Essex Men Who Built the United States: Part One - Virginia Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Essex Men Who Built the United States: Part One - Virginia

0 Conversations

The shield of the History, Philosophy and Spirituality faculty of the h2g2 University.

Essex Men Who Built the United States
Introduction | Virginia | Massachusetts | Connecticut
Rhode Island | Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey
Georgia | The United States

After two attempts to colonise the New World from Roanoke Island off the Carolinas had failed, in proper English spirit, another attempt was made. The Royal Committee for Virginia1 oversaw two companies, both founded in 1606. These were the Virginia Company of London and the Virginia Company of Plymouth. The Plymouth Company's charter dealt with the stretch of coast between the 38th and 45th parallels (from the modern border between Virginia and Maryland on the Delmarva peninsular to northern Maine), while the London Company got between the 34th and the 41st parallels (from Cape Fear, North Carolina to near the site of what would later become New York City). Within their overlapping territories, both companies were granted all the lands up to 100 miles inland from the coast.

The colonisation of Virginia had little to do with seeking freedom from religious oppression. The colonists went to exploit the natural resources of the New World and, more importantly, to prevent the Spanish from beating them to it. They were under instruction to spread the word of Jesus to the 'infidels and savages' and it was obviously better that the infidels and savages learn the Protestant word of Jesus than the Spanish Catholic word! First off the mark was the London Company.

Captain Christopher Newport (1561 - 1617)

Our first Essex man, Christopher Newport, was born in the port of Harwich on the far eastern tip of Essex. His father, Christopher2, was a ship-builder, and with there being little else to do in Harwich, the younger Newport joined the navy. He was an able seaman, and rose quickly though the ranks. He sailed to Brazil and also to the West Indies. In 1592, in good privateering tradition, he ran off with the Spanish ship the Madre de Dios, captured off the Azores with a full cargo of treasure, which he managed to take back to England.

Newport was also a patentee of the London Company. In 1606, he was given the responsibility for all the ships, captains and crew of the fleet sent to colonise Virginia. They set off in December, 1606, and after sailing via the Canaries and the West Indies, reached the Chesapeake Bay in April 1607, establishing Jamestown on the James River on 23 May of that year.

A month later, after having loaded up with 'gold', Newport set sail for England. He obviously hadn't taken heed of the lesson of Martin Frobisher's voyages to Canada in the 1570s, where Frobisher neglected exploring in favour of loading up with iron pyrites (fool's gold) and taking it back home, only to find out that it was worthless. Newport, on returning to England, similarly found out that he had mistakenly loaded up with mica.

Newport made four more trips to Jamestown. On the first, in 1608, he discovered that most of the colonists he had left behind had died. The second, in the same year, led to him coming back to persuade the company to revise its policies and charters before the colony failed entirely. His next trip, in 1609, was with a fleet of nine ships bearing 800 settlers. However, this fleet hit trouble, with two ships being wrecked, leaving him, the colony's deputy-governor3 and the fleet commander stranded on Bermuda. They built new boats out of the wreckage and made it to Jamestown a year later. Finding that the colony had only two weeks' worth of food left, they all packed up and left on 7 July, 1610 - at which point they met another fleet, laden with men, food and equipment, coming to relieve them, so turned round once again.

Newport sailed back to England with the deputy-governor in September 1610. He made one more trip to Jamestown, leaving in the spring of 1611 with three ships. This was Newport's last trip to America. He was later employed by the East India Company and died in 1612 at Bantam, Java.

Samuel Argall (1580 - 1626)

One of the big problems involved with the Jamestown colony was actually getting there. Having set off, the route involved going via the Canaries to the West Indies and then proceeding up the east coast of North America. Aside from this being a thousand miles or so out of the way, it also meant that any fleet would have to travel though the Spanish waters around the West Indies and Florida. This is where Samuel Argall came in4.

Argall set sail from the Canaries in 1609 and pointed his boat directly at America. Having found America - it is rather hard to miss - he came back again. In 1610, he took Governor De La Warr to his colony. This was the voyage that met Newport and the colonists who were abandoning Jamestown. He helped the new governor trade corn with the natives. The natives had been capturing colonists and stealing tools and guns. In order to get them back and to get corn from the natives, he kidnapped a native princess. This proved good for everybody: the colony enjoyed food, the princess had two marriages, one son and a trip to England before dying aged 21 or 22, and Disney went on to make a fortune from the film Pocahontas5.

Argall was sent out with a warship in 1613 and booted the French out of Maine and Nova Scotia. This left New England free for more Essex folk who will come into our story later on. In 1614, Argall took his prisoners back to England. He returned to Virginia in 1617 as the deputy-governor and admiral of the seas. Since Governor De La Warr was in England, Argall was in effective charge of the colony.

Argall was apparently very harsh with the colony's poor. He also continued to enjoy the military side of things. The boat that he sent to the West Indies in 1618 to stock up on goats and pigs seemed far more interested in plundering the Spanish and transporting slaves to Bermuda than in picking up supplies.

During this time there was a power struggle in the company and Argall was removed from office to face charges of misrule. He was later knighted and spent his time as an admiral annoying the Spanish in the Mediterranean.

Edwin Sandys (1561 - 1629)

Today, Edwin's Hall sits on a hill overlooking the new town of South Woodham Ferrers in Essex. In the late 16th Century, it was the country home of Edwin Sandys, Bishop of London (1570 - 1577), afterwards Archbishop of York (1577 - 1588). Sandys's second son was also called Edwin Sandys, and it is he who concerns us here.

