Virginia Colonists Write of Their Basic Needs

Dateline: Virginia, March 1631: The Governor and Council in Virginia write to the Privy Council (Charles I’s closest advisers) to explain the progress and needs of the Colony. Eleven men signed the Virginia document.

This is a letter from the Council of Virginia to inform the Privy Council of their needs and complaints. One example, they look forward to a mining operation of iron ore.

The Council was a forerunner of the U.S. Senate (the upper chamber), while the Assembly was a forerunner of the House of Representatives (lower chamber).

Modernized transcription begins:

Right honourables

We cannot but acknowledge the great goodness of God that has stirred up the heart of his most excellent Majesty graciously to reflect his royal eye upon this Colony to establish it to a new life, from the low declension whereunto it was fallen.

And we earnestly desire your honors to present our most humble thanks unto his most sacred Majesty;

And we cannot but acknowledge the hand of heaven also that has not suffered [allowed] the zeal of this plantation to die out of the bosoms of your right honorable, being the personages that so nobly have given, beginning, support and progress unto it, whereby we hope after so long a time, wherein nothing has been begotten from hence, but one of the most unnecessary commodities now at length to manifest some better fruits of so great expense of men and money wasted and consumed on it;

We have lately summoned an Assembly wherein we have continued long together in consultation of all such orders as we have thought most necessary for the present government here of which we have sent you the copies beseeching your lordships’ approbation and favorable interpretation to our good intentions, especially to those things wherein we have anything failed or proceeded too far to regulate those matters, which we would otherwise have left untouched, had not the necessity of the time required it, that is, the state of the Church affairs;

We will be bold to inform your lordships that with a most unanimous consent, both the Governor and Council and all the Burgesses, those ordinances and laws were firmly established;

And we hope that the public service has so united our minds that no private respects will disjoin or divert our hearts and intentions; if any error have overtaken our weak abilities not conversant in such affairs, we desire nothing more than to be restored to the right paths, but it was necessary to comprehend in our [governing] body all such particular orders as this Colony requires, diversified from the president [or precedence] of other Commonwealths;

And we desire that Act which sets the price of our tobacco at 6 d. per pound may not be thought strange, of which to give you the motives would make these tedious; and in part the Assembly have given you the reasons and some of the Commissioners can inform you of former precedence here in that kind; and we are sure that no evils can ensue of so great prejudice, as the want [lack] of such an order has now brought upon us.

By the former ships our letters have particularly informed your lordships of the most necessary points, which we now again beseech you may rather obtain credit than any sinister informations our projects suggested unto you by inexperienced men lead often times with private respects; for our parts we shall submit to your honor’s directions rather willing that the most necessary works may be fixed on.

Above all we wish that good and godly ministers would repair [move, travel] unto us;

And that numbers of people may be sent; in multitudes consist strength; and the difficulties of gross works [probably mining] will not be vanquished, they need not doubt in provision of victuals, especially if any price be given unto us for our corn; and we will endeavour to receive them with all good intentions.

Tradesmen are wanting [lacking], especially shipwrights, smiths, carpenters, tanners, leatherdressers, hempdressers, brickmakers and bricklayers, for now we intend our houses for decency and commodity [commode or convenience].

This enclosed abstract of the muster will give light to a general view that there may be nothing wanting [lacking] to yield your full satisfaction.

Of iron ore Capt. Tucker has taken in some quantities from a place adjoining near unto us, and as we conceive fit to set up a work [of mining], whereas help will be ready at hand, if it prove good, but want [lack] of men that can judge the mine and instruct us in digging for it is the cause that there has been none provided from the falling Creek; if any undertake this they shall be sure of our corn and hog flesh and beef at as cheap rates as in England;

We sent the transcript of our proceedings about Sir Samuel Argoll’s cattle, belonging to Mr. Woodall; and beseech your honors shall decree in the cause especially in the land called the Governor’s land Southampton, hundred cattle now after the division of Sir Samuel Argoll’s stock are about 120 head and their numbers increasing. It will be needful the owners should take order how and where they should be kept; Martin’s hundred cattle wholly pertains to Sir Samuel Argoll …… the small remains of them restored; Berkeley hundred cattle are much increased and the better part of them found belonging to those adventurers …. A third of them to Sir Samuel Argoll;

We further pray to be directed concerning the lands and dividends here that a firm establishment may be made; otherwise after times in the growth of the Colony will taste the bitter fruit of dissension and not easily find remedy. The general hundreds [unit of land division] be unplanted and unsupplied, as likewise many planters’ dividends who are dead and no heirs to be heard of, which will in short time cause us almost to leave this river and go to free places;

Wherefore we think it were a less mischief that if they plant them not in convenient times, others may take them, and they to choose their dividends elsewhere so should be not unnecessarily straggle in so disjoined parties.

The rents also reserved one on the patents should now be demanded with the arrears but we desire your honors’ instructions for it.

And in the rest we refer you to the Burgesses’ letters.

The planters are carried with a great forwardness to seek trade abroad to which purpose we have now 7 or 8 pinnaces and barques bound to New England and the Northward; in short time we shall look further of therefore desire that no impediment be put to hinder our free trade, where our commodities except tobacco will find best vent [sold], we have thought good to permit some to go to the Dutch plantation to furnish ourselves with horses, assinicoes [asses or donkeys], sheep, and above all English grain of which having feed we hope it will appear we shall abound in as full apportion thereof as now we do of Indian corn;

And hereby we shall be better acquainted with their trade and manner of subsistence which have so wrongfully intruded upon our territories.

In respect whereof we most humbly desire to be directed upon what terms we shall stand with them of which we most humbly desire to be resolved, and in the interim we will be careful to observe your honorable directions and ever remain

Your Lordships devoted,

John Harvey, John West, Samuel Matthews, William Clayborne, Wm Farrar, Henry Finch, Rich Stephens, Nath Bass, John Utie, Thomas Purifie, Wm Peirce

Transcription ends.

Their letter reveals a combination of optimism and need.


Gateway Ancestors of Virginia


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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