The State of Virginia in 1721

[On September the 8th 1721, the Lord Commissioners for Trade and Plantations in London sent a Representation to the King (George I) upon the State of His Majesty’s Colonies & Plantations on the Continent of North America. Herewith are given the introductory paragraphs and the sections pertaining to Virginia.]

To The King’s Most Excellent Majesty

May it please your Majesty.
In obedience to your Majesty’s commands, we have prepared the following state of your Majesty’s Plantations on the Continent of America; wherein we have distinguished their respective situations, Governments, strengths and Trade, and have observed of what importance their commerce is to Great Britain, whereunto having added an account of the french settlements, and of the encroachments they have made in your Majesty’s colonies in those parts, we have humbly proposed such methods, as may best prevent the increase of an evil, which, if not timely prevented, may prove destructive to your Majesty’s interest; and have likewise offered such considerations, as, in our opinion, may contribute to the improving and enlarging your Majesty’s dominions in America.

Your Majesty’s plantations on the Continent of America, being from the North, are Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pensylvania, Maryland, Virginia, & Carolina.

 And although Newfoundland, and Hudson’s Bay are both of them parts of your Majesty’s Territories in North America, yet neither of them being a Colony under civil Government, or lying contiguous to your Majesty’s other Plantations on the continent, we have made no mention of them in this representation.


The Government of this Colony was at first under the direction of a Company; but they being dissolved upon their mal-administration, in the year 1626, His Majesty King Charles the first took the Government into his own hands, & settled such laws & constitutions in that province, as were agreeable to those in this Kingdom.

Accordingly the nomination & appointment of the Governors, as well as the Council (which consists of twelve persons) is in your Majesty, & the General Assembly (consisting of fifty two Burgesses) has been always chosen by the freeholders.

The strength & security of this Colony, in a great measure, depend upon their Militia, their plantations being usually at too great a distance from one another to be covered by forts or towns.

James Town and Williamsburg are the only Towns in the whole Country; & there is no Fort of any consequence for the security of their great navigation & trade, but at James Town.

However for their protection against the Indians, who inhabit among them, & that live to the Westward they have erected Christianna, & some other Forts, & the Council & Assembly have lately proposed to your Majesty a scheme for securing the passes over the great ridge of Mountains which on the back of this Province, dividing them from the french & Indian Nations in the french interest, whereupon we have sometime since reported our humble opinion to your Majesty, & beg leave upon this occasion to repeat, that we conceive their proposal to be deserving of all reasonable encouragement.

Their militia in the year 1690, consisted of 6,570 horse & foot. In the year 1703, there were mustered 1403 Officers, 2161 Horse, 1794 Dragoons, and 5198 Foot for a total of 10,556. And in the year 1715, they were increased to about 14,000 in all:

from whence we compute, supposing the Militia to be a sixth part of the whole, that the total number of the inhabitants (exclusive of negroes) amounts to about 84,000 souls.

The province is divided into 25 Counties, & the proprietors of all the lands that have been taken up in 20 of the said Counties, pay an annual quit-rent to your Majesty, of two shillings in money, or 24 pounds weight of tobacco for every hundred acres.

But the propriety of the northern neck (containing the other five Counties) was granted by King Charles the Second, & King James the Second, to the late Thomas Lord Colepepper, upon a quit rent of £6.13s.4d per Annum.

The Lands in the aforesaid twenty Counties, on which the said Quit rent to your Majesty is paid, contained, in 1704,  2,238,143 acres and in 1714,  2,619,773 acres.

However the produce of this revenue is very much governed by the price of tobacco in the country: for example: On a medium of ten years, ending in 1713, (during which time the tobacco was low) the proceed amounted to £1411.7s.7d per Annum. And in the medium of the four following years (when the price of Tobacco was high) £2270.11s.8d per Annum.

There is another revenue in this province, that is settled and appropriated by the Assembly for the constant support and charge of your Majesty’s government. This consists of several Duties, viz., On every hogshead of Tobacco exported 2s.0d; On every ton of Shipping 1s.3d; and On every Poll imported 6d. Besides the rights of taking up lands, and fines & forfeitures.

On a medium of six years, ending the 25th of October 1710, the whole produce, clear of all charges £2,845.15s.11p per Annum. And upon the same medium, the established Salaries & etc. amounted to (per Annum) £2821.12s.3d; The ordinary Charges of £176.12s.5d; And the Contingent Expenses of £97.3s.2d. The total Annual Charge, as aforesaid, is £3,095.7s.10d which exceeds the amount of the revenue by £249.11s.11d.

And this excess hath been generally allowed by your Majesty, as well as by your Royal Predecessors, out of the produce of the quit-rents.

But besides the said standing and certain charges, for which provisions made, as aforesaid, this province has been always obliged, for maintaining their guards & garrisons on the Indian frontiers, for erecting several publick magazines, & buildings & discharging other necessary expense, to levy certain quantities of tobacco, at so many pounds of tobacco per head, or every tythable, which comprehends all persons exceeding sixteen years of age, except white women.

The number of the said tythables, according to their respective lists: In 1698 amounted to 20,523; In 1705 to 27,053; In 1714 to 31,540.

The principal product of Virginia is tobacco; & in general it’s of a better quality than that of Maryland. Before the conclusion of the last peace with france, the Virginia planters exported to this Kingdom at least 30,000 hogshead per Annum; but about that time, the trade declining, for want of foreign consumption, an Act was in the 12th year of Her late Majesty’s reign for encouraging the tobacco trade, & your Majesty hath been since graciously pleased to give your Royal Assent to an Act for continuing the same.

But as this commodity is of such consequence to the trade of Great Britain, not only with respect to our home consumption, but likewise to our foreign exportations, all further occasions should be laid hold of, for giving some ease & encouragement to the same, by a further reduction of the duty, so soon as it may be done, consistent with the present appropriations thereof.

The other branches of the trade between this kingdom & Virginia consist in pitch & tar, pipe & hogshead staves, skins & furs, & a few drugs. They also export to the other Plantations some small quantities of tobacco, provisions, & lumber, but their dependence is almost wholly on the produce of tobacco.

[The text was taken, with slight rearrangements, from J.R. Brodhead, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, edited by E.B. O’Callaghan, v.V, p.591, Albany, 1855. Essentially the same material was printed in Beyond Germanna, v. 8, n.2, p. 436.]

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