Read CHAPTER IV - ROYALTY OVERTHROWN of Give Me Liberty The Struggle for Self-Government in Virginia , free online book, by Thomas J. Wertenbaker, on

It was in August, 1641, that Charles I appointed Sir William Berkeley Governor of Virginia to succeed Sir Francis Wyatt.  The King knew this young man well, for he had been a gentleman usher of the Privy Chamber under the Lord Chamberlain, and as such had attended various ceremonies at Court.  He was the fourth son of Maurice Berkeley, of the ancient Berkeley family of Bruton, Somerset, had studied at Oxford and the Middle Temple, and in 1630 had made the “grand tour” on the continent.  He seems to have had thoughts of following in the footsteps of the great Shakespeare, for in 1638 he published a tragedy which he named The Lost Lady.  He was knighted in 1639.

No doubt Charles thought he was doing the Virginians a great favor in sending them this accomplished young man.  But he probably was actuated also by less unselfish motives.  Berkeley was warmly attached to him, considered his person sacred, defended his claim to rule by divine right, and considered the Parliamentary leaders who were defying him enemies of their country.  It would be good policy to place such a man in a post of authority in Virginia, to hold the colony in line for the royal cause.  Sir William too must have had this in mind when he consented to lay aside his pen and the pleasures of the Court, to face the difficulties and perils of life in the forests of America.

But even as he was preparing to leave, the clouds were gathering for the storm which broke over England.  The long quarrel of King and Parliament was nearing a crisis; high churchmen and Puritans were locked in bitter battle.  In December, 1640, a petition signed by 15,000 persons for the abolition of Episcopacy “with all its roots and branches” was presented to the Commons.  A few months later a bill of attainder against the Earl of Stafford was passed, and this able statesman and friend of the King was led to the block.  The Puritans demanded that the Book of Common Prayer be cast aside.  Charles threatened his foes in London by bringing in soldiers, and men went about their daily tasks under the shadow of an English Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre.  In January, 1642, the King fled from London and both sides made ready for war.

Berkeley arrived in Virginia early in 1642.  When the Councillors assembled and took the oath of allegiance and supremacy, they must have viewed their polished and courtly new Governor with keen interest mixed with apprehension.  Would he follow the example of Harvey in trying to rule like an Eastern despot?  Would he try to set himself above the law?  Would he take sides in the quarrels which had divided the colony and resume the persecution of one group or the other?

Berkeley soon made it evident that he wished to do justice to all men.  It mattered not whether they had been friends of Harvey or his enemies so long as they were loyal to the King.  So Kemp, Mathews, Menefie, West, Pierce, and others who sat around him at the Council table, had to stifle old resentments and unite in support of the new administration.

Harvey had assumed that since the King was absolute and so could do no wrong, he, as his substitute, could trample on the rights of the people at will.  Berkeley, in contrast, acted on the theory that at a time when the Throne itself was in peril, it was his duty to show that under the royal authority there could be justice, security, and even freedom.  Virginia had had ten years of experience of his policies when he asked what they could expect from a change of government.  “Is it liberty?  The sun looks not on a people more free than we are from oppression.  Is it wealth?  Hundreds of examples show us that industry and thrift in a short time may bring us to as high of it as the country and our conditions are capable of.  Is it security to enjoy this wealth when gotten?  Without blushing I will speak it, I am confident there lives not that person can accuse me of attempting the least act against any man’s property."

There is every reason to believe that this boast was justified.  The first Assembly that sat after Berkeley’s arrival spoke of the “good and wholesome laws” that they had passed under his leadership.  They were especially proud of “the near approach we have made to the laws and customs of England in proceedings of the court and trials of causes." So we hear no more of the prosecution of men on trivial charges, of the overawing of judges, and of ruinous confiscations.  Thomas Ludwell, after the surrender of the colony to the Commonwealth, when Berkeley’s enemies might easily have hounded him in the courts, declared that there was not one man that either publicly or privately charged him with injustice.

It must have produced a general sense of security when Sir William affixed his signature to a bill giving either the plaintiff or the defendant in any court the right to demand trial by jury.  No more could a body of justices, appointed by the Governor, and perhaps looking to him for further favors, deprive a man of his property without the judgment of his peers. And should one be brought before the General Court to plead for life or limb, one need not submit to their decision if unjust, for now, apparently for the first time, appeals were permitted to the Assembly.

One of the chief grievances of former times had been the conscripting of men for public service or the service of the Governor.  So now when Berkeley “in preferring the public freedom before his particular profit” gave up any claim to forced labor, he won the gratitude of the people.  He has restored to us the birthright of our mother nation, men said.  No longer need the poor planter fear that the sheriff would lead him off to work in the Governor’s garden while his tobacco field went to weeds, or the carpenter curse the day when he was forced to give his time for the construction of a fort.

