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Memories of Virginia/Historical Sketch of Samuel Matthews

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Hon. Wm. B. Matthews

Hon. Wm. B. Matthews


A Virginian


A lineal descendant and worthy son of a long line of fighting ancestors and founding sires, in whom I find many characteristics of his distinguished ancestor,


Governor Samuel Matthews


Captain General and Governor of Virginia


Historical Sketch






Guardian of Virginia




In this sketch I have only been able to outline the life work and character of the British pioneer, the Guardian of Virginia.

Matthews, the Chieftain of Great Results, was a son of fighting and founding men. The Welsh Mountains, the kingdom home of the Ap Matthews, known in history from Galahad 675, Chiefs, sub-Kings and Lords of Wales. David, first lord of Cardingshire, 1330, was ninth generation removed from Galahad, and great-great-grandson of Louis VI of France, one of the most distinguished men of the age.

Sir John, grandson of Lord David, in 1440 established the first English line of Matthews in England, through a bride of the House of York, and from this Welsh, British, French, Norman ancestry, Samuel, descendant of Sir John, was born in 1592, and when called by King James he was ready like many other second sons to make a record in Virginia.

[I had hoped to secure a picture of Governor Matthews, but up to date have failed. I, however, employ a photograph of the eldest lineal descendant of two lines from the Pioneer through Thomas and Francis Matthews to represent the family.]

Home of Matthews

In history the Captain-General is spoken of as "Matthews of Denbigh," the name of his great plantation that was in itself a county, and "the most important, and he the richest man in Virginia." The public store house was on his estate, and his house stood with an "open door," his establishment being renowned for hospitality to both Virginians and British, for he was one of the great land proprietors who held conspicuous place in England as he did in Virginia.

His wife was a daughter of Sir Thomas Hinton, and from the marriages she made she must have been attractive. She first married Colonel West, brother of Lord Delaware, the proprietor of "West Over." After her death Col. Matthews married the widow of Captain Percy, of Percy Hundred, uniting three great estates in one name, Matthews of Denbigh. The Court Record of Essex County, Virginia, says: "The widow Percy was possessed with the largest estate ever known in Virginia." Of Denbigh Estate, Combell's History records. "A contemporary wrote to England, 1649: Matthews' had a fine house, sowed much hemp and flax and great crops of wheat and barley. Kept weavers, had a tannery, had forty negro slaves, whom he brought up to mechanical trades. He had a large herd of cows, a fine dairy and abundant hogs and poultry. He supplied his own ships, also vessels trading to Virginia"; and is finally described "as a man who kept a good house, lived bravely and was a true lover of Virginia."

I will here add this estate was left to his son, Col. Samuel, together with a great estate in Matthews County, which was the heritage of John Matthews, a grandson of Governor, the ancestor of William B. Matthews, my friend of Virginia memories.

Francis, another son of Colonel Matthews, had a large estate of some two thousand acres in the County of Northumberland. He was a tobacco planter, and his horses and herds are referred to in history as notable.

The son of Thomas, a nephew of Governor Matthews, married the daughter of Francis Matthews, and through this intermarriage the ancestors of Rev. John Matthews, of Essex County, Virginia, the rector of St. Anne's Church in the colonial period—descended—and records show that for over one hundred and fifty years members of the family held the position of Clerk of the Court, and intermarried with nearly every other prominent family, at that date, of Virginia; the Timsons, Moseleys. Batterlys, Baldwins, Braxtons, Micous, Buckners, Jamesons, Carters, Bushrods, Smiths, Burgess, Garnetts, Woods, Muscoes, Bagleys, Turners, Graves, and others equally prominent to give extended connection.

The Percy Hundred Estate of Mrs. Matthews, opposite Newport News, known after her marriage with Colonel Matthews as Fleur de Hundred, comprised 2200 acres, an outpost of Point Comfort Fort, overlooking the beautiful Hampton Roads "over the bay." Weyanoke of Indian fame, the site of the Exposition Grounds, this estate united with Denbigh—embracing at present Newport News, Hampton and Point Comfort—once the hunting grounds of Powhatan became the home of Matthews. It is presumed Colonel Matthews made Fleur de Hundred one of his home houses, where he dispensed the unbounded hospitality for which he was famous. History states in 1648 he entertained "Beauchamp Plantagenet at Fleur de Hundred, where his kinsman was a welcome guest, and all other royal refugees who sought Virginia during the Civil War found welcome."

