Chronicles of America 

The Effect of the Commonwealth on Virginia

On the 30th of January, 1649, before the palace of Whitehall, Charles the First of England was beheaded. In Virginia the event fell with a shock. Even those within the colony who were Cromwell's men rather than Charles's men seem to have recoiled from this act. Presently, too, came fleeing royalists from overseas, to add their passionate voices to those of the royalists in Virginia. Many came, "nobility, clergy and gentry, men of the first rate." A thousand are said to have arrived in the year after the King's death.

In October the Virginia Assembly met. Parliament men -- and now these were walking with head in the air -- might regret the execution of the past January, and yet be prepared to assert that with the fall of the kingdom fell all powers and offices named and decreed by the hapless monarch. What was a passionate royalist government doing in Virginia now that England was a Commonwealth? The passionate government answered for itself in acts passed by this Assembly. With swelling words, with a tragic accent, it denounced the late happenings in England and all the Roundhead wickedness that led up to them. It proclaimed loyalty to "his sacred Majesty that now is" -- that is, to Charles Stuart, afterwards Charles the Second, then a refugee on the Continent. Finally it enacted that any who defended the late proceedings, or in the least affected to question "the undoubted and inherent right of his Majesty that now is to the Collony of Virginia" should be held guilty of high treason; and that "reporters and divulgers" of rumors tending to change of government should be punished "even to severity."

Berkeley's words may be detected in these acts of the Assembly. In no great time the Cavalier Governor conferred with Colonel Henry Norwood, one of the royalist refugees to Virginia. Norwood thereupon sailed away upon a Dutch ship and came to Holland, where he found "his Majesty that now is." Here he knelt, and invited that same Majesty to visit his dominion of Virginia, and, if he liked it, there to rest, sovereign of the Virginian people. But Charles still hoped to be sovereign in England and would not cross the seas. He sent, however, to Sir William Berkeley a renewal of his Governor's commission, and appointed Norwood Treasurer of Virginia, and said, doubtless, many gay and pleasant things.

In Virginia there continued to appear from England adherents of the ancient regime. Men, women, and children came until to a considerable degree the tone of society rang Cavalier. This immigration, now lighter, now heavier, continued through a rather prolonged period. There came now to Virginia families whose names are often met in the later history of the land. Now Washingtons appear, with Randolphs, Carys, Skipwiths, Brodnaxes, Tylers, Masons, Madisons, Monroes, and many more. These persons are not without means; they bring with them servants; they are in high favor with Governor and Council; they acquire large tracts of virgin land; they bring in indentured labor; they purchase African slaves; they cultivate tobacco. From being English country gentlemen they turn easily to become Virginia planters.

But the Virginia Assembly had thrown a gauntlet before the victorious Commonwealth; and the Long Parliament now declared the colony to be in contumacy, assembled and dispatched ships against her, and laid an embargo upon trade with the rebellious daughter. In January of 1652 English ships appeared off Point Comfort. Four Commissioners of the Commonwealth were aboard, of whom that strong man Claiborne was one. After issuing a proclamation to quiet the fears of the people, the Commissioners made their way to Jamestown. Here was found the indomitable Berkeley and his Council in a state of active preparation, cannon trained. But, when all was said, the Commissioners had brought wisely moderate terms: submit because submit they must, acknowledge the Commonwealth, and, that done, rest unmolested! If resistance continued, there were enough Parliament men in Virginia to make an army. Indentured servants and slaves should receive freedom in exchange for support to the Commonwealth. The ships would come up from Point Comfort, and a determined war would be on. What Sir William Berkeley personally said has not survived. But after consultation upon consultation Virginia surrendered to the commonwealth.

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