The Assembly admitted that before the arrival of the new Governor they had not done their full duty in passing wholesome laws and redressing grievances.  But they now proudly submitted to the public judgment the many benefits to the colony from “their late consultations.”  Among these was the relief given the poor by the revising of the tax law, so as to make the levy “in some measure” proportionate to “men’s abilities and estates.”

The Assembly thought it wise to assert once more that the Governor and Council had no authority to lay taxes. There would seem to have been no need for this since, though Harvey may have tried to levy taxes on his own responsibility, there is no evidence that Berkeley made such an attempt.  It seems likely that the Assembly had no more in mind in re-enacting this law than the emphasizing of a vital principle.

Berkeley’s liberal policies won something more tangible than the gratitude of the people, for the Assembly made him a present of two houses and an orchard. When the Civil War in England cut off the Governor’s pension and the allowance granted him by the King, they levied a tax of two shillings a tithable to raise a fund for his support.  It is true that they did this with grave misgivings.  To excuse themselves to the people they pointed out that such a thing had never occurred before from the infancy of the colony, and they prayed God it would never happen again.  The Assembly promised that when the present crisis had passed they would never again consent to place the burden of maintaining the Governor upon the people.

They seem not to have considered that to do so would be well worth the cost, since it would make him less dependent on the King and more amenable to their wishes.  In the struggle for self-government in the American colonies nothing tended more to bring victory than the fact the Assemblies usually were paymasters for the Governors.

But now Berkeley had to decide whether it was his duty to remain at his post in Virginia or whether he should hasten back to England to offer his sword to his King.  Every vessel which came in brought news of the bitter conflict which was convulsing the mother country the battle of Edgehill, the victory of the Londoners at Turnham Green, the murderous struggle in the lanes and ditches of Newbury.  Though it seemed that final victory for the royal forces was certain, Berkeley decided that he was needed more in England than in Virginia.  Turning the government over to Richard Kemp, he set sail for England early in 1644.  We next hear of him in the following summer in Cornwall with the King when he was bearing down on the Parliamentary forces under Essex.

It is eloquent of the work done by Berkeley in reconciling the bitter factions left by Harvey, that Mathews, Pierce, Menefie, and West seem to have accepted Kemp’s appointment in good grace.  But one wonders whether Kemp, with this dignity, got a new ribbon for his hair lock, and whether he patched up his quarrel with the Reverend Anthony Panton.  But he was left little time for personal matters, for a few weeks after Berkeley’s departure the Indians, under the leadership of the aged Opechancanough, fell on the outer settlements and massacred no less than five hundred persons.

Even when this terrible news reached Berkeley he seems to have delayed his return, for it was only on June 7, 1645, over a year after the massacre, that he arrived at Jamestown. In the meanwhile, the whites had taken ample revenge on their treacherous enemies.  Expeditions had gone out to bring fire and destruction to the Indian villages, and to cut down the ripening corn.  No sooner had the Governor set foot on Virginia soil than he took personal charge of the war, leading out the forces, exposing himself to danger “night and day on the water and on the land,” “visiting the remoter parts and with his presence encouraging the people.”  So indefatigable was he that “he scarce ate or slept to the hazard of his health." At last, when he had captured Opechancanough, the disheartened savages sued for peace.

Having removed the Indian menace, Sir William was faced with the task of saving Virginia for the King.  The news from England was alarming Parliament was everywhere victorious; the use of the Book of Common Prayer was forbidden; hundreds of Anglican clergymen had been expelled from their livings; the King had fled to the Isle of Wight.

The Governor knew that there was a powerful faction in the colony, composed chiefly of merchants and Puritans, who favored Parliament.  Some of the merchants had bought plantations in Virginia, entered actively into public life, and perhaps held high offices.  Thomas Stegg, one of the most prominent of them, in 1643 had been Speaker of the House of Burgesses.  Richard Lee, who traded to London, was “faithful and useful to the interest of the Commonwealth.”  Richard Bennett adhered to Parliament not only because of his mercantile interests, but because he was an ardent Puritan.

But the people as a whole were linked by self-interest to whatever government was in power in England.  Virginia’s prosperity depended upon trade.  It was vital to the planters to ship their tobacco abroad and to get manufactured goods in exchange cloth, clothing, household utensils, tools, farm implements, etc.  London, the great trading center of England, was held by the enemies of the King.  Even though the Dutch took off part of the tobacco crop, if Parliament should prohibit trade with the colony the effect might be disastrous.  This helps to explain why such a prominent man as Samuel Mathews, who made a good income by selling beef to victual the English ships, became “a most deserving Commonwealth man.”

