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Virginia Political Leaders

Colonial Virginia

Charles I.  Commission to Sir Francis Wyatt,  Governor of the Royal Colony of Virginia Two political cultures existed side by side in Virginia in 1607, the Powhatan chiefdom and the English colony. For both, the art of government, or politics, existed under the overall authority of a single person. For the Native Americans, the paramount chief, known as Powhatan, ruled over a territory consisting of allied tribes, each with its own local ruler, and towns. All were subordinate to his ultimate authority through custom and payment of tribute. For the English colonists, the king in England authorized his agents to govern in accordance with the laws of the kingdom and the charter of the corporation, the Virginia Company of London, that financed the settlement. Both political nations recognized the hierarchy of power within the other's culture.

Charles I.  Commission to Sir Francis Wyatt, 
Governor of the Royal Colony of Virginia, 

11 January 1639.  Manuscript on vellum.  Acc. 24702.

English political practices evolved into the distinctive political culture of Virginia. Ultimate authority rested with the Crown until 1776, but royal governors acting on behalf of the Crown shared responsibility with locally elected representatives of the colony's population, the House of Burgesses as well as the councillors chosen by the governor, who together formed the General Assembly, and who enacted laws to govern the colony. Only adult white men who owned property and a few who rented substantial farms were permitted to vote for representatives in the lower house of the General Assembly. The only elected officials in colonial Virginia were the members of the House of Burgesses. Even though voting was restricted to a minority of the population and an even smaller minority, the prosperous and better-educated members of the society, was represented in the General Assembly, politics was always a public event, and on election day many Virginians congregated to watch the voting and enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere. The Election by William Hogarth. 1840.

Election day in colonial Virginia may have resembled the eighteenth century scene in "The Election" by William Hogarth. 1840. 
Colored engraving. Library of Virginia

Colonial Virginia Political Leaders

Related Resources

Virginia Colonial Records Project
VA-NOTES, Poll Books