620 a Dutch man-of-war had landed twenty negro slaves for sale, the first brought into the English colonies, while in the last year of his governorship a thousand new emigrants from England had arrived.

The colonists in a letter to the privy council committed to record a glowing eulogy of Yeardley's virtues. By his will, made on 12 Oct. 1627, Yeardley left his plate, linen, and household stuff to his wife, Temperance (born West), and ordered his notes, debts, servants, and ‘negars’ to be sold, and the moneys therefrom to be divided into three parts—one for his widow, one for his elder son Argall, and the third to be divided between his daughter Elizabeth and his younger son Francis, who migrated about 1650 into what is now North Carolina, where he traded with and evangelised the natives. An elaborate table of Yeardley's descendants, drawn up by T. T. Upshur, was reprinted from the ‘American Historical Magazine’ in October 1896.

[New England Hist. and Geneal. Regist. January 1884; Brown's Genesis of United States; Neill's Virginia Carolorum, Albany, 1886, pp. 47 sq.; Stith's Hist. of Virginia, 1747, passim; Smith's Governors of Virginia, Washington, 1893, Nos. xv. xviii. xx.; Drake's Making of Virginia, p. 62; Doyle's American Colonies, Virginia; Anderson's Hist. of the Colonial Church; Hotten's Lists of Emigrants to America; Cal. State Papers, Colonial, Amer. and W. Indies, 1574–1660, and Addenda, passim.]

J. A. D.