On this day in 1670, Virginia governor Sir William Berkeley and the governor’s Council issued “The order about Jayle birds,” prohibiting the importation of certain English convicts as servants. Their concern in part stemmed from the Gloucester County Conspiracy of 1663, in which a group of servants that included convicts allegedly plotted an insurrection.
Two hundred and twenty years later, the Virginia writer Mary Johnston published her first novel, Prisoners of Hope, which happened to dramatize that very same mischief in Gloucester. Her hero, the aptly named Godfrey Landless, is a convict laborer who once fought for our old friend Oliver Cromwell. Landless takes charge in planning a servant rebellion, only to fall in love with his master’s daughter, Patricia. (Isn’t that always the way?) When his plans are revealed, Landless is imprisoned, but eventually wins Patricia’s love by saving her from a fictional (and very nasty) band of Virginia Indians.
Having recently read the book, I can only say: Oh the drama!
IMAGE: Detail of an oil portrait of Berkeley by Hariotte L. T. Montague after a painting by Sir Peter Lely (Library of Virginia)