A Memoriall Concerning the Mal-administrations of His Excellency Francis Nicholson, Esqr., Her Ma’ties Lieut. and Governour Generall of Virginia (1703)

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In May 1703, six members of the governor’s Council— John Lightfoot, Matthew Page, Benjamin Harrison, Robert “King” Carter, James Blair, and Philip Ludwell—sent to the Crown the following list of grievances against Virginia governor Francis Nicholson. In April 1705 the Crown dismissed Nicholson, replacing him with Colonel Edward Nott. Some contractions have been expanded.


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Not to speak of the vast number of Instances of his injustice, oppression and insolence to particular persons which would require a large volume, we shall limit our observations to his behaviour toward our selves in the severall capacities wherein we act whether as members of her ma’ties council or as the Upper house of Assembly or as Judges of the general Court, with

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some few more of the most publick and notorious abuses of his government and bad examples of his Life and conversation, because he would offer nothing on so tender a subject that may be improper to be taken notice of by persons in that station wherein her ma’tie has thought fit to place us in this country.

His Behaviour in the Council.

Whereas heretofore it was the constant practice agreeable to her Ma’ties Royal Instructions that the government of this Country (though in chief committed to the governour for the time being) was administred by the advice and consent of the council, he the said governour has altered this good and wholsome method by engrossing all power to himself and by acting alone in most of the chief affairs of the government. For Instance, Justices of the Peace all over the country who used always to be nominated in Council and by the Councils advice and consent are now privately appointed by himself, and sometimes blank commissions are signed and sealed for that purpose, to be filled up by particular favourites. The same method is used for striking any one out of the Peace without any fault known or communicated to the Council, and of late a whole court was in this manner turned out at once (two only excepted) and very insufficient and undeserving men substituted into their places, to the general dissatisfaction of the people and endangering of the Peace in that part of the country.

All the sheriffs are of late nominated by his Excellency in privat, without asking the advice of the council contrary to all former practices.

All Colonels, Leiutent Colonels, Majors, Captains, and other officers of the militia are put in and turned out in like manner.

Naval officers are put in and turned out at pleasure without any advice of the Council.

Orders & Proclamations of all sorts are issued out in her Majesties name and published at Court & churches all over this Government without any advice in Council.

Precepts & Warrants are drawn upon the Receiver Generall, not only without the Previous advice but without the subsequent privity and Knowledge of the Council.

The whole accounts of her Majesties Revenue (if past at all)

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are past by his Excellency without the knowledge or consent of the Council.

Particular agents are sent home for England by his Excellency, and paid out of her Majesties Revenues, without the knowledge of or consent of the Council.

A standing agent is named by his Excellency in England, and allowed one hundred pounds [per] annum out of her Majesties Revenues of two shillings [per] hogshead without the consent of the Council, or any other body of men in this country, tho’ he goes under the character of the agent of Virginia.

Rules of Limitation in taking up of land have been prescribed to surveyors, against both Law and Custom, and without any advice in Council.

Surveyours of Land have been directed, limited and totally restrained in the execution of their office, againist Law and without any advice in Council, to the great prejudice of her Majesties subjects.

Many things have been put on Record both in the Secretaries and Councils’ offices, and others forbid to be put upon Record; without any advice in Council, what shall or shall not be so recorded.

His Excellency alone recommends home such persons as he thinks fit to be put upon the Council, without the knowledge or advice of the Council.

By his Excellency’s interposition with the Secretary the Clerks of the County Courts are put in and removed at pleasure without any advice in Council, and much to the dissatisfaction of the Courts they are to serve.

And in short all methods are taken to engross all power into his own hands and to render the Council insignificant Cypher, which is a great alteration of government, much to the dissatisfaction of this Country, and as we conceive, very dangerous and unsafe to her ma’ties service.

II. Many matters of great moment are transacted by his Excellency expressly contrary to advice in Council Particularly. The calling so many Generall Assemblys, and at such unseasonable times of the year, to the great trouble and charge of the Inhabitants.

The exasperating of Assembly with harsh speeches and irrita-

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ting Propositions, to the great obstruction of her Ma’ties business.

