Chronicles of America 

The Effect of the Restoration in Virginia

Berkeley stepped from the Governor's chair, retiring in wrath and bitterness of heart to his house at Greenspring. In his place sat Richard Bennett, one of the Commissioners. Claiborne was made Secretary. King's men went out of office; Parliament men came in. But there was no persecution. In the bland and wide Virginia air minds failed to come into hard and frequent collision. For all the ferocities of the statute books, acute suffering for difference of opinion, whether political or religious, did not bulk large in the life of early Virginia.

The Commissioners, after the reduction of Virginia, had a like part to play with Maryland. At St. Mary's, as at Jamestown, they demanded and at length received submission to the Commonwealth. There was here the less trouble owing to Baltimore's foresight in appointing to the office of Governor William Stone, whose opinions, political and religious, accorded with those of revolutionary England. Yet the Governor could not bring himself to forget his oath to Lord Baltimore and agree to the demand of the Commissioners that he should administer the Government in the name of "the Keepers of the Liberties of England." After some hesitation the Commissioners decided to respect his scruples and allow him to govern in the name of the Lord Proprietary, as he had solemnly promised.

In Virginia and in Maryland the Commonwealth and the Lord Protector stand where stood the Kingdom and the King. Many are far better satisfied than they were before; and the confirmed royalist consumes his grumbling in his own circle. The old, exhausting quarrel seems laid to rest. But within this wider peace breaks out suddenly an interior strife. Virginia would, if she could, have back all her old northward territory. In 1652 Bennett's Government goes so far as to petition Parliament to unseat the Catholic Proprietary of Maryland and make whole again the ancient Virginia. The hand of Claiborne, that remarkable and persistent man, may be seen in this.

In Maryland, Puritans and Independents were settled chiefly about the rivers Severn and Patuxent and in a village called Providence, afterwards Annapolis. These now saw their chance to throw off the Proprietary's rule and to come directly under that of the Commonwealth. So thinking, they put themselves into communication with Bennett and Claiborne. In 1654 Stone charged the Commissioners with having promoted "faction, sedition, and rebellion against the Lord Baltimore." The charge was well founded. Claiborne and Bennett assumed that they were yet Parliament Commissioners, empowered to bring "all plantations within the Bay of Chesapeake to their due obedience to the Parliament and Commonwealth of England." And they were indeed set against the Lord Baltimore. Claiborne would head the Puritans of Providence; and a troop should be raised in Virginia and march northward. The Commissioners actually advanced upon St. Mary's, and with so superior a force that Stone surrendered, and a Puritan Government was inaugurated. A Puritan Assembly met, debarring any Catholics. Presently it passed an act annulling the Proprietary's Act of Toleration. Professors of the religion of Rome should "be restrained from the exercise thereof." The hand of the law was to fall heavily upon "popery, prelacy, or licentiousness of opinion." Thus was intolerance alive again in the only land where she had seemed to die!

In England now there was hardly a Parliament, but only the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. Content with Baltimore's recognition of the Protectorate, Cromwell was not prepared to back, in their independent action, the Commissioners of that now dissolved Parliament. Baltimore made sure of this, and then dispatched messengers overseas to Stone, bidding him do all that lay in him to retake Maryland. Stone thereupon gathered several hundred men and a fleet of small sailing craft, with which he pushed up the bay to the Severn. In the meantime the Puritans had not been idle, but had themselves raised a body of men and had taken over the Golden Lyon, an armed merchantman lying before their town. On the 24th of March, 1655, the two forces met in the Battle of the Severn. "In the name of God, fall on!" cried the men of Providence, and "Hey for St. Mary's!" cried the others. The battle was won by the Providence men. They slew or wounded fifty of the St. Mary's men and desperately wounded Stone himself and took many prisoners, ten of whom were afterwards condemned to death and four were actually executed.

Now followed a period of up and down, the Commissioners and the Proprietary alike appealing to the Lord Protector for some expression of his "determinate will." Both sides received encouragement inasmuch as he decided for neither. His own authority being denied by neither, Cromwell may have preferred to hold these distant factions in a canceling, neutralizing posture. But far weightier matters, in fact, were occupying his mind. In 1657, weary of her "very sad, distracted, and unsettled condition," Maryland herself proceeded -- Puritan, Prelatist, and Catholic together -- to agree henceforth to disagree. Toleration viewed in retrospect appears dimly to have been seen for the angel that it was. Maryland would return to the Proprietary's rule, provided there should be complete indemnity for political offenses and a solemn promise that the Toleration Act of 1649 should never be repealed. This without a smile Baltimore promised. Articles were signed; a new Assembly composed of all manner of Christians was called; and Maryland returned for a time to her first allegiance.

