How to Do Business in Virginia Colony

Dateline, Virginia, 1663 to 1666. The colony is growing, and they had to improve things to make money. Improve? Too much nakedness or inadequate clothing. Wolves had to be killed to protect livestock. Primary sources here. Great for teachers and students.

This record is transcribed in modernized English and lettering.

First, they had to improve the way over a swamp and its river—a bridge, if possible. Two men are appointed to take care of this.

23 Mar 1661/2 (1662 by our dating)

Whereas complaint has been made to this Assembly of the dangerousness of the passage over the great swamp over Rappahannock River by means whereof not only commerce is obstructed, but the affairs of the public retarded also:

It is therefore ordered that the way be amended and a bridge if possible built over the same at the charge of Gloucester and Lancaster Counties between which it chiefly lies and that Mr. Henry Corbin and Major David Cant take care to see it effected (p. 17)

Second, they had to build county houses for the common good, made of bricks, lime, and timber.

September 10, 1663

Whereas after many serious considerations for building the houses undertaken by several counties, it appears the most equal and easiest way and most expeditious to build them at the public charge yearly:

It is therefore ordered that the particular houses already built be paid for in the public levy and the particular counties that undertook for them be discharged and that the next year four houses more be built and so yearly four houses until the number of houses undertaken for by the counties be accomplished; and them that each particular county have a house assigned to them and until then the propriety to be common and that the Speaker be empowered to make and sign agreements with any that will undertake them to build, who are to give good caution for the effecting thereof with good sufficient bricks, lime and timber and that the same be well wrought and after they are finished to be approved of by an able surveyor before order be given them for their pay. (p. 28)

Third, debtors had to be shown leniency, for the creditor cannot send them to jail because the commodities take time to be ready. Then they have to unbind men from planting tobacco, just like the Marylanders. The requirement to plant Mulberry trees for silk is to be repealed, for the ground is insufficient. Finally, the hides and skins need to be controlled, so presumably a tax could be imposed on them.

13 Sep 1663

Propositions humbly presented to this Honourable Assembly:

That the act that every debtor under execution for debt should be detained in prison until he had paid the debt in kind be repealed, the reason is that because many times our country commodities being not always ready the creditor takes advantage of that act and forces the debtor to unreasonable compliance.

Secondly, that the act binding men to plant tobacco no longer than the tenth of July in ever year be repealed because the people in Maryland have privilege to plant as long as they please, so they having such privilege and we bound up it will be a great benefit to them and a ruin to us.

That the act planting Mulberry trees [for silk] may be repealed, it being very prejudicial to such as want [lack] clear grounds and are not in capacity at present to fulfill the same without great prejudice; and it is humbly conceived that (if it be beneficial) men as they find themselves in capacity will fall upon it without constraint.

It is humbly proposed that the acts concerning hides may be enlarged to calves and deerskins so well as hides and that a commission throughout the country may be qualified by injunction in the act to receive all proofs that shall be presented them for detecting those persons that convey hides or skins out of the country contrary to the act and to give warrants for summoning witnesses and order to make search for hides and skins. Calf skins and deerskins included, any particular justice to send a warrant for search (p. 23)

Fourth, one must centralize the business flow by putting up buildings in one place, near the minister’s house.

10 Oct 1665

Whereas for the better convenience, more ease and better trade, it is thought fit that one or two places in every county be set out where the whole trade of the county shall be and that the church and ministers’ house, the courthouse records and clerks residence, the sheriffs and officers and bailiffs, the prison and ordinaries and what else shall be thought fitting shall be established there and that all goods yearly imported be first sold there during that space at least eight months or more and that present care be taken for the merchants’ present accommodation of victuals and storehouse room upon reasonable rates for the effecting whereof:

It is ordered that this order be published in every county court yearly in the months of October and November and all people be summoned in every county to consult at a time and place appointed whether such places shall be established for those uses or not and the majority vote to conclude it affirmatively or negatively according to the convenience or inconveniency of each county (p. 30)

Fifth, they must bring in weavers to make clothes—too much “nakedness” and lack of industry. Weavers and looms must be set up in each county.

23 Oct 1666

Whereas the present obstructions of trade and the nakedness of the country do sufficiently evidence of what necessity it is to provide for a supply by improving all means of improving and raising manufactures among ourselves and the Governor’s Honour having by apparent demonstrations manifested that our poverty and necessity proceeds more for want [lack] of industry than of ability since five women or children 12 or 13 years old may provide sufficient clothing for thirty persons with much ease if they would betake themselves to spinning which cannot be objected against if weavers and looms were provided:

It is therefore proposed that within two years at furthest the commissions of each county court may be enjoined to provide and set up a weaver and loom in each respective of the respective counties of this country at the charge of the county from setting up a public one, but that every court neglecting to perform the tenor of this proportion may be fined [blank] tobacco, provided that executing thereof in Counties of Rappahanock, Lancaster, Stafford, and Westmoreland, who by means of their grounds pretend to be incapable of making provision for the so soon employment of a weaver, may be respited four years from the date hereof (p. 34)

Sixth, wolves need to be killed and accounted for, even if the Indians kill them in frontier counties.

7 Nov 1666

Whereas in some few frontier counties the number of wolves killed and brought in by the Indians though from never so great a distance has been by some inhabitants thereof through a covetous desire of the encouragement given by Act purchased to the insupportable burden though little benefit of the people:

It is therefore humbly proposed that the allowance for wolves killed by Indians and the means of enquiry and discovery by whom and where wolves are killed may be left to the several county courts by their laws to take order and provide for. (p. 40)


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1659/60-1693, ed. H. R. McIlwaine (Richmond: 1914).

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