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Alexander Spotswood to Board of Trade—22 Dec 1718

Letters – Spotswood to Board of Trade—22 Dec 1718

"America and West Indies: December 1718, 22-31," in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 30, 1717-1718, ed. Cecil Headlam (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1930), 424-446. British History Online, accessed January 9, 2019,


Dec. 22. [1718]

Virginia.    800. Same [Alexander Spotswood] to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Having long struggled with a sett of men here, whose designs for many years have been to engross into their own hands the whole power of the Government and to forme a new plan thereof according to their own caprice, but directly opposite to the interest of their Soveraign, as well as of their Mother Country; It is no wonder that I now share with the rest of my predecessors, the effects of their resentment: it being too well known for these thirty years past, that no Governor has longer escaped being vilifyed and aspersed here, and misrepresented at home, than he began to discover the intrigues and thwart the politicks of this formidable party, etc. Thus a Governors asserting the undoubted prerogative of the Crown in the nomination of Judges, is in the language of these men, a subversion of the Constitution; and his endeavours to obtain a just payment of the Kings Rents a depriving the people of their ancient rights and priviledges, and by such false glosses the ignorant are imposed on to believe, and the knavish encouraged to hope for mighty libertys and advantages by adhering to this Party, and chusing such Representatives as are agreable to them. But notwithstanding these and many other artifices to foment dissatisfactions among the people, the Country in general is so sensible of its present happiness, that with all the industry of the Party, not one grievance came to the Assembly which mett here on the 11th of last month [November]; and indeed if ever any people had reason to be easy under a flourishing trade and moderate taxes, an exuberant Treasury, and a profound Peace, it is certain those of Virginia ought to be so. Under these happy circumstances this last Session of Assembly mett, and as the peaceable state of the country gave me no occasion to demand anything in behalf of the Government, everyone expected the Burgesses had nothing else to do, but to call for the few bills which remained unfinished at their former Session, and to lay the levy for discharging the publick creditors: but instead of proceeding on any of their bills that lay before them, the first business they went upon was to re-enact a law which H.M. had very lately repealed viz. that declaring who shal not bear office in this Country. This bill brought in by Mr. Grymes the Deputy Auditor, soon passed the Burgesses without removing the very objection for which it was formerly repealed; and being sent to the Council found as easy a passage there, tho not without the opposition of some of that Board and particularly Collo. Jenings, who having been at yor. Lordps. Board, when the repeal was under deliberation, argued for leaving out those parts agt. which your Lordps. took exception; but all objections were in vain, the avowd design of this bill being to exclude from offices, all persons recommended from England. The reasonableness of this sett of Councelors, will further appear by the inclosed Minuts of Council, wherein they advise me to pass this bill, notwithstanding the many just exceptions; I represented it lyable to. After passing this bill and one other which I shal mention hereafter, the Burgesses seem'd inclined to no other business. All petitions brought before them, were immediatly referred to the next Assembly, and their Grand Committee converted into a trifling Office of Enquiry into the Capitol furniture; in which they spent five or six days at the expence of £400 to their country to examine into the state of a few old chairs and sconces of less than £50 value. When many of the more sensible members of that House, tired out with these amusements were return'd home, as apprehending no business of moment would be brought in, and others believing their presence unnecessary, were gone to take the diversion of a horse race near the town, the Party managers watched that opportunity to bring in an Address to the King, with a long roll of Articles; in the first charging me in general with subverting the Constitution of their Government, depriving them of their ancient rights and priviledges, and daily exercising hardships on H.M. good subjects: and in the second with divers particulars facts to prove their pretended accusation. Without examining the truth of any one of these Articles, the Address containing the general charge was first put to the vote, and carryed by the suffrages of 22 against 14 that opposed it, there being then no less than 15 Members absent, who