Fortunately, Parliament realized that an embargo was a sword that cut both ways.  At first they tried to bring pressure on the colony by freezing their goods in England, but, no doubt at the solicitation of the London merchants, in October, 1644, the Commons wrote the Virginia Assembly that this action had been reversed.  Traders hesitated even then to load their vessels and sail for Virginia, fearing that Berkeley, in his rage against Parliament, might have persuaded the Assembly to exclude them.  But they were soon reassured.  In February, 1645, the Assembly passed an act declaring that since “the great wants and extremities of the colony” made it necessary to encourage commerce, free trade would be allowed “to all his Majesty’s subjects of England." They went still further the next year when they thanked the House of Commons “for all its favors” to them.

Yet the planters, not knowing what would come out of the clash of religions, political forces, and armies which was convulsing England, did all they could to encourage trade with the Dutch.  The merchants of Amsterdam paid well for their tobacco, and sold their wares at figures well below those charged by the English.  In January, 1649, whereas there were only seven vessels from London and two from Bristol trading in the James River, there were twelve from the Netherlands.

Though Berkeley had to yield to the Virginia merchants in their demand that trade be kept open with the mother country, he was determined to stamp out Puritanism in the colony.  Most Virginians were attached to the Church of England; the use of the Book of Common Prayer was almost universal; the ministers adhered to Anglican canonical law.  But here and there, especially where there were many new arrivals who had been under the influence of Calvinist ministers in England, there were pockets of Puritans.

Most of the nonconformists were concentrated in southeastern Virginia in the counties bordering on Hampton Roads.  In May, 1640, the people of the Lower Norfolk County parish elected the Reverend Thomas Harrison their minister, “to instruct them concerning their souls’ health.”  Apparently Mr. Harrison did not think that the use of the Book of Common Prayer or catechising on Sunday afternoons was necessary for the health of their souls, for he neglected both.

Two years later a group in Upper Norfolk, headed by Richard Bennett, John Hill, and Daniel Gookin, wrote letters to the Elders of Boston, Massachusetts, bewailing “their sad condition for the want of the means of salvation.”  They would be grateful if the Elders would send them several ministers to instruct them in the truth as it is in Jesus.  These letters they intrusted to Mr. Philip Bennett, brother of Richard Bennett, and sent him in a small pinnace on the dangerous voyage to Boston.

The Elders listened with sympathy to this appeal, for they regarded it as an opportunity “for enlarging the Kingdom of Christ.”  After much deliberation, they selected John Knowles, of Watertown; William Thompson, of Braintree; and Thomas James, of New Haven, and sent them off.  But they had a rough time even before they reached Virginia.  No doubt they thought it was Satan’s effort to thwart them that threw their pinnace on the rocks at the appropriately named Hell Gate.  But the ministers, accustomed as they were to getting the better of the Evil One, secured another vessel and proceeded on their way.

Upon their arrival in Virginia they were welcomed by the Puritans.  Going from house to house they preached “openly to the people,” and “the harvest they had was plentiful for the little space of time they were there.”  “It fared with them as it had done before with the Apostles in the primitive times that the people magnified them, and their hearts seemed to be much inflamed with an earnest desire after the Gospel."

But when Governor Berkeley heard of this invasion of New England divines to woo the people from the established Church, his heart too was inflamed.  At the Assembly of March, 1643, he secured a law against heresy prohibiting ministers to teach or preach publicly or privately unless they conformed to the orders and constitutions of the Anglican Church, and directing the Governor and Council to expel nonconformist clergymen.

The Puritan missionaries to Virginia were less determined than were the Quakers who sought to convert the people of Massachusetts to their way of belief and after being expelled returned to face whippings, mutilation, and the gallows.  Upon hearing the order of banishment, they left Virginia and did not return.

But both Governor Winthrop and Edward Johnson were certain that the Indian massacre of 1644 was God’s punishment of the Virginians for expelling his servants.  “Oh! poor Virginia, dost thou send away the ministers of Christ with threatening speeches?” wrote Johnson in his Wonder Working Providence.  “No sooner is this done but the barbarous, inhuman, insolent, and bloody Indians are let loose upon them.”  Certainly a terrible and indiscriminate revenge for a loving Heavenly Father.

Though the New Englanders left, Harrison for the time being defied the law by remaining in his parish.  Knowing that Cromwell was winning victories, he looked to Parliament to protect him.  He was elated when he received word that the Commissioners for Plantations had issued a proclamation in November, 1645, granting freedom of worship in all the colonies.  “That golden apple, the ordinance of toleration is now fairly fallen into the lap of the saints,” he wrote Winthrop.  “We have received letters full of life and love from the Earl of Warwick."

This seems to have given pause to Berkeley, and for two more years Harrison continued to preach.  But by the autumn of 1647 the Governor seems to have decided to root out Puritanism in defiance of Parliament, and at his urging the Assembly again ordered all ministers to conform to the canons of the Church of England. Under this act Harrison was banished.  After leaving Virginia he went to Massachusetts, where he remained two years before going to England.

