The Third of Five Student Speeches written by Francis Nicolson and James Blair (May 1, 1699)


The following speech, written by Francis Nicholson and the Reverend James Blair to lobby the House of Burgesses and delivered by a student at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, on May 1, 1699, extols the benefits of moving the colonial capital from Jamestown to Middle Plantation.


The 3d Speech

The conclusion which followes so naturally from the last discourse (to witt, that a Virginia education is to be preferred for the Youth of this Country to what is forreign and remote) is attended with another enquiry, Namely by what means a Virginia education may be most easily promoted? and this I am commanded to make the Subject of my discourse, but with this express injunction that I shall strictly observe the modesty and bashfulness of the Muses, and howsoever pressing our wants may be, that I shall offer at nothing on this Argument, which may seem to beg any Supply either from the Country in General, or private Benefactors in particular. After I have given you my promise punctually to observe this injunction, I hope ye won’t be offended if I hint at any method of promoteing our Colledge without taking any thing out of your pockett, or putting you to any other publick or private charge. And this is what I am now setting—about.

Every one knows it would be a great assistance to the Colledge, if we had the conveniency of a good markett, whereby either the Colledge it self might be—enabled to keep houses, or the neighbours about this place might be better supply’d with all things necessary for our good lodging & Diet. This is one—thing which the General Assembly might procure for us without any charge. Another great benefite to the Students at this place, would be the conveniency of good company and conversation; For in such aretired Corner of the world, far from business, and action, if we make Scholars, they are in danger of proving meer Scholars, which make a very ridiculous figure: made up of Pedantry,—disputaciousness, positiveness, and a great many other ill qualities which render them not so fitt for action and conversation: except the Muses naturally shamefaced and bashfull ness Learn to put on a decent confidence by seing & conversing among men, and being acquainted with action and business. Now there is one way of procuring for us both these conveniencies, that is by contriving a good Town at this place, and filling it with all the selectest, and best company that is to be had within the Government. Providence has put into your hands a way of compassing this without charge, I mean without any more charge than you will necessarly be at on another account, Namely the building of the Statehouse, which alone will be attended with the Seat of the Government, offices, marketts, good company, and all the rest. And therefore except there be very powerfull reasons of State that make it highly advantagious for the Country to have it placed elsewhere, it is but reasonable to expect that this consideration of these greater conveniencies to the Colledge, may turn the Scale for Midleplantation: And I don’t much doubt but that whosoever will be at the pains impartially and without prejudice to think on this matter will find that this very place has the greatest advantages towards the making a TownTowne, tho there were no Colledge here: And further that the Town and the Colledge will be mutually assistant to one Another, that is, that the Colledge will be agreat help towards the making of a Town, and the Town towards the improving of the Colledge. Give me leave then to mention some of the principal advantages of this place for being the Scituation of a Town, and that

1. Without any respect to the Colledge.

2. Those wch arise from the consideration of the mutual Relation between the Colledge and a Town.

To begin with the advantages of the place for a Town without any respect to the Colledge; which I think are more and greater than perhaps any other place can pretend to, tho the Colledge were not here.

1. Here is a good, wholsome and pleasant Scituation, which alone includes

a great many others, perhaps not any to be found that is at once so near the heart of the Country, so high, so dry, so free from the plague of Moskito’s and the noisom stinks & thick Fogs of Fenny, Marshy, and Swampy grounds, and so well Supplyed with a wonderfull plenty of incomparable sweet fresh water Springs, and natural valleys to drain away all the filth and nastiness of a City, All which do extremely contribute to the healthyness of the place, which ought to be a principal consideration in the Scituation of a great Town.

2. Here is the greatest conveniency of easy access for great numbers of people both by land and water of any in the whole Country. First, I say, by land, For all people will own it to be already the greatest thoroughfair in Virginia, Nature having so contriv’d it that by reason of two deep unfordable Creeks, which extend themselves from James and York Rivers, and almost meet at this place, all passengers in going up or down this most populous part of the Country must travell through this pass, and the roads leading to it from all points of the Compass, are so good and Level that Coaches and waggons of the greatest burden have an easy and delightsome passage. Then by water where is there ever another place in the whole Country that opens so conveniently to two such great Rivers, the most populous, the most rich, and the most frequented by shipping in the whole Country.

