King Charles I’s Five Propositions to Virginia Colonists

Dateline: Virginia, February 1638: The King proposes five things to clarify the plight of the colonists.

It is clear that the King cared for the colonists in ways that the companies of adventurers and investors never did.

However, the King was also in search of revenues without depending on Parliament, so his care was conditioned on business.

King Charles’s Five Propositions

February 1638

Modernized transcription begins:

The King’s Majesty’s commands are these following propositions, Vizt.

(1) That you consider and resolve what quantities of good and merchantable tobacco you will undertake to send yearly to the port of London having relation to more staple and honourable commodities where in his Majesty has resolved to give you all encouragement.

(2) Next if any stock or some of money should be provided to take of at reasonable days of payment the said quantity so resolved on, you will consider and resolve what price and value peremptorily to set thereupon.

(3) Next that you consider of some convenient place to bring your tobacco to, as to one or more appointed Warehouses.

(4) Next his Majesty being informed of many oppressions brought upon his subjects by many merchants and masters of ships that in the times of their necessities take advantage to sell clothes and provisions for their supplies at great and excessive rates and covenanted to receive payment in tobacco according to the poor and low value thereof & at that time which they exact from them in the same proportions;

His Majesty therefore out of his princely care and consideration of his subjects has thought fit  that the planters set down how far they have engaged [committed] themselves and upon what debts and to whom and the time when the debts were made and what thereof is discharges and paid;

That upon return thereof to the Lord Treasurer some order may be taken for such satisfaction as shall be found just and reasonable to the creditors.

(5) Lastly the King’s will and pleasure is that those farthings authorized to pass between man and man for rechange [exchange] within his Majesty’s realm of England shall be made current to pass in payment between man and man in their commerce & trade within the Colony. And therefore that you take into consideration what quantities thereof may be useful and fit to be vented [sold] here [so] that notice may be given thereof to the Right Honourable Henry Lord Matravers, who is one of his Majesty’s patentees for the making and venting them in England and who (his Majesty’s will and pleasure is) shall furnish this Colony with such quantities as shall be required by way of truck or exchange for commodities vendible in England.

The Burgesses Reply

It’s too long to quote the whole thing, so here are some excerpts

Here’s the preamble:

Whereas our most gracious sovereign the King’s Majesty, out of his princely care of us his people and this his Colony of Virginia has been pleased to take into his royal consideration the weak and mean [contemptible, shabby] estates of us his poor subjects here inhabiting, occasioned partly through the vast quantity of tobacco by us here made, as also by the boundless desire of gain in those, which yearly supply us, and to that purpose has pleased to signify his sacred commands unto us, both for bettering the quality and lessening the quantity we would yearly send home and to set an exact price thereupon.

(1) As to the yearly quantity, the Burgesses suggest “one thousand five hundred plants per poll yearly.” And no tobacco shall pass on back to England, except what is “good and merchantable.” Further, “We desire that two men or more may be appointed and sworn in every parish to view the tobacco of each crop, and what they shall find good be sealed with the seal appointed for measuring barrels, and all other tobacco to be burnt.” In other words, the supply of tobacco is to be lowered by shipping only the best. The rest is to be burnt. Lower supply keeps the prices high (or reasonable).

(2) The commodity of tobacco should be rated at 12 denarii per lb. Also, no tobacco is be put aboard any ship before the first day of February; before this time “we conceive that all tobaccos will have endured the hazard of spoiling whereby the glut and vast quantities of our tobacco will be lessened, and his Majesty’s duties and customs much advanced.” In other words, by lessening the supply with only high-quality tobacco, the price goes up.

(3) Building storehouses and bringing every man’s tobacco to them “would be very chargeable and burdensome to the whole Colony, which at present we are very unable to undergo, besides much hazard & damage and loss in spoiling great part of our tobaccos, “the calamity of wind and weather being considered in respect of the remoteness of our plantations from one another. And we having no other means to export our tobaccos but by boating, we humbly entreat that convenient shipping may be licensed to come into every county where they shall find every man’s house a store convenient enough for their lading, we being all seated by the riverside.”

(4) Merchants and seamen indeed price-gouge the colonists, but the colonists are afraid that the merchants and seamen won’t come around again if the colonists don’t pay up. “For the life of our being and subsistence principally consists in our yearly supplies and our freedoms in the trade thereof , which gives great comfort unto us … But many and unspeakable are the miseries of the contract” with the merchants and seamen.

(5) As for coinage, the rate of exchange should be the same as in England. Farthings, a very meager amount, will discourage the merchants and others if they take them in exchange for commodities. Farthings made of copper aren’t worth much. “We therefore humbly desire his Highness that the value of five thousand pounds sterling may be yearly imported unto us until we be sufficiently furnished therewith.” The interest on such sterling will be 10 denarii per centum (percent).

The Colonists portray themselves and weak and helpless, so they could get the maximum help from the King. They made a strong case from their point of view.


Gateway Ancestors of Virginia

Members of Virginia House of Burgesses 1619 to 1660


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

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