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Have It Your Way: The Jamestown House of Burgesses

The first representative legislative body in the American colonies is formed this year in Jamestown, Virginia and there is a reason for that. The Virginia Company appointed a governor to rule over the colony... in a sense a CEO looking after the investors' interests. It's been a rough 12 years in Jamestown and frankly, if the colonists thought they could make it, they'd swim all the way back to England. Naturally, angry letters have been sent to relatives and friends complaining about the conditions, but the governor has been intercepting their mail and tossing it! These complainers are brought before the governor and punished, but apparently, word has gotten back to London. A representative of the Virgina Company has arrived to address the plantation-owners' concerns and to put a bridle on the governor and his council. Each plantation will send two burgesses (which are representatives) to share power with the governor and his council. Any new laws are subject to final approval by the Company (and in later years, the King of England). It doesn't seem like much right now, but it is the beginning of a House of Representatives. Separation of powers comes later. Right now they are all meeting in the same building where they hold their prayer services. It's a start. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The term 'Burgess' comes from the Latin word meaning 'fortified town'. It is related to the word 'borough' as in the five boroughs of New York City, but the New York boroughs work differently than the Virginia Colony did. Virginia landholders were becoming more numerous because the colony wasn't making any money those first 12 years or so. In order to keep the shareholders interested in their investment, the Company handed out land grants instead. The Company also sold investors on the idea of bringing religion to the savages and the rest of that claptrap, but frankly, what was really exciting the plantation owners was the prospect of 1000% profit on the sale of their tobacco crops. Eventually the Virginia Company lost its charter and the new legislature disbanded for a few years. It returned at the direction of King James the 1st, and the House of Burgesses became more powerful than the governor and his council. [4]

The Deadly Economic Logic of Southern Slavery *

Virginia farmers are short on labor and it's harvest time. They have a new cash crop to get in and they are looking at 1000% profit on their investments if they can just bring in the harvest. That is when a Dutch pirate ship comes into port selling slaves. The farmers put these slaves to work. The status of these slaves is not clear, but clearly they are not free to leave. They might be indentured servants working off their debt or lifetime slaves. No one has put much thought into it. In either case the new labor force must work. Thus begins the ugly history of English slavery in America. The history of Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch slavery in the New World has been well established. Eventually, English slavery will be outlawed by the monumental determination and drive of William Wilberforce in 1807. Outlawing slavery in the United States will take considerably longer. [5] [6]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
England was an unlikely nation to embrace slavery because the Barbary Pirates had enslaved so many English sailors, and from an economic standpoint, slavery doesn't make sense. A slave costs the equivalent of 4 years of a laborer's salary whereas an indentured servant cost about 1.6 years worth. Given those upfront costs, only a knucklehead would use slave labor, but practical experience in the New World demonstrated that most indentured servants died within their first year from diseases like malaria and the American Indians were dropping like flies from various European diseases. African slaves were resistant to many of the diseases that plagued the southern plantations and had already been exposed to European diseases. FYI... no one realized what germs were! They certainly weren't thinking of mosquitoes as vectors for disease! They simply saw who lived, who died and made their calculations accordingly. It was an ugly business. [7]

The 30 Years' War: The Budweiser Battle

King Ferdinand the 2nd has now been crowned the Holy Roman Emperor, while Bohemia is still in revolt. Three towns have sided with the Emperor, including... yes... Budweis... the home of the King of Beers. The Bohemian rebels have laid siege to Budweis, but after a stunning victory by the Emperor's forces elsewhere, the rebels back off and regroup. Budweis is saved. It's time to break out a cool one! [8] [9] [10] [11]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I've taken the opportunity to have a little fun at Budweiser's expense. Let's run through a quick review of how Budweiser beer is involved. Many, many years ago, the town of Budweis began producing a local brew that appealed to the King of Bohemia at the time. He granted them a license to produce that beer. That makes their slogan "The King of Beers" more comprehensible. The word "Budweiser" means "From Budweis" which makes it a simple, straightforward name that is tough to protect with a trademark. It's like naming your beer "From Milwaukee". Legal wrangling continues into the modern day which explains why their labeling will vary depending on the country in which it is sold and whatever lawsuit is pending. [12]

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1619, Wikipedia.

