Author: Alison G. Olson

professor emeritus of history at the University of Maryland
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Pistole Fee Dispute, The

The pistole fee dispute of 1753–1754 was a political battle between the House of Burgesses and Virginia lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie over Dinwiddie’s decision to charge a fee of one pistole (approximately 18 shillings) for each land patent to which he attached the colony’s seal. Though royal policy gave colonial governors the right to establish officers’ fees with the consent of the governor’s Council, the practice was not enforced in Virginia, where fees were usually determined by the General Assembly. The controversy over the pistole fee was so heated that Dinwiddie and the House of Burgesses sent representatives to London to argue their cases before the Privy Council. The Privy Council upheld the fee and Dinwiddie’s right to establish it, but imposed certain restrictions on the fee to conciliate the House of Burgesses—a compromise that was accepted by the opposing parties but did not address the constitutional issue of whether colonial legislatures had the right to defeat local taxes proposed by the British government. The questions that were raised by opponents of the fee (including Richard Bland and Landon Carter) regarding British authority and the rights of Virginians would resurface in 1765 with the passage of the Stamp Act.

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Board of Trade

The Board of Trade, established in 1696 by William III, was an English advisory board for trade and colonial government. It was preceded by a variety of committees that had been appointed by monarchs and ministers, beginning in 1622, to oversee the American colonies. In the seventeenth century, sustained work on colonial affairs in England was made difficult by political instability relating to the English Civil Wars (1642–1648). But even in the first half of the eighteenth century, after a dedicated Board of Trade was formed and as the colonies were growing larger and more profitable, the board often (after an initial burst of activity) left the colonies alone. As a result, colonial legislative bodies such as the House of Burgesses became more efficient and therefore more self-reliant. In 1748 the Board of Trade’s ambitious new president inaugurated a period of increased board interest in colonial activity. In the 1760s and 1770s the Board of Trade’s power declined as Parliament, the Privy Council, and the secretary of state for the colonies became more involved in colonial affairs. After the colonies declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, they no longer required the board’s oversight.

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