Edward M. Riley


Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - 0092
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library

Williamsburg, Virginia


Edward M. Riley

When the new Lt.Lieutenant — Governor came to Virginia in September, 1727, he was welcomed with special ceremony because a new King was honored at the same time: Commissions were read in the General Court Room of the Capitol and formal oaths of office were administered in the Council Chamber. On the advice of his Council, Governor Gooch pardoned a convicted pirate, one John Vidal, as an act of mercy "very fit to begin his administration." Later in the day the Governor and the President of the Council sat together in the state coach that led a procession down the length of Duke of Gloucester St., proclaiming King George II with gunfire salutes first at the Capitol, then at the Market Place, and finally at the College. At the Governor's Palace in the evening the principal ladies and gentlemen of the Colony joined their host in drinking all the royal healths from three great bowls of Rackarrack punch; guns were fired at every health, and the ceremonies ran on till midnight.

The Virginians' first impression of their new governor was described by one of the Council, William Byrd: "By a great Accident we have a very Worthy Man to represent Lord Orkney. It is Major Gooch, brother of an eminent Clergyman of that Name. He seems … to maintain the Character 2 of a very just Man, and has a remarkable share of good Sense, good Nature, and good Breeding. How long he may hold his Integrity I cannot warrant because Power and Flattery corrupt many a Hopeful Ruler." TwentyNine years later, Byrd's caution How long was answered publicly by the House of Burgesses in a warm tribute to their old friend, new Governor Sir William Gooch: "You have not been intoxicated with the Power committed to You by His Majesty; but have used it, like a faithful Trustee, for the Public Good, and with proper Cautions."

These achievements for the public good have been-epitomized in history with the phrase "Gooch prosperity." Historians who analyzed it point to several elements:

(1) A vigorous and healthy trade, founded in the Gooch Tobacco Law of 1730, which improved both the quality of the tawny weed and the arrangements governing the carrying trade and the marketing of the product. Moreover, it improved relations between planter and merchant and eliminated frauds in collecting the tax for His Majesty's revenues. Besides the staple, there were other products to sell — notably pig iron, deer and beaver skins, grain, naval stores and other lumber products. On the other side of the trade, imported manufactured goods included costly furnishings for the mansions along the Virginia rivers which were being built at this 3 time — today's reminders of Virginia's Golden Age, the period of economic expansion associated with the two decades of the Gooch administration.

(2) Other marks of growing' civilization in the Virginia wilderness were: a permanent colonial press, dating from William Parks' arrivalVirginia Gazette in 17306; improved transportation facilities — roads that would accommodate coaches were slowly replacing paths that could be traveled only on horse-back; a postal service -- irregular and expensive, but a post nevertheless.

(3) The steady growth of the House of Burgesses in power and prestige — evidence of a healthy and vigorous political life.

(4) It was a period of peace and prosperity. Major Gooch had received his political appointment in recognition of distinguished military service — he had fought with reputation in every one of Marlborough's engagements during Queen Anne's War. Yet in Virginia Gooch was a statesman, not a soldier. During the decade of the 1740's he had several opportunities for military service, but only once did he take the field — at Cartagena. Even here he solved his chief military problem — recruitment — with a politician's maneuver. Virginians for some years had been vainly protesting against the number of felons convicted in England and transported to the colony as indentured servants. In answer to the call for recruits to serve in the war against Spain, the General Assembly impressed all able-bodied 4 "idle fellows" and sent them off to Cartagena — a scheme suggested by lawyer Edward Barradall and adopted by Governor Gooch and the Virginia Assembly.

The Governor's administrative efficiency was repeatedly praised by the spokesmen for the Virginia people — the House of Burgesses. They thanked him at various times for his hospitality, his courtesy and affability, his painstaking patience, vigilance, prudence, disinterestedness, wisdom. "Yet," they assured him, "those who have differ'd from you in opinion, far from being revil'd or despis'd for their Integrity, have been treated with that Regard and Civility, which are due to the Representatives of a People. This is the Source of many good Things that have been done, during Your Government, and the true Cause that has banish'd all Factions and Parties out of this Colony; and in this, Your Example may instruct those who shall come after you, in the best Methods of Governing the King's Subjects here ...." You have shew'd how easy it is to give universal Satisfaction to the People under Your Government ..."