Sandys got a BA and an MA from Corpus Christi College, Oxford and, having spent some time training for the clergy and actually accepting a prebend - though he never took holy orders - he became the MP for Andover in 1586. Sandys made a tour of Europe between 1593 and 1599 and spent much time thinking and writing about religion. He was made a knight in 1603 and returned to parliament as the Member for Stockbridge. It was at this time that a copy of his manuscript attacking the bigotry of English bishops was released and printed without his consent. The bishops were obviously not amused and the edition was suppressed.

Sandys disappeared from the political scene for a bit before winning parliamentary elections in both Rochester, Kent and Hindon, Wiltshire in 1614. He delivered a speech in parliament declaring that the King could only rule by the will of an elected parliament. King James was obviously rather peeved and Sandys was brought before the Privy Council. The case against him was dismissed, though he was ordered not to leave London.

In 1607, Sandys became a member of the Council of the Virginia Company of London. Sandys was probably responsible for the second charter of the colony, which led to the introduction of a governor and a re-origination of the company.

In 1617, Sandys was appointed as assistant to the treasurer (chief official) of the Virginia Company. This was to mark the beginning of a power struggle that led to the end of the company. Sandys and Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, were concerned that John Smith's administration of the colony together with Argall's harsh laws were ruining Virginia. They took control of the company in 1618. Sandys introduced a series of reforms and a charter of privileges for the colonists, while Argall was removed from office in November of that year. Sandys was elected treasurer of the company in 1619, and his reforms were officially codified and implemented by Governor Sir George Yeardley. A colonial government was also introduced.

Under Sandys, the company granted a charter for some of the exiled Puritans to settle in Virginia and introduced both manufacturing and tobacco farming into the colony. The colony was doing well and it seemed as though Sandys would be re-elected until King James intervened. James demanded that one of a shortlist of candidates that he had chosen should be elected, saying: 'Choose the Devil if you will, but not Sir Edwin Sandys.'

Southampton was duly elected. However, Argall and Smith had allied themselves with some very powerful noblemen, including the Earl of Warwick. They claimed that Sandys was trying to establish a Puritan republic in America. The running of the company was investigated and its charter revoked in 1624. The control of the colony was put under a committee chaired by Warwick and made up of many people who opposed Sandys. Meanwhile, Sandys spent a month in the Tower of London and further time under house arrest.

Edwin Sandys's involvement with Virginia was over, and he went back to being an MP. He was returned twice in Kent, and once in Cornwall. He died in October 1629, having never seen the land with which he had been so heavily involved. However, his younger brother, the poet and translator George Sandys, did. He took over from the Earl of Southampton as treasurer in 1621 and sailed over to the colony in the same year. He acquired a plantation which he developed. In 1625, he became a member of the Virginia Council. He was appointed to the Crown's Commission and charged with governing the colony. He failed to become the commission's secretary in 1631 and so he returned to England. He became the colony's London agent in 1638 and died in 1644.

Robert Rich (1587 - 1658)

Robert Rich was the eldest son of Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick and Penelope Rich, daughter of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The family owned vast tracts of land, partly because of Sir Rich's earlier supervision of the dissolution of religious estates which allowed him to buy up lots of Essex. The younger Robert Rich was made Knight of Bath in July 1603 and was returned to parliament for Maldon in Essex in 1610 and again in 1614. When his father died in 1619, Rich became Earl of Warwick and took control of the family's estates, including Leighs Priory in Little Leighs.

Rich funded privateering ventures in the West Indies to increase his family's fortune. He also took an interest in planting colonies. Together with his kinsman, Nathaniel Rich of Stondon Massey (a village north of Brentwood), he tried to wrestle control of the Virginia Company from Edwin Sandys. When the company lost its charter, Warwick was made head of the Mandeville Commission that managed the affairs of the colony.

Virginia was not the only colony with which Rich was involved. He was given a seat on the Council of the New England Company in 1620. As well as giving a charter to the Plymouth settlers, he was also highly influential in founding the Massachusetts Bay Company and its associated colonies. In 1632 Warwick granted a patent that led to the founding of Connecticut. Warwick lost his place on the New England committee in 1632.

Back in 1625, Warwick had been made a joint lord-lieutenant of Essex and was heavily involved in preparing for an expected Spanish invasion. A couple of years later he engaged in a bit of unsuccessful privateering. On the domestic front, however, he was beginning to oppose the plans of King Charles. He was prominent in opposing the new Royal Forestry rules and the Ship Tax. It was as a result of this last act that he was stripped of the lord-lieutenantship in 1635.

Warwick was already beginning to side with the Puritans and later the Parliamentarians when the Civil War broke out. Warwick's grandson Robert married Cromwell's daughter in 1657. Warwick was appointed Lord High Admiral and Governor-in-Chief of all islands and other plantations subject to the English Crown by the Long Parliament. In 1644, he granted the patent for incorporation of Providence and two other towns on the Narragansett Bay. This was the beginning of Rhode Island.

Rich died on 19 April, 1658 and was buried at Felsted parish church in Essex, next to a school founded by his great-grandfather, Sir Richard Rich.

1Named after the 'Virgin Queen', Elizabeth I, Virginia was originally the name given to all of England's possessions in the New World.2Yep, the confusing names have started already!3The colony's governor and deputy-governor were nominated by the company. In some cases, the governor remained in Britain, leaving the deputy to do all the work and run the risk of getting killed by natives, famine or disease.4Argall's grandfather was Lord of the Manor of Low Hall in Walthamstow. Low Hall no longer exists, having been 'doodlebugged' in the Second World War, but Low Hall Lane off Markhouse Road (A1006) near St James Street runs where the hall used to stand.5Pocahontas enjoyed living with the English, who 'loved her best': this may have been because men vastly outnumbered women in the colony!

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

There are no Conversations for this Entry

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more