would have been of the latter opinion. Having thus obtained their Address to pass, the Speaker was immediately commanded to sign three fair copys, wch. were brought in ready drawn for that purpose; and then they proceeded to consider the Articles, but upon hearing the falsehood of many of them exposed, those who readily voted for the Address upon the faith of their leaders, began to be startled and would not so easily give in to what they found could not be proved, and so put off the debate till next day, when eight of the Articles were entirely struck out as groundless, and the rest which are intended to support their charge so much altered from the first draught, that those who opposed the Address consented to let them pass purely to expose the weakness and malice of my accusers. I herewith transmitt to yor. Lordps. a copy of the Address and Articles as they passd the House, whereby your Lordps. may judge whether the latter, if they were really true, are sufficient to convict me of subverting the Constitution of the Government, or oppressing the King's subjects. I have also added the whole Articles given in that yor. Lordps. may see the malice of these men in charging me with crimes wch. they themselves could not justify to be true. Time will not allow me at present to enter upon a full answer to this charge neither would it be proper to send one by this uncertain conveyance: but I shall in a very short time send over a Gentleman well acquainted with the affairs of this Country etc., who will be able to give yor. Lordps. a true light into those things which my adversarys have industriously misrepresented, or which their Agent Mr. Byrd may craftily insinuate to my prejudice: and besides I have not the least doubt of your allowing me a reasonable time to be heard etc. In the mean time refers to enclosures as a brief answer. When your Lordps. shal be pleased to consider the first of the Burgesses Articles I hope you will be pleased to entertain a more favourable opinion of Virginia than to beleive that the persons concern'd in that unintelligible composition, are the wisest or most learn'd of its legislators: but tho I ought not to quarrell with my accusers' understandings, I may be allow'd with justice to expose their dishonesty, wch. in this particular is very notorious etc. I am accused of putting a misconstruction on the law for settling the titles and bounds of lands, and of endeavouring to extend that clause thereof making three years non-payment of quitt rents a forfeiture of the land granted after the passing that law, to other lands wch. were granted long before. Now, my Lords, I do affirm, that this charge is utterly false. I never had a thought of extending that law etc. and no occasion. The Law cited was passed in 1710, and in less than three years therafter viz. in 1713 another Act of Assembly was made declaring what shall be accounted a sufficient seating etc., wherein there is a clause declaring in express words, That all lands for which the quittrents shal be three years in arrear, shal revert to the Crown. This I acknowledge to have construed according to the sense it will naturally bear, according to the intention of those that made it, and the interpretation the whole country put on it till of late, that a party of the Council thought fitt by their own absolute will and pleasure to declare it to have no meaning at all etc. I challenge them to produce one single instance of any man's paying more quittrents than he is bound to, by the condition of his patent, or that I have disseised any one of his freehold for non-payment by colour of this Act: a power being still lodged in the Governor to regrant the land forfeited to the same proprietor from whom it reverts. As the chief design of this law was to obtain, justice to the King without the least intention to injure the subject, so I have on divers occasions declared that if the Burgesses would by a new law, make a reasonable provision for the just payment of the quitt rents, I would consent to the repeal of this, and I even offerred to consent, that it might be declared by law that whoever should enter the true quantity of his lands on the Receiver Generals books, should incur no forfeiture for the nonpayment of his quittrents untill a reasonable time after the same should be demanded by the Kings Officers: But the party who have always opposed the Kings interest, foreseing that this would necessarily tend to the obtaining a true rent roll of the Colony, would by no means hearken to this proposal. From all which your Lordps. will judge, whether my endeavouring to obtain a just payment of the Kings rents, according to the express words of a law in force, or this party of men aiming to defraud their Soveraign of the acknowledgment due by the very condition of their own patents, be most like an attempt to subvert the Constitution ? and whether a people have just cause to complain of the hardship