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AMERICA'S OLDEST LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
and Its Jamestown Statehouse
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JOHN HARVEY'S RESIDENCE

Governor Sir John Harvey, financially speaking, came upon evil days after he was replaced as Governor in 1639. In April 1640 the court in Virginia took action to provide for Harvey's creditors, promising sale of his property. The next month Harvey arranged to have his estate in York County and in Jamestown sold. It was on April 7, 1641, that the Governor, council, and burgesses for 15,700 pounds of tobacco purchased from him for the colony:

all that capital messuage or tenement now used for a court house late in the tenure of said Sir John Harvey, Knight, situate and being within James City island in Virginia with the old house and granary, garden and orchard, as also one piece or plot of ground lying and being on the west side of the said capital and messuage as the same is now enclosed.

In this manner the colony acquired what must have been a rather pretentious structure in Sir John Harvey's residence, with another building adjoining. This place, enclosed by palings, as were many other homes in Jamestown, had a garden and orchard and on the west side some undeveloped land as well. In all, it must have been one of the better homes in town, in full conformity with the many regulations about fences, fruit trees, vines, and gardens.

Harvey's house, apparently a brick structure, was already old in associations, being locally known as the "capital messuage or tenement" and now in use as the courthouse. This indicates that the house was not new, but had seen some years of service. If this were not the case, there seems little reason for the description "old" in the order of transfer. Sir John Harvey came to Virginia in 1624 as one of the commissioners appointed by the King to report conditions in the colony. He became a councilor and soon acquired property at Jamestown in the New Town section where he had a residence. He left Virginia in 1625. Just what disposition he made of his property at that time is not clear. When he returned to Virginia in 1630, as Governor, he seemingly settled himself in another section of town.

In May 1630, Harvey was settled at "James cittie, the seate of the Governor. Some months later Harvey wrote to the home authorities emphasizing the needs of the colony and stressing the lack of carpenters, brickmakers, and bricklayers, especially since now "wee intend our houses for decencye and Comoditie." This indicates a determination to build good houses; and Harvey himself may have taken the lead. At least, in 1632 he had a fairly commodious and established place of abode. He spoke of it as the point where all the affairs of the colony were conducted, and as the sole point of hospitality "for all commers." The substance of this claim, with even greater emphasis, was repeated by Capt. Thomas Yong who visited Jamestown in 1634.

The charge of this gentleman [Governor Harvey] is extraordinary in regard that this seate of James Town hath in it no other place of receipt, but only the Governors owne house, wherein he is continually at excessive charges in his housekeeping, as well as entertayning the whole councell and their retinewes, which are not small, at all times, whensoever any occasions either of the King's or Countrye's service requires. Their attendance, and that sometimes for a weeke or fortnight, nay, sometimes for a month together, which meetings grow dayly more and more frequent, as the Colony increases in number and so consequently in buisnesse both for the State & Country; this house also is the randevouz of all sorts of strangers, who have any occasion of resort thither upon any buisnesse. . . .

Thus his house was the focal point of government and the center of social life at Jamestown.

Sir John Harvey, whether because of his personal nature, his own view or interpretation of government, or because of the severe opposition that confronted him, managed to become thoroughly disliked throughout the colony. His high handed and autocratic methods arrayed even his council against him. Eventually, in April 1635, a protest meeting was held in York County. This enraged Harvey, and he moved to take counter measures. It was to his house at Jamestown that he called a council meeting, only to find that his council would not approve the measures of reprisal that he recommended. During one of these council sessions Harvey was forced to realize that the wrath of the people had been aroused against him. He was a virtual prisoner in his own house, and his council no longer stood with him. This became clear when, while making a threat of arrest against some of the councilors, Dr. John Pott, one of the council, moved near to the door of the room and at a signal had about 50 armed musketeers appear from concealed positions back of the fence surrounding the house. Obviously, there was little that the Governor could do. Harvey himself reported this incident:

. . . That upon the 28 day of Aprill last which was the time when they were to meet for his Majesties said service, the said Mathewes Utye, Farrer, Pearce, Minefie, and John Pott, came all armed and brought with them about 50 Musketeers, and besett mee in my owne house, which was the place which I appointed for our meeting . . . [Heated discussion followed] . . . upon this Uproare John Pott, (who by the said company was pleased [placed] at the doore of said house) with his hand gave a signe and immediately the Musketeers which before that time lay hid, came presently running with their pieces presented towards my house; and when one of my servants saw them coming so hastily towards my house, he asked the said Pott what the said Shott meant; he said unto him; Stirr not for your life; and when they were come neare to him, he said to the Musketeers: Stay there untill there be use of you; and there upon they retired again . . . nor had I meanes or power to raise any force to suppress this meeting they having restrayned me, and sett a guard upon me.

In the end the council moved to depose the Governor, naming John West to take over the post until the King's pleasure was known. A meeting of the assembly, in May, approved the work of the council, and Harvey was sent to England to answer charges placed against him there. In this he must have been successful, or perhaps the King wanted to vindicate his choice, for in 1637 Harvey returned to Virginia as Royal Governor. From this incident it is evident that Virginia's burgesses and council, when sufficiently aroused, stood ready to uphold the right of the people to order their own government.

Harvey returned early in 1637 and resumed his duties as Governor, taking up residence in his own house. This presaged an attempt to inaugurate a period of development for Jamestown. The Governor reported in January 1638 that as a result of an act passed by the assembly in 1637 the secretary of the colony, Richard Kemp, had constructed a brick house, the "fairest" yet known in the colony; others had built framed houses and stores and much land had been patented. Evidently, Harvey continued to live in his own residence even after he was replaced as Governor in 1639. He was still living there in April 1640 when the court, arranging for the sale of his property, guaranteed to him the enjoyment of the premises of his house and grounds at Jamestown during his life. Just where he was on April 7,1641, when the colony purchased this place, is not clear.



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