It looked easy because it was being done by a master of his craft who worked hard at his job. Like the finished grace of an accomplished ballet dancer, his performance was based on long hours of patient labor, intelligently directed. His trade secrets are revealed in a series of 5 confidential letters to his brother Thomas, Bishop of Norwich — that "eminent Clergyman" of Byrd's acquaintance. So confidential were these letters, they were not often sent off with official correspondence, but usually delivered by the hand of a trusted friend. The writer repeatedly urged that they be burned, but the good Bishop betrayed his brother's confidence in this one thing — he saved them, and his descendants have carefully preserved them to our own time.

Because he had "a remarkable share of good sense," Major Gooch knew that he needed guidance and help in political and diplomatic matters. So far removed from London, he depended upon a trustworthy agent at court. His brother Thomas faithfully supplied all these requirements. The Governor's polished addresses to the General Assembly, for example, (his "state of the Union" speeches) were often the ideas if not the exact words of the bishop. Six months after he arrived at his new post, William Gooch informed his brother:

"This day I prorogued the Assembly and made a speech to them. Pray be so kind as to do what I desired, compositions full of duty to His Majesty, love and gratitude to the people here, but you'll see what is necessary by their addresses to me, and pray burn my letters that have requests of this sort in them."
6 He had already performed an unexpected public duty, one for which he felt ill prepared — presiding in the General Court. "There," he reported, "I give the charge to the Grand Jury, and pass sentence upon all Criminals, and to this end I must beg of you to send me over first, if such is to be had, a book of such matters and things as relate to the office of a Judge." Bishop Gooch seems to have been unable to fill this order; nearly five years later, in 1732, William was still asking for judicial help:
"I beg the continuance of your private Information, and if when in London you could meet with a Book which deals in Charges to Grand Juries I should be obliged if you would send it to me sealed up; I always give two every year in our General Courts, which I have hitherto done out of my own head."

What he did out of his own head was more than adequate, we know, because one of the first issues from Parks' Williamsburg press was A Charge to the Grand Jury. At a General Court, held at the Capitol of the City of Williamsburg, in Virginia, on Monday the 19th Day of October, 1730. By the Honourable William Gooch, Esq.; Governour of Virginia. This publication is the earliest surviving Williamsburg imprint; it demonstrates a graceful and sprightly literary style which is as characteristic of the author as his sound common sense.


Like most of the other resident governors of Virginia in the 18th century, Gooch was the lieutenant; the titular governor remained at court. This situation added one more element of insecurity to his tenure in office, which depended upon his ability to please his immediate superior as well as the King and his Privy Council, the Board of Trade, and important merchants interested in the Virginia trade. Furthermore, in the colony there were conflicting groups with special interests at court who had to be appeased. In London the political influence of the Gooch brothers centered in Robert Walpole and the Bishop of Salisbury, and Thomas Gooch watched over this interest and relayed information about shifting influences at court. William Gooch confessed: "I am but a poor Sollicitour in my own concerns, nor can I Press and Importune like other Men." Yet he knew "that malice will be busie, and that the best Fruit is most subject to be Attackt by Insects …" Bishop Thomas treated the London insect bites with constant applications of tact, and Governor William used the same remedy in Virginia. The case of Commissary James Blair illustrates the treatment. Gooch knew that the Bishop of London had supported his Virginia deputy so well that three governors of the colony had been removed from office when they ran afoul of Blair. His first letter to his brother reported: 8

"We are at present at the Comissary's, where we are very grandly entertained, and he appears very courteous and kind, but even yet I can't think him sincere."
At the same time Blair was writing to the Bishop of London:
"The Country is all in peace and quietness and seems to be mighty well satisfied with their new Governor. He is a sober serious and well tempered man, obliging and courteous to all, never swears, nor gives way to passion, which examples no doubt will do a great deal of good."
By the next summer, the treatment was well under way:
"The Comissary is a very vile old Fellow, but he does not know that I am sensible of it, being still in appearance good Friends; the best Policy will be to kill him with kindness, but there is no perplexing device within his reach, that he does not throw in my way, purely because He is not my privy Councillor; …"
Governor Gooch's supply of patience and tact lasted for fifteen years, until he was able to announce in 1743:
"Old Blair died last moneth in his 88th year, and to the great Comfort of his Nephew, his Heir, was left £10,000 behind him. A Rupture he has had about 40 years concealed from every Body but 9 one Friend, mortified and killed him. If his Belly has been as sound as his Head and Breast, he might have lived many years longer."