of a law, who refuse all overtures for amending it ? My accusers designed to represent me as a person so ignorant as not to understand the common sense of their laws, or such a tyrant as to wrest them to purposes quite forreign to the true intent thereof etc. They knew very well that the law made in 1713 is that which I have always contended for etc. As soon as they found the people alarm'd at this law, and preparing to give up a true account of their lands to prevent the forfeiture thereof, they spread a report about the countrey that the Kings Attorney General in England had declared his opinion that this law extended only to lands granted after the passing thereof, and that no man had occasion to fear the forfeiture of any lands patented before: they declared this to be their own opinion too on all occasions, and to make it the more publick took an opportunity to argue it on the General Court Bench, without having any case in judgment before them wch. required their opinion in that point: and to show the people how little they valued the effect of that law, divers of the same party let their lands run in arrears, as an example to others to act the same part. I can scarce believe that the Kings Attorney General gave any such opinion, unless it was on the law with which I am now charged, for all the lawyers here are clear that the Act in 1713 doth extend to all lands whatsoever, as indeed it was the intention of the makers that it should. The other three Articles will appear to be very frivolous, when I come to set forth the truth of the matters etc. I shal only now give a brief character of the persons chiefly concerned in framing the present accusation against me etc. The two late Officers of the Revenue are particularly offended at my enquiry into their mismanagements. Yor. Lordps. may be pleased to remember that in Aug. 1714 I received a particular charge from yor. Board to transmitt an account of the several branches of the Kings Revenues, the application, and manner of auditing thereof; I no sooner began this inquiry, than I found many abuses in the collection and the utmost confusion in the accompts of these Revenues, which I thought highly necessary to reforme: but as both the Officers strenuously opposed any such regulation, so Mr. Byrd thought fitt soon to withdraw to England, carrying with him all the books of the Revenue (if he ever kept any) and has continued there ever since, ready on all occasions to do me ill offices, instead of returning to clear himself of those frauds wch. have been discovered in his management during his being Receiver General. This Gentleman (as is publickly talkd here) has advised his accomplices that they had no other way to carry their point, than by getting the Assembly to petition H.M. to remove me. And Collo Ludwell his chief correspondent here, undertook that task. As both these gentlemen were closely united in their opposition to my endeavours for reforming the abuses in the Revenue, so the latter (who is a man of implacable malice and resentment) can never forgive my suspending him from the office of Auditor: He it is, who with the assistance of his brother in law Mr. Commissary Blair, the constant instrument of faction against all former Governors, has set himself up for the Head of that Party etc. Amongst the two and twenty Burgesses who voted the present accusation against me, there are Mr. Grymes the Deputy Auditor son in law to Mr. Ludwell, a man of the same principles with him in relation to Government, and pursuing the very same schemes in the management of the Kings Revenue. Mr. Corbin married to one of the same family etc., and turned out of the place of Naval Officer, for no less an offence than forging the late Queen's letter, for clearing a ship in his district etc., and consequently a person disobliged etc. Mr. Blair brother to the Commissary and both partners in trade with Mr. Ludwell; a member chosen (by much industry) for the almost deserted corporation of James City, merely for his remarkable scurrility and insolence. Three more of the same party displaced from being Justices of the Peace, and one from the office of an Agent under the Tobacco law for evil practices in their offices by the advice of these very Councelors who now use them as their tools; and divers others disobliged for being refused the imployment they had a mind to, as indeed it is very common for some here to look upon anything that's refused them to be so much taken away from them, and the less they are qualify'd for the offices they aim at, so much the greater is their resentment for being denyed. These are my only accusers, for as to several others drawn in to vote on the same side, they have already owned their error in being so easily imposed on, by the crafty insinuations of these Party managers, and it will not appear strange if among two and fifty men (of which the Burgesses House is composed) there should be found some