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Sir William Berkeley

Berkeley, Sir William, 1606–77, colonial governor of Virginia. Appointed governor in 1641, he arrived in Virginia in 1642. 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 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 reappointed 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. Temporarily forced to flee, Berkeley regained power after Bacon's premature death and ordered the hanging of many of Bacon's followers. 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.

See T. J. Wertenbaker, Virginia under the Stuarts, 1607–1688 (1914); W. Washburn, The Governor and the Rebel (1957).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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