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Memories of Virginia


Based on English Records of
The Settlement of Virginia

When the permanent settlement of Jamestown was made, 1607, the entire British possessions in North America bore the name Virginia, named by Sir Walter Raleigh, when the successful expedition under his direction first discovered the Capes, and the Island of Roanoke.

Later King James granted charter to two separate companies—called the London and Plymouth Companies—"for settling Colonies of America."

The London Company sent Capt. Christopher Newport to Virginia December 20, 1606, with a colony of one hundred and five persons to commence settlement on the Island of Roanoke—now in North Carolina, the land discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother-in-law, Gilbert, 1585.

The fleet of three ships, Sarah Constant, Discovery, and God Speed, through wind and tide were driven north of their place of destination and entered Chesapeake Bay, where a beautiful peninsula was discovered and where the settlement of Jamestown was commenced, May 13, 1607. The first permanent settlement of the country was called Jamestown in honor of King James, and made the center point of the New World possession.

The Colony passed through many trials and vicissitudes, alternating between hope and fear, courage and discouragement, until the year 1619, when affairs had progressed and plans culminated to justify the first form of government that was established and the first legislative council convened under the guiding hand of Governor Yeardley. The Council was called General Assembly. It was created to assist the Governor in the affairs of the Colony, and to stand united against the enemy of the white man.

The Council and two burgesses, out of every Hundred or Plantation, to be chosen by the inhabitants to make up the General Assembly—"to decide all matters by the greatest number of voices," but the Governor to have negative voice; to have power to make orders and acts necessary "to imitate the policy of the form of government, laws, customs, manner of trial and other administration of justice used in England, and set forth by their letters of patents. No law to continue or be in force till ratified by a Quarter Court to be held in England and returned under seal."

But, "After the Colony is well framed and settled, no order of Quarter Court in England shall bind until ratified by the General Assembly."

Governor Wyatt succeeded Yeardley, who returned to England.

The following instructions, under seal of crown dated July 24, 1621, sent to Governor Wyatt by King James gave the basis of government, and Virginians were satisfied with conditions that pointed to assured Progress and Prosperity.

Instructions "To keep up religion of the Church of England as near as may be; to be obedient to the King and to do justice after the form of the laws of England; and not injure the natives, and to forget all old quarrels now buried."

"Not to permit any but the Council and heads of Hundreds to wear gold on their clothes, or to wear silk till they make it themselves."

"The Council to take care of every plantation upon the death of their chief; to sow great quantities of corn for their own use; to support the multitudes to be sent yearly; to keep cows, swine, poultry, and as to raising staple commodities, the chief officers ought to set example and to aim at the establishment of the Colony."

"To make discoveries along the coast for fishery between the James River and Cape Cod. And lastly, to see that the Earl of Pembroke's thirty thousand acres be very good."

"The Governor and Council to appoint proper times for administration of justice and provide for the entertainment of the Council during their session; to be together one whole month about State affairs and law suits; to keep register of the acts of Quarter Session, and send home copies."

"The Governor only to summon the Council, and sign warrants and execute or give authority to execute Council orders, except in cases that do belong to the Marshall, Treasurer, or deputies, the Governor to have absolute authority to determine and punish all contempt of authority, except the Councillors, who are to be tried at the Quarter Sessions and censured, the Governor to have but the casting voice in Council or Court, but in the Assembly a negative voice."

"The Governor to administer the following oath to the Council:

"You shall swear to be a true, faithful servant unto the King's Majesty, as one of his Council for Virginia. You shall in all things to be moved, treated and debated in that Council concerning Virginia or any of the territories of America between the degrees of thirty-four and forty-five from the equinoctial line northward or the trade thereof, faithfully and truly declare your mind and opinion according to your heart and conscience, and shall keep secret all matters committed and revealed to you concerning the same, and that shall be treated secretly in that Council or this Council of Virginia; and publication shall not be made thereof; and upon all matters of importance before you resolve thereupon you shall make his Majesty's privy council acquainted therewith, and follow their directions therein."

"You shall to your utmost bear faith and allegiance to the King's majesty, his heirs and lawful successors, and shall assist and defend jurisdictions and authorities granted unto his Majesty and annext unto the Crown, against all foreign princes, persons, prelates or potentates whatsoever, be it by act of Parliament or otherwise, and generally in all things you shall be as a faithful and true servant and subject ought to do. So help you God and the holy contents of this Book."

The Instructions were intended as the general principles for the Government of the Colony; but before practically employed peace and tranquillity was changed into a period of devastation and mourning. A concerted attack on the settlements by the Indians destroyed in one hour, and almost in the same instant, 347 persons who were incapable of making resistance. The Massacre of Jamestown on March 22, 1622, stands recorded as "the most bloody" in the annals of our country, when each plantation was attacked at a given hour and signal, and every door post was marked with blood.

After the Massacre of Jamestown, King James appointed Colonel Matthews one of three Commissioners to visit Virginia "to report the true condition of the London Company, of which he had much prejudice and greatly desired to revoke the charter, to dissolve the Companies and take Virginia affairs into his own hands." To the date of the Massacre, the London Company, composed of the nobility of England, held under rights of charter, granted by King James, 1606, the absolute power of control in Virginia, to manage affairs without interference of Crown, the appointment of sole and absolute Governor by the Company, and all Deputy Governors. Lord Delaware was soon after appointed by the Company Governor-General of Virginia. He gave satisfaction and his death was much regretted 1618.

