Study Guide

Colonial Virginia People

  • James Blair

    James Blair (1656–1743) was an Anglican clergyman and a member of the Governors Council of Virginia. Born in Scotland, he was ordained in the Church of Scotland in 1679. In 1685, he was ordained in the Church of England and assigned to a parish in Henrico County, Virginia. In 1687, he married Sarah Harrison, the daughter of one of Virginia's wealthiest planters. Two years later, he was named Commissary for the Church of England in Virginia with authority over the other Anglican clergy in the colony.

    Blair's ecclesiastical and social connections made him one of the most powerful figures in Virginia from 1690 until his death in 1743. He successfully lobbied for the funds to establish Virginia's first college, William & Mary, in 1693. And in 1694, he was named to the Governor's Council. He was a powerful advocate for the interests of Virginia's wealthy planter class, repeatedly opposing Virginia's governors in their attempts to restrict the powers of the House of Burgesses. He played a major role in the removal of three governors, Edmund Andros, Francis Nicholson, and Alexander Spotswood.

  • William Byrd II

    William Byrd II (1674–1744) was a Virginia planter and author. He briefly sat in the House of Burgesses and served on the Governor's Council for 35 years. He was the son of William Byrd, a wealthy tobacco planter, fur trader, and the owner of more than 25,000 acres. Young Byrd was sent to England for his education in 1681 and for the most part, lived in London until 1705. While there, he was admitted to England's leading scientific association, the Royal Society of London. Byrd returned to Virginia after his father's death in 1704, to take over the management of his lands. Over the course of his life, Byrd II built an estate of more than 175,000 acres.

    As a member of the Governor's Council between 1709 and 1744, Byrd joined the other wealthy planters in opposing the attempts of Virginia's governors to strengthen the executive branch against the Council and the House of Burgesses. He was instrumental in securing the removal of Governor Alexander Spotswood in 1722.

    As an author, Byrd's enduring contribution was his Secret Diaries, frequently cited today by historians of early Virginia. In these, he frankly described his racial and sexual attitudes, providing vivid accounts of his abuse and sexual exploitation of his slaves.

  • Samuel Davies

    Samuel Davies (1723–1761) was a New Light Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey a.k.a. Princeton University. Born in Delaware and ordained as a minister in 1747, he traveled to Virginia as an iterant evangelist. In 1748, he accepted a position at a church in Hanover and eventually served 14 churches in rural Virginia. In 1759, he left Virginia to become the president of the College of New Jersey, serving until his death in 1761.

    As a New Light minister in Virginia, he spread the spiritually egalitarian theology of the Great Awakening to Virginia's rural white and slave populations. He also coordinated a campaign to teach slaves to read in order to advance their religious development. Both of these moves challenged the hierarchical foundations of Virginia's social and religious establishment. While Davies never attacked the institution of slavery directly, the Virginia evangelicals who followed in his path did question the compatibility of New Light theology's egalitarian premises with the practice of human slavery.

  • Alexander Spotswood

    Alexander Spotswood (1676–1740) was the lieutenant governor of Virginia from 1710 to 1722. The nominal governor, George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney, never visited the colony, leaving Spotswood in control as one of the longest acting governors of the colonial period. Under his direction, the Tobacco Act of 1713 was passed, requiring the inspection of all tobacco intended for export and the destruction of tobacco not meeting government standards.

    Like the other Crown-appointed governors to Virginia, Spotswood spent his term in office wrestling with the wealthy planters that dominated the House of Burgesses for political control of the colony. He attempted to court small farmers by proposing measures that would've forced large planters to put portions of their uncultivated land onto the market. But his proposal was defeated.

    He then took the opposite course and attempted to raise the property requirement for voting. Members of the House of Burgesses used this to portray him as an enemy of representative government. Spotswood was forced to resign in 1722.