Commemorating 250 years of freedom: Setting the stage

Published 7:55 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Caroline Darden Hurt
Contributing Writer


The Isle of Wight County American Revolution 250 Committee was established to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, Revolutionary War and U.S. independence by examining related events through a local lens.

The committee will leverage special events and projects in Isle of Wight County to explore the various complex, diverse and multi-faceted aspects of life in Isle of Wight County before, during and after the American Revolution.

This monthly article series will showcase the winding path to self-governance and provide a context to our understanding of America’s journey to war with a special focus on Virginia’s and Isle of Wight County’s roles in this process.

Setting the stage: European supremacy

The forces and vision that would ultimately shape this land and the people who have lived here into the United States of America began to take root in the 16th century in various areas of the world. As powerful countries in Europe emerged from the Middle Ages into a new era of enlightenment, exploration, and religious and political thought, they began an all-encompassing struggle for economic and political dominance.

These countries were increasingly dependent on the expansion of trade, the development of new markets and sources for goods and raw materials, the expansion of their land holdings and power and the improvement of economic opportunities for their country.  

In the 1500s, Spain and its naval prowess dominated Europe. The gold, silver and other precious materials brought back to Europe from Mexico and South America seemingly promised great wealth. Rivalries among Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and England increased dramatically during this period. 

In 1558, Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England. She encouraged the growth of the English Navy and further exploration of the Americas. In 1588, the English Navy defeated the Spanish Armada initiating the decline of Spain as the foremost European power. However, for England to claim and maintain European supremacy, it had to control America and keep the power of other nations in check. England was small in land area with few natural resources, and settlement in America would make it much more self-sufficient. Additionally, if a shorter route to the Far East could be found in North America, England could control that rich trade.

In 1606, three years after he ascended the throne, King James I granted the first of several charters to a group of London investors known as the Virginia Company of London for land in North America between the 34th and 41st parallels. The Virginia Company was originally a joint stock company with economic objectives benefiting England. The initial charters gave the members of the company rights to elect officers, frame bylaws, transport emigrants, govern settlements, dispose of land and other resources and carry on commerce. For 12 pounds and 10 shillings, an investor could receive 200 acres of land. Stock was purchased by nobles, businessmen and city companies. Over the first several years, the company incentivized the colonization of Virginia via charters that guaranteed colonists the same rights and liberties as Englishmen in England. Many of the guarantees in the charters as well as certain encroachments on these early rights would later influence the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

The stage was set for permanent English settlement in America.

Check The Tidewater News next month for the second installment in this ongoing series.