In return for favors at court, the Virginia governor tried to find colonial posts for young men sent over by his London friends. At the request of the Bishop of Salisbury, for example, he took young Nathaniel Walthoe into his household and made him Clerk of the Council. Not all these responsibilities were so easily and pleasantly discharged. Here are a few confidential progress reports:

"Mr. Bridges I have already loaded with my civilities, tho' it looks a little odd for a Governour to shew so much favour to a Painter, as to lend him Coach to fetch his Daughters and Son, and his waggon for two days to bring up his Goods, and to entertain him at Dinner & Supper several times since his arrival, and to promise him as soon as he's settled that he shall begin to shew the country his Art, by drawing my Picture, but all this I have done and upon yr. recommendation shall continue to do him all the service in my power ….

[Another protege, one Doctor Potter, related to the Bishop of Oxford] "by my means … has gott into pretty good Business, 10 though the country think him both too dear and too Proud, for they don't like these Qualities in any but themselves.. After all I want mightily to know something more of this man, because he sometimes I think talks double

"Mr. Roberson is another burden to me. … from what I already know of him, Your Lordship is well quitt of him at the expence of £50. The first time he was with me he made no manner of scruple in asking me for Money. I lett him have £5 and ordered him to make what haste he could to his station; in three days time he sent me a letter desiring more money, I sent him another £51 and repeated to him my orders to go away immediately to his District, whither I hear he went next day, and where, as he loves Drink, he will have the opportunity to wean himself from it, for tho' where he is, there is planty of Meat, there is no Liquor . …"

"Your Friend Cannon, who, I wish I had never known, … [is] a very great Reproach to my Lord Bishop of Salisbury & Your Lordship, but much more to me, as I am looked upon as his Protector, for I constantly declare that neither of Your Lordships knew any 11 more of him than his being son to a worthy Father …. Had he no other faults, he is too extravagant for my support, loves cards, has no notion of returns for Favours, looking upon them as his Due; and as I learn from others is too apt to deceive wth his Tongue. Add to this that he is so great a Bear, when I enquired the reason of him, Why he never came to Church, he was not ashamed to say, He could not gett Drest in time enough. He may be a good scholar, and appears very ready in any subject; but manners, so necessary to form a man, who setts out into the wide world, he is an absolute stranger to. In short, he is so self conceited and humoursome, such a Valetudinarian and so tender of himself, that he is not, by Indolence, fitt for any manner of Business …. If I could have said any … good word in behalf of him, or could have had any Prospect of reclaiming him, tho' I had maintained him out of my own Pocket, but as the Gentlemen here one and all Despise him, and only associate with him to gett some of his mony at Cards, it will be impossible, against the sense of the country, to live under the Disgrace of having such a Pupil."

On rare occasions, Governor Gooch recommended young Virginians to the Bishop's attention. In 1735, for example, he wrote: 12

"The bearer hereof is eldest son to Col. Grymes Rr. General of this Colony and my particular friend. He comes to Trinity Hall in your University … whither one Mr. Carter went about two years since, Brother to the Secretary of this Country, who I very earnestly recommend, as I do now this young Gentleman, to your favour and friendship, and if you will now and then countenance these two young sparks by inviting them to dinner with you, and drinking our healths, and lett me have a paragraph in one of your Letters concerning them to shew their Relations, you will oblige me to a great degree."

But even such consummate tact as this would not answer all requirements. Financial problems were always acute. The voyage to Virginia cost Gooch 300 guineas, and he spent "as much more for negroe servants & other necessaries" at the Palace, "besides a constant great expence of Housekeeping for the first year, proclaiming His Majesty 50 guineas, his birthday near 100 guineas, Prince Frederick's 20 guineas. These are the things," he concluded, "to which I am exposed, so that I have very little reason to expect to make a Fortune, or enough to keep me when I grow old, unless my stars are more favourable." Half his salary always went to the governor-in-England, and Orkney managed to collect £200 more than half.