of weak understandings, as well as others liable to corruption and neither prooff against the arts of an industrious party when they have so great a point to carry. But however this Party of men may triumph in their gaining a small number of the Burgesses to joine with them in an unrighteous accusation, their joy is like to be but short lived, the people in general begining already to condemn their proceedings, and as the principal gentlemen of the country are resolved to given publick testimonys of their satisfaction with my administration, and their dislike of the late Assemblys behaviour I doubt not in a short time to send yor. Lordps. Addresses from most parts of the Colony vindicating me from what I am charged with; as I now send copys of what I have already recieved on this occasion. […]

[As to Edward Thache:] In my letter of the 14th of August last [1718], I gave yor. Lordps. an account that one Capt. Tach a noted pyrate in a ship of 40 guns [QAR] run ashore in June, at the mouth of Ouacoch [Ocracoke?’ actually Beaufort] Inlett in North Carolina where that ship and two of the four sloops he had under his command were lost, and that he and his crew had surrendered to the Governor of that Province. Since which one [William] Howard, Tach's Quartermaster, came into this Colony, with two negros which he own'd to have been piratically taken, the one from a French ship [La Concorde] and the other from an English brigantine [Great Allyne?]. I caused them to be seized pursuant to H.M. Instructions, upon which, encouraged by the countenance he found here, he commenced a suit against the officer who made the seizure, and his insolence became so intollerable, without applying himself to any lawful business, that the Justices of the Peace where he resided thought fitt to send him on board one of the Kings ships [HMS Pearl] as a vagrant seaman. Hereupon he caused not only the Justice who signed the warrant but the Captain [George Gordon] and Lieutenant [Robert Maynard] of the man of war to be arrested each in an action of £500 dammages. And one of the chief lawyers [Richard Fitzwilliam] here undertook his cause. This extraordinary behaviour of a pyrate well known to have been very active in plundering divers vessells on this coast but the year before, occasioned a more strict enquiry into his course of life after his departure from hence, and at last it came to be discovered that tho he and the rest of Tache's crew, pretended to surrender and to claim the benefite of H.M. Proclamation [5 Sep 1717], they had nevertheless been guilty of divers piracys after the fifth of January for which they were not entitled to H.M. pardon. I therefore thought fitt to have him brought to a tryal, but found a strong opposition from some of the Council agt. trying him by vertue of the Commission under the great Seal pursuant to the Act of the 11th and 12th of King Wm. tho I produced the King's Instruction directing that manner of tryal; but having at length overcome their scruples, I had this person tryed and convicted of taking and destroying no less than twelve ships and vessells after the 5th of January and long after notice of H.M. Proclamation. About the time of this tryal I received advice from North Carolina, that Major [Stede] Bonnett who was one of Tach's associates and surrendered with him, was gone out again in a sloop [Royal James], and betaking himself to fresh piracys had been taken by some vessells [Sea Nymph, Fayrer Hall & Henry, John Masters; both under Col. William Rhett] fitted out for that purpose by the Government of South Carolina. That Tach with divers of his crew kept together in North Carolina went out at pleasure committing robberys on this coast and had lately brought in a ship [Rose Emelye] laden with sugar and cocoa, which they pretended they found as a wreck at sea without either men or papers, that they had landed the cargo at a remote inlett in that Province and set the ship on fire to prevent discovery to whom she belonged: and having at the same time received complaints from divers of the trading people of that Province of the insolence of that gang of pyrates, and the weakness of that Governmt. to restrain them, I judged it high time to destroy that crew of villains, and not to suffer them to gather strength in the neighbourhood of so valuable a trade as that of this Colony [Virginia]. Having gained sufficient intelligence of the strength of Tache's crew, and sent for pylots from Carolina, I communicated to the Captains of H.M. ships of war on this station [HMS Lyme, Ellis Brand & HMS Pearl, George Gordon] the project I had formed to extirpate this nest of pyrates. It was found impracticable for the men of war to go into the shallow and difficult channells of that country, and the Captains were unwilling to be at the charge of hyring sloops wch. they had no orders to do, and must therefore have paid out of their own pocketts, but as they readily consented