The keeping the land on Blackwater and Pamunkey Neck shut up, without any instruction, contrary to the advice of both Council and Burgesses.

When afterwards, by an order of himself & Council (notified by Proclamation all over the Country) the Blackwater land was opened, and a great many people had been at the charge of purchasing Rights of her Ma’tie and of making Entries and surveys, he by his private orders, contradicted and retracted all, forbidding the surveyours to proceed, without taking any notice to the Council of this Prohibition, either before or after issuing thereof, to the great loss of her Ma’tie in her quit-Rents.

III. He signs many orders, Warrants, Pattents, Commissions and other things in Council (on purpose to have the Colour of the Councils name) which are never so much as read in Council, and the Council knows nothing of them.

IV. There is now no check nor controul upon the accounts of her Ma’ties Revenue in this Country; whereas formerly they used to be examined & past in Council, at a solemn Audit appointed for that purpose.

V. He is impatient of all just freedom of dispute or debate in Council, that if any one of the Council presumes to differ in opinion from him, tho’ he expresses himself in never so modest and submissive Terms, he is comonly treated with reproof and threats, in the most rude, insolent and abusive manner, as if it were a great crime to pretend to that freedom of debate and vote which is allowed us by her Ma’ties instructions and is so necessary for her service.

VI. To the end he may act without controul, he carefully conceals from the Council the knowledge of his instructions by which (as we humbly conceive) we ought to be directed in giving and he in taking our advice.

VII. He has endeavored upon all occasions to debase and vilify the Council before the people, by giving them gross and abusive language (such as Rogues, Villains, Raskalls, Cowards, Dogs, &c.) to their faces and behind their backs; reflecting upon them as if they had got their estates by cheating the people, swearing that he valued the Council no more than the dirt

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under his feet, and that he would reduce them to their primitive nothing, and likewise advancing men of inferior stations to the chief Commands of the Militia; by which trusts and Honours the Council alone used formerly to be dignified and distinguished, to her Ma’ties great security in times of danger. By these means endeavoring not only to regain the good opinion of the Comon people, but allso to beget in them such jealousies and distrusts of the Council, as might render them incapable to withstand his arbitrary designs.

His Behaviour in the Upper House of Assembly.

I. Whereas that House humbly conceives that they ought to be left to the freedom of their own debates without being swayed and overawed by the Governour’s Interposition; he is not only Continually present, but takes upon himself to preside & debate, and state the questions and overrule, as if he were still in Council; which the said House takes to be a great encroachment upon their Liberties & privileges.

II. His usual high, haughty, passionate & abusive way of browbeating, discouraging & threatening all that speak anything contrary to his opinion or designs is another great encroachment on the Liberties of that House.

III. His endeavoring to beget or feed a bad understanding between the two Houses; his downright interposing and siding sometimes with one House & sometimes with the other, & making entries to that purpose in the Assembly Books we take to be a great Encroachment on the Liberties of both Houses.

IV. His Closetting of the members & using all the arts of Cajoling & threatening for his own ends, not sticking sometimes to threaten the cutting of their throats & their utter ruin, we take to be another intolerable encroachment on the Liberties of that House.

V. He makes severall Extemporary rash speeches to both Houses of Assembly, Cajoling or irritating, promising or threatening, which tho’ they have great influence in making or marring the business of Assemblys, yet are never put into writing, nor appear anywhere in the Minutes of either House of Assembly.

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His Behaviour in the Generall Courts.

I. He uses gross & visible partiality in most cases of his friends or Enemies, abusing the Council at the barr, & often hectoring his fellow judges, it they happen to differ in opinion from him.

II. He keeps Courts at most unseasonable hours in the night to the great dissatisfaction & endangering the health of Judges, Lawyers & people.

III. He sends for his creatures from the Country & gives directions to the Sheriff to put them upon the Grand Jury and tampers with these Juries to procure flattering encomioums of himself, that by the sending of these for England his true character may be concealed.

IV. He often makes particular entries contrary to the opinion of the rest of the Court, & in very abusive and reflecting terms.

Other Publick Abuses in His Government.