His congregation, which had now grown to 118 persons, appealed to the Commons, and on October 11, 1649, the Commissioners wrote Governor Berkeley, ordering him to permit Harrison to return.  They had heard that he had been banished because he would not use the Book of Common Prayer.  “You cannot be ignorant that the use of the Common Prayer book is prohibited by the Parliament.”  By this time Berkeley was so embittered against the Commons that if this letter ever reached him he treated it with scorn.  After the surrender of the colony to the Commonwealth in 1652, Harrison could have returned had he so desired, but he chose to remain in England.

In the meanwhile Berkeley prosecuted the remaining Puritans.  A certain William Durand who took it upon himself to preach in the Elizabeth River chapel was arrested, imprisoned, and fined, and severe action was taken against the members of his congregation.  Thereupon Durand, Richard Bennett, and many others left the colony and settled in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

When the news reached Virginia that King Charles had been tried before a Commission of the Commons, that he had been condemned to death, and that the sentence had been carried out at Whitehall and the bleeding head held up for the awe-stricken crowds to view, Berkeley was horrified.  He at once proclaimed Charles II King, and so won for Virginia the title of the Old Dominion.  There was no thought on the Governor’s part of submitting to Parliament.  The Assembly passed a law making it treason to question the “undoubted and inherent right of his Majesty ... to the Colony of Virginia.”  To defend the proceedings against the late King was to become accessory after the act; to asperse his memory was punishable at the discretion of the Governor and Council; to propose a change of government was high treason. You should be thankful above all else, Berkeley said, “that God has separated you from the guilt of the crying blood of our pious sovereign of ever blessed memory.  But mistake not, gentlemen, part of it will yet stain your garments if you willingly submit to those murderers’ hands that shed it."

Parliament countered by declaring the Virginians rebels and by trying to bring them to terms by economic pressure.  In October, 1650, they passed an act prohibiting all persons “foreigners and others” from having commerce or traffic with them.  English warships were to be used to enforce the act, and all commanders were ordered to seize any foreign vessels found trading with the colony.  English ships were not to sail for Virginia without a special license from the Council of State.

The planters realized fully that if they were cut off from all overseas commerce it meant ruin.  Their loyalty to the monarchy would be dearly purchased if their tobacco were left on their hands, and all supplies of cloth, clothing, and other manufactured goods denied them.  Yet under the passionate urging of Governor Berkeley they remained firm.

Calling an Assembly for March, 1651, Sir William delivered an address ringing with defiance.  You see by the declaration of the men of Westminster how they mean to deal with you, he said.  Surely they could have proposed something which might have strengthened us to bear the heavy chains they are making ready for us, though it were no more than the assurance that we shall eat the bread for which our own oxen plow, and which we reap with our own sweat.  “Surely, gentlemen, we are more slaves by nature than their power can make us if we suffer ourselves to be shaken with these paper bullets....  Gentlemen, by the grace of God we will not so tamely part with our King and all those blessings we enjoy under him; and if they oppose us do but follow me, I will either lead you to victory or lose a life which I cannot more gloriously sacrifice than for my loyalty and your security."

We do not know to what extent the act of 1650 was effective in stopping trade to Virginia.  It is probable that Dutch merchants continued to come in, eluding English warships, and taking off a part of the tobacco crop.  Had it not been for this it is probable that the colony would have been forced to surrender, and it would have been unnecessary for Parliament to send a force to subdue it.

During the turmoil of the early months of the Commonwealth there was little opportunity for the Council of State to consider what should be done about Virginia.  But in October, 1649, they directed the Committee of the Admiralty to recommend steps “to reduce them to the interest” of Parliament.  This committee called in several merchants interested in the tobacco trade Maurice Thompson, Benjamin Worsley, and others to ask their advice.  These men were deeply concerned lest the defection of the colonies might ruin them by diverting trade to the Dutch.  After long debate, it was decided that Parliament should be asked to name commissioners “in whom the government be immediately placed, with power to settle the same under the government of the Commonwealth."

But this plan could not be put into effect so long as the Governor and Assembly were holding out for the King.  So when news reached England that the blockade had not been successful in bringing them to terms, it was decided to send over a naval and military expedition.  Thomas Stegg, who was in London, no doubt told the Council of State that there were many in Virginia who favored the Commonwealth, and that by cooperating with them they might take over the colony without firing a shot.  So in naming a commission to offer terms they included not only Stegg himself, but Richard Bennett and William Claiborne, both of whom were in Virginia.  The commission was headed by Captain Robert Dennis.  In the event of his death, his place was to be filled by Captain Edmund Curtis.

They were ordered to “use their best endeavors” to bring the Virginians “to their due obedience,” and were authorized to grant pardon to all who would submit.  In case this did not prove effective they were to use “all acts of hostility ... to enforce them.”  They were directed, also, to augment their force by making recruits in the colony, appointing captains and other officers, and promising freedom to all indentured workers who would take up arms for the Commonwealth.