to furnish men, I undertook the other part of supplying at my own charge sloops and pilots [Ranger & Jane]. Accordingly I hyred two sloops and put pilotes on board, and the Captains of H.M. ships having put 55 men on board under the command of the first Lieutenant of the Pearle [Robert Maynard] and an officer from the Lyme [Thomas Tucker?], they came up with Tach at Ouacock [Ocracoke] Inlett on the 22nd of last month, he was on board a sloop wch. carryed 8 guns and very well fitted for fight. As soon as he perceived the King's men intended to board him, he took up a bowl of liquor and calling out to the Officers of the other sloops, drank Damnation to anyone that should give or ask quarter, and then discharged his great guns loaded with partridge shott, wch. killed and wounded twenty of the King's men who lay exposed to his fire without any barricade or other shelter; he resolutely entered the first sloop which boarded him, nor did any one of his men yeild while they were in a condition to fight. His orders were to blow up his own vessell if he should happen to be overcome, and a negro [Caesar] was ready to set fire to the powder, had he not been luckily prevented by a planter forced on board the night before and who lay in the hold of the sloop during the action of the pyrats. Tach with nine of his crew were killed, and three white men and six negros were taken alive but all much wounded. The loss of the King's men is very considerable for the number, there being (?) ten killed in the action, and four and twenty wounded of whom one is since dead of his wounds. I do myself the honour of giving yor. Lordps. the particulars of this action because, it has, I hope, prevented a design of the most pernicious consequence to the trade of these Plantations, wch. was that of the pyrats fortifying an Island at Ouacock Inlett and making that a general rendevouze of such robbers. While the preparations for this service were carrying on, I proposed to our late Assembly and prevailed with them to pass an Act giving rewards for apprehending and destroying of pyrates, by which there is to be paid particularly for Tach £100, and half the rewards promised by H.M. Proclamation, for every one of his, or any other crew of pyrates taken on this coast, to be paid out of the publick money now in the hands of the countrey's Treasurer [Peter Beverley?]: but I did not communicate to the Assembly nor Council, the project then forming agt. Tach's crew for fear of his having intelligence, there being in this country [Virginia] and more especially among the present faction, an unaccountable inclination to favour pyrates, of which I begg leave to mention some instances. Besides the favour shown to Tache's Quarter Master [William Howard] in advising him to sue for his liberty and for his pyratical effects; some of the same gang having pass'd through this countrey in their way to Pensilvania, and contrary to my Proclamation assembling in great numbers with their arms, and endeavouring to debauch some sailors out of the merchant ships to joine them, the Officers of the Government could find none to assist in the disarming and suppressing that gang. On the tryal of some pyrates lately brought hither, arguments have been used to justify their villanys, and to acquitt them, upon the bare allegation of their being forced into that wicked Association without any proof, or so much as a probability of their acting by constraint. I received some days ago the honr. of yor. Lordps. of the — [18th] of August and H.M. Commission for pardoning pyrates, wch. came very seasonably to save Howard the Quartermr. then under sentence of death, but by H.M. extending his mercy for all piracys committed before the 18th of August, is now set at liberty. I must on this occasion intreat yor. Lordps. directions as well concerning the effects of this man as of others wch. appear to have been piratically taken. By H.M. Instructions I am commanded to seize and secure the effects of all pyrats brought in here; untill H.M. pleasure be signifyed therein: and by H.M. late Commission, I observe that all forfeitures are remitted to such as surrender within the time therin mentioned: what I am therefore in doubt of is, whether by the remitting all forfeitures, H.M. intends only to restore the pyrates to the estates they had before the committing their pyracies, or to grant them a property also in the effects wch. they have piratically taken. There is besides the two negro boys, about £50 in money and other things taken from the aforenamed Howard, and now in the hands of the Officer who seized it on H.M. behalf, of wch. and inventary is lodged in the Secretarys Office here. I therefore pray yor. Lordps. advice and commands how these effects are to be disposed, where the person in whose possession they were found is pardoned. I also expect from North Carolina a considerable quantity of sugar and cocoa, wch. were in the possession of Tach and his crew, and appear to have been the lading of that ship [Rose Emelye] wch. they lately brought in there under pretence of a wreck, but in reality was taken piratically near Bermuda from the subjects of the French King, and the men put on board a ship [La Toison d’Or] of the same nation [France] taken at the same time, as some of Taches crew now in custody alledge. If these men were saved alive it is probable they may lay claim to the lading of their ship: but if they are not, there is some consideration due to the Officers and men who rescued the same out of the hands of the pyrates etc. […]