But before I have done with this subject of the water conveniency, I must desire leave to take notice of one objection, which I am sensible is in many mens minds and mouths against the place on this very account. It’s true, say they, if those two great Rivers came up with a due depth & boldness of water, so as to bring Ships of the greatest burthen to the two sides of a City here built, then indeed ye might boast of its opening itself to two such Noble Rivers; but when all this opening is reduced to two Creeks navigable only by small crafts that draw 6 or 7 foot water, it is no such mighty conveniency to boast of. I think I have fairly Stated the objection and shall indeavour to give it as fair an answer, by proposing a few things to your consideration. 1°. That by removing two or three bars of Sand, the Creeks can be made much deeper than they are. 2°. That these Creeks are really so deep & bold already that all the great and urgent occasions of any City may be very well served by Vessells that can sail in them. For can’t provisions, fewal, and all other commodities of the Country that are to be here expended, be as easily brought in Sloops & Shallops as in great Ships. And is not likewise all the trade we have with Barbadoes, New England,—Pensilvania, Carolina, or any other parts of America, drove by such small Vessells as can come up those Creeks? For Vessells of great burthen where’s the harm if they ride at 3 or 4 miles distance from the Town, so long as they can load and unload by the help of Lighters and Flatts, & other such—conveniencies. Sure I am that if Vessells of the greatest burthen could come to the very Town, the advantage would not countervail the hazard & disadvantage of it; For such a Town if once it became a place of wealth and riches, would ly open to the great Gunns and Bombs of any Enemies men of war, and so to be fired or torne in pieces by these instruments of desolation and misery, as the wealthy City of Genoa was ruined in this manner not many years agoe by the French. And there is no preventing such a calamity, if a rich Town is Scituate on agreat Navigable River, except either by a strong Fleet to guard our Coasts or by a very strong Cittadell & garrison to guard the port of the Town, and in both these wayes, the remedy is as bad as the disease; For besides all other inconveniencies, the maintaining of either a Fleet or a garrison would put us to twenty times the charge that the loading and unloading of the great Ships into Flatts and great Bottoms would do. And therefore it is plain that of two evills we ought to chuse the Least, and that is as I have proved, to keep all great Ships at such a distance that their Bombs nor great gunns sha’nt be able to reach the Town.

A 3d thing I would propose to your consideration on this Subject is this, that

a Town thus scituated is not only much securer from the enemies Bombs & great Gunns, but also from the rudenesses of great Gangs of Seamen. This Country has had too many instances of such rudenesses committed by that sort of people, and the affronts and contempts that have been offered to Magistracy itself by those fellows, when they were near any place from whence they could make an immediat retreat to their Ships. A 4th thing worth your considering is that a Town maintains a much greater number of people when the water carriage cannot be wholly mannaged by great Ships. How many thousands live by barges, Hoyes, Sloops, flotts, Smacks, and boats, and all the other small craft upon the River of Thames? And with such helps they can load or unload the greatest Ships as fast as the Seamen can handle their tackle to hoist things in and out. 5°. It is worth considering that if there were no access to a Town but by a great River, in bad weather there would be no coming at it at all, For in such sort of weather no sort of Vessell can live to sail on a great River, wheras in such Creeks as these are they may live & Sail or ride at Anchor, which they please Safely in all Weathers. I have staid so much the longer in answering of this objection, because it is a vulgar and dangerous Errour, since the way of bombing is invented, to think to seat a chief Town, where the publick Records, and the Chief Magazines of goods and money may be lodged, upon any great Navigable River, where all may quickly be made a prey to an Enemy: And give me leave to say that it would be an unpardonable oversight in our statesmen, though they build their Town in the time of peace, not to build it with a prospect of war, and since we are not able to keep Forts and Garrisons, not to provide at least as well as we can for our natural Security.

And so I shall go on from this long digression to reckon up the other advantages of the Scituation of this place for a chief Town or City. Two I have already considered; a wholsome scituation, and a conveniency of easy access by land and water.

3. My answer to the last Objection led me insensibly to speak of a third advantage of this place, and that is security from Enemies that attack us by water. I think it would not be amiss to add that here is likewise great natural security from Land Forces, No army can be marched into so narrow a space of ground to attack a Town built here but at great disadvantage, For no attack can be made of all sides at once, because of the two unfordable Creeks, and whatever side it is—attacked on, it has an open great Country to befriend it on t’other side: And withall its scituation is so level that it may easily be fortify’d. It is well known how that in a time of an Invasion from the Indians when all the upper parts of the Country were in their hands, at this pass they were forced to make a Stand, and by a trench and Palisade from Creek to Creek, the Lower part of the Country, and the inhabitants that fled hither were well defended and preserved.

