Bland was born in England and christened on October 26, 1647, in the parish of Saint Olave, Hart Street, in London, the son of John Bland and Sarah Greene Bland. His family was consequential in London mercantile circles and had interests in Virginia as old as the colony. His paternal grandfather for whom he was named was a shareholder in the, and John Bland and the elder Giles Bland both had substantial holdings in the colony.
Bland married Frances Povey, the daughter of Thomas Povey, an influential royal functionary. They had at least one son. The relationship to Povey probably explains Bland’s appointment in the mid-1670s as a royal customs collector for Virginia. Coincidentally, the death of Bland’s uncle, who had managed the family’s Virginia property, left a jumble of unresolved debts and claims against the family for settlement by his , . Bearing his father’s power of attorney for use in clearing up the family’s finances, Giles Bland traveled to Virginia about 1673 and soon assumed his duties as customs collector.
Something of a tart-tongued free spirit, Bland disagreed with his aunt over control of the estate. No pushover, she acted quickly to defend her rights, and their quarrels led to litigation in the General Court. Giles Bland either ignored or failed to recognize a salient quality about his aunt: she had friends in high places. Her supporters included Governor Sir William Berkeley; the deputy governor; the secretary of the colony; numerous other prominent politicians, including St. Leger Codd, whom she later married; and her own father,, who was a former governor and then a member of the governor’s Council, which in its judicial capacity constituted the General Court. With such men Anna Bland understandably found more support than did her pushy nephew, and the highly political litigation that began after Giles Bland arrived in Virginia persisted for a decade.
In September 1674 Bland ran afoul of Thomas Ludwell, the secretary of the colony and a councillor. Accounts differ about the origin of the dispute, though this much is certain: Bland took exception to Ludwell’s opinion in the case against his aunt. After the General Court had adjourned for the day, Bland stopped at Ludwell’s house to argue his point. The secretary offered him a drink. Emboldened by too much alcohol, the men traded insults and threats. Determined to have the last word, Bland took one of Ludwell’s gloves and pinned it to the statehouse door with a note declaring its owner “a Sonn of a Whore mechannick Fellow puppy and a Coward.” Thecomplained of Bland’s gesture as a “Publique Affront” to the assembly as well as to the secretary and asked the governor to have Bland arrested and made to answer for his insult. Berkeley readily complied, and Bland was forced to apologize publicly, which he did in a “Slight and Scornefull” manner. The General Court also levied a £500 fine, suspended for two years so that Bland could appeal the judgment to England.
Bland did appeal, but he also sought to square accounts with Berkeley. He complained to his superiors in the customs service about the governor’s failure to enforce the navigation laws. He probably asserted correctly that the Virginians enforced the trade laws laxly, but Bland had been an irritant to Berkeley almost from the day of his arrival, and the two men had clashed over the extent of Bland’s power as customs collector. Differences in personality contributed to their disputes, but so did their overlapping authority. The Crown had charged both men with the same task without delineating their individual responsibilities, and Berkeley had already named his own collectors before Bland’s appointment.
The relationship between Bland and Berkeley soured beyond repair within a year of the Ludwell affair. On September 16, 1675, Bland wrote the governor a sharp, accusatory letter alleging that Berkeley had willfully condoned repeated violations of the trade laws and threatening again to complain to London. Infuriated, Berkeley hauled Bland before the Council to demand sworn evidence of his allegations. Bland offered no proof, “would not or could not otherwaies Justifie himselfe,” and admitted that he had sent a copy of his letter to the customs board. The Council unanimously suspended him as collector and jailed him until he posted a bond to keep the peace.
Bland’s brief association with Virginia is a nearly perfect example of how a mixture of private affairs with personalities and politics can produce unforeseen consequences, the effects of which linger for generations. His troubles with Berkeley, Ludwell, and others probably account for his siding with Nathaniel Bacon in the rebellion led by Bacon in 1676. Less certain is what the rebel leadership saw in Bland. He had no recorded friendships with Bacon or any other leader of the rebellion before he became one of them. He brought no military skill to the cause, and he had no apparent following among Bacon’s malcontented supporters. They intended to send Bland to England to plead their cause in person, as he had already done in letters to his parents, Povey, and other royal officials, but he never got the chance because he proved to be an inept insurrectionary.
In September, Bacon put Bland in charge of an expedition to seize the governor, but the governor captured Bland instead. Thereafter Bland remained in close confinement aboard a ship as the revolt ran its course. Despite the exertions of family and friends, Bland was too deeply implicated to win the king’s pardon. On March 8, 1677, Berkeley presided over a court-martial that condemned him to death. Though originally scheduled to hang on March 15, 1677, Bland was executed in Jamestown on March 27, 1677, when “he made a good penitent end.” His place of burial is unknown.