The Virginia Colony Surrenders to Cromwell’s Commonwealth

Dateline, Virginia: March 12, 1651/52. How did the Virginia Colony, meeting in Jamestowne, respond to this historical change?

King Charles I was executed in 1649. Oliver Cromwell was made Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England 1649-1658 (when he died), which lasted one more year, to 1659.

This first set of articles include the commissioners, Council of State, and Grand Assembly of Virginia and lay out the conditions of surrender, but the articles read more like demands on the new government back in England before the colonists agree to surrender.

Modernized transcription begins:

ARTICLES agreed on and concluded at James City [Jamestowne] in Virginia for the surrendering and settling of that plantation under the obedience and government of the Commonwealth of England, by the commissioners of the Council of State, by authority of the Parliament of England and by the Grand Assembly of the Governor, Council and Burgesses of that country.

First, it is agreed and consisted that the plantation of Virginia and all the inhabitants thereof shall be and remain in due obedience and subjection to the Commonwealth of England, according to the laws there established, And that this submission and subscription be acknowledged a voluntary act not forced nor constrained by a conquest upon the country; and that they shall have and enjoy such freedoms and privileges as belong to the free born people of England, and that the former government by the commissions and instructions be void and null.

2dly. Secondly, that the Grand Assembly as formerly shall convene and transact the affairs of Virginia, wherein nothing is to be acted or done contrary to the government of the Commonwealth of England and the laws there established.

3dly. That there shall be a full and total remission and indemnity of all acts, words or writings done or spoken against the parliament of England in relation to the same.

4thly. That Virginia shall have and enjoy the ancient bounds and limits granted by the charters of the former Kings; and that we shall seek a new charter from the parliament to that purpose against any that have entrenched upon the rights thereof.

5thly. That all the patents of land granted under the colony seal, by any of the precedent [preceding] Governors shall be and remains in their full force and strength.

6thly. That the privilege of having fifty acres of land for every person transported in the colony shall continue as formerly granted.

7thly. That the people of Virginia have free trade as the people of England do enjoy to all places and with all nations according to the laws of that Commonwealth; and that Virginia shall enjoy all privileges equal with any English plantations in America.

8thly. That Virginia shall be free from all taxes, customs and impositions whatsoever, and none to be imposed on them without consent of the Grand Assembly; and so that neither forts nor castles be erected or garrisons maintained without their consent.

9thly. That no charge shall be required from this country in respect of this present fleet.

10thly. That for the future settlement of the country in their due obedience, the engagement [commitment] shall be tendered to all the inhabitants according to act of Parliament made to that purpose, that all persons who shall refuse to subscribe the said engagement, shall have a year’s time if they please to remove themselves, and their estates out of Virginia, and in the meantime during the said year to have equal justice as formerly.

11thly. That the use of the Book of Common Prayer shall be permitted for one year ensuing with reference to the consent of the major part of the parishes, provided that those things which relate to kingship or that government be not used publicly; and the continuance of ministers in their places, they not misdemeaning [misbehaving] themselves: And the payment of their accustomed dues and agreements made with them respectively shall be left as they now stand during this ensuing year.

12thly. That no man’s cattle shall be questioned as the companies unless such as have been entrusted with them or have disposed of them without order.

13th1y. That all ammunition, powder and arms, other than for private use, shall be delivered up, security being given to make satisfaction for it.

14thly. That all goods already brought hither by the Dutch or others which are now on shore shall be free from surprisal [reprisal or surprise attack].

15th1y. That the quitrents granted unto us by the late King for seven years be confirmed.

16thly. That the commissioners for the parliament subscribing these articles engage themselves and the honour of the Parliament for the full performance thereof; and that the present Governor and the Council and the Burgesses do likewise subscribe and engage the whole Colony on their parts.

Richard Bennett, Seal

Wm. Claiborne, Seal

Edmond Curtis, Seal

These articles were signed and sealed by the commissioners of the Council of State for the Commonwealth of England, the twelfth day of March, 1651 [1652 by our dating].

Next, this set of articles is about the commissioners, the Governor, Sir William Berkeley, and the Council of State in Jamestowne. So we have moved up a class.

Modernized transcription begins:

Articles for the surrendering Virginia to the subjection of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England, agreed upon by the honourable the Commissioners for the Parliament and the honourable the Governor and Council of State.

First, That neither Governor nor Council shall be obliged to take any oath or engagement to the Commonwealth of England for one whole year; and that neither Governor nor Council be censured for praying for or speaking well of the King for one whole year in their private houses or neighbouring conference.

