Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Dissolution of Virginia Company

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

When Governor Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, arrived in the starving colony, he brought a new set of laws to instill discipline into the inhabitants. The new set of Laws Divine, Moral, and Martial prescribed the death penalty for theft, lying, rape, adultery  blasphemy, and several other offences. It also required inhabitants to gather at the beat of a drum into separate gangs, each under a different leader. Each leader was not permitted to allow “any of his company to be negligent, and idle, or depart from his work” until signaled to do so under another communication from the the drums.

This measure proved temporary in the face of the food crisis. After a couple of years, the new leadership added some positive incentives as well. Previously, whatever production of food had taken place was based upon a community basis. No private property or private plots were permitted. The new leadership instituted private property in land and began making land grants to the settlers. Immigrants whose passage had been paid by the Virginia Company had been required to work seven years for the company.When their term of service ended, individuals received three acres and families received twelve. The governor put production regulations in place. The regulations required that farmers produce not only produce their own food, but also two and one half barrels of corn each year for the substance of new comers. Moreover, to encourage more immigration to the colony, the directors instituted a new “headright” system. Any new immigrant who paid his own passage to American received a grant of 50 acres. And anyone who paid the passage of new immigrants received 50 acres for each one.

After the colony made headway in the production of food, they finally discovered a source of wealth beyond mere sustenance. John Rolfe learned how to cultivate tobacco from the local natives. The domestic variety proved unpleasant to the English palate. He subsequently began cultivating a Caribbean variety in Virginia. So began the tobacco boom. By 1620, Virginians exported 50,000 pounds of tobacco; by 1630, they exported 250,000 pounds.

Not only did the company improve the situation with the institution of landed private property, they also eventually gave the settlers more control in local affairs. In 1619, each of the now twenty small sparsely populated settlements chose representatives called burgesses to meet in Jamestown to craft policies for their fellow settlers.

The colony suffered a major setback, however, from an attack by the natives on 22 March 1622. A massive attacked killed 346 colonists, nearly one-third of the settlers.

Meanwhile, stockholders back in England pressed for some kind of profit from their investments. Eventually, King James sued the company in court to revoke the charter. He won the case, but died before its conclusion. His son and new heir, Charles I, declared Virginia a royal colony.

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