So now a fleet of two warships, the John and the Guinea Frigate, and a number of armed merchant vessels was assembled, a force of six hundred men embarked, and arms and stores brought aboard.  Captain Dennis sailed in the John, Captain Curtis in the Guinea Frigate.  Arriving at Barbados, and finding a large royalist force ready to resist them, they landed their soldiers, and defeated them in a pitched battle.  This caused a delay of several weeks before they could proceed on their way to the Chesapeake Bay.  But now disaster struck, for off the coast of Carolina they ran into a storm which sent the John to the bottom, taking Captain Dennis and Stegg with her.  Unaware of this, the rest of the fleet proceeded on their way and arrived safely in Hampton Roads.

Even without the John the fleet must have seemed formidable to the planters who paused in their work to view it.  It must have seemed formidable, also, to Governor Berkeley.  But he was determined to resist to the end.  For months he had done all in his power to create hatred of the Commonwealth leaders, calling them bloody tyrants, and accusing them of planning to restore the old London Company.  The Anglican ministers, hurling invectives from the pulpit, “stirred up the people in all places.”  At the gatherings for the sessions of the county courts, in taverns, in churchyards after services, everywhere when two or more men came together “little else was spoken of."

With the enemy in Virginia waters and with messengers riding through the counties to summon men to the colors, the planter dropped the hoe to fasten on the helmet and the breastplate, and take up the fusil, the sword, the halberd, and the pistol.  Embarking on shallops, or trudging through the woods and fields the trained bands converged on Jamestown until there were between a thousand and twelve hundred men there ready to defend the little capital.

But there was no battle.  With the loss of Dennis and Stegg, Curtis, Bennett, and Claiborne alone were left of the Parliamentary commissioners.  Since Curtis could be outvoted by the other two, the final settlement was left to all intents and purposes in the hands of the two Virginians.  We do not know how Curtis got in touch with them, but they seem to have come aboard the Guinea Frigate to receive their instructions.  When they opened them and realized how great was their responsibility, they made up their minds to use every effort to spare the colony the horrors of civil war.

Their first step was to distribute papers among the people refuting Berkeley’s charges that Parliament meant to enslave them, which they substantiated by copies of private letters.  Then, hearing that a council of war was in session at Jamestown, they sent up a summons to the Governor and Council to surrender.  At the same time, although they thought their force inadequate to defeat the Virginians, they set sail up the James River.

In the meanwhile the Governor and Council had been considering their summons.  One wishes a record had been kept of that stormy debate, with Berkeley pleading for resistance to the end, and others pointing out that this meant ruin.  In the end they sent a reply which reached the fleet on its way up the river, promising to yield if the government were left in their hands for one more year.  The commissioners replied with a conciliatory message, which though refusing this compromise, “produced the calling of an Assembly."

The Burgesses fully realized the folly of defying the might of England.  Should they succeed in driving off the forces facing them, other and more powerful armies would follow.  So they sat “in contemplation of the great miseries and certain destruction which were so nearly hovering over this whole country.”  When they heard the remarkably liberal terms offered by the commissioners, they yielded.

It was agreed that Virginia should “be in due obedience and subjection to the Commonwealth of England.”  But following this one vital provision came a series of concessions to the colony.  The surrender was to be considered voluntary and not forced by conquest, the Assembly was to be continued, pardon was granted for words and writings denouncing Parliament, Virginia was to be “free from all taxes, customs, and impositions whatsoever,” a provision which Parliament might with profit have remembered over a century later when they were debating the Stamp Act.  The recognized principle that within the colony the Assembly alone had the right to tax was now for the first time guaranteed.

Then followed two provisions in which the commissioners stretched their instructions to the limit.  There can be no doubt that it was Claiborne who was largely responsible for the promise that “Virginia shall have and enjoy the ancient bounds and limits granted by the charters of the former Kings,” for this meant that Maryland would once more become a part of Virginia.  But it remained to be seen whether Parliament would ratify so drastic a measure.  And when it was stipulated that the colony should have “free trade as the people of England do to all places and with all nations according to the laws of that Commonwealth,” it was obvious that there would be strenuous opposition from the merchants of London and Bristol.

Having affixed their signatures to these articles, the commissioners hastened on to Maryland to demand the surrender of that colony.  But before sailing they called for election for a new House of Burgesses.  With Berkeley no longer in power to urge the return of staunch loyalists, and with Virginia submissive to the Commonwealth, the personnel of the House was greatly changed.  When they met at Jamestown on April 30, 1652, one recognized only six familiar faces. In the meanwhile, Bennett and Claiborne, who had returned from Maryland, sat with them in what was in reality a constitutional convention.