4. The neighbourhood of these two brave Creeks gives an opportunity of making as many water mills as a good Town can have occasion for, and the highness of the Land affords great conveniency for as many Wind mills as can ever be wanting.

5. For materials for building, brick is on the Spott, Lime and wood can be brought to it, more than to any one place in the Country, because it opens to two such great Rivers, and the foundation to build on is an hard Clay, So that there is no fear, neither of the houses sinking or the Cellars being filled with water.

6. Here is good neighbourhood of as many Substantial Housekeepers that could give great help toward the supplying and maintaining of a constant Market, as is to be found again in the whole Country.

7. Here are great helps and advances made already towards the beginning of a Town, a Church, an ordinary, Several Stores, two Mills, a Smiths Shop a Grammar School, and above all the Colledge. And so Im insensibly led to consider the 2d sort of advantages of this places, Vizt

II. The advantages which arise from the mutual relation between a Town, and the Colledge, where I shall shew how they are mutually helpfull to each other, i.e. That the Colledge will help to make the Town, and the Town to make the Colledge

First that the Colledge will help to make the Town. The chief difficulty in making a Town being in the bringing aconsiderable number of Inhabitants to it, Especially so considerable a number of mouths as may give vent to a weekly markett. The very numbers of the Colledge who will be obliged to reside at this place viz the president and Masters with all their Servants and attendants, the Scholars, with such servants as will be necessary for the kitchin, Buttery, Gardens, wooding, and all other uses will make up above 100 persons to be constantly Supplyed at this markett. And these it is like will encourage Tradesmen to come and live here for their relieff and supply: Besides the Colledge being not yet finish’d will employ in builders and Labourers a very considerable number; and it is easy to be foreseen that the prime Youth of the Country being here, it will occasion a great resort hither of parents and other friends to see their children and relations, all which will be a very considerable help towards the consumption of the place. Besides experience (as well as the [deleted]reason of the thing) shows us that there never was a Colledge any where, but that alone made something of a Town. Then that the Town will likewise help to the making and improving of the Colledge, it were easy to show, but that I have hinted at it already in the beginning. Had we a Town, here would be a good markett for the constant Supply of the Colledge; here would be Tradesmen, Labourers, Shopkeepers perhaps Printers, Booksellers, Bookbinders, Mathematical instrument makers Nurses for the Sick, and in short all other sort of people that can be usefull about a Colledge, here likewise would be many men of fashion & business, In short here would be aconjunction of these two things wch make fine men Study and conversation: which except they be carried on hand in hand together will be both of them very Lame & imperfect.

There is one thing perhaps worthy of our consideration, that is, that by this method we have an oppurtunity not only of making a Town, as may equal if not outdo Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charles town, and Annapolis, and consequently such a Town as may retrieve the reputation of our Country, which has Sufferred by nothing so much as by neglecting a Seat of trade, wealth and—Learning, and runing altogether into dispersed Country plantations. If ever we would equal these our Rivals, we must contrive to joyn our heads and purses together, and by Companys and Societies to learn to improve our Shipping and Navigation, our trade and commerce, our minds and manners, and what no one man can do singly, by a friendly cohabitation and Society to do jointly one with another. Whenever this is gone about it will be found to be no easy work to compass this design in such a Country as this is; where we live all dispersed in our several country habitationsplantations, And therefore if any help presents for enlarging of the Society, such as this would be of uniting the Town and the Colledge, it ought by no means to be neglected.

And thus now having I think Sufficiently recommended this place, as well on the accot of the Colledges being already here, as the other great natural advantages & conveniencies of it, for making an healthy, pleasant Strong and wealthy City, I hope there are no such men as out of pure Spight to the Colledge, will endeavour to deprive it of the blessing we have been a pleading for, unless they can show any other scituation in the Country that has the like or greater conveniencies for answering the ends of the Government in general, or of a Noble City in particular.

APA Citation:
Blair, James. The Third of Five Student Speeches written by Francis Nicolson and James Blair (May 1, 1699). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Blair, James. "The Third of Five Student Speeches written by Francis Nicolson and James Blair (May 1, 1699)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 18 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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