House of Burgesses Petitions the Privy Council

Dateline: Virginia: 6 March 1631/32: Twenty members of the House signed this petition asking for all sorts of favors and permission to make the Colony profitable.

It’s 1632 by our calendar.

Highlights:

  • After the former Company was dissolved, the petitioners would like a confirmation of their grants, liberties, and privileges;
  • Free trade of whatever they raise;
  • All comers who arrived after 24 June 1625 may not have fifty acres, but twenty-five;
  • For the next seven years all comers may have twelve acres;
  • New coinage may be sent over;
  • Land surrounding Point Comfort to be used to support the newly constructed fort;
  • Unconscionable merchants take advantage of us by binding us in debt to tobacco, a “bad commodity,” so we can’t grow other crops; thus the Burgesses demand a certain price for tobacco to pay the merchants;
  • They must fix the price since so much tobacco is grown (too much supply lowers the price);
  • They need more arms and ammunition and quilted cotton coats;
  • They must find a way to support the Governor;
  • Anyone who does not live here cannot trade in our bay because they don’t share in the public charge;
  • Capt. Matthews made the extra-effort to construct the fort at Point Comfort, so he’s almost broke; let’s pay him back somehow.

The asterisks means the original text is illegible.

Modern transcription begins:

Right Honorable,

May it please your lordships, we the Burgesses of this plantation [of Virginia] have with great *** received the happy news of his Majesty’s [Charles I’s] gracious intentions toward this Colony, granting the same and patronage thereof after so long and languishing a consumption, we have therefore deemed it our duties to present unto your honours the voice of our Acts and proceedings in the last Assembly;

And we beseech your lordships that you in your grave judgment will be pleased to interpret our intentions in all those acts to be wholly for the welfare of the Colony, and such as we by large experience in the place are assured to be most proper for the advancement thereof;

And we become humble suitors that now when these affairs shall again be established, all former grants, liberties, and privileges may be confirmed unto us according to his Majesty’s gracious letters patents since the dissolution of the late Company;

And in particular we recommend unto your honours’ consideration that we may have all free trade to those to those parts and marquettes where such commodities as we by our industry shall raise will be *** and that the limits of our plantation, both northward and the southward may be preserved against all *** undertakers [those who undertake] ***********

That we may have all confirmation of all our lands and dividends, and that they which have arrived since the 24th of June 1625 to which time all comers were to have fifty acres of land may likewise have apportion granted unto them which we desire may be 25 acres.

And for encouragement to after comers we wish also that 12 acres may be granted unto all such as shall come during the term of 7 years next ensuing;

We do also give our humble advice that a current coin debased to 25 percent may be sent unto us, than which nothing will be more useful;

The fort at Point Comfort has with incredible labour to the undertaker [Capt, Matthews] and excessive charge to the whole Colony been brought to good perfection; and because we find the continual maintenance thereof will arise to an insupportable burden, if it be wholly *** at the planters’ hands who have endeavoured themselves to this work above their abilities, we humbly pray that the lands adjoining the Point Comfort Island and now leased to several men may wholly be converted to that purpose and receive your lordships’ confirmation, which will in part defray the charge;

We the poor planters of this Colony have a long time groaned under the cruel dealings [of] unconscionable merchants who have by needless and unprofitable commodities *** engaged the inhabitants in debts of tobacco to the value almost of their ensuing crop whereby we have necessarily been tied to the planting of that bad commodity, from which otherwise we had willingly declined; wherefore, in contemplation of our misery and finding no better way to restrain the immoderate planting of it, we have made that Act not to let it pass from us under the price of 6d per pound, which will either enable us to pay our engagement [promise to pay], and so set free our hands for other works of better consequence;

Or if they will deal with us at that price, we shall in good part be employed, neither do we so much fear that all merchants will be beaten of as we may justly despair, if it should go at those contemptible rates, which have now brought it unto;

However, we had rather want [lack] than labour as slaves to other mean’s purses, among whom we have good cause to complain of CAPTAIN TUCKER, who  has far exceeded all other merchants in the prices of their goods;

We do also become humble suitors that if any do adventure hither [here], they will in the first supply us with arms and munition;

Especially we do esteem quilted cotton coats most beneficial;

We are resolved to plant store of corn, whereof we desire that none that are not resident here may receive commission to trade in our bay, whereby the benefit that might accrue to the planter or discoverer will be frustrated by those that bear no share in any public charge;

Your lordships may be pleased to conceive how great our expense is for public occasions;

Wherefore we most humbly refer to your lordships consideration that great charge and burden which lie upon the Governor more especially, there being left no such means to support him, as preceding Governors formerly have had, he having now about five years been resident here. And by poverty of the times left wholly to undergo those expenses which the concourse of much people and other occasions will draw upon him;

Neither is the condition of the Council in their *** to be weighed and in regard to the low declension of tobacco will make our *** to CAPT. MATTHEWS of less value than his expenses in building the fort and Comfort, he having almost spent his fortune and estate thereupon, and this *** in tobacco the chiefest stay of his subsistence , we do also become humble *** the customs thereupon may be granted unto him;

And we beseech your *** to present our humble petition to his sacred Majesty, both in this behalf and in behalf of the Governor and Council, and we our wives and poor children as our duty is shall ever pray for his Majesty’s long life and increase of honor *** your lordships, we rest and remain,

Your lordships’ humble servants.

Virginia 6th of March 1631

Francis Epes, Wm Perry, Thomas Perry, Nicholas Martian, Thomas Flint, Thomas Willoughby, Edward Scarborough, Walter Aston, Thomas Harwood, Richard Richards, John Southern, Thomas Farley, Thomas Jordan, John Howe, Thomas Seely, Thomas Crampe [sic], Percival Wood, Thomas Ramshawe, John Flood, George Downes

Transcription ends.

The Burgesses present themselves as miserable and the colony fragile, so they can get the best treatment and consideration. They were sharp businessmen.

RELATED

Members of Virginia House of Burgesses 1619 to 1660

Gateway Ancestors of Virginia

SOURCE

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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