I. He makes her ma’ties name cheap and contemptible, by using it to every frivolous, unnecessary, or arbitrary command, e. g. If he wants to speak with any man, the message is brought him in these words, His Excellency comands you in the Queen’s name to come to him immediately. If he wants an Horse or Boat and hands, &c., he sends presently to press an Horse or Boat and hands in her ma’ties name, or whatsoever other comand he gives, tho’ no manner of way relating to the Government, they are all given in the Queen’s name and the more illegal, arbitrary, or unjust they are, so much the surer are they to be backed with the authority of her ma’ties name.

II. He encourages all sorts of Sycophants, tattlers and tale bearers, takes their stories in writing & if he can persuade or threaten them to swear to them; without giving the accused person any opportunity of knowing his accusation or accuser.

III. He has privately issued severall commissions to examine witnesses against particular men ex parte; He has forced men upon oath to turn informers & if witnesses do not swear up to what is expected, they are tampered with & additional depositions are taken; but all this while the person accused is not ad-

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mitted to be confronted with, or defend himself against his defamers.

IV. As he encourages these Sycophants and tell-tales, and has some such in most parts of the country, so he is a man so subject to suspicion & jealousie, that he readily believes and mightily improves all such stories, and studies and pursues revenge to the utmost against all whom he suspects and all their kindred, friends and acquaintance.

V. He makes it a great part of his business by most malitious storys of his own coining, to blast the reputation of all such persons of either sex against whom he has any manner of prejudice; and by that means prostitutes his own honour & honesty.

VI. He endeavors mightily to make parties, and foment Divisions in the Country to the utter destruction of good neighborhood and the manifest endangering of the Peace.

VII. He is exceedingly self willed and utterly uncounselable by any person or persons whatsoever.

VIII. He values not how arbitrary & illegal his comands are. If the ordinary attorney for her ma’tie will not undertake his designs as being against Law he employs others that will. Upon an Attorney General declining one of his comands as being against Law, he took him by the collar & swore by God that he knew of no Laws we had & that his comands should be obeyed without hesitation or reserve.

IX. His haughty, furious & insolent behaviour to the best gentlemen in the country is more like down right madness than anger or passion. He has told us sometimes that he knew how to govern the Moors & that he would beat us into good manners. And sometimes upon very trivial occasions he has threatened very considerable gentlemen to try them for their Lives, swearing that he must hang one half of these Rogues before the other would learn to obey his comands. He has not only in rash words threatened to cut Gentlemen’s throats, but sent them formal messages and made solemn vows that he would be their death or their ruin; & to assure them that he should be borne out in all these things. And he has been heard to make his brags that right or wrong he could by his authority ruin any private man.

X. He is so abusive in his words & actions as not only to

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treat our best gentlemen with the scurrilous names of Dogs, Rogues, Villians, Dastards, cheats & cowards, and our best women with the names of whores, bitches, Jades, &c., but actually to beat and buffet some gentlemen in a most publick, insolent and tyrannical manner.

XI. In his rage he most arbitrarily committed men into custody without any cause of committment assigned and without prosecution thereon.

XII. His profane custom of bloody cursing and swearing and that often immediately before or after prayers, and perhaps the same or next day after receiving the blessed Sacrament, convinces all people that he has no sense of Religion, and that he is a great scandal to the Church of England for which he pretends to set up.

XIII. This is further confirmed by many gross immoralities and pranks of Lewdness and rudeness to women that he is notoriously known to be guilty of in several parts of the country.

XIV. His rash and profane swearing ensnares him sometimes in the higher sin of for swearing, particularly upon the pretense that a great deal of injustice has been done by Executors and administrators in the execution of their trusts, he swore severall times that he would never sign any more Probates or commissions of Administrations, saying it was against his conscience, and in this humour he continued for severall months, often repeating solemn oaths that he would never do it; yet afterwards when he found the complaints in the country grew very loud, and feard the bad influence of them on a Generall Assembly then called, he got over all his oaths and signed them again as himself and other Governours before had used to do, and by such rash oaths and solemn promises upon public occasions which he hath afterwards thought fit to break, he hath so ruined his credit that neither his promise nor oath are now any more regarded.

