Biography: Governor William Berkeley

Gov. William Berkeley lived during the years of 1605 to 1677. He was one of the Colony of Carolina’s well known Lord Proprietors as well as a colonial Governor of Virginia. King Charles II of England considered Berkeley as one of his favorites and therefore appointed him to these two posts.

As the owner of a plantation in James City County, he tried various experimentations such as growing silkworms as a way to expand the tobacco-based economy. He also was well-known for the friendly policies that he displayed towards the Native Americans. These policies were the primary result of the Bacon Rebellion which was a revolt in 1676 by fellow plantation owners.

Berkeley was born in Bruton in 1605. When he was 12 years old his father died and left his son was some land in Somerset. At a very young age, young Berkeley showed signs of an ability for broad learning and he had a very quick wit. Berkeley’s informal education was simply a matter of observing his elders. This careful observance allowed him to learn the various attributes that contributed to governing a large English society.

He also was keenly aware of agricultural practices because of his English country gentry. This agricultural knowledge would benefit and influence his actions and policies as the governor of Virginia. Even though his father died in debt, Berkeley was able to secure a proper education. At age 6 or 7 he entered grammar school where he became literate in English and Latin. At age 18 he entered Oxford.

In 1641, he replaced Sir Francis Watt as the new governor of Virginia. As the governor of the colony of Virginia, he had two terms from 1660 to 1677 and 1641 to 1652. His main initiative soon after becoming governor was to promote the diversification of Virginia’s agricultural products. He did this by making himself an example for other plantation owners and by passing various laws.

After he was given a second administration term as governor he continued to work towards diversification. This made Virginia very prosperous because of free trade, a diverse economy, a close-knit colonial society, and complete autonomy from London. To support his views on a diversified economy he used his own plantation as an example.

Berkeley had a bitter hostility towards Virginia’s Quakers and Puritans and other minority religions. He also strongly opposed public education. Berkeley died on July 9, 1677 in England.