Category: Governors of Virginia

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Almond, James Lindsay Jr. (1898–1986)

J. Lindsay Almond Jr. was a governor of Virginia (1958–1962) whose name became synonymous with Massive Resistance, the legislative effort used to prevent school desegregation in light of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Supreme Court of the United States ruling in 1954. A Democrat and member of the Byrd Organization, Almond is famous for closing public schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Front Royal in 1958 rather than integrating them. When the state and federal courts declared his actions illegal, Almond submitted, thus effectively ending the era of Massive Resistance to desegregation in Virginia.

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Amherst, Sir Jeffery (1717–1797)

Jeffery Amherst was a British army general and royal governor of Virginia from 1759 until 1768. Born in Kent County, England, Amherst served as commander of British forces in North America in 1758. He captured strategic forts at Ticonderoga, Niagara, Quebec, and Montreal. For these military successes, he was rewarded with the office of governor in Virginia. He never visited Virginia, leaving the colony’s administration to the lieutenant governor, Francis Fauquier. After Fauquier’s death, the British ministry decided that the royal governor should reside in Williamsburg and no longer entrust the government of the colony to a lieutenant governor. Amherst, refusing to live in Virginia, was dismissed from office. Amherst died in Kent County in 1797.

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Andros, Sir Edmund (1637–ca. 1714)

Sir Edmund Andros served as governor of Virginia from 1692 until 1698. Born in London, Andros enjoyed ties to the family of Charles II, served in the army, was appointed governor of New York by the future James II in 1674 and in 1686 of the Dominion of New England. His stay in New England was unpopular enough that he ended up imprisoned before returning to England. During the Glorious Revolution (1688) he supported William of Orange, who appointed him governor of Virginia with the hopes that he would aid New York during King William’s War (1689–1697) and raise the salaries of the Anglican clergy. Andros’s efforts were hindered by the war’s effect on the tobacco trade; when prices fell, so did the salaries of clergymen, who were paid in the crop. Forced to battle with the clergymen’s leader, James Blair, Andros raised salaries some but not enough. In the meantime, he subtly extended royal power in Virginia, tying the colony’s laws closer to England’s. Just staying in power despite a host of political enemies, Andros left office due to poor health, leaving Virginia in 1699. He served as lieutenant governor of Guernsey before dying in England sometime around 1714.

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Barbour, James (1775–1842)

James Barbour was Speaker of the House of Delegates (1809–1812), the governor of Virginia (1812–1814), a member of the U.S. Senate (1815–1825) and its president pro tempore (1819), and the secretary of war (1825–1828) and minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain (1828–1829) in the administration of President John Quincy Adams. Born in Orange County, he read law in Richmond and married his first cousin, Lucy Maria Johnson. (Barbour’s younger brother, Philip Pendleton Barbour, married Johnson’s sister.) As a member of the General Assembly, Barbour was a states’-rights conservative, but that changed over time. He became governor after George William Smith died in the Richmond Theatre fire, and his management of state affairs during the War of 1812 made him more appreciative of the need for a strong executive. In the U.S. Senate Barbour supported a federal bank and federally financed internal improvements and served in Adams’s Federalist administration that was loudly opposed by many Jeffersonian Virginians, including Barbour’s own brother, then in the U.S. House of Representatives. After the election of Andrew Jackson, Barbour retired to his estate, Barboursville, where he focused on innovative farming techniques. He helped to organize the Whig Party in Virginia in opposition to Jackson’s policies. He died in 1842.

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Battle, John Stewart (1890–1972)

John Stewart Battle was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (1930–1934) and the Senate of Virginia (1934–1950), and served as governor of Virginia (1950–1954). A loyal Democrat in line with the Byrd Organization, the state machine run by U.S. senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., Battle overcame a spirited challenge by three fellow Democrats to win the 1949 gubernatorial primary. His greatest achievement as governor was a massive school construction program to accommodate the first wave of the baby boom. Battle gained national recognition when he addressed the 1952 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, in an effort to prevent the Virginia delegation from losing its vote due to a disagreement over a loyalty oath. Although the U.S. Supreme Court did not announce its 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas—which mandated the desegregation of public schools—until after Battle left office, civil rights issues were emerging during his term. In a somewhat ironic end to his public service, Battle, a segregationist, was appointed by U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1957.

