The Epic Fail of the Virginia Company

There were times in American history when businessmen ran the government. Spoilers: it didn’t go well. One of such situations occurred after King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Company of London in 1607. The Virginia Company was not a company in a modern sense; rather, it was a bunch of companies and private entrepreneurs united to explore and exploit whatever they find in the land of Virginia. American historians often don’t bother themselves with the Virginia Company (if you decide to read more about it, there will be a lot of E-Z borrowing (and giving up)) – after all, it only functioned for 17 years until it was dissolved by the royal order since the venture turned out to be almost a complete failure.

Indeed, the members of the Company probably did not look as confident as in Disney’s Pocahontas movie:


For glory, God and gold and the Virginia Company!

The riches they hoped to find in the Virginian soil were not there, and the hopes for the lucrative trade with the locals proved futile. The tobacco they planted thank to John Rolfe’s (newly born) agricultural skills were worse in quality that Spanish product and King James had to be persuaded to grant Virginia some kind of monopoly on selling tobacco to England. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Wait, there’s more!

Virginian planters were so devoted to growing tobacco they neglected the production of food for themselves and had to rely on Indians and the supplies from England. The latter task was the job of one of the smaller companies in Virginia’s bunch: the Magazine. Indians were not always willing to trade with the colonists, and the Magazine occasionally appropriated more money from the treasury that they were owed.

As if it wasn’t enough, Powhatan Indians also massacred some colonists on March 22, 1622. Colonists had to abandon their plantations and get crowded to be able to defend themselves. Safety and food was their primary concern, and they begged the Virginia Company to help them handle these two pressing issues. The response was clear: your primary concern should be growing tobacco [1].

Since it was as bad as it sounds, the members of the Virginia Company started looking for the culprit, which in the hierarchy-oriented minds of 17-century Englishmen was the leader. But which leader was it – Sir Thomas Smith who led the company until 1619 or his successor Sir Edwin Sandys?


Candidates for the culprit. Edwin Sandys (left) probably looks eviler than Thomas Smith (right), but some people in the Virginia Company didn’t think so.


The true answer is: we don’t know, and neither did King James. Quarrels between various leaders of the Company and Virginian planters soon turned into an endless stream of petitions and proposals destined to bury the king’s desk under their weight. Alderman Johnson claimed that nothing but tobacco was produced because of Sandys. Captain Bargrave made the same complaint but blamed it on Smith. Planter John Martin asked the king to kick the Virginia Company out of Virginia. Nathaniel Rich begged James to investigate the manipulations of Sandys.

At some point, James finally had enough. In an unusually short note, he asks the House of Commons to follow his example and stop reading this gossip material [2]. Soon, the Virginia Company was dissolved.


This is how king James normally talks [3].


And this is how he talks if you drive him crazy [2].


We don’t have to pick between Smith and Sandys. The very thought that all these plan-producing, quarreling leaders were staying in London, perhaps never even seeing Virginia, can be eye-opening. It took 9 weeks to get from the Chesapeake  Bay to England and 6 weeks for a reverse trip (thanks to a handy current). What adequate response could the leaders provide to the colony’s problems given the very limited powers of the Virginia governor?

In any case, it was the Virginia Company who failed, not the Virginia settlers. Those continued growing their tobacco and, as it would become clear in 1776, preferring to be ruled by people who are actually from Virginia.



[1] “Council in Virginia. A Letter to the Virginia Company of London. April (after 10), 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 611-615.
“Treasurer and Council for Virginia. Letter to Governor and Council in Virginia. August 1, 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 666-673.
[2] “James I. A Letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons. August 28, 1624,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1935. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume IV, Documents II,477-478.
[3] “James I. A Letter to the Privy Council. July 17, 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 653.

Lore Kephart ’86 Historians Lecture Series featuring Craig Harline, PhD

Join us Tuesday, September 26, 2017 for the ninth annual lecture A WORLD ABLAZE: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation by Craig Harline, PhD Professor of History Brigham Young University. 7:00 pm Villanova Room, Connelly Center Free and Open to the public, refreshments immediately following the talk. You can RSVP through this link.

Snooze Button Time Travels

A funny article to lighten up the post spring break workload! Very relatable to the life of a graduate student.

Via The Onion

MINNEAPOLIS—Setting his sights on a point five minutes into the future, snooze button time traveler Brent Conley, 31, engaged the launch initiation switch on his temporal teleportation device at precisely 7:30 a.m. this morning, immediately sending himself hurtling through time.

Having carefully computed the appropriate coordinates and loaded them into his sophisticated time-travel mechanism, the veteran temporal navigator and online ad salesman was reportedly able to rocket himself through the very fabric of the fourth dimension with little more than the press of a button, traveling the equivalent of five earth minutes in the mere blink of an eye.

