Surrender to Parliament (Treaty of Jamestown)


On March 12, 1652, Virginia governor Sir William Berkeley and the governor’s Council agreed to a negotiated surrender to the forces sent out by the Commonwealth government of England under the authority of the English Parliament. By capitulating, Virginia relinquished its status as a royal colony and ceased its formal support of the Stuart royal family. The surrender came after the colony endured an embargo and a blockade, both ordered by the Commonwealth government of England. The colonial government negotiated relatively favorable terms for its surrender, although Berkeley was forced to step down as governor. Virginia would return to royal colony status in 1660 with the Restoration.

King Charles II

On January 30, 1649, Parliament, victorious in the English Civil Wars, executed King Charles I for high treason, and later established a Commonwealth government to replace the monarchy. Once this news crossed the Atlantic, four English colonies—Virginia, Barbados, Bermuda, and Antigua—responded by declaring their allegiance to the Stuarts, proclaiming Charles II king and denying the authority of the newly established government. (Maryland’s acting governor, Thomas Greene, also proclaimed Charles II, but his declaration was not considered the colony’s official position.) Virginia and Barbados, the oldest English colonies in the Atlantic, were the only two to offer sustained opposition to the new regime.

In October 1649, during the first legislative session since Charles I’s death, the House of Burgesses enacted laws punishing those who publicly supported the regicide or refused to acknowledge Charles II as king. Virginia’s motivations for opposing the Commonwealth were manifold: first, longtime governor Sir William Berkeley was an aggressive supporter of Charles I. Berkeley’s loyalty ran so deep that he had continued to enforce the king’s views on religious conformity even as Charles I awaited trial (and even when Berkeley’s policies contradicted those dictated by Parliament). Another factor was free trade: Virginia planters enjoyed a robust commercial relationship with the Dutch, and considered free trade to be critical to their economic survival; under the Commonwealth government, the colony would be allowed to trade only with ships from England and its colonies. Finally, the Virginia elite, influenced by Berkeley, feared that Parliament would challenge existing land grants. In essence, Virginia’s declaration of loyalty to Charles II was also an attempt to preserve the prosperity and security that the colony had enjoyed under his father’s rule.

Sir William Berkeley

The Commonwealth government retaliated in August 1650 by placing an embargo on trade with the rebelling colonies and calling in their royal charters. In the autumn of 1651, the Commonwealth responded with force, sending one fleet of thirteen ships to Barbados under Sir George Ayscue and another fleet of fifteen ships to Virginia under Captain Robert Denis. Ayscue sailed first, and the Virginia fleet—or the four ships that survived shipwreck on the stormy voyage—did not arrive until December and early January, about the time that the Barbadians were relinquishing the king’s cause.

The commissioners dispatched to negotiate the colony’s surrender sent a summons to Berkeley and his council on January 19; according to the commissioners’ report, Virginia authorities disbanded 1,000 to 1,200 soldiers in arms in James City before they convened to consider a treaty. The internal dynamics of Virginia’s decision to surrender are unknown, as records are sparse and much of the information that survives was written with a polemical purpose. Certainly Berkeley, his council, and the House of Burgesses considered Charles II’s recent defeat at Worcester, which eliminated any hope of his conquering England, and Barbados’s recent surrender, which left Virginia as the sole royalist holdout.

The surrender was agreed upon March 12, 1652. The Virginians negotiated excellent terms: indemnity (forgiveness for any past action) and recognition of all existing land grants and boundaries; free trade (in direct violation of Parliament’s new policy, the Navigation Act of 1651); and permission to keep in use the otherwise outlawed Book of Common Prayer for one year.

The Booke of Common prayer

The commissioners also granted Berkeley or his agent permission to travel to the court of the exile Charles II—to be referred to now as Charles Stuart—to explain the capitulation. The commissioners were flexible on the terms of the surrender. The fact that no blood had been shed in the conflict likely played a part in their leniency, but so too did the commissioners’ overriding goal: to integrate Virginia into the new Commonwealth government.

Two of the three commissioners—William Claiborne and Richard Bennett—were from Virginia, where they remained to oversee the colony’s transition. Berkeley was asked to step down as governor and leave the colony, but his exile was never enforced and he retired to his Green Spring estate nearby. The General Assembly chose Bennett as Berkeley’s replacement, and later elected Claiborne senior member of the governor’s Council and secretary of the colony. Berkeley would return to the office in March 1660, just two months before England restored Charles II to the throne.

January 30, 1649
Having been tried, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to death by a Parliament-appointed High Court of Justice, England's King Charles I is executed.
May 14, 1649
Charles II, son of King Charles I, writes to the Virginia councilors renewing their appointments and indicating his intention to rule the colony as his father did before him.
Summer 1649
News of Charles I's death arrives in Virginia; Governor Sir William Berkeley proclaims Charles II king.
October 10, 1649
The House of Burgesses, meeting for the first time since news of Charles I's death reached Virginia, enacts legislation punishing those who publicly support the regicide or refuse to acknowledge Charles II as king.
August 1650
The Parliament of the Commonwealth government of England enacts an informal embargo of the colonies that assert their support for Charles II and their refusal to come under the authority of the new Commonwealth government, among them Barbados, Bermuda, and Virginia.
October 1650
English Parliament passes an act to force the rebel colonies (Barbados, Virginia, Antigua, and Bermuda) to recognize the authority of the Commonwealth government of England. The act formalizes the embargo of the rebelling colonies, calls in Virginia's charter, declares the Commonwealth's authority as lawmaker for all colonies, and limits trade.
September 1651
The Commonwealth government of England sends fifteen ships to Virginia under Captain Robert Denis. Denis's fleet stops briefly at Barbados to augment the force blockading that colony. Only four of the fifteen ships make it to Virginia, arriving in late December and early January; the other ships sink en route.
September 26, 1651
The English Council of State appoints Richard Bennett and William Claiborne to a four-man commission to force or negotiate the submission of the Chesapeake Bay colonies to the Commonwealth of England.
January 11, 1652
After enduring a two-month blockade by a fleet commanded by Sir George Ayscue, Barbados surrenders to the Commonwealth government. Shortly thereafter Ayscue sends a ship to Virginia to carry the news that Virginians represent the sole opposition to the English republic's authority.
January 19, 1652
Edmund Curtis, Richard Bennett, and William Claiborne, the three surviving commissioners sent to Virginia to negotiate its surrender, send a summons to Governor Sir William Berkeley and his council.
March 12, 1652
Supported by a Parliamentary fleet, Richard Bennett, William Claiborne, and Edmund Curtis accept Virginia's bloodless capitulation at Jamestown. Two weeks later they obtain the surrender of Maryland's leaders as well.
April 30, 1652
The General Assembly elects Richard Bennett to the office of governor, vacated by Sir William Berkeley after the capitulation of Jamestown to Parliament.
Spring 1652
The House of Burgesses elects William Claiborne senior member of the governor's Council and secretary of the colony.
  • Billings, Warren M. Sir William Berkeley and the Forging of Colonial Virginia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004.
  • Bliss, Robert M. Revolution and Empire: English Politics and the American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century. New York: Manchester University Press, 1993.
  • Pestana, Carla Gardina. The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640–1661. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004.
APA Citation:
Pestana, Carla. Surrender to Parliament (Treaty of Jamestown). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/surrender-to-parliament-treaty-of-jamestown.
MLA Citation:
Pestana, Carla. "Surrender to Parliament (Treaty of Jamestown)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 20 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 03
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