Discouraged after eight years with no relief, he wrote:

"Upon seriously considering my present Grandeur that I live in a Government as expensive as any,'more so than most, with the. least Income of any to support it upon what I have got, or am likely to save, I have been contriving … how to secure a fair retreat, sufficient to keep me from constantly walking on foot, after riding so long in my Coach & six. …"

Suggesting that the Bishop of Salisbury work through Walpole to obtain a royal grant of £500 out of the Virginia quit rents, he explained:

"… that you may not think I am running into an extravagant Prayer, you must know that by my management that Revenue is encreased £1,000 a year more than ever it was before … I am not aiming at great things, but sufficient to live in Credit, should I grow old in the service of my Prince, and in a station not capable to provide for me."

The following year he was more insistent:

"I hope you'l not forgett to plead my Cause with Mr. Walpole, for in my humble opinion I think it deserves some relief. I have teen times the business and am at double the expence of any 14 of my Predecessors, such is the encrease of Inhabitants without any additional Perquisites, that should I be called home, I should bring with me little besides a good reputation for nine years Drudgery."

In another year, his remarkable patience was wearing thin: "… if I am to be kept to such short allowance, without hopes of being ever rewarded, I shall chuse to be called home and work at the Plow rather than submit to such usage. I have been here tenn years and perhaps may have gott £2,000 into my Pocket, which will hardly satisfie a man to be told he must rest contented & see what Time may produce, nor stifle the thoughts of living here longer to such little purpose. … Honour without money is an empty thing. Every Labourer is worthy of his Hire and ought to be paid in proportion to his work, without which I am no better, but in degree, than one of my slaves."

His Majesty later rewarded his faithful trustee with new honors, but no royal grant of money was forthcoming and none of the requested perquisites were added to the governor's office. When he became Sir William Gooch, he was pleased but not unduly impressed; in a postscript he off-handedly presented his brother with a neat little problem:

"To all public Papers that have not a titular Introduction I sign Bart. at the end of my name; and some People tell me I should 15 do so in my Letters, a dispute I beg Your Lordship to Decide."

His rare good qualities shine forth in modest splendor from his own evaluation of his trusteeship:

"I have been faithful and diligent in my Royal Master's Service, and always preferred his Interest to my own, which I. don't repent. I have been a Father to the People, and Governed to their hearts desire, the Clergy love me and the Poor pray for me. These are the only valueable things I can boast of …"

Appendix I

Letter from Governor Gooch to his Brother, Bishop of Norwich dated November 10, 1742

My Lord,

Like a Man stunn'd with a Blow, I am yet unable to utter my Complaint, in telling your Lordship how heavy the Punishment is the allwise God has been pleased to Inflict, who is the only Judge what sort of Correction I wanted; for surely Father never had a more dutiful affectionate and obliging Son that I have lost.

To give that dear young man the Character he deserved is Impossible, without being thought Partial. However, as I am sensible it will be great satisfaction to your Lordship to hear how Good he was, how Precious in our sight, I will endeavour, without stretching, to inform your Lordship.

As a Christian, he was Pious, Just and Charitable: as a Gentleman, good-natured, sober and of good manners, and besides, a great Proficient in the Mathematicks, for which he had a surprising Genius, understood all the polite accomplishments, such as Dancing, Riding and Fencing, making by his Height, near Six Foot, shape and air, a very genteel appearance in any of those Exercises.

During his Sickness he never murmur'd nor complained and when very sure he would soon breath his last, was so tender of us, so careful to 17 keep us out of Despair, that, tho' sensible himself of his approaching end, he always told us he should do well. And when against my Inclination his Phisitian's advice prevailed, in not sending for a Minister, they insisting the sight of him might sink his spirits, that dear young man of himself desired one might be sent for, and his Mother saying to him, My Dear and you]. receive the Sacrament, even then he tried to conceal his Sentiments, giving her this answer, there is no occasion, but with all my Heart. Such was his Disposition of Mind through the whole course of his Illness, and I am persuaded, tho' he could not but Guess at our Concern, he would have died less contented, had we made him a witness of our Sorrow, which we all of us Strove to hide from him.