2ndly, That there be one sent home at the present Governor’s choice to give an account to his Majesty of the surrender of his country, the present Governor bearing his charges, that is Sir William Berkeley.

3dly. That the present Governor, that is Sir William Berkeley, and the Council shall have leave to sell and dispose of their estates, and to transport themselves whether they please.

4thly. That the Governor and Council though they take not the engagement for one whole year shall yet have equal and free justice in all courts of Virginia until the expiration of one whole year.

5thly. That all the Governor’s and Council’s land and houses, and whatsoever belongs to them be particularly secured and provided for in these articles.

6thly. That all debts of the Governor’s by Act of Assembly, and all debts due to officers made by the Assembly be perfectly made good to them, And that the Governor be paid out of the goods remaining in the country of the Dutch ship that went away clear for Holland without paying his customs.

7thly. That the Governor may have free leave [permission] to hire a ship for England or Holland to carry away the Governor’s goods and the Council’s, and what he or they have to transport for Holland or England without any let [torn, but probably reads “hindrance”] or any molestation of any of the State’s ship’s at sea or in their rivers or elsewhere by any of the ships in the Commonwealth of England whatsoever.

8thly. That the captain of the fort be allowed satisfaction for the building of his house in Fort Island.

9thly. That all persons that are now in this Colony of what quality or condition soever that have served the King here or in England shall be free from all dangers, punishment or musket whatsoever, here or elsewhere, and this article as all other articles be in as c1ear terms as the learned in the law of arms can express.

10thly. That the same instant that the commissions are resigned an act of indemnity and oblivion be issued out under the hands and seals of the commissioners for the parliament; and that no persons in any court of justice in Virginia be questioned for their opinions given in any causes determined by them.

11thly. That the Governor and Council shall have their passes to go away from hence [here] in any ships in any time within a year; and in case they go for London or other place in England that they or any of them shall be free from any trouble or hindrance of arrests or such like in England, and that they may follow their occasions for the space of six months after their arrival.

Rich: Bennett, Seale.

Wm. Claiborne, Seale.

Edmond Curtis, Seale.

These articles were signed, sealed, sworn unto by us the commissioners by the Commonwealth of England the 12th day of March, 1651 [1652 by our dating].

Transcription ends.

So in the above articles the Governor and the Council would not accept any wiping of debts clean. Also, no court shall ask the opinion of any freeman citizen about the recent change in regime. So freedom of speech is partial at least.

Finally, in this context an indemnity is an exemption from incurred penalties or liabilities. In other words, let’s wipe the slate clean with the new Republic.

An interesting note: the commissioners by authority of Parliament brought a fleet and force to reduce the Colony of Virginia to obedience to the new regime back home.

Modernized transcription begins:

An Act of Indemnity made at the Surrender of the Country.

WHEREAS by the authority of the parliament of England, we the commissioners appointed by the Council of State authorized thereto having brought a fleet and force before James City [Jamestowne] in Virginia to reduce that Colony under the obedience of the Commonwealth of England, and finding force raised by the Governor and country to make opposition against the said fleet, whereby assured danger appearing of the ruin and destruction of the plantation, for prevention whereof the Burgesses of all the several plantations being called to advise and assist therein, upon long and serious debate, and in sad contemplation of the great miseries and certain destruction, which were so nearly hovering over this whole country;

We the said commissioners have thought fit and condescended and granted to sign and confirm under our hands, seals and by our oath, Articles bearing date with these presents,

And do further declare that by the authority of the Parliament and Commonwealth of England derived unto us their commissioners,

That according to the articles in general, we have granted an act of indemnity and oblivion to all the inhabitants of this Colony, from all words, actions or writings that have been spoken, acted or written against the Parliament or Commonwealth of England or any other person from the beginning of the world to this day,

And this we have done,

That all the inhabitants of the Colony may live quietly and securely under the Commonwealth of England,

And we do promise that the Parliament and Commonwealth of England shall confirm and make good all those transactions of ours,

Witness our hands and seals this 12th day of March, 1651.

Richard Bennett, Seal.

Wm. Claiborne, Seal.

Edm. Curtis, Seal.

Transcription ends.

So it looks like the Colony submitted without military action.


Virginia’s Governor Defies Cromwell’s Commons

Journal of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619-1658/9, ed. by H. R. McIlwaine, Classic Reprint Series (orig. Richmond: 1915), pp. 79-81.

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