Yeardley succeeded him and the Colony prospered under his régime. He called the First Assembly 1619, each plantation to be represented by two burgesses that seemed satisfactory, but the Governors of the Colony found England a more desirable residence than Virginia, and much was left to Deputies, and the spirit of unrest was apparently growing with the Indians and much discontent felt with the settlers, when the Massacre of 1622 aroused England to decided action.

Then the King revoked Charters and "took affairs into his own hands." Col. Samuel Matthews was commissioned by the Crown to proceed to Virginia "to report conditions," which he did, 1622.

A man like Matthews was a Godsend to King James. He was a Royalist and Loyalist, well fitted to represent the Crown as a Special Commissioner, and no doubt his finding of facts gave satisfaction to the King.

Upon his return to England "the King appointed Col. Samuel Matthews, of Essex, England, commander-in-chief under the Crown, "to seize, occupy and hold Virginia," which he did.

Governor Yeardley died 1627. Wyatt, Harvey, Bennett and Diggs succeeded as Governors of Jamestown; Matthews Commander-in-chief at Point Comfort Fort under the king, with absolute military power. Colonel Matthews made his headquarters on the present site of Fortress Monroe, at that date named Fort Percy in honor of the first President of Smith's Mariners, a pioneer from Northumberland, England.

When Colonel Matthews took possession the Fort was little more than a stockade, but he recognized the commanding position of the Point as the gateway of Virginia, and repaired it for permanent use, where all new arrivals to Virginia had to first report; then pay 64 pounds of tobacco for its maintenance, not only making it the first custom house, but a financial success, and later, 1632, he rebuilt and made it a fortress.

At this period Colonel Matthews was thirty years of age, and the "King's Representative," was evidently a favorite at Court." He was not only Captain-General "to found and hold counties," but in 1624 he was a member of the Royal Commission that was appointed by King James the year before his death, when the Company was abolished and the Royal Government established known as the Royal Council.

The Royal Councillors included Yeardley, former Governor; Sandys, head of the Company; Matthews, Percy, Harvey, Smith, Hamor, Madison, Martin and Claybourne, Secretary of the Council. To be a member of the Royal Council was an order of nobility in Virginia, and the title of Colonel to designate distinction. By right of his official position Colonel Matthews was a Royal Councillor, member of the General Court, the House of Burgesses; and Director General of Surveyors and Commander-in-chief of the forces. History enumerates the above distinctions and closes with the following: "Colonel Matthews held every important office in the Colony from 1622 to 1660.

The Royal Councillors enjoyed the confidence of the King and Colony. History says: "Matthews' reports as Chief Councillor were loyal and reliable," and progress was established. King James died 1625, King Charles took Virginia affairs into his own hands. The London Company was abolished, the Virginia Charter declared null and void. The new King gave more power to the Royal Councillors, and to Matthews he gave the same confidence his father had awarded "The King's Commissioner," and designated him "The Guardian of Virginia."

This Great Pioneer of Results, one of a family of many shields and quarterings, was true to the motto of his race.

"Every soil is native land to the hero." He was destined to organize and carry a colony through perilous trials; a man who organized fourteen counties on the James River, and through union of the counties he laid the Arch of the Dominion, the cornerstone of the United States. The Church made Jamestown, Jamestown made the counties, the counties made Virginia, Virginia made the Colonies, the Colonies made the United States Republic of America.

The early history of the Dominion and records of the British pioneers are better known in England than America, but this tercentennial year of our nation's birth has awakened interest in the founding days of our country, when all North America, possessed by the British Crown, was known as Virginia. The period of occupation from 1607 to 1624, the date when Royal Government was established, to a great degree was merged into the colonization period, dating from 1660—the date of Restoration—when under King Charles II, Berkeley, Culpepper, Spottswood, Dinwiddie and other Governors won extended recognition in American history as the founders of the Dominion, but the men of the 17th century, under Royal Government, had laid solid foundation on which the colonies could rest. We are now turning the pages of history backward with educational results that will benefit our people, and it is easy to send "messages" and create "memories" through research to awaken pride in the founders of our country.

Virginia, named by Sir Walter Raleigh in honor of Elizabeth, Virgin Queen of England—the patron of his ambitions and achievements, but King James, her successor, had little veneration for her memory, and "The Queen's Favorite" became the King's victim, and as a consequence when Captain Smith and his mariners reached Virginia, many changes followed to honor King James. Powhatan River, the gateway of the possession, was named James River. Raleigh was abandoned and Jamestown was made the center point of action. Wessex, the west; Essex, the east; Norfolk, the north; Suffolk, the south; Middlesex, the middle, to designate plantations. "In Memory of Home," and to the end of the foundation of British Colonies of America, English names succeeded the Indian.

References: English Records of Virginia. Records of Essex County, Virginia. Archives of the College of William and Mary. Seventeenth Century Colonies of America. Campbell's History of Colony and Ancient Dominion of Virginia. British Calendar of State Papers. Hening's Statutes. The Cradle of the Republic. Burke's Armory of England.