The last visit I was allowed to make him was the Day before he Died, for after that an Inflamation in his Bowels gave him great Pain, 'til it turned to a mortification, and he was somewhat disordered in his Head, and as I stood behind the Curtains in his Room, he asked where I was, and going to the side of the Bed, he put out his Hand, and grasping mine with a Smile told me he could still call me Father, pray be kind to my Dear Nelly: so ready was he in his last moments to give me, by a smile, some consolation, tho' he could not avoid conveying a dreadful Adieu in the regard he expressed for his Wife. It was a melancholly Parting indeed, but it would have been 18 much more Grievous unto me, if he had not been so resigned, and prepared to meet Death, for how great comfort must it be to a fond Parent, to see in his Son so entire a Submission to the Will of Heaven, that he who was in the prime of his age, and in Possession of all the good Things in this World, one that had every endearment to allure him and make him Hanker after a longer stay upon earth, a kind pretty wife, big with child, fond Parents, and beloved by every Body, in all respects well accommodated to live comfortable. I say for this Dear young Man, without repining at his Fate, or making any other Reflection than what he said to a friend that came to see him, without any Perturbation, I thought my strength would have been able to maintain the struggle, but I find 'tis otherwise determined, to have his thoughts so fixed upon a better Inheritance, as to be ready to be Dissolved and to be with Christ, is matter of solid Comfort to us all, and will I hope prove the means of making us live in such holy Conversation, that our latter end may be like his.

How it will Fare with his afflicted Widow, who is near seven moneths gone with Child, and inconsolable God only knows: she poor Creature is continually crying out with strong Tears, never was woman so happily married, declaring she would not some weeks ago have changed condition with any wife in the universe, and most certain it is, there could not be a more tender, fond 19 Husband than he was. This, my Lord,. is but a faint Description of what your Nephew was, who is now number'd with the Dead: and if his Departure is so generally Lamented, that the whole Congregation were in Tears the Sunday he was prayed for at Church, if all that knew him gave the like Testimony, when will our Eyes be dry, when will my Tears cease to flow, never, no, never, for I shall never forget him; all the Day long we sigh and sob, and the Nights afford no relief, he was too deserving to slip out of my mind, and to remember him is all the Tribute I can pay to his exceeding great Merit, now crowned with everlasting Bliss. Nevertheless as the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach dictates, I will strive to take no heaviness to heart: drive it away, and remember the last end. Forget it not, for there is no turning again: thou shalt not do him Good, but Hurt thyself, and I have been taught by your Lordship, to shed a Tear for a departed Friend is obeying the suggestion of Nature, and if we keep within Bounds, and do not sorrow as men without hope, 'tis agreeable to Christianity too. But thrice happy for me is this severe Chastisement of the Lord's, if I may be allowed to cal it so, having already learnt that the best Instruction is to be mett with in the school of affliction.

And now, my Lord, I trust you will still consider my Daughter as your Niece, at lest in sending her the Ring I desired for her. She is an excellent young Lady, not nineteen, and deserving of every Favour or Respect 20 we can shew her, as well on her own personal account as for the great love she had for her Husband. If she has a Child to live, all her Fortune gos to it after her Death, so that she will have only the Interest of it, to tempt a second Husband, which, whatever she now says, her agreable Person will Procure for her. And if the Child should die, she is to have only her Fortune again. And considering her in such Circumstances, as I intended to make her a Present of a pair of Diamond Earrings, I may fairly hold my Hand, it being too much to give another Family should she marry again and have the Disposal of her Fortune.

The Distemper that parted such Dear and loving Friends was the bloody Flux, by which, as Misfortunes don't come singly, I have lost several negroes of great value, and the best in the Country.

I have buried my son by my Uncle of the same name, and have ordered the Ground to be Railled in, intending to build a wall about it, when I can bring my mind to talk to a workman, and if it please God I die in this Country, to be laid there my self. I propose a Tombstone, which I beg your Lordship to give Mr. Cary directions, submitting to your Lordship the Inscription but not without letting Your Lordship know that I should like: Here lies the Body of William Gooch Esqr, only son of the Honble Wm. Gooch, 21 Lt Govr of this Colony, who dies in the twenty-sixth year of his age 1742.

And underneath the good Bishop of London's Motto.

May the Good God long preserve Your Lordship and those that belong to you from every Trouble and Vexation' is the earnest and sincere Prayer of Your lordship's very sorrowful but affect.


William Gooch.

Nov. 10th 1742.