This selection is by Charles Campbell.
Place: Jamestown, Virginia
Sir Thomas Smith, treasurer or governor of the Virginia Company, was displaced in 1618, and succeeded by Sir Edwin Sandys. This enlightened statesman and exemplary man was born in Worcestershire in 1561, being the second son of the Archbishop of York. Educated at Oxford under the care of “the judicious Hooker,” he obtained a prebend in the church of York. He afterward travelled in foreign countries, and published his observations in a work entitled _Europa Speculum; or,_ _A View of the State of Religion in the Western World_. He resigned his prebend in 1602, was subsequently knighted by James, in 1603, and employed in diplomatic trusts. His appointment as treasurer gave great satisfaction to the colony; for free principles were now, under his auspices, in the ascendent. His name is spelled sometimes “Sandis,” sometimes “Sands.”
When Argall, in April, 1619, stole away from Virginia, he left for his deputy Captain Nathaniel Powell, who had come over with Captain Smith in 1607, and had evinced courage and discretion. He was one of the writers from whose narratives Smith compiled his _General History_. Powell held this office only about ten days, when Sir George Yeardley, recently knighted, arrived as Governor-General, bringing with him new charters for the colony. John Rolfe, who had been secretary, now lost his place, probably owing to his connivance at Argall’s malpractices, and was succeeded by John Pory. He was educated at Cambridge, where he took the degree of master of arts in April, 1610. It is supposed that he was a member of the House of Commons. He was much of a traveller, and was at Venice in 1613, at Amsterdam in 1617, and shortly after at Paris. By the Earl of Warwick’s influence he now procured the place of secretary of the colony of Virginia, having come over in April, 1619, with Sir George Yeardley, who appointed him one of his council.
In June Governor Yeardley summoned the first legislature that ever met in America. It assembled at James City or Jamestown on Friday, July 30, 1619, upward of a year before the Mayflower left England with the Pilgrims. A record of the proceedings is preserved in the London State Paper Office, in the form of a report from the speaker, John Pory.
John Pory, secretary of the colony, was chosen speaker, and John Twine, clerk. The Assembly sat in the choir of the church, the members of the council sitting on either side of the Governor, and the speaker right before him, the clerk next the speaker, and Thomas Pierse, the sergeant, standing at the bar. Before commencing business, prayer was said by Mr. Bucke, the minister.
Each burgess then, as called on, took the oath of supremacy. When the name of Captain Ward was called, the speaker objected to him as having seated himself on land without authority. Objections were also made to the burgesses appearing to represent Captain Martin’s patent, because they were, by its terms, exempted from any obligation to obey the laws of the colony. Complaint was made by Opochancano that corn had been forcibly taken from some of his people in the Chesapeake by Ensign Harrison, commanding a shallop belonging to this Captain John Martin, “master of the Ordinance.”
The speaker read the commission for establishing the council of state and the General Assembly, and also the charter brought out by Sir Thomas Yeardley. This last was referred to several committees for examination, so that if they should find anything “not perfectly squaring with the state of the colony, or any law pressing or binding too hard,” they might by petition seek to have it redressed, “especially because this great charter is to bind us and our heirs forever.” Mr. Abraham Persey was the Cape merchant. The price at which he was to receive tobacco, “either for commodities or upon bills,” was fixed at three shillings for the best and eighteen pence for the second-rate.
After inquiry the burgesses from Martin’s patent were excluded, and the Assembly “humbly demanded” of the Virginia Company an explanation of that clause in his patent entitling him to enjoy his lands as amply as any lord of a manor in England, adding, “the least the Assembly can allege against this clause is that it is obscure and that it is a thing impossible for us here to know the prerogatives of all the manors in England.” And they prayed that the clause in the charter guaranteeing equal liberties and immunities to grantees, might not be violated, so as to “divert out of the true course the free and public current of justice.” Thus did the first Assembly of Virginia insist upon the principle of the Declaration of Rights of 1776, that “no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services.”
Certain instructions sent out from England were “drawn into laws” for protection of the Indians from injury, and regulating intercourse with them, and educating their children, and preparing some of the most promising boys “for the college intended for them; that from thence they may be sent to that work of conversion”; for regulating agriculture, tobacco, and sassafras, then the chief merchantable commodities raised. Upon Captain Powell’s petition, “a lewd and treacherous servant of his” was sentenced to stand for four days with his ears nailed to the pillory, and be whipped each day. John Rolfe complained that Captain Martin had made unjust charges against him, and cast “some aspersion upon the present government, which is the most temperate and just that ever was in this country–too mild, indeed, for many of this colony, whom unwonted liberty hath made insolent, and not to know themselves.”
On the last day of the session were enacted such laws as issued “out of every man’s private conceit.” “It shall be free for every man to trade with the Indians, servants only excepted upon pain of whipping, unless the master will redeem it off with the payment of an angel.” “No man to sell or give any of the greater hoes to the Indians, or any English dog of quality, as a mastiff, greyhound, bloodhound, land or water spaniel.” “Any man selling arms or ammunition to the Indians, to be hanged so soon as the fact is proved.” All ministers shall duly “read divine service, and exercise their ministerial function according to the ecclesiastical laws and orders of the Church of England, and every Sunday, in the afternoon, shall catechize such as are not ripe to come to the communion.” All persons going up or down the James River were to touch at James City, “to know whether the Governor will command them any service.” “All persons whatsoever, upon the Sabbath days, shall frequent divine service and sermons, both forenoon and afternoon; and all such as bear arms shall bring their pieces, swords, powder, and shot.”
Captain Henry Spellman, charged by Robert Poole, interpreter, with speaking ill of the Governor “at Opochancano’s court,” was degraded from his rank of captain, and condemned to serve the colony for seven years as interpreter to the Governor. Paspaheigh, embracing three hundred acres of land, was also called Argallstown, and was part of the tract appropriated to the Governor. To compensate the speaker, clerk, sergeant, and provost-marshal, a pound of the best tobacco was levied from every male above sixteen years of age.
The Assembly prayed that the treasurer, council, and company would not “take it in ill part if these laws, which we have now brought to light, do pass current, and be of force till such time as we may know their further pleasure out of England; for otherwise this people (who now at length have got their reins of former servitude into their own swindge) would, in short time, grow so insolent as they would shake off all government, and there would be no living among them.” They also prayed the company to “give us power to allow or disallow of their orders of court, as his majesty hath given them power to allow or reject _our_ laws.” So early did it appear that, from the necessity of the case, the colony must in large part legislate for itself, and so early did a spirit of independence manifest itself.
Owing to the heat of the weather several of the burgesses fell sick and one died, and thus the Governor was obliged abruptly, on August 4th, to prorogue the Assembly till March 1st. There being as yet no counties laid off, the representatives were elected from the several towns, plantations, and hundreds, styled boroughs, and hence they were called burgesses.
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