How Were Officials Elected In Early Jamestown?

Considering there were barely more than 100 settlers (all men and boys) who arrived in Jamestown, it stands to reason that there may have been infighting. That’s what happens when you put dozens of alpha males ready for adventure and a new life in one confined area with all the stress in the world: bad water, little food, horrendous winters, and Native Americans with whom you refuse to get along. So how did they elect their officials?

Don’t be silly, they didn’t elect anyone — because their was still a king back in England and he was still in control.

The town was actually named after King James I, who himself established a council of seven men who would carry out directives. Command was given to Captain Christopher Newport. Interestingly, the leadership was a mystery until they actually arrived in Jamestown — meaning their were already big problems by the time they got there, especially because everyone wanted to know exactly who would be ordering them around. But the king had it his way, and a box with seven names inside remained sealed until they landed. 

This was great news for Captain John Smith, who was to be hanged for mutiny. When the settlers saw his name on the list of seven, he was granted a reprieve by Newport. 

Within the first two years of settlement, though, investors and settlers alike grew antsy about the current direction of the colony. A new charter was requested and approved, and a sole governor was appointed: Sir Thomas West. His second, Thomas Gates, established a code of laws by 1610, which were continually expanded upon by successors (because there really are never enough laws, if we’ve learned anything from American legislators).

Over the next decade, governors and councilors would routinely change because of harsh winters and internal political strife. But that’s what having a king is all about!