Quiet years, on the whole, follow in Virginia under the Commonwealth. The three Governors of this period -- Bennett, Digges, and Mathews are all chosen by the Assembly, which, but for the Navigation Laws,   might almost forget the Home Government. Then Oliver Cromwell dies; and, after an interval, back to England come the Stuarts. Charles II is proclaimed King. And back into office in Virginia is brought that staunch old monarchist, Sir William Berkeley -- first by a royalist Assembly and presently by commission from the new King.

Then Virginia had her Long Parliament or Assembly. In 1661, in the first gush of the Restoration, there was elected a House of Burgesses so congenial to Berkeley's mind that he wished to see it perpetuated. For fifteen years therefore he held it in being, with adjournments from one year into another and with sharp refusals to listen to any demand for new elections. Yet this demand grew, and still the Governor shut the door in the face of the people and looked imperiously forth from the window. His temper, always fiery, now burned vindictive; his zeal for King and Church and the high prerogatives of the Governor of Virginia became a consuming passion.

When Berkeley first came to Virginia, and again for a moment in the flare of the Restoration, his popularity had been real, but for long now it had dwindled. He belonged to an earlier time, and he held fast to old ideas that were decaying at the heart. A bigot for the royal power, a man of class with a contempt for the generality and its clumsily expressed needs, he grew in narrowness as he grew in years. Berkeley could in these later times write home, though with some exaggeration: "I thank God there are no free schools nor printing, and I hope we shall not have these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience into the world and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best governments! God keep us from both!" But that was the soured zealot for absolutism -- William Berkeley the man was fond enough of books and himself had written plays.

The spirit of the time was reactionary in Virginia as it was reactionary in England. Harsh servant and slave laws were passed. A prison was to be erected in each county; provision was made for pillory and stocks and ducking stool; the Quakers were to be proceeded against; the Baptists who refused to bring children to baptism were to suffer.

Ducking Stool

The ducking-stool was a strongly made wooden armchair (the surviving specimens are of oak) in which the culprit was seated, an iron band being placed around her so that she should not fall out during her immersion. The earliest record of the use of such is towards the beginning of the 17th century, with the term being first attested in English in 1597. It was used both in Europe and in the English colonies of North America.

Usually the chair was fastened to a long wooden beam fixed as a seesaw on the edge of a pond or river. Sometimes, however, the ducking-stool was not a fixture but was mounted on a pair of wooden wheels so that it could be wheeled through the streets, and at the river-edge was hung by a chain from the end of a beam. In sentencing a woman the magistrates ordered the number of duckings she should have. Yet another type of ducking-stool was called a tumbrel. It was a chair on two wheels with two long shafts fixed to the axles. This was pushed into the pond and then the shafts released, thus tipping the chair up backwards. Sometimes the punishment proved fatal, the unfortunate woman dying of shock. Ducking-stools were used in England as late as the beginning of the 19th century.

See: Curious Punishments of Bygone Days
Source: Wikipedia

Then at last in 1670 came restriction of the franchise:

Act III. ELECTION OF BURGESSES BY WHOM. WHEREAS the usuall way of chuseing burgesses by the votes of all persons who having served their tyme are freemen of this country who haveing little interest in the country doe oftener make tumults at the election to the disturbance of his Majestie's peace, than by their discretions in their votes provide for the conservation thereof, by makeing choyce of persons fitly qualifyed for the discharge of soe greate a trust, And whereas the lawes of England grant a voyce in such election only to such as by their estates real or personall have interest enough to tye them to the endeavour of the publique good; IT IS HEREBY ENACTED, that none but freeholders and housekeepers who only are answerable to the publique for the levies shall hereafter have a voice in the election of any burgesses in this country.

Source: Hening's Statutes, vol. II, p. 280.

Three years later another woe befell the colony. That same Charles II -- to whom in misfortune Virginia had so adhered that for her loyalty she had received the name of the Old Dominion -- now granted "all that entire tract, territory, region, and dominion of land and water commonly called Virginia, together with the territory of Accomack," to Lord Culpeper and the Earl of Arlington. For thirty-one years they were to hold it, paying to the King the slight annual rent of forty shillings. They were not to disturb the colonists in any guaranteed right of life or land or goods, but for the rest they might farm Virginia. The country cried out in anger. The Assembly hurried commissioners on board a ship in port and sent them to England to besiege the ear of the King.

Distress and discontent increased, with good reason, among the mass of the Virginians. The King in England, his councilors, and Parliament, played an unfatherly role, while in Virginia economic hardships pressed ever harder and the administration became more and more oppressive. By 1676 the gunpowder of popular indignation was laid right and left, awaiting the match.

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