One must recognize that there was a very definite purpose and aim in the minds of the leaders of the Virginia Company in giving the name “City” to these raw little settlements [James City, Kecoughtan (Elizabeth City from 1621), the City of Henricus, and Charles City]. In English thought and custom in the seventeenth century, the appellation “city” was never given to a community, however large in population, unless it was the “see city” of a diocese and had a cathedral as the seat of its bishop. As there was not the slightest intention of sending a bishop to Virginia, or of establishing a diocese with a see city, one must look elsewhere than to the authority of English precedent to find the reason for the four “cities” in Virginia.
The explanation seems to be very clear. The group of men with Sir Edwin Sandys as their leading spirit who were formulating the plans and guiding the destinies of the Virginia Company were seeking to create a form of government which would give the greatest degree of autonomy and self-government to the settlers in these new communities, who to so great an extent would be thrown upon their own resources. Regardless of the question of the degree of loyalty of the radical puritans to the monarchial form of government, the settlers in Virginia were removed by three thousand miles of ocean from their king, as the source of civil authority, and from their bishop as the head of ecclesiastical order and government. They must, consequently, for their own protection and the welfare of their settlements, have as large a degree of authority to govern themselves and to make and administer their own laws as was consistent with their loyalty to both king and Church. Certainly it must have been realized that neither Parliament nor any group of officials of the company living in England could wisely enact laws governing local conditions in Jamestown, because they could not know enough about local conditions; nor could any court in England exercise authority there through lack of jurisdiction. Sir Edwin Sandys, and his fellow-members of the “Court” or executive committee of the Virginia Company, had the clear political sagacity to perceive that, if their colony was to develop into anything more than a trading post in a foreign land, its people must have the authority to govern themselves. There was no provision for dukedoms, palatinates or baronies with their political powers and civil courts. The plan later developed by the Caroline kings of granting great tracts of American land to favored groups of proprietors, to whom were given semi-regal authority over their “subject” settlers for the sake of the financial returns accruing therefrom, does not seem to have been conceived when either Virginia or Massachusetts was established. The source of their government and the authority of their courts must be found in the settlers themselves, as the owners of their own land, and not as tenants owing fealty and service to overlords who owned the land, and who, in consequence of that ownership, could make laws and establish courts to enforce their edicts.
Such freedom of self-government of and by the people themselves could not be found in any community in England at that time. The evidence as to the source whence he drew his conception of colonial local self-government is to be found in the words of Sir Edwin Sandys himself. “If ever God from heaven,” quoth that doughty puritan, “did constitute and direct a frame of government on earth it was that of Geneva.”
— Virginia’s Mother Church and the Political Conditions Under Which It Grew,
Brydon, G. MacLaren (George MacLaren), pp. 31-32.
First since we owe our highest and supreme duty, our greatest, and all our allegeance to him, from whom all power and authoritie is derived, and flowes as from the first, and onely fountaine, and being especiall souldiers emprest in this sacred cause, we must alone expect our successe from him, who is onely the blesser of all good attempts, the King of kings, the commaunder of commaunders, and Lord of Hosts, I do strictly commaund and charge all Captaines and Officers, of what qualitie or nature soever, whether commanders in the field, or in the towne, or townes, forts or fortresses, to have a care that the Almightie God bee duly and daily served, and that thy call upon their people to heare Sermons, as that also they diligently frequent Morning and Evening praier themselves by their owne exemplar and daily life, and dutie herein, encouraging others thereunto, and that such, who shall often and wilfully absent themselves, be duly punished according to the martiall law in that case provided.
— Article 1.1, Articles, Lawes, and Orders, Divine, Politique, and Martiall for the Colony in Virginea: first established by Sir Thomas Gates Knight, Lieutenant Generall, the 24. of May 1610. exemplified and approved by the Right Honourable Sir Thomas West Knight, Lord Lawair, Lord Governour and Captaine Generall the 12. of June 1610. Againe exemplified and enlarged by Sir Thomas Dale Knight, Marshall, and Deputie Governour, the 22. of June. 1611, as recorded by William Strachey, Secretary of the Colony of Virginia, 1609 – 1611.
And to the end that the People, both present and to come, may be faithfully brought up in the true knowledge and service of Almighty God, and so learne to frame their lives and conversations, as not onely, not to provoke the Devine indignation, which pursueth the faithless and disobedient soules by sundry kinds of punishment to everlasting destruction: but also by their good example, to allure the Heathen people to submit themselves to the Scepter of Gods most righteous and blessed Kingdome, and so finally to joyne with them in the true Christian profession: We doe hereby ordaine and require, that in every Burrough there be provided and placed at the least one godly and learned Minister, to be chosen in each Particular Plantation by the several Adventurers and Planters; And for the foure ancient Burroughs, to be provided and nominated by us, and our Successors; As also for the Tenants and Inhabitants of the Companies Land wheresoever: Leaving alwaies to the Governour to provide a Minister for his Tenants, and to the Colledge for theirs. All which Ministers and Their Successors, we earnestly pray and require to try themselves with all diligence, to the training up of their charge in the way of righteousness, as the same is now professed, and by Law established in this Church of England, and other his Majesties Dominions, avoiding all factions, and needlesse Novelties, tending onely to the disturbance of peace and unity. And whereas we have ordained heretofore, that one hundred acres of Glebe land be set out and allotted for every Minister, besides other profits out of the Inhabitants encrease: We doe hereby also ordaine, that the said Ministers be furnished, each with sixe Tenants, towards the occupying of his Glebe land; which sixe, for the Ministers belonging to the Publike lands; that is to say, the Governours, Colledges, and Companies Land, shall bee sent and furnished wholly at the common charges of the Company. And for the Burroughs, as well the ancient, as those of Particular Plantations, the Company is content to furnish out at their charges, three Tenants for each, upon condition that the severall Burroughs furnish out three more: which sixe, for each Minister being once so furnished, the Ministers themselves shall be afterwards charged each to maintain that number at the least, and so to leave them to his Successor.
— “Broadside,” or the printed and published letter of instructions sent by the Virginia Company of London to the Governor of the Virginia Colony and his Council of State,
17 May 1620.
From hence in two days (only by the help of tydes, no wind stirring), we plyed it sadly up the river, and the three and twentieth of May we cast anchor before James Towne, where we landed, and our much grieved Governour first visiting the church caused the bell to be rung, at which (all such as were able to come forth of their houses) repayred to the church where our Minister, Maister Bucke made a zealous and sorrowful Prayer, finding all things so contrary to our expectation, so full of misery and misgovernment. After service our Governour caused me to read his commission, and Captaine Percy (then President) delivered up unto him his commission, the Old Patent, and the Councell Seale.
William Strachey on the precarious state of the Virginia Colony in 1610.