Their first act was to elect Bennett Governor for one year.  Thus, by one of those strange turns of the wheel of fortune, this ardent Puritan who a few years before had been driven into exile because of his religious beliefs, was placed at the head of the government.  Had he been a man of Sir John Harvey’s disposition, he might now have taken his revenge.  But there is no evidence that he bore malice against Berkeley and the former members of the Council.

The Burgesses next elected Claiborne Secretary of State “to be next in place to the Governor.”  Then followed the election of a new Council.  It is proof of the spirit of reconciliation which prevailed that most of the former members were chosen.  But the Burgesses made it clear that the Assembly was to be the ruling power in the colony.  They were to appoint the Governor and Council, who were to exercise only such powers as the Assembly delegated to them.  And they immediately took from them the control of local government by themselves selecting the county justices.

Thus was self-government established in the colony.  In England the clash of arms and the struggle of class and religious groups resulted, not in establishing a republic, but only in exchanging one despot for another.  But though Virginia had played but an insignificant rôle in the great drama, she reaped a full reward.  For the next eight years it was the people who ruled through their representatives in the House of Burgesses.

And the people, most of them at heart still loyal to the monarchy, would tolerate no persecution of the King’s friends.  Berkeley and some of the Councillors, thinking that life under the new government would be unendurable, had stipulated in the articles that they be permitted to leave the colony and take their property with them.  In July, 1653, Berkeley was still planning to leave.  Yet neither he nor any of the others seem to have done so, contenting themselves with sending Colonel Francis Lovelace to Europe to attest to the exiled Prince Charles their continued loyalty.  Only when some ardent royalist could not bridle his tongue were severe penalties inflicted.  We have an example of this in Northumberland County when a Mr. Calvert had to pay one thousand pounds of tobacco to save his wife from thirty lashes on her shoulders for stigmatizing “the keepers of the liberty of England as rogues, traitors, and rebels."

Nor was there any persecution of Church of England men in retaliation for the expulsion of Puritans under Berkeley.  There seems to have been no thought of prohibiting the use of the Book of Common Prayer, no thought of turning Anglican ministers out of their cures.  In fact the Burgesses were so deeply concerned at the many complaints of vacant pulpits that they offered a reward of L20 to anyone bringing over a clergyman.

Though Puritans and Anglicans, Commonwealth men and royalists lived together in peace, there was friction between the English merchants and the planters.  The former argued that the act of 1650, which prohibited foreign ships from trading with the colonies, was still in force.  The latter claimed that the law had been temporary in character and was now invalid.  And they pointed out that the articles of surrender had promised them free trade with all nations.  So when a Dutch merchant vessel came into the James or the York, they gladly loaded her with tobacco and accepted the cheap goods of Amsterdam in exchange.

But the situation changed when England became involved in war with the Netherlands.  In the summer of 1653, when the Leopolus, a merchantman of Dunkirk, came into the Elizabeth River, the captains of two English ships came on board to demand her special license.  Apparently the master had no license, for the vessel was seized by the Virginia authorities and sold for L400.

After this there seem to have been no further seizures by the Virginians.  But the English masters took it upon themselves to try to break up the Dutch trade, and the planters looked on helplessly as they intercepted sloops taking their tobacco to the Dutch vessels, or seized the vessels themselves and took them off as prizes.  In 1660 the Assembly plucked up courage to declare that “the Dutch and all strangers of what Christian nation soever in amity with the people of England shall have free liberty to trade with us.”  And they required the masters of all incoming English ships to give bond not to molest any vessels whatsoever in Virginia waters.

It is obvious that during the entire Commonwealth period the trade with Holland was kept open.  In 1655 certain English shipowners complained that “there are usually found intruding upon the plantation divers ships, surreptitiously carrying away the growth thereof to foreign parts." It was this which widened the market for tobacco, kept up the price, and brought a degree of prosperity to the colony.

With the articles of surrender stipulating that Virginia should have its original bounds, it seemed a golden opportunity for the colony to regain the territory granted to Lord Baltimore.  Surely the Puritan government of England would be eager to root out the group of Roman Catholics in Maryland.  So when the Assembly sent Samuel Mathews to have the articles ratified they instructed him to plead for the annulling of Baltimore’s patent.  But Baltimore had cut the ground from under their feet by recognizing the Commonwealth as early as 1648, appointing a Puritan Governor of Maryland, and proclaiming religious freedom.  Though Richard Bennett came over to join Mathews in defending Virginia’s claim, the final settlement left Maryland a separate colony.

The people of Virginia watched with intense interest the dramatic events in England in the years from 1652 to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the dissolution of the Rump Parliament, the election of the Praise-God Barebone Parliament, the naming of Cromwell Protector, the foreign wars, the death of Cromwell, the brief rule of Richard Cromwell.  But they were less affected by them than by happenings in the mother country at any other time during the colonial period.  Virginia was left to her own devices because the men in power in London were too greatly occupied with other matters to bother with her.  One wonders whether they knew what was going on, for the correspondence with persons in the colony dwindled to a trickle.