See Also


* The asterisk in the section header indicates that it was read on the podcast.
  1. Essential and Interesting Information About Jamestown. about.com (2015). Retrieved on 27 July 2015. “Jamestown had a House of Burgesses established in 1619 that ruled the colony. This was the first legislative assembly in the American colonies. The Burgesses were elected by white men who held property in the colony. With the conversion to the royal colony in 1624, all laws passed by the House of Burgesses had to go through the king's agents.”
  2. Bosher, Kate Langley (5 April 1907). "First House of Burgesses, The". North American Review (University of Northern Iowa) 184 (612): 733-739. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25105836. Retrieved 6 August 2015. "Letters from these first settlers to their friends at home were also, for a while, intercepted by direction of Sir Thomas Smith, who ordered that 'all men's letters should be searched at the goinge away of ships, and if in any of them were found that the estate of the Collony was declared they were presented to the Governor and the indighters of them severely punished...' [...] In 1619 relief came, however, in the return of Sir George Yeardley, bringing certain commissions and instructions from the Company...". 
  3. Walthoe, N. (July 1910). "Council and the Burgesses, The". William and Mary Quarterly (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture) 19 (1): 1-9. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1921414. Retrieved 6 August 2015. "For twelve years after the landing at Jamestown the Council had unlimited control, its executive head being the president or governor of the Colony. Until i6i9 the people had no representation. Then the power of the governor and council was shared by representatives of the people for each plantation, their acts being subject to revision or rejection by the Virginia Company of London.". 
  4. Burgesses - definition of Burgesses (2015). Retrieved on 5 August 2015. “Middle English burgeis, from Old French, from Late Latin burgensis, from burgus, fortified town”
  5. Mann, Charles C.. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Knopf. ISBN 9780307265722. “Barely three weeks later a Dutch pirate ship landed at Jamestown. In its hold was "20. and odd Negroes"--slaves taken by the pirates from a Portuguese slave ship destined for Mexico. (About thirty more showed up in another ship a few days later.) In their hurry to extract tobacco profits, the tassantassas had been clamoring for more workers. The Africans had arrived at harvest time. Without a second thought colonists bought the Africans in exchange for the food the pirates needed for the return trip to Europe.” 
  6. Metaxas, Eric. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. HarperOne. ISBN 9780061173004. 
  7. Mann, Charles C.. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Knopf. ISBN 9780307265722. “Of all the nations in western Europe, moreover, England would be the last that one would expect to take up this especially brutal form of bondage [...] This was less a tribute to the nation's moral advancement than an enraged response to the constant targeting of her ships by Barbary pirates, who from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century enslaved tens of thousands of English sailors, soldiers, and merchants.” 
  8. Battle of Wisternitz - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 6 August 2015. “Budweis (Ceské Budejovice) was one of the three towns which remained loyal to the Austrian emperor when Bohemia revolted.”
  9. Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 6 August 2015. “In the following events he remained one of the staunchest backers of the Anti-Protestant Counter Reformation efforts as one of the heads of the German Catholic League. Ferdinand succeeded Matthias as Holy Roman Emperor in 1619. Supported by the Catholic League and the Kings of Spain and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Ferdinand decided to reclaim his possession in Bohemia and to quench the rebels.”
  10. Battle of Humenné - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 6 August 2015. “A lot of nations of the Holy Roman Empire saw the Thirty Years' War as a perfect opportunity to (re)gain their independencies. One of them was Hungary led by Gábor Bethlen, Duke of Transylvania. He joined Bohemia in the anti-Habsburg Protestant Union. In a short period of time, he conquered Bratislava and in November, he started a siege of Vienna - the capital city of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. The situation of Emperor Ferdinand II was dramatic.”
  11. Ceské Budejovice - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 6 August 2015. “A part of the Habsburg Monarchy from 1526, Budejovice remained a loyal supporter of Emperor Ferdinand II in the Thirty Years' War.”
  12. Budweiser - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 6 August 2015. “Introduced in 1876 by Carl Conrad & Co. of St. Louis, Missouri, it has grown to become one of the highest selling beers in the United States, and is available in over 80 markets worldwide—though, due to a trademark dispute, cannot necessarily do so under the Budweiser name.”

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