XV. He has extremely ensnared the consciences of the Clergy, by urging, perswading, bribing & terrifying them, into such Eulogies and encomiums of himself in high flown, flattering addresses, as must make them forfeit their honour & honesty if they comply with them or expose them to his fury and revenge, and consequently their own ruin, if they refuse them.

XVI. To oblige his flatterers he breaks thro’ the clearest in-

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structions, and the greatest ground of merit with him is to be forward in promoting of any flattering address to recomend him to the Court of England. For this reason the Foreman of a Grand Jury that had drawn one of the most fulsome of these addresses was lately imediately rewarded with a naval officers place, worth about one hundred pounds per annum, taken on purpose from an honest gentleman that had blamelessly managed it, and one of the greatest traders of this Country (because he is a tool of his) was by him preferred and has bin all along kept in the possession of such another naval officers place; expressly contrary to the Royal Instruction on that subject which positively forbids the bestowing of these places on any men much in trade, by that means to cut off from them the many opportunities they have of playing tricks in their office.

XVII. His ordinary house keeping is most scandalously penurious, no way suiting the dignity of her Ma’ties Governour, having but one Dish of meat at his table, tho’ at publick times when he has any flattering address to procure or any other design in hand, he prepares such feasts as he thinks may best contribute to the carring on of his sinister purposes.

XVIII. Tho’ this is his true character, he takes all imaginable care to conceal the same in England.

1. By giving out terrible threatenings against all that shall offer to accuse him there.

2. By endeavouring to stop all from going out of the Country that he suspects will give an unfavorable character of him.

3. By giving the falsest and blackest characters of all such as he fears will dare to write the truth, as if they were men of scandalous lives or disaffected to her Ma’ties government, tho’ they are men of never so known Loyalty and good credit & Reputation.

4. By procuring flattering addresses from packed Grand Juries, for which he rewards them with places of honour and profit in the Government.

5. By calling clandestine meetings of such of the clergy as will join in the like flattering addresses, and menaging them with treats and Presents and protection of such as are obnoxious and promotion of such as are desirous of better preferment.

6. By Intercepting letters in hopes of discovering the Intelli-

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gence, for or from England concerning his conduct in this country, to the unspeakable hindrance of friendship, trade and business.

7. By procuring the comendatory letters of the few Church of England ministers that are in New England, New York and Pennsylvania to whome & their churches he sends now and then a present when he wants any of their flattering recommendations.

8. Especially by employing Sir Thomas Lawrence in Maryland & Collonel Robert Quarg in pensilvania (men linkt in interest with him) to varnish over his unjustifiable Life & Government for which he repays them both with his own favours, and by employing his interest in England to promote theirs: the intercourse between him & them being kept up at her Ma’ties charge; as may appear by the extraordinary disbursements for messages to the Northward in the accounts of her Ma’ties Revenue.

If the truth of any of the particulars of this Memoriall requires any further proof besides our own representation (being the major part of the Council), we pray that some course may be contrived that witnesses may be examined here & may be enabled to deliver their testimony free from the terrour & resentments of his arbitrary Government, and that we may have free access to the Council & Assembly books and all other publick Records: and we doubt not we shall make out a great deal more than we do now attest under our hands.

And moreover we humbly pray that her Ma’tie will be graciously pleased by her Royal Instructions to her future governours to provide that the several particular grievances before menconed may not hereafter be drawn in consequence to prejudice the just Rights & Liberties of ourselves & other her Ma’ties Dutiful & Loyal Subjects in this her Colony and Dominion.

J. Lightfoot,

Matthew Page,

Benj: Harrison,

Robert Carter,

James Blair,

Phil: Ludwell.

APA Citation:
Lightfoot, John. A Memoriall Concerning the Mal-administrations of His Excellency Francis Nicholson, Esqr., Her Ma’ties Lieut. and Governour Generall of Virginia (1703). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Lightfoot, John. "A Memoriall Concerning the Mal-administrations of His Excellency Francis Nicholson, Esqr., Her Ma’ties Lieut. and Governour Generall of Virginia (1703)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 16 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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