On August 31, 1658, a group of merchants trading to Virginia wrote the Council of State complaining of “the loose and distracted condition of that colony.”  It seems that Cromwell had already been considering certain proposals “for supplying that defect,” but before he could come to any decision he died.

Thus the people of Virginia were left to make a most interesting experiment in self-government.  The House of Burgesses were elected on a broad franchise.  Under the law of 1655 all housekeepers were given the right to vote. Since it would seem that everyone must have a place in which to live, this was a near approach to manhood suffrage.  Yet three years later these liberty loving people made certain that no one should be excluded, when the Assembly enacted that “all persons inhabiting in this colony that are freemen” were “to have their votes in the election of Burgesses." One wonders whether Edmund Pendleton, George Mason, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and other members of the Virginia Convention of 1776, who voted that only freeholders should vote, realized that they were less advanced on the road to democracy than their ancestors over a century before.

The convention of 1652 gave the right to elect “all the officers of this colony” to “the Burgesses, the representatives of the people.”  However, it seems to have been Cromwell’s intention to assume the power of appointing the Governor, for in December, 1653, his Highness “thought fit to continue Colonel Bennett” in that office until he should “further signify his pleasure." But when he did nothing more about it, in March, 1655, the Burgesses elected Edward Digges Governor.  Three years later, they chose Samuel Mathews, who continued in office until his death in January, 1660.

The Governor and Council for some years accepted with good grace the subordinate position accorded them.  But in 1658 they made an effort to regain some of the powers they had held prior to the surrender to the Commonwealth.  When the Assembly of that year were concluding their proceedings, they voted not to be dissolved, but merely to adjourn.  But the Governor and Council “for many important causes” took it on themselves to override this decision and declare the Assembly dissolved.

When this message was received by the House, some of the members started for the door.  But they probably sat down hastily when a resolution was passed that if any Burgess showed his acceptance of the dissolution by leaving, he was to be censured “as a person betraying the trust reposed in him by the country.”  They then sent a message to the Governor and Council declaring their action illegal and demanding that they revoke the dissolution.  To this the Governor and Council replied that they were willing for the Assembly to continue provided they bring their work to a speedy conclusion.  As for the “dispute of the power of dissolving and the legality thereof” they suggested that it be referred to the Lord Protector.

But the House was now thoroughly aroused, and was determined to bring the matter to an issue.  So they appointed a committee to draw up a report for the “manifestation and vindication of the Assembly’s power.”  This committee proposed resolutions declaring the “power of government to reside in such persons as shall be impowered by the Burgesses (the representatives of the people) who are not dissolvable by any power now extant in Virginia but the House of Burgesses.”  They also recommended the immediate dismissal of the Councillors.  Accordingly the House preceded to recall both Governor and Council.  Apparently the Burgesses did not blame Governor Mathews for the crisis for they at once re-elected him, and then asked him to make recommendations for the new Council.  It is probable that they thought Nathaniel Bacon and Francis Willis responsible for the attempted dissolution, for they were the only Councillors who had signed the offensive order who were not re-elected.

When the Assembly met again, in March, 1659, a letter was laid before them from Henry Lawrence, President of the Council of State in England, announcing the death of Cromwell and the accession of Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector.  The government of Virginia was being studied by the Council, he reported, and they soon would have some positive orders.  In the meanwhile, they directed the Governor and Council to apply themselves to the “management of the affairs of that colony."

When this letter was read to the Burgesses, they must have looked at each other in dismay.  Did this mean that the Governor and Council thereafter were to derive their powers, not from the House, but from England?  They at once acknowledged the new Lord Protector, but they requested the Governor to join with them in petitioning him to confirm their privileges.

While waiting to hear from England they decided to make important concessions.  Mathews was to be Governor for two years, at the expiration of which time the Assembly would choose one of the Councillors to succeed him.  Members of the Council were to serve for life, “except in case of high misdemeanors.”  The Governor was to nominate Councillors, but the Burgesses were to have the privilege of confirming or rejecting.  The Council at first assented to these changes until further directions from England, but later “they expressly declined the said act,” and declared the Assembly dissolved. It would seem that from March, 1659, to March, 1660, the Governor and Council claimed that they derived their authority, not from the Burgesses, but from the Council of State.

In the meanwhile, the people waited anxiously for news from England.  Would the weak Richard Cromwell, Thumbledown Dick as he was called in contempt, gain a firm grasp on the reins of state?  Or would there be anarchy?  Or would Prince Charles be summoned from exile and placed on the throne of his fathers?  When the tobacco fleet drifted in, the word they brought was alarming.  Richard Cromwell had been forced to resign; England was subjected to the weak but violent rule of soldiers; a new civil war threatened.  “Swordsmen bear the rule of the nation,” a London merchant wrote his father in Virginia in December, 1659.  “The soldiers they are divided one against another, and the people they are divided, some for one government some for another, and how long thus a kingdom divided against itself can stand, I know not."