Governor Matthews owned large shipping interests and frequently returned to England to keep in touch with home affairs, and the progress made under his direction in Virginia was regarded "A Mighty Work." Counties were being organized and peopled on the river; forts built; the Church of Jamestown rebuilt in 1639, and prosperity marked every milestone of advance under the Royal Government, when Civil War under Cromwell's agitation in 1642 changed the history of England.

Virginia so far removed from Great Britain was not very much affected by the war; in fact many distinguished persons emigrated from England to escape war at home, and increased her prosperity. Virginians were loyal to King and Crown, but too feeble to declare power, much less defend Cromwell's aggression. History, however, relates, "One of Matthews' ships was confiscated for Cromwell's use; this he recovered and four hundred pounds sterling 'for the trouble,' " a good demonstration of individual power, and the policy maintained of Virginia independence in the days of Civil War. Still there was unrest over rumors of massacre and rebellion and much apprehension felt that was realized on Good Friday, April 24, 1644, at a period when war was raging in England, and anxiety in Virginia. Matthews was prepared for the attack and his followers not surprised; still a key note of danger was sounded, and with courage the settlers accepted the gauntlet and a vigorous war upon the Indians lasted until 1646. Berkeley was Governor of Jamestown; Matthews on "the war path." "We are fighting for England," he said to his people, and his enthusiasm for home and country was contagious. His first object was to hold Virginia a "Fifth power of Britain"; a kingdom home for Charles First, one secure from fatalities of war. It is set forth in history, "Matthews was the greatest opposer of Cromwell and the leader of the persecution of the Puritans." No doubt he was as dictatorial as "a Czar," for true to his heritage and birthright he would stand firm and true for England in her "dark hour," and aid to the fullest extent of his ability. A man to count no effort to serve the Crown: but Virginians in their most melancholy fancies never dreamed nor visioned the fate awaiting their King until the blow fell with crushing force, to daze heads and make hearts faint. It is related when the fearful news reached Virginia in 1649—four months after the tragedy that left England without a King—men were dazed. Governor Berkeley would no longer act under Cromwell and retired from service, then it was that Matthews in his sorrow showed the greatness of his character to seize and accept conditions. "We must stand together." he said. "We must save Virginia. We must be prepared to meet conditions and make most of opportunities. Virginians are loyal to Charles of dear memory; to us our King still lives and it should be considered and imagined that he reigns as he has since the death of his father." Again he said: "We want clear heads and bold hearts to ever be ready to meet the enemies of England and every man at his post."

At this period cavaliers were high livers and excessive drinking men, but from an order given by the Captain-General it will be seen that he believed men on duty should be partakers, only to a moderate degree, of liquid refreshments. "A member of the Council or Burgess, disguised with overmuch drink, forfeits one hundred pounds of tobacco." It is safe to presume much of the Virginia weed, the currency of the country, was forfeited.

It is also evident while sentiment filled Matthews' heart over the death of his King, that he practically looked the future squarely in the face, and arranged for the welfare of Virginia, which was ever paramount in his words and deeds. It is related his courage was phenomenal and no man more brave and defiant in the discharge of duty at a period of affairs when a man and monarch was called for, and could be met in the Captain-General. His entire record was fearless and direct to serve King and Crown, and after the death of Charles First to stand for Virginia "In the name of God and the Colonists."

It was known to Cromwell that Matthews was an open enemy, of unblemished character and great achievements; an intrepid, fearless leader, a conqueror of Indians and a man of conquest, all of which he demonstrated when the surrender of Virginia was demanded by Cromwell's Parliament and the Confiscation Act of March 12, 1652, entered upon. Matthews, as chief, was at Point Comfort Fort ready to meet the enemy, and boldly entered upon the responsibilities to make and accept conditions "In the Right of Virginia," and if any doubt of results was felt he made no sign, and met the enemy without fear or favor.

It is related that one of the Governors expressed doubt of his fearlessness in the meeting of the enemy, and suggested "that more policy was required," when he threw his arm around him saying, "we won't let them hurt you, Governor."

At the Council of April 30, 1652, Captain-General Matthews, Col. John West, brother of Lord Delaware, and Colonel Yeardley, son of Governor Yeardley, acted as Councillors of Virginia "to treat with the enemy." Each a faithful adherent to "the waiting King"; each devoted to the welfare of Virginia, and fully determined to secure the most that could be secured in her interest.

"If an oath of allegiance be required," Matthews said in Council, "it shall be to Virginia. Then let us trust in ourselves and wait with absolute confidence, for the restoration of our King, the Stuart to whom we owe allegiance."

As a result of fearless determination much was obtained and the Colonies not interfered with to any great degree. A full right to appoint all officers for Virginia was conceded to the Councillors. The Church of England Prayer Book was retained, and worship without interruption secured, and true to England's Crown Matthews stood for the son of King Charles of Blessed Memory, a trusted Guardian of Virginia.