“Ummghh,” said the snooze button time traveler upon his virtually instantaneous arrival at 7:35 a.m., having rematerialized in the same spot in his one-bedroom apartment exactly one-twelfth of an hour after his departure. “Wha?”

“Gahh,” he added as he eyed his current time coordinates with disapproval, immediately discerning with the insight of years of time-travel experience that he had yet to journey far enough into the future.

With a vigorous and confident strike of his hand, Conley reportedly engaged the ignition button again, initiating a second staggering surge though the chronological ether. Quickly assuming the proper supine position necessary for time travel, the temporal voyager pulled close his duvet heat barrier for the fantastic light-speed journey before him.

While the electronic time-manipulation device that powers Conley’s leaps into the future is said to be small, it is by no means simple. Bearing a dizzying array of switches, dials, buttons, and an arcane digitized display of glowing numbers and dots, the mechanism can reportedly be calibrated to the time cruiser’s exact needs and is always kept within arm’s reach, perched conveniently atop a birch-veneer self-assembled end table.

According to reports, the advanced device emits piercing tones to indicate a successful arrival in the future, often blaring the choruses and verses of classic rock songs from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and today, or occasionally the shrill vocalizations of Conley’s disembodied travel companions, Bill And Linda In The Morning.

“Son of a…” said the veritable time captain after a second deftly executed chrono-jump, his vision blurred and a watery discharge emanating from his mouth, both common side effects of his disorienting blasts through spacetime. “Come on.”

“Agh,” he added defiantly before challenging the very limits of time travel by commencing a third vault across the temporal threshold.

According to astonishing accounts, the 2003 University of Minnesota graduate is known to venture as far as 20 minutes into the future routinely, completing such mind-bending feats of chronological teleportation as many as three or four mornings per week.

To endure his extraordinary journeys, Conley reportedly wears a specialized time-travel suit consisting of cutting-edge cotton-poly-blend plaid leg coverings and protective upper-body gear emblazoned with the words “Hard Rock Cafe London,” garments specifically suited for the particular rigors of his transits. In addition, the chrononaut’s meticulously engineered queen-sized time-pod, which carries Conley effortlessly into the future, is said to consist of dozens of hidden spring coils, a space-age quilt-top surface, and several insulating layers of highly advanced 300-thread-count textiles.

In spite of his remarkable ability to bend the very dimensions of time to his will, the snooze button time traveler is said to occasionally encounter obstacles on his voyages. Indeed, such a glitch reportedly occurred Monday when an errant deactivation of his device’s power toggle, which is located within just inches of the launch bar, propelled the traveler into a much deeper wormhole in the spacetime continuum than he had anticipated, depositing him woefully into the far-too-distant future.

“What?” said Conley in momentary confusion, examining the unexpected digits 8:28 on his chrono-display before realizing he had been thrust a startling 48 minutes into the future and had no means of return. “No!”

“God fucking dammit,” the time traveler added as he hurriedly grabbed khaki pants and a dress shirt from his hamper and sprinted toward the bathroom.


Annual Kephart Lecture Tomorrow!

On October 1, 2016 Villanova will be welcoming Dr. Richard White as the Annual Kephart Lecture distinguished speaker. Dr. White is a Pulitzer-Prize nominated historian specializing in the history of the American West, Environmental history, and Native American history. He has held the Margaret Byrne Chair at Stanford University since 1998 and is currently working on three separate projects that focus on the history of modern California through use of photographs, the history of the late nineteenth century United States, and the history of Western America.

The Kephart Lecture is free and open to the public with light refreshments following. Please be sure to register here and for those using social media, follow and tag #Kephart2015.

Villanova Students to Speak on the Irish in Nineteenth Century Philadelphia

Throughout the month of November, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is running a series of programs on the Irish-American experience in Philadelphia.

Next Tuesday, November 11, Villanova students Jim Kopaczewski and Mike Johnson will be participating in a roundtable discussion on the experiences of Irish famine immigrants in the Quaker City. Jim will speak on his research on the Irish in the American Civil War, while Mike will talk about Irish nationalist movements in the United States. Also on the panel will be Dr. William Watson of Immaculata University, and Dr. Zachary Schrag from George Mason University.

1866 Battle of Ridgeway between the Canadian Militia and the Fenian Brotherhood. Never heard of the Fenian Brotherhood? No better time to learn than at Tuesday’s panel.

The discussion, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by a reception and a concert of traditional Irish music.

Event: Leaving the Emerald Isle: Trials and Tribulations of Irish Immigrants in 19th Century Philadelphia
When: Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 6:30-8:30
Where: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street

Questions? Feel free to contact Mike or Jim. For more information on the event, check out the HSP event page here.