On this day in 1561—a few months after the arrival in Madrid of the remarkable Virginia Indian Paquiquineo—Edwin Sandys was born in Worcestershire, England. He was the son of Edwin Sandys, the Bishop of Worcester, and his second wife, Cecily Wilford. Unlike Paquiquineo, Sandys was not the bane of Christian proselytizers but their chronicler, having authored, in 1605, A relation of the state of religion and with what hopes and pollicies it hath beene framed, and is maintained in the severall states of these westerne parts of the world. Strangely enough the volume wasn’t a huge seller, and if it is true now that polite society avoids conversations on religion, it was triply true in Sandys’s day, and his book was suppressed.
No worries. He directed his energy to the Virginia Company of London, lest the “great action” of the Virginia colony “fall to nothing.” He helped prepare the so-called Great Charter of 1618, which created the House of Burgesses and introduced self-government to Virginia. The next year brought slavery to the colony (an irony we’re so accustomed to we hardly notice it any more), but it also marked Sandys’s ascent to leadership of the company. He desperately tried to diversify Virginia’s economy, worrying that it was becoming too tobacco-dependent, and he helped to pump thousands and thousands of indentured servants into the economy, only to watch most of them die of disease. Then, in 1622, Opechancanough and his Indians attacked, killing more than a quarter of Virginia’s population.
Technically Sandys was not hacked to death. He wasn’t even in Virginia. But the event marked his Waterloo nonetheless. The Crown wondered what in Sam Hill was going on with all this violence and mayhem, and that led them to peek into the Virginia Company’s books, and well … Virginia soon became a royal colony. Our entry notes that Sandys took consolation from his large family, although I wonder whether his fourth wife, who gave birth twelve times, did, too. No matter. She outlived him.
A version of this post was originally published on December 9, 2011.
IMAGES: Undated portrait of Sir Edmund Sandys (Virginia Historical Society); a modern illustration of the first House of Burgesses by Sidney King, ca. 1950s (Preservation Virginia); The Massacre of the Settlers by Matthaus Merlan, 1634 (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)