Colonization of Virginia by the London and Plymouth Companies - North American Colonies

Taken from The British Empire in the Nineteenth Century (1898) by Edgar Sanderson

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In 1621 these privileges were embodied in a written constitution, the first document of that kind seen in America. South Virginia, in accordance with the advance of public spirit in Britain, was thus becoming a nursery of freedom for men of European birth. In 1624 the company was dissolved, through King James' jealousy of the steps taken towards self-government, and the colony became a royal province, with a governor and council appointed by the king, but with the retention of the colonial representative assembly. An element of evil, which was in later times to be developed into vast proportions, with terrible issues in civil strife, had arisen in 1619, when a Dutch trader came into port and sold twenty negroes to the colonists. Their labour was found so valuable in the growth of tobacco, with which the very streets of Jamestown were at one time planted, that large cargoes of "black ivory", in the slave-dealers' slang, were soon imported, and the banks of the James River were lined with plantations for many a mile. The taste for tobacco was rapidly growing in England, and in Stuart times protective laws, aimed at the Spanish trade in the herb denounced by James the First, were passed to support the Virginian growth.

The Plymouth or North Virginia Company, of west-country merchants and gentlemen headed by Chief-justice Popham, wholly failed in attempts to found a colony in the district assigned to them by charter. That part of America was reserved by destiny for settlers of a very different class.

Pursuing for a time the fortunes of Virginia, we find the colony suffering from the Navigation Act of 1660, restricting her trade to English ships, and confining her export of tobacco to dealings with England. The house of assembly was chiefly composed of "royalists", who carried matters with a high hand, levied heavy taxes, narrowed the franchise, and persecuted Nonconformists. There were thus two parties, the aristocratic, comprising office-holders, royalists who had fled from England under the Commonwealth, and wealthy planters; the democratic, made up of the smaller traders and the working class, who saw themselves deprived of political rights. In 1676 Virginia was afflicted with an Indian war, followed by an armed civil struggle, in which a young lawyer named Nicholas Bacon headed the democrats against Governor Berkeley. The capital, Jamestown, was burned, and all that now remains of the place is the crumbling … continue reading »

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