Giles Bland (bap. 1647–1677)


Giles Bland was a participant in Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677) who was executed in 1677. Born into an English mercantile family with substantial interests in Virginia, he arrived in the colony about 1673 and assumed a post as customs collector. Something of a free spirit, he clashed with Governor Sir William Berkeley concerning their overlapping authority and with politically influential family members over disposition of an uncle’s estate. The sharp-tongued Bland got into an alcohol-fueled exchange of insults with the secretary of the colony that resulted in his arrest and a public apology. Following Bland’s accusations in September 1675 that Berkeley had willfully violated trade laws, the governor’s Council suspended him as customs collector. These personal and professional conflicts likely spurred Bland to join the rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon the following year. In September 1676 Bacon put Bland in charge of an expedition to seize the governor. Berkeley captured Bland instead, and he was executed in Jamestown on March 27, 1677.

Early Years

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 Virginia Company of London, 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 Theodorick Bland, who had managed the family’s Virginia property, left a jumble of unresolved debts and claims against the family for settlement by his widow, Anna Bennett Bland. 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.

In Virginia

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, Richard Bennett, 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.” The burgesses complained 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.

Bacon’s Rebellion

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.

October 26, 1647
Giles Bland is christened in the parish of Saint Olave, Hart Street, in London. His parents are John Bland and Sarah Greene Bland.
ca. 1673
Giles Bland travels from England to Virginia to serve as customs collector and to resolve claims against his family for settlement by his uncle's widow, Anna Bennett Bland.
September 1674
Giles Bland engages in a public dispute with Thomas Ludwell, the secretary of the colony and a member of the governor's Council. Bland is forced to publicly apologize and is fined £500.
September 16, 1675
Giles Bland, royal customs collector for Virginia, writes Governor Sir William Berkeley a sharp, accusatory letter alleging that Berkeley has willfully condoned repeated violations of the trade laws and threatens to complain to London.
September 1676
Giles Bland is put in charge of an expedition to seize Governor Sir William Berkeley during Bacon's Rebellion. Bland is seized instead.
March 8, 1677
Governor Sir William Berkeley presides over a court-martial that condemns Giles Bland to death for his participation in Bacon's Rebellion.
March 27, 1677
Giles Bland is executed in Jamestown for his participation in Bacon's Rebellion. His place of burial is unknown.
  • Billings, Warren M. “Bland, Giles.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 7–8. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
APA Citation:
Billings, Warren & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Giles Bland (bap. 1647–1677). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/bland-giles-bap-1647-1677.
MLA Citation:
Billings, Warren, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Giles Bland (bap. 1647–1677)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 17 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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