Virginia Charter of 1606 (April 10, 1606)

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VIRGINIA CHARTER OF 1606 (April 10, 1606)

This was the first royal charter issued for the planting of a colony in America. Charters were usually issued to private trading companies, as in this case, or to proprietary lords. The charter laid out boundaries, defined the relationship of the colony to the crown, and provided for a government. In this first charter, the government consisted only of a council. Subsequent charters for Virginia in 1609 and 1612 established the office of the governor; by 1619, in accord with a document called the "Great Charter" of 1618, elections were held and the first representative legislature in American history met at Jamestown. The enduring significance of Virginia's first charter lies in its provision that the colonists and their descendants "shall have and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities … as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England.…" Later charters for Virginia contained similar clauses. Their meaning was doubtless restricted at the time to legal rights of land tenure and inheritance, trial by jury, and little else; but the vague language (repeated in numerous other charters for colonies from New England to the South) allowed American colonists to believe that they were entitled to all the rights of Englishmen—their constitutional system and common law. Charters could be revoked and some were, but the American experience eventually led to written constitutions of fundamental law that contained bills of rights.

Leonard W. Levy
(1986)

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