Royal Charters



     Three royal charters (issued in 1606, 1609, and 1612) were the documents by which  King James I authorized the London Company of Virginia to establish a colony in Virginia. Earlier, King Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I had issued charters for earlier attempts to explore the New World. Among the earlier charters was that dated March 25, 1584, to Sir Walter Raleigh, under which Tudor hopes of establishing a permanent settlement ended with the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

      James I, in 1606, issued a charter for the exploration and settlement of what is now the eastern seaboard of the United States, to two closely allied groups of investors. All lands from what became northern Maine to the region of present-day Wilmington, North Carolina were included. The Charter permitted the "Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London for the First Colony in Virginia" and the "Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of Bristol for the Second Colony in Virginia" to begin work. The "Second Colony" also included Exeter and Plymouth investors.


The First Charter: April 10, 1606

     The London Company sent its first settlers to Virginia under the 1606 Charter. The land assigned to colonists remained the property of the King, with the London Company the King's tenant, and the settlers as sub-tenants. The colony's government at first consisted of a Council residing in london. The London Company was responsible for recruiting settlers, providing their transport and supplies, and the financing. Read the 1606 Charter, from the Avalon Project at Yale here.


The Second Charter: May 23, 1609

     Before long it was realized that the Company formed of English landed gentry was not generating interest in business investment and settlement in Virginia. If England intended to keep its hold in the New World, settling the Colony was important. Spain and Portugal were formidable challengers for Atlantic shipping lanes.  The second charter addressed those concerns by allowing the Merchants' Association (English merchant-shipowners) to subscribe or invest. These new investors could handle shipping needs to the new colony, to the advantage of England and to the detriment of Spain.
     The second Charter allowed both individuals and merchant guilds to subscribe. The investors were incorporated, and rights of land ownership were conferred on the London Company. Local government of the colony was transferred to the Governor and his advisory council in Jamestowne. Within this Charter are the names of the subscribers.
      Still the Company failed to be profitable. Many settlers died of disease and starvation. Ships were lost en route.  Investors became disenchanted. A new third Charter attempted to solve remaining problems. Read the 1609 Charter, from the Avalon Project at Yale


     The Third Charter: March 12, 1611

     The 1612 Charter extended Virginia's boundaries to include the Bermuda Islands. Seeking to reduce the control of the London Company Treasurer and his Council, the Charter gave more control to ordinary investors, over both the London Company itself and the Colony's government. Providing for the establishment of a lottery to create permanent funds to underwrite Virginia's future needs, the Charter also introduced a democratic element which allowed the Virginia Colony's government to be reorganized in 1618. This reorganization was necessary for the first representative assembly, which met in Jamestowne July 30, 1619, under the leadership of Sir George Yeardley. Later colonies modeled their governments after this new system of colonial representation. This third Charter provided the authority for government in Virginia for the duration of the London Company's existence, until the transition to the King's Royal Colony occurred in 1624. Read the 1612 Charter, from the Avalon Project at Yale here.


Additional link: "An Ordinance and Constitution of the Treasurer, Council and Company in England, for a Council of State and General Assembly, Dated July 24, 1621" from the Avalon Project at Yale.


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