The Coming of the Cavaliers
With a new King on the throne life in Virginia went on much as it had done. Governors came and went, were good or bad, strong or weak. There were troubles with the Indians, and troubles at home about the sale of tobacco; still the colony lived and prospered. The early days of struggle were over.
Virginia now was no longer looked upon as a place of exile where with luck one could make a fortune and return home to England to enjoy it. Men now began to find Virginia a pleasant place, and look upon it as their home. The great woods were full of game, the streams were full of fish, so that the Englishman could shoot and angle to his heart’s content. The land was so fertile that he did not need to work half so hard to earn a living as he had to do at home; while the climate was far kindlier.
So the colony prospered. And it was to this prosperous colony that in 1642 Sir William Berkeley was appointed Governor. He was a courtly, hot-tempered, imperious gentleman, a thorough cavalier who dressed in satin and lace and ruled like a tyrant. He did not believe in freedom of thought, and he spent a good deal of time persecuting the Puritans who had found refuge in Virginia.
For just about the time of Berkeley’s appointment a fierce religious war between Cavalier and Puritan was beginning in England, and already some Puritans had fled to Virginia to escape persecution at home. But Berkeley soon showed them that they had come to the wrong place and bade them “depart the Colony with all convenience.”
Berkeley did not believe in freedom of thought, and he disapproved just as much of education, for that had encouraged freedom of thought. “I thank God,” he said some years later, “there are no free schools in Virginia or printing, and I hope we shall not have them these hundred years. For learning has brought disobedience and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both.”
In England the quarrel between King and people grew ever fiercer and more bitter. Virginia so far away heard the echo of it, and there, as in England, men took sides. The men in Virginia were ready enough to stand up to the King and speak their mind when he threatened their liberties. But when they heard that the people in England had taken the King prisoner and were talking of beheading him they were horrified. To lay bands upon his person, to lead him to the block, to take his life! That seemed to them very terrible. And when at length the news of the King’s death reached Virginia the Virginians forgot their grievances, they became King’s men. And Berkeley, a fervent Royalist, wrote to his brother Royalists at home asking them to come out to Virginia, there to find new homes far from the rule of the hated “usurper” Cromwell.
Many came, fleeing from their native land “in horror and despairs at the bloody and bitter stroke.” Before the year was out at least a thousand Cavaliers had found a home in Virginia. They were kindly, even affectionately, received. Every house was open to them, every hand stretched out to help.
In October the House of Burgesses met and at once declared that the beheading of “the late most excellent and now undoubtedly sainted King” was treason. And if any one in Virginia dared to defend “the late traitorous proceedings against the aforesaid King of most happy memory” they too would be found guilty of treason and worthy of death. Worthy of death too should be any one who seemed by word or deed to doubt the right of “his Majesty that now is” to the Colony of Virginia. Thus Charles II, a homeless wanderer, was acknowledged King of Virginia.
In this manner did little Virginia fling down the gauntlet to Great Britain. It was a daring deed, and one not likely to go unheeded by the watchful Cromwell. Yet two years and more passed. Then British ships appeared off Jamestown. At once the Virginians made ready to resist; cannon were mounted; the gay Cavaliers turned out in force, sword by side, gun in hand. Then a little boat flying a white flag was seen to put off for the shore. It was a messenger from the British captain.
It would be much better for them, he said, to yield peacefully than to fight and be beaten. For hold out against the great strength of Britain they could not. His words had weight with the Virginians. Yet long and seriously they debated. Some would have held out, but others saw only misery and destruction in such a course. So at length they surrendered to the might of Cromwell.
The conditions were not severe. They had to submit, and take the oath of allegiance to the British Parliament. Those who refused were given a year’s time in which to leave the colony. And as for their love of the King? Why, they might pray for him, and drink his health in private, and no man would hinder them. Only in public such things would not be tolerated.
In bitterness of heart the Cavalier Governor gave up his post, sold his house in Jamestown, and went away to live in his great country house at Green Spring. Here amid his apple-trees and orchards he lived in a sort of rural state, riding forth in his great coach, and welcoming with open arms the Cavaliers who came to him for aid and comfort in those evil times.
These Cavaliers were men and women of good family. They came from the great houses of England, and in their new homes they continued to lead much the same life as they had done at home. So in Virginia. there grew up a Cavalier society, a society of men and women accustomed to command, accustomed to be waited upon; who drove about in gilded coaches, and dressed in silks and velvets. Thus the plain Virginian farmer became a country squire. From these Cavalier families were descended George Washington, James Madison and other great men who helped to make America.
The years of the Commonwealth passed quietly in Virginia. Having made the colonists submit, the Parliament left them to themselves, and Virginia for the first time was absolutely self-governing. But the great Protector died, the Restoration followed, when the careless, pleasure-loving King, Charles II was set upon the throne.
In Virginia too there was a little Restoration. When the news was brought the Cavaliers flung up their caps and shouted for joy. Bonfires were lit, bells were rung and guns fired, and to the sound of drum and trumpet Charles by the Grace of God King of England, Scotland, France, Ireland and Virginia was proclaimed to all the winds of heaven. A new seal was made upon which were the words “En dat Virginia quintum” meaning “Behold Virginia gives the fifth (dominion).” Henceforth Virginia was often called by the name of the “Old Dominion.”
Nor was that all. For with the Restoration of the Stuarts Berkeley too was restored. The haughty Cavalier left his country manor house and came back to rule at Jamestown once more, as Governor and Captain General of Virginia.
During the Commonwealth there had been little change made in the government of Virginia, except that the right of voting for the Burgesses had been given to a much larger number of people.
That did not please Sir William Berkeley at all. He took away the right from a good many people. When he came back to power too he found the House of Burgesses much to his liking. So instead of having it re-elected every year he kept the same members for fourteen years lest the people should elect others who would not do his bidding.
This made the people discontented. But they soon had greater causes for discontent. First there was the Navigation Law. This Law had been passed ten years before, but had never really been put in force in America. By this Law it was ordered that no goods should be exported from the colonies in America except in British ships. Further it was ordered that the colonies should not trade with any country save England and Ireland or “some other of His Majesty’s said plantations.” It was a foolish law, meant to hurt the Dutch, and put gold into the pockets of British merchants. Instead it drove the colonies to rebellion.
Virginia had yet another grievance. Virginia, which for eight years had been self-governing, Virginia which had begun to feel that she had a life of her own, a place of her own among the nations, suddenly found herself given away like some worthless chattel to two of the King’s favourites -the Earl of Arlington and Lord Culpeper.
The careless, laughter-loving King owed much to his friends who had rescued him from beggary, and set him upon his father’s throne. Here was an easy way of repaying two of them. If they really desired that wild land beyond the seas, where only “savages” lived, and where the weed which his pompous grandfather had disliked so much grew, why they should have it! So he carelessly signed his royal name and for a yearly rent of forty shillings “all that dominion of land and water commonly called Virginia” was theirs for the space of thirty-one years.
It was but a scratch of the pen to the King. It was everything to the Virginians, and when news of it reached them all Virginia was ablaze. They who had clung to the King in his evil days, they who had been the last people belonging to England to submit to the Commonwealth to be thus tossed to his favourites like some useless toy, without so much as a by your leave! They would not suffer it. And they sent a messenger to England to lay their case before the King.
As to Charles, he was lazily astonished to find that any one objected to such a little trifle. And with his usual idle good nature he promised that it should be altered. But he had no intention of hurrying. Meanwhile out in Virginia events were hastening.