Virginia History

Union Flag of England and
Scotland (1606-1801)

1. Jamestown

Why would a people venture across the ocean to risk their lives in an unknown, hostile territory? Some say adventure; others say profit. And, both responses are true. Perhaps the answer is that the settlement of Jamestown was Britain's continuation of the Age of Exploration, the expansion of physical and intellectual boundaries which propelled Medieval Europe into the modern world. 

On  May  13, 1607, three small English ships approached Jamestown Island in Virginia—the Susan Constant of 100 tons commanded by Capt. Christopher Newport  and carrying 71 persons; the Godspeed of 40 tons commanded by Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold and carrying 52 persons; and the Discovery, a pinnace, of 20 tons under Capt. John Ratcliffe, carrying 21 persons. During the day (as George Percy, one of the party on board, relates) they maneuvered the ships so close to the shore that they were "moored  to the Trees in six fathom [of] water." The next day, May l4, he continues, "we Landed all our men, which were set to worke about the fortification, others some to watch and ward as it was convenient." Thus, the first permanent English settlement in America was begun on the shores of the James River, in Virginia, about 20 years after the ill-fated attempts to establish a colony on Roanoke Island and 13 years before the Pilgrims made their historic landing at Plymouth, in New England. . . .

The immediate and long-range reasons for the settlement were many and, perhaps, thoroughly mixed. Profit and exploitation of the country were expected, for, after all, this was a business enterprise and they were necessary for long-range activity. A permanent settlement was the objective. . .They sought many things, not the least of them being gold, silver, and land. As the men stepped ashore on Jamestown Island, perhaps each had a slightly different view of why he was there, yet some one or a combination of these motives was probably the reason.

    "The Story of Jamestown," The National Parks Service [ParkNet], 2 December 2002 <> 8 September 2005.

2. The Dying Times (1609-1650)

From the initial establishment of Jamestown on a malarial swamp, death not riches would have been a reasonable expectation for new immigrants to Virginia. It was not until 1650 that the native European population of Virginia began to expand. In plain English, more people died than were born. Without continual migration to the colony, Jamestown and Virginia would have gone the way of the 1587 Roanoke Colony.

3. Puritan Migration (1620-1640)

The Great Migration is a specific period of Puritan migration to New England from 1620 to 1640, and much has been written about it. But by comparison, little has been written about the migration of Puritans to Virginia. Notably, among the signers of the Second Virginia Charter was Sir Oliver Cromwell, Knight. If the future leader of the Puritan Revolution and the subsequent English Civil War was a sponsor and investor in the Colony, wouldn't Virginia have been touted as a haven for the then unpopular Puritans? This research brings to light the fact that the Pilgrims and Puritans of Massachusetts Bay came from many of the same families who settled early Virginia.

With the migration of Puritans to Virginia, the entrepreneurial nature of the Colony changed. No longer could new immigrants envision traipsing off into the countryside in search of El Dorado. They would now be expected to work at building the new Colony six days a week, attending Church on the Sabbath. Because of the dichotomy of world views among the settlers, a schism within the Colony developed.

Conflict between Roman Catholics, the Church of England, and the Puritans came to a head in the English Civil War. King Charles I of England came from the nominally Protestant Stuart family of Scotland. Oliver Cromwell had just finished subjugating Catholic Ireland to the yoke of the English Parliament. Cromwell's return to England with his army meant open warfare against the King.

Virginia is known as the Cavalier State in honor of supporters of King Charles I. Conditions were perhaps not too hospitable for Puritans in the Cavalier Colony. As was their nature, Puritans tended to want to separate themselves from their less pious brethren to purify the religion. Beginning in the 1640s, the Puritans of the Jamestown Colony migrated in mass to the newly opened lands of Northumberland (now Lancaster) County on the Upper Peninsula, leaving non-Puritans as the majority in southern Virginia.

Current research indicates that this Puritanical zeal was bred out of the descendants of the original Puritan immigrants because of the realities of life in the wilds of northern Virginia amongst Indians and the day-to-day struggle for survival. By the third generation, Puritanism was dead on the Northern Neck and the Middle Peninsula of Virginia.

4. The English Civil War and Cavalier Migration (1651-1660)

Defeat of King Charles II and his forces by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worchester in 1651 led to an ex-migration of Royalist supporters to the Colonies. Puritans won the war and stayed in England to establish Puritanism throughout Great Britain. Cavaliers lost their preeminence in the country and fled to Virginia. Virginia in particular had been a supporter of the Royalist forces and subsequently became a haven for Royalist refugees. The moniker Cavaliers is derived from this political stance. 

Torn by constant warfare and political infighting, England survived the near chaos of the Cromwell Protectorate. It was not until the return of King Charles II to the throne of the United Kingdom in 1660 that Cavaliers regained prominence in the British Isles.

5. The Planter Class (1650-1700)

Contemporaneous to the Cavalier Migration, other landed members of the Gentry began migrating to Virginia in search of the means of accumulating wealth. It was these Planters who amassed great tracts of land, controlling the economic and political future of the burgeoning colony and future state. These were the Washingtons, Lees, Willises and Lewises we read about in early American History.

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