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Bennett, Richard (bap. 1609–ca. 1675)

Richard Bennett served as governor of Virginia (1652–1655), in the House of Burgesses (1629), and served two stints on the governor’s Council (1642–1652; 1658–1675). Born into an English merchant family, he came to Virginia around 1628 to run his uncle’s estate and set about acquiring thousands of acres of his own as well as importing Puritan settlers who helped provide him an important political base. In 1646, he led a force of Puritans to assist the exiled governor of Maryland and helped start a Puritan migration to the colony. After Parliament’s defeat of Charles I in the English Civil Wars, Bennett negotiated the bloodless submission of the Virginia and Maryland colonies, which were loyal to the Crown. The General Assembly then elected him governor of Virginia, and during his term he tried but failed to politically unite the Chesapeake Bay colonies. Not long after Catholics and Puritans fought a bloody battle in Maryland, Bennett stepped down as governor, but in 1657 he helped negotiate a treaty that restored Maryland’s charter rights. He then served on the governor’s Council and, as a major general in the Virginia militia, helped defend the colony during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667). Bennett died early in 1675.

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Berkeley, Norborne, baron de Botetourt (1717–1770)

Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt, was royal governor of Virginia from 1768 until his death in 1770. Born Norborne Berkeley in London, England, he served in the House of Commons from 1741 until 1764, when he procured the revival of the barony of Botetourt and became a member of the House of Lords. In 1768 King George III commissioned Botetourt royal governor of Virginia. Unlike his predecessor, Sir Jeffery Amherst, who had refused to reside in the colony, Botetourt moved to Williamsburg and lived there for almost two years. The new governor was well liked by Virginians, who believed that he disapproved of British policies; in reality, he advised the Crown to stand firm against colonial protests, and had supported taxing the colonists as a member of the House of Lords. Botetourt died on October 15, 1770, and was buried in the chapel at the College of William and Mary.

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Berkeley, Sir William (1605–1677)

Sir William Berkeley was the longest-serving governor of Virginia (1641–1652, 1660–1677), a playwright, and author of Discourse and View of Virginia (1663), which argued for a more diversified colonial economy. After being educated at Oxford and after a brief study of the law, Berkeley gained access to the royal circle surrounding King Charles I, and one of his plays, The Lost Lady (1638), was performed for the king and queen. In 1641, he was named governor and captain general of Virginia, where he raised tobacco but also, at Green Spring, experimented with more diverse crops. His first stint as governor, marked by his willingness to share power and by the rise in stature of the General Assembly in Jamestown, ended with the king’s execution. Berkeley’s restoration coincided with King Charles II’s, but his second governorship was much less successful. He failed to diversify the tobacco-based economy or to convince many settlers that the colony was adequately protecting them from Indian attacks. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon challenged Berkeley directly, even laying siege to and then burning Jamestown. Although Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677) was suppressed, Berkeley’s authority had been undermined, and he was replaced by Herbert Jeffreys in 1677. In May of that year Berkeley sailed to England to plead his case, but before he could meet the king, he died on July 9.

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Blair, John (ca. 1687–1771)

John Blair sat on the governor’s Council (1745–1770), becoming its president in 1757 and serving as acting governor on four occasions. Born in Scotland, he came to Virginia as a child, living in Williamsburg and earning a degree there at the College of William and Mary, founded by his uncle, James Blair. John Blair served as deputy auditor general from 1728 until 1771, reforming and improving the procedures by which the government collected revenue. In addition, he served as York County justice of the peace (1724–1745) and as a naval officer on the James River (1727–1728). Upon the death of his father, Archibald Blair, he joined the House of Burgesses representing Jamestown (1724–1736). In 1736, he was elected as a burgess from Williamsburg, serving until 1740. He is probably the same John Blair who also served as mayor of Williamsburg in 1751. After the governor’s death and in ill health himself, Blair resigned from the Council in 1770 rather than serve as acting governor a fifth time. He died in 1771.

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Burwell, Lewis (1711 or 1712–1756)

Lewis Burwell, often referred to as President Lewis Burwell to distinguish him from others of the same name, was a member of the governor’s Council (1743–1756) and served as acting governor of Virginia for a year beginning in November 1750. Born in Gloucester County to a prominent family that included Robert “King” Carter, Burwell was educated in England before returning to Virginia and serving in the House of Burgesses (1742). The next year, George II appointed him to the Council, and in 1750, he became the body’s senior member. With the governor and lieutenant governor away from Virginia at the time, this made him president, or acting governor. During his year as president, the General Assembly never met, but Burwell did commission the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia. Ill health limited his role in later years, and he died in 1756.

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