The Virginia Adventure

The Borough Archive in King’s Lynn has a wonderful series of large, leather-bound books called The Hall Books, which record the proceedings of the town council over several centuries.

The books covering the 1600s are particularly interesting. It is here that we can read accounts of the Barbary Pirates and the building of St Anne’s Fort, and of the visit of Matthew Hopkins to purge the town of witches. There are also some interesting entries concerning the Virginia Adventure.

It has to be reiterated at this point that a lot of the handwriting in the old books is very difficult to read, and also that there seems at times to be anomalies in the dates- for example, September 1660 might occur before January 1660. This is because the records in the Chamberlain’s Accounts and the Hall Books run on a year which runs from Lady Day to Lady Day. Lady Day is another name for the Feast of the Annunciation and held on March 25th. There is still a residual use of the date today. After the adjustment of the calendars Lady Day now happens on April 6th and marks the change of the financial year.

The first entry is “An acquittance for the supplies for Virginia”, and records one Matthew Clark bringing a receipt “under the hand of Thomas Smith knight for the receipt of £25”, for the transport of supplies “for the advancement of the English Plantation in Virginia”.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 6

Later that same year, the Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council agreed to “adventure twenty and five pounds in the new lottery at London appointed for the plantation in Virginia”.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 24

English settlers had first colonised Virginia in 1580, at Jamestown and Roanoke, and were granted three charters, in 1606, 1609 and 1612 by James I, which differed basically in the delineation of the territory granted to the colony.

The 1606 charter set up a council made up of members of the joint-stock Virginia Company, usually eminent merchants; members of council were ostensibly appointed by the king, in reality by the membership of the company, and more often than not by the inner executive group of the Company. The council in England appointed a council in Virginia for the day to day running of the colony, but when this proved ineffective, a governor, initially Lord Delaware, was appointed. By 1608, the governor was one John Smith.

The young colony faced many early difficulties- in the first winter, half the settlers died, food and supplies were running low, leadership was poor, no one knew how to farm, and the colony suffered from diseases and Indian attacks, as described here.

But to get back to the main thread of our story- the Third Charter, granted on March 12, 1612, is a long and wordy document. It can be read on online here.

Briefly, it names the members of the council, deals with supplies of food, arms and livestock, reports cases of fraud and false pretences, but more importantly for our story, authorises the setting up of a lottery or lotteries, initially for one year, but to be extended thereafter. The lotteries were to be set up in “London and any other city or cities in England and proclaimed throughout the country.

I was not able to find specific details online of how the lotteries worked, but the Archive holds a copy of an excellent small book- Mrs John Rolfe of Heacham by John Haden and the pupils of Heacham Junior School which provides information. The Virginia Company was an investment scheme- much like the later disastrous South Sea Bubble- for the exploitation of overseas territories. Given the long term nature of the undertaking, it was not attracting the necessary level of investment- priced at £12.10s per share; the solution was to organise lotteries- presumably at the same price per ticket, as King’s Lynn “adventured” £25. It is known that a first prize of £1,000, and a second of £500 were won. Not by Lynn, though the town obviously won something- see below on folio 126.

In October 1612, the Hall Book reports that the Chamberlain paid money to the Mayor to send to London, “for the discharge of the fee farmers, the Lord Chancellor’s fee and the Adventure in Virginia”.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 26

In September 1612 there is a receipt for money for the lottery.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 28

The colony obviously recovered from its poor start. In March 1616 there is an entry about the lottery, with a receipt for the lottery being taken out of the Hall and delivered to Mr William Atkyn. It is not clear, but I wonder whether this indicates that the investment was paying dividends.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 111

Again, it is difficult to decipher some of the entries, but as I read the one for January 30, 1617, there was delivered to the Mayor and Aldermen a sum of money from the Lord and others of the committee for the Plantation of Virginia. There is a reference to money which had been “adventured” in the lottery.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 126

In February 1617, there are two interesting entries. The first has the Mayor bringing to the Hall various items “that were gotten by that adventure” including one double gilt cup, one little silver cup and a gilt spoons, all with valuations attached, and money was “voted toward plate”. The town was investing its returns in civic plate, one presumes.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 127

The second entry records that money given by Gabriell Barbour, agent for the lottery, was to be “distributed by the Mayor and Aldermen of this town amongst the poor people of this borough”.

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Hall books. KLBA, KL/C 7/9, fo. 127

There are two interesting links between this area today and the Virginia Adventure. On the way from the front entrance to the Archive and the Tales of Lynn, one goes through a gallery displaying civic treasures. There are various cups, and in a side gallery, behind the King John Cup, there is a large cabinet full of silver spoons of various designs. Were these some of the fruits of the Virginia Adventure? None remain on display of the relevant date, but Dayna Woolbright, of King’s Lynn Museum, tells me that in 1711, some old plate was disposed of to finance the purchase of the civic mases, which are to be seen.

The second link concerns John Smith, the governor in 1608, and the Indian attacks suffered by the colony. John Smith and a group of his men were involved in a skirmish with Pamunkey Indians. The Pamunkey were a sub-group of the powerful Powhatan chiefdom. Two Indians were killed; only John Smith survived, and he was sentenced to death. The story is well known- he was saved when Powhatan’s daughter interceded. Her name was Pocahontas, and she is featured on the Heacham village sign, having later married John Rolfe, son of a prominent local family.

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Heacham sign. Photo copyright Martin Pearman and licensed for reuse.

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

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