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Berkeley, Sir William

BERKELEY, SIR WILLIAM (c.1608-1677), British colonial governor in America, was born in or near London, England, about 1608, the youngest son of Sir Maurice Berkeley, an original member of the London Company of 1606, and brother of John, first Lord Berkeley of Stratton, one of the proprietors of the Carolinas. He graduated at Oxford in 1629, and in 1632 was appointed one of the royal commissioners for Canada, in which office he won the personal favour of Charles I., who appointed him a gentleman of the privy chamber. During this period he tried his hand at literary work, producing among other things a tragi-comedy entitled The Lost Lady (1638). In August 1641 he was appointed governor of Virginia, but did not take up his duties until the following year. His first term as governor, during which he seems to have been extremely popular with the majority of the colonists, was notable principally for his religious intolerance and his expulsion of the Puritans, who were in a great minority. During the Civil War in England he remained loyal to the king, and offered an asylum in Virginia to Charles II. and the loyalists. On the arrival of a parliamentary fleet in 1652, however, he retired from office and spent the following years quietly on his plantation. On the death, in 1660, of Samuel Matthews, the last parliamentary governor, he was chosen governor by the Virginia assembly, and was soon recommissioned by Charles II. His natural arrogance and tyranny seems to have increased with years, and the second period of his governorship was a stormy one. Serious frontier warfare with the Indians was followed (1676) by Bacon's Rebellion (see Virginia), brought on by Berkeley's misrule, and during its course all his worst traits became evident. His cruelty and barbarity in punishing the rebels did not meet with the approval of Charles II., who is said to have remarked that "the old fool has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father." Berkeley was called to England in 1677 ostensibly to report on the condition of affairs in the colony, and a lieutenant-governor (Herbert Jeffreys) was put in his place. Berkeley sailed in May, but died soon after his arrival, at Twickenham, and was buried there on the 13th of July 1677. In addition to the play mentioned he wrote A Discourse and View of Virginia (London, 1663).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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