To make matters still more uncertain for the Virginians, in January, 1660, Governor Mathews died.  When the summons was sent out for the Assembly to meet, the Burgesses straggled in to the little capital, some on horseback, some by boat.  Little knots must have gathered on the green to discuss the distractions in the mother country, and their meaning for the future of Virginia.

When they had crowded into the house where they were to meet, and had taken seats, their first step was to reassert their authority “as the supreme power in this country." Then they took a step which for three centuries has puzzled historians they elected Sir William Berkeley Governor.  That this decision was made at the opening of the session would lead us to believe that it reflected the general sentiment of the people.  They had had experience of Berkeley’s energy, concern for the welfare of the colony, refusal to use the courts for personal gain.  Certainly this is the view he himself took of his election.  “In consideration of the service I had done the country in defending them and destroying great numbers of Indians ... and in view of the equal justice I had distributed to all men, not only the Assembly but the unanimous votes of all the country made me Governor."

It is possible, also, that the Assembly had in mind the possibility that the monarchy might be restored.  Their action came just nine weeks before Charles II set foot on English soil at Dover amid the cheers of the crowds on the beach.  The word may have gone from plantation to plantation that it would please Charles and recommend the colony to his favor to know that they had made choice of the former royal Governor, a man noted for his devotion to his father and himself.

Yet the Assembly made it clear that Sir William would hold office from them as the supreme power in the colony.  They stipulated that he must call an Assembly at least once in every two years, that he should not dissolve the Assembly without permission from the House, and that in appointing members of the Council he must have their approbation.

Berkeley hesitated.  Appearing before the Assembly he expressed his gratitude for the honor done him, and protested that there were many among them who were “more sufficient for it” than he.  When he first came to Virginia, he said, he had a commission from his “most gracious master King Charles of ever blessed memory.”  When the King was put to death, his son sent him another commission to govern Virginia, but Parliament sent a force against him, and finding him defenceless, took over the colony.  But Parliament continued not long, and now his intelligence was not enough to tell him who or what ruled England.  “But, Mr. Speaker, it is one duty to live obedient to a government, and another of a very different nature to command under it.”  Yet when he had asked the Council for their advice, and they had concurred unanimously in his election, he consented.

Thus this professed enemy of republican principles became the head of a semi-independent little republic.  To Governor Stuyvesant, of New Netherlands, he wrote:  “I am but a servant of the Assembly, neither do they arrogate any power to themselves further than the miserable distractions of England force them to.  For when God shall be pleased in his mercy to take away and dissipate the unnatural division of their native country, they will immediately return to their own professed obedience."

Though Charles was proclaimed King in England on May 8, 1660, it was only in September that the slow moving vessels of the day brought the news to Virginia.  It was with elation that Berkeley wrote to the sheriffs in every county that God had invested “our most gracious sovereign, Charles II,” with the “just rights of his royal father,” and charged them to proclaim him King forthwith.  In Jamestown there was rejoicing, marked by the firing of cannon, and the blare of trumpets.  The country people for miles around must have flocked in to aid in making way with six cases of drams and a hundred and seventy-six gallons of cider.

Berkeley’s joy was tempered with the fear that the King might be angry with him for having accepted office from the “rebel” Assembly.  But Charles reassured him, and sent him a new commission.  Overjoyed, Berkeley replied:  “I ... do most humbly throw myself at your Majesty’s feet ... that you yet think me worthy of your royal commands.  It is true ...  I did something, which if misrepresented to your Majesty, may cause your Majesty to think me guilty of a weakness I should ever abhor myself for.  But it was no more ... than to leap over the fold to save your Majesty’s flock, when your Majesty’s enemies of that fold had barred up the lawful entrance to it, and enclosed the wolves of schism and rebellion ready to devour all within."

Thus the Commonwealth period in Virginia came to an end.  No longer was the Assembly to be the supreme power, selecting the Governor and Council, and controlling local government.  The old struggle for self-government had to be resumed; the representatives of the people again had to steel themselves against the encroachments of arbitrary Kings and arbitrary Governors.  More than a century was to elapse before the rights surrendered when Charles II was proclaimed were regained.

But the training in self-government received during the eight years that the people were their own masters stood them in good stead in the conflicts ahead.  Having tasted the sweets of freedom, they were ready to resist when Governors vetoed their bills, or corrupted the Burgesses, or swayed the courts, or bullied the Council.  The Commonwealth period foreshadowed Bacon’s Rebellion and the American Revolution; the constitutional Assembly of 1652 foreshadowed Bacon’s Assembly of June, 1676, and the Virginia Convention of 1776.