Charter of Virginia

Colony of Jamestown, Virginia

Charter of Virginia - Colony of Jamestown, Virginia

This article on the Charter of Virginia of Colonial America provides facts and information about the the history of the Charter of Virginia including:

  • The London Company
  • The Plymouth Company
  • The First, Second and Third Charter of Virginia
  • English Common Law in the colonies
  • Maps showing the territories granted
  • Joint-Stock Company Ventures
  • Read the words of the original Charter of Virginia
The Pilgrims & the Mayflower
American Colonies Index

The History of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower

The Charter of Virginia: The Pilgrims, the Mayflower and the Plymouth Colony

  Common Law Plaque - Jamestown

Common Law - Commemorative Plaque
Jamestown Island Virginia


Charter of Virginia - English Common Law
On April 10, 1606 King James I of England issued the 1606 First Virginia Charter which created the Virginia Company authorizing eight Englishmen to colonize "that part of America commonly called Virginia".

When the first colonists landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 they brought the English Common Law with them.

The term "common law" was the name given to the law that emerged as "common" throughout the realm of England.

Charter of Virginia - Commemorative Plaque
In May 17, 1959, the Virginia State Bar dedicated a plaque at Jamestown honoring the 1606 Virginia Charter.


First Charter of Virginia - The Words on the Jamestown Plaque
The words on the Jamestown Plaque are as follows:

Here the common law of England was established on this continent with the arrival of the first settlers on May 13, 1607. The first charter granted by James I to the Virginia Company in 1606 declared that the inhabitants of the colony “…shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises and immunities…as if they had been abiding and borne within this our realme of Englande…” Since Magna Carta the common law has been the cornerstone of individual liberties, even as against the crown. Summarized later in the bill of rights its principles have inspired the development of our system of freedom under law, which is at once our dearest possession and proudest achievement.

First Charter of Virginia Text and Words
The original words and text of the first Charter of Virginia can be read via the Charter of Virginia Text and Words.

First Charter of Virginia - The Joint-Stock Company Ventures 
The ventures undertaken by the first colonists were risky, all could be lost at sea. The development of the joint-stock company made it possible to raise money for large and risky business ventures from many investors. A joint-stock company issued stock to investors to raise money. Once success had been achieved a joint-stock company divided the profits amongst the investors. Refer to Colonial Government for additional information.

First Charter of Virginia
The First Charter of Virginia Charter issued in 1606 gave investors the right to "begin theire plantacions and habitacions in some fitt and conveniente place between fower and thirtie and one and fortie degrees of the said latitude all alongest the coaste of Virginia and coastes of America. This area  stretches from present-day South Carolina to New York City. The colony was financed by the Virginia Company of London as a profit-making venture. It was called a Proprietary Charter.

First Charter of Virginia
The borders of Virginia were defined initially in the first Charter of Virginia issued by King James I as grants of land to private investors. James i granted a proprietary charter to the two competing companies that were supported by investors. The companies were the Plymouth Company and the London Company.

First Charter of Virginia - The London Company
The first Charter of Virginia was granted to two companies as profit making ventures. The Virginia Company was backed by investors based in London, which is why it is also known as the London Company. The Virginia Company wanted to explore the lands in the South of the Area.

First Charter of Virginia - The Plymouth Company 
The other company was called the Plymouth Company who had investors based in Plymouth, Devon. The Plymouth Company wanted the lands in the North of the area. The Charter of Virginia Map shows the regions of the Plymouth and Virginia companies, although some of the boundaries over-lapped.

Charter of Virginia Map

Charter of Virginia Map

First Charter of Virginia - The Fate of the Plymouth Company
The ventures undertaken by the first colonists were risky. The Plymouth company were eager to start the venture and sent its first ship, the Richard, to the New World in August 1606. It was captured by the Spanish. A second expedition was sent in 1607 and its two ships, the Gift of God and the Mary and John, arrived on August 13 1607 and founded the Popham Colony in Maine. The colony survived the first winter, then in 1608 the leader received news that he had received an inheritance in England. He decided to return home, with the 45 remaining colonists in the Popham colony. The colony had lasted one year. The Plymouth Company remained inactive until new colonists obtain charters and arrive in Massachusetts starting in 1620 with the voyage of the Mayflower and the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, refer to the Mayflower Compact.

First Charter of Virginia - The London Company, the Virginia Company
The London Company fared better than the Plymouth Company Their venture led to the establishment of the permanent settlement at Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1606, led by John Smith. Reports from John Smith detailed the extent of the lands and area of Chesapeake Bay and outlying regions. This information led to the King issuing the Second Charter of Virginia and the Third Charter of Virginia and the London Company was referred to as the all-encompassing Virginia Company.

Second and Third Charters of Virginia
In view of the massive amount of land potential in North America King James 1 issued a Second Charter of Virginia in 1609 which covered lands from Jamestown, extending all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. In 1611 Sir Thomas Dale was sent to Virginia with 300 British troops. The Third Charter of Virginia in 1612 led to the acquisition of Bermuda. The 1612 Third Charter of Virginia extended the colonial boundary lines to include offshore islands extended to lands covering 1,000 miles eastward in the Atlantic Ocean. The Third Charter of 1612 gave the islands to the "The Treasorer and Planters of the Cittie of London for the First Colonie in Virginia." So, at the beginning of colonization, the term "Virginia" was applied to the entire eastern coast of North America from Cape Fear to the coast of Acadia and a large portion of inland Canada.

Map showing Colony of Virginia 1607-1776

Map showing Colony of Virginia 1607-1776

Virginia becomes a Royal Colony
King James I realised the potential wealth of Colonial America. With little, or no concern, for the investors of the Virginia Colony the King failed to renew their charter. The Virginia Company in the colony lost the ability to grant property deeds. Then, in 1624 King James made Virginia a Royal Colony, rather than a Proprietary (private) Colony. This meant that the Colonial Governments were appointed by the Crown, carrying out the orders and wishes of the Crown as opposed to private or local interests.

Charter of Virginia

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