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Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763
Evolution of the Virginia Colony, 1610-1630
Implementing the Great Charter in Virginia, 1619

Some historians date the beginning of colonial self-rule from the application of the so-called great charter of the Virginia Company to the Virginia colony. The great charter was clearly an attempt to revise the near-dictatorial powers of the colony's governor and to provide important input from residents into running the colony. According to John Pory (the author of the report from which the following excerpts came), what were some of the issues on the agenda of the first assembly of Burgesses in the colony? What kinds of laws did the assembly enact? How would you compare these to the provisions of the 1611 Lawes Devine, Morall, and Martiall?

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Having thus prepared them he [the Speaker of the General Assembly] read over unto them [the Burgesses] the greate Charter, or commission of privileges, orders and laws, sent by Sir George Yeardley out of Englande. . . .

Here begin the lawes drawen out of the Instructions given by his Maties Counsell of Virginia in England to my lo: la warre, Captain Argall and Sir George Yeardley, knight.

By this present General Assembly be it enacted that no injury or oppression be wrought by the English against the Indians whereby the present peace might be disturbed and antient quarrells might be revived. . . .

Against Idlenes, Gaming, drunkenes and excesse in apparell the Assembly hath enacted as followeth:

First, in detestation of Idlenes be it enacted, that if any man be founde to live as an Idler or renagate [perhaps referring to a colonist who lived as an Indian], though a freedman, it shalbe lawful for that Incorporation or Plantation to which he belongeth to appoint him a Mr [master] to serve for wages, till he shewe apparant signes of amendment.

Against gaming at dice and Cardes be it ordained by this present assembly that the winner or winners shall lose all his or their winninges and both winners and loosers shall forfaite ten shillings a man, one ten shillings whereof to go to the discoverer, and the rest to charitable and pious uses in the Incorporation where the faulte is comitted.

Against drunkenness be it also decreed that if any private person be found culpable thereof, for the first time he is to be reprooved privately by the Minister, the second time publiquely, the thirde time to lye in boltes 12 howers in the house of the Provost Marshall and to paye his fee.

As touching the instruction of drawing some of the better disposed of the Indians to converse with our people and to live and labour amongst them, the Assembly who knowe well their dispositions thinke it fitte to enjoin, least to counsell those of the Colony, neither utterly to reject them nor yet to drawe them to come in. . . . they are a most trecherous people and quickly gone when they have done a villany. . . .

Be it enacted by this present assembly that for laying a surer foundation of the conversion of the Indians to Christian Religion, eache towne, citty, Borrough, and particular plantation do obtaine unto themselves by just means a certine number of the natives' children to be educated by them in true religion and civile course of life . . .

As touching the business of planting corne this present Assembly doth ordain that yeare by yeare all and every householder and householders have in store for every servant he or they shall keep, and also for his or their owne persons . . . one spare barrell of corne, to be delivered out yearly . . . For the neglecte of which duty he shalbe subjecte to the censure of the Governor and Counsell of Estate. Provided always that the first yeare of every newe man this lawe shall not be of force.

About the plantation of Mulbery trees, be it enacted that every man as he is seatted upon his division, doe for severn yeares together, every yeare plante and maintaine in growte six Mulberry trees at the least . . .

Be it farther enacted as concerning Silke-flaxe, that those men that are upon their division or setled habitation doe this next yeare plante and dresse 100 plantes . . .

For hempe also both English and Indian and for English flax and Aniseeds, we do require and enjoine all householders of this Colony that have any of those seeds to make tryal thereof the nexte season.

Moreover be it enacted by this present Assembly, that every householder doe yearly plante and maintaine ten vines untill they have attained to the art and experience of dressing a Vineyard either by their owne industry or by the Instruction of some Vigneron. . . .

Be it further ordained by this General Assembly . . . that all contractes made in England between the owners of the lande and their Tenants and Servantes which they shall sende hither, may be caused to be duely performed, and that the offenders be punished as the Governour and Counsell of Estate shall thinke just and convenient.

Be it established also by this present Assembly that no crafty or advantagious means be suffered to be put in practise for the inticing awaye the Tenants or Servants of any particular plantation from the place where they are seatted. And that it shalbe the duty of the Governor and Counsell of Estate most severely to punish both the seducers and the seduced, and to returne these latter into their former places. . . .

A thirde sorte of lawes, suche as may issue out of every man's private conceipte.

It shalbe free for every man to trade with the Indians, servants onely excepted, upon paine of whipping . . .

That no man doe sell or give any of the greatter howes to the Indians . . .

That no man do sell or give any Indians any piece shott or boulder, or any other armes, offensive or defensive upon paine of being held a Traytour to the Colony, and of being hanged as soon as the facte is proved, without all redemption.

That no many may go above twenty miles from his dwelling-place, nor upon any voiage whatsoever shalbe absent from thence for the space of seven dayes together without first having made the Governor or comaunder of the same place acquainted therwith . . .

That no man shall purposely goe to any Indian townes, habitations or places or resortes without leave from the Governor or comaunder of that place wher he liveth . . .

All persons whatsoever upon the Saboath daye shall frequente divine service and sermons both forenoon and afternoon, and all suche as beare armes shall bring their pieces swardes, poulder and shotte. And every one that shall transgresse this lawe shall forfaicte three shillinges a time to the use of the churche, all lawful and necessary impediments excepted. But if a servant in this case shall wilfully neglecte his Mr's comande he shall suffer bodily punishmente.


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