Observing by the publick prints as well as the letters from divers of the merchts. that the French settlement on Mississippi, begins to make a considerable noise in the world, I cannot forbear taking notice of one particular circumstance thereof, for which I cannot find any foundation. It is advised by a letters from South Carolina inserted in the Political State for the month of August last, that the French had formed a design in conjunction with some of their neighbouring Indians to cutt off the Cherikees, and the writer of that letter is so particular as to mention the precise time, when, and the number of men by whom, it was to be put in execution. The traders imployed by the late Indian company who have been among the Cherikees all the last summer arrived here a few days ago with about 70 horse load of skins, and brought in with them four of the Great men of that Nation, declare that they heard of no such discourse there; tho they left the Cherikee country long after the time mentioned for this supposed attack from the French: besides that the Cherikees being a numerous Nation consisting of upwards of 4000 fighting men, and seated in the fastnesses of the great mountains are not so easily to be destroyed by the small numbers wch. the Carolina intelligence says are marching against them. So that it is not improbable, but that the French hopes from their new settlement may be as ill grounded, as the Carolina fears of their Indian neighbours. But whatever may be the progress of this new Colony, it is certainly the British interest to obstruct its growth, not only by interrupting the communication between that, and Canada, but by extending our commerce among the Indians, and particularly by cultivating a good correspondence with these Cherikees who are now very friendly to the English, and especially to those of this country imployed among them by the gentlemen of the late Indian Company and who have furnished them with arms and ammunition in greater proportion than the people of Carolina are capable of supplying. By the account I have had from our Indian traders these Cherikees are little farther distant from Virginia than they are from Charlestown: They are an increasing people, and the rather to be courted because of the barrier they may afford us agt. this new settlement of the French: whereas those Indian Nations that inhabite among or near the British settlements are of small account, by reason of their daily decrease, such are the Cattawbaws who from a powerful nation, are of late become much lessend, by a remarkable dispensation of Providence in rendring their women for the most part barren; as if Heaven design'd by the diminution of these Indian neighbours, to make room for our growing settlements. The scarcity and dearth of iron, which the merchants of England have for some time complained of, and the people here have sensibly felt, may I hope be happily remedyed by the late discoverys of mines in this Colony: one of which has been found at the head of Rappahannock River, by some German miners wch. I employed in that service, wch. is reputed richer than any in Europe, and lyes within less than ten miles of water carriage. Several gentlemen here are concerned with me, and ready to set up an iron works if it may be allowed: and I am not without hopes of discovering other mines of a nobler mettall, as soon as the country comes to be seated nearer the Great Mountains (over which I discovered the passage) and which may serve to check the vain boasts of the Spaniards, as if the Treasures of the Universe are solely committed to them. I shall conclude this letter with informing yor. Lordps. of the death of Mr. Berkeley one of the Council here, in whose stead I humbly recommend Mr. Cole Digges, a gentleman of good parts, and of an estate wch. may be reckoned amongst the first in this country, he is descended of an honble. Family in England, and his father served for divers years with great reputation in the office of a Councelor and Deputy Auditor here. This gentleman lives near the seat of Government, and is on that account preferable to others whose remoteness makes them unwillingly attend on the business of the Council. Signed, A. Spotswood. Endorsed, Recd. 13th, Read 29th April, 1719. 13 pp. Enclosed,

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