Carolina Lords Proprietors

Sir William Berkeley

1605 to July 9, 1677

Sir William Berkeley (1605-July 9, 1677), younger brother of Lord John Berkeley, was the peppery governor of Virginia who had won the enthusiastic support of the population, banished its Puritans, and invited Charles II to come over during his exile and be king of Virginia. He was quick-tempered, strong-willed, and brutal in putting down any opposition to his orders.

When his iron rule in Virginia produced the insurrection known as Bacon's Rebellion, Governor Berkeley suppressed it without mercy and hanged so many of the rebels that Charles II exclaimed, "That old fool has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the death of the father!"

William Berkeley married Francis Culpeper, widow of Samuel Stephens, an early governor of what became North Carolina. When King Charles II, informed of Berkeley's brutality, removed him from the governorship and recalled him to England, Virginia celebrated his going with bonfires and general merry making. He sought an interview with the King, who always postponed it. The old man died, still waiting. His contemporaries said he died of chagrin.

William Berkeley was a appointed colonial governor in 1641, but he did not arrive in Virginia until 1642.

Governor Berkeley defeated the Native Americans and the Dutch, extended explorations, and encouraged agriculture, but so persecuted dissenters that many of them left the colony. An uncompromising royalist, he made Virginia a haven for supporters of King Charles I and declined to recognize the Commonwealth.

Berkeley was deposed by a Puritan force from England in 1652 and lived quietly on his Virginia plantation until the Restoration in 1660, when he was re-appointed governor. His second term as governor was marred by great domestic discontent and strife. A drop in tobacco prices brought great economic suffering to the colony.

At the same time it was charged that Berkeley was showing favoritism toward a small group of friends and depriving the freemen of their rights. When, in addition, Berkeley refused to take the measures demanded by the frontiersmen for protection against the Native Americans, Bacon’s Rebellion broke out in 1676.

Temporarily forced to flee, Governor Berkeley regained power after Bacon’s premature death and ordered the hanging of many of Bacon’s followers, including the former first governor of North Carolina, William Drummond. The executions were carried out in defiance of a royal commission that had arrived with pardon for all except Bacon. Finally he yielded to the commission’s order that he return to England, where he died discredited in 1677.

Sir William Berkeley of London was educated at Merton College, Oxford, and in 1629 received the degree of Master of Arts. He made a tour of Europe in 1630; was Governor of Virginia from 1639 to 1651, and 1659 to 1677 - thirty years - a term equalled by no other governor of the Colony.

The year that he came to Virginia - 1639 - he published a play, "The Lost Lady." He published also, in 1663, "A Discourse and View of Virginia."

He was buried at Twickerham. Sir William had no children, and bequeathed his property to his widow.

He married the widow of Samuel Stephens, Warwick County, Virginia. She, after Berkeley's death, married Carolina Governor, Philip Ludwell.

Upon his death in 1677, his share of Carolina was left to his wife, Lady Frances Berkeley.
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