Chronicles of America 

The Displeasure of King James

In November, 1620, there sailed into a quiet harbor on the coast of what is now Massachusetts a ship named the Mayflower, having on board one hundred and two English Non-conformists, men and women and with them a few children. These latest colonists held a patent from the Virginia Company and have left in writing a statement of their object: "We . . . having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia--". The mental reservation is, of course, "where perchance we may serve God as we will!" In England there obtained in some quarters a suspicion that "they meant to make a free, popular State there." Free -- Popular -- Public Good! These are words that began, in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, to shine and ring. King and people had reached the verge of a great struggle. The Virginia Company was divided, as were other groups, into factions. The court party and the country party found themselves distinctly opposed. The great, crowded meetings of the Company Sessions rang with their divisions upon policies small and large. Words and phrases, comprehensive, sonorous, heavy with the future, rose and rolled beneath the roof of their great hall. There were heard amid warm discussion: Kingdom and Colony -- Spain -- Netherlands -- France -- Church and State -- Papists and Schismatics -- Duties, Tithes, Excise Petitions of Grievances -- Representation -- Right of Assembly. Several years earlier the King had cried, "Choose the Devil, but not Sir Edwyn Sandys!" Now he declared the Company "just a seminary to a seditious parliament!" All London resounded with the clash of parties and opinions. "Last week the Earl of Warwick and the Lord Cavendish fell so foul at a Virginia . . . court that the lie passed and repassed . . . . The factions . . . are grown so violent that Guelfs and Ghibellines were not more animated one against another!"

In his work on "Joint-stock Companion", vol.II, pp. 266 ff., W. R. Scott traces the history of these acute dissensions in the Virginia Company and draws conclusions distinctly unfavorable to the management of Sandys and his party.

Believing that the Company's sessions foreshadowed a "seditious parliament," James Stuart set himself with obstinacy and some cunning to the Company's undoing. The court party gave the King aid, and circumstances favored the attempt. Captain Nathaniel Butler, who had once been Governor of the Somers Islands and had now returned to England by way of Virginia, published in London "The Unmasked Face of Our Colony in Virginia", containing a savage attack upon every item of Virginian administration.

The King's Privy Council summoned the Company, or rather the "country" party, to answer these and other allegations. Southampton, Sandys, and Ferrar answered with strength and cogency. But the tide was running against them. James appointed commissioners to search out what was wrong with Virginia. Certain men were shipped to Virginia to get evidence there, as well as support from the Virginia Assembly. In this attempt they signally failed. Then to England came a Virginia member of the Virginia Council, with long letters to King and Privy Council: the Sandys-Southampton administration had done more than well for Virginia. The letters were letters of appeal. The colony hoped that "the Governors sent over might not have absolute authority, but might be restrained to the consent of the Council . . . . But above all they made it their most humble request that they might still retain the liberty of their General Assemblies; than which nothing could more conduce to the publick Satisfaction and publick Liberty."

In London another paper, drawn by Cavendish, was given to King and Privy Council. It answered many accusations, and among others the statement that "the Government of the companies as it then stood was democratic and tumultuous, and ought therefore to be altered, and reduced into the Hands of a few." It is of interest to hear these men speak, in the year 1623, in an England that was close to absolute monarchy, to a King who with all his house stood out for personal rule. "However, they owned that, according to his Majesty's Institution, their Government had some Show of a democratic Form; which was nevertheless, in that Case, the most just and profitable, and most conducive to the Ends and Effects aimed at thereby . . . . Lastly, they observed that the opposite Faction cried out loudly against Democracy, and yet called for Oligarchy; which would, as they conceived, make the Government neither of better Form, nor more monarchical."

But the dissolution of the Virginia Company was at hand. In October, 1623, the Privy Council stated that the King had "taken into his princely Consideration the distressed State of the Colony of Virginia, occasioned, as it seemed, by the ill Government of the Company." The remedy for the ill-management lay in the reduction of the Government into fewer hands. His Majesty had resolved therefore upon the withdrawal of the Company's charter and the substitution, "with due regard for continuing and preserving the Interest of all Adventurers and private persons whatsoever," of a new order of things. The new order proved, on examination, to be the old order of rule by the Crown. Would the Company surrender the old charter and accept a new one so modeled?

The Company, through the country party, strove to gain time. They met with a succession of arbitrary measures and were finally forced to a decision. They would not surrender their charter. Then a writ of quo warranto was issued; trial before the King's Bench followed; and judgment was rendered against the Company in the spring term of 1624. Thus with clangor fell the famous Virginia Company.

That was one year. The March of the next year James Stuart, King of England, died. That young Henry who was Prince of Wales when the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed, and the Discovery sailed past a cape and named it for him Cape Henry, also had died. His younger brother Charles, for whom was named that other and opposite cape, now ascended the throne as King Charles the First of England.

In Virginia no more General Assemblies are held for four years. King Charles embarks upon "personal rule." Sir Francis Wyatt, a good Governor, is retained by commission and a Council is appointed by the King. No longer are affairs to be conducted after a fashion "democratic and tumultuous." Orders are transmitted from England; the Governor, assisted by the Council, will take into cognizance purely local needs; and when he sees some occasion he will issue a proclamation.

Wyatt, recalled finally to England; George Yeardley again, who died in a year's time; Francis West, that brother of Lord De La Warr and an ancient planter -- these in quick succession sit in the Governor's chair. Following them John Pott, doctor of medicine, has his short term. Then the King sends out Sir John Harvey, avaricious and arbitrary, "so haughty and furious to the Council and the best gentlemen of the country," says Beverley, "that his tyranny grew at last insupportable."

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