Matthews Governor for Life

After the informal so-called surrender of Virginia, it is related that under the influence of Bennett, a Cromwell man, and some small land owners, unrest was felt and trouble anticipated, when the Burgess—then in control of Virginian affairs—hesitated over some action that was required in the interest of the Colonists, proposed by the Captain-General. Matthews asserted his power and declared the dissolution of the Assembly so forcibly that the concession he demanded was not only passed, but the House of Burgesses then and there passed the following law:

"That the power of Government for the future should be conferred upon Col. Samuel Matthews, who by them was invested with all rights and privileges belonging to the Governor and Captain-General of Virginia, and requested to hold the office, to which he is unanimously elected—for life—or so long as he lives in Virginia."

The oath of office was administered to Governor Matthews by a Committee of the Council, appointed by the Burgess—"Men of Virginia."

The Royal Council was made up of loyal Virginians: Hon. Samuel Matthews, Captain-General and Governor of Virginia; Richard Bennett, Colonel William Claybourne, Secretary of State; Col. Thomas Pettus, Col. Edward Hill, Col. Thomas Dew, Col. William Bernard, Col. Obedience Robbins, Col. John Walker, Col. Abraham Wood, Col. John Carter, Col. Anthony Elliott, and Mr. Washam Harsmeder.

It is explained, "Mr. Harsmeder was a man of wealth and good standing; the name of Richard Bennett, without title or comment, invites the inference that two Cromwell men, the Alpha and Omega of Governor Matthews Councillors, may have been a condition in the Surrender Act."

A new era dawned upon the Colony. The Virginians knew and trusted the life-elected Governor, and no man enjoyed more confidence, respect and affection than "the Dead King's Representative"; but it is said, "it was hoped by Cromwell, without much expectation, that Virginia would rebel," but in this hope Parliament was disappointed and the Dictator accepted the independence of Virginia without hostile action.

In relation to rebellion in Virginia, Ludwell,Secretary of State, reporting upon the matter declared officially: "There are three influences restraining the smaller land owners from rising in rebellion, namely: faith in the mercy of God, loyalty to their King, and affection for their Governor."

Governor Matthews continued to observe all the formalities of church and state, for in a way it seemed to honor "the Dead King." The Sunday service was one of ceremony, the Governor and Councillors attending in a body accompanied by an escort "to the number of fifty." The Governor was seated in the chair of state of gilt and velvet, under a canopy and emblazoned coat of arms. The communion service of gold presented by the King made the remembrance "in His name" a double commemoration.

Then came the waiting time for the wished-on-wished Restoration. The day came when news of Cromwell's death reached Virginia, and the belief was general that Parliament, like the Protectorate, would end, for it was apparent when Richard Cromwell succeeded his father that he would not, or could not long hold "the Dictatorship of England"; hence the King and Crown men waited for the Restoration with faith and patience; perhaps no one with more loyal pride than Matthews, who stood for England during the tragedy of Civil War, during the crimes of Parliament and horrors of anarchy, the last Governor who acted under the Royal Council, under the Protectorate, under the Parliament, and from the Burgess stood vested with kingly power over Virginia when England was making and writing history with sword and blood. A loyal son who died before finis was written. Governor Matthews died suddenly March 13, 1660, two months before the Restoration.

The Burgess announced his death in one expression of great sorrow: "England without a King; Virginia without a Governor."

All attested the affection he won and held for thirty-eight years, and all admitted the results he had achieved to close a life noble in action and rich in rewards. He died without realizing the hope of his life, but lived long enough to realize the time had come and the people ready "to hail the King."

He lived long enough to serve his country faithfully and to leave a name to pass over the cable of time until records of the world perish.

He made the silent return to his British home to sleep well with his kindred. He left the coast of Virginia mourned, loved and regretted. Nor was the dead Governor forgotten in the great event when England had a King, and amid the joy notes that sounded

over the James, September 20, 1660, there was a requiem in hearts: "He comes no more."

A name beloved as no other Virginian from 1622 till 1660. A great man of a great race

Samuel Matthews,

Founder of Jamestown, the Birthplace of our Nation.


The Royal Government established . 1624
Civil War in England. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1642
King Charles beheaded . . . . . . . . . . . 1649
Mathews died March . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1660
Restoration Charles 2d, May . . . . . . . 1660

From 1660 a new regime stand recorded, namely:

The Colonial Government permanently established under Governor Spottswood, 1710, to mark the Second Century of Great Britain's occupation in the Western World.


See note on page 80.