As one can imagine, Virginia, one of the original thirteen colonies, and a state that allows just one term, has a long list of governors.
Picking out just five of the most noteworthy is a fool’s game, but as a teacher once told us, dare to make mistakes.
Let’s call this longwinded Jeopardy. We give you the sketch, and you try and name the governor.
Answers at end.
Ok, so maybe I wasn’t the greatest governor of Virginia, but no one else served longer, and my tenure was during the toughest of times. Dealing with the crown, the colonial government, the planters and the native tribes required a biblical level of skills. I was lucky, I guess, and served twice (1642-1652) and (1660-1677).
Born in Middlesex and educated in Oxford, I was favored by King Charles II, who sent me to the New World in 1641. I established Green Spring, a plantation west of Jamestown, and wrote “Discourse and View of Virginia” (1663). My desire was for a more diversified economy.
It’s true I had an economic interest with the native peoples. As such, I desired more favorable relations with them.
In 1675, I allowed Nathaniel Bacon to become a member of my council. This did not work out. Bacon gathered up 500 rebels, with an aim to overthrow me.
I prevailed, but criticism kept coming. Nevertheless, a state highway marker near Williamsburg praises me for helping to change Virginia from a colonial outpost to a center of agriculture and commerce.
You may not believe this, but I was born in Morocco. With my family roots planted in Scotland, I came to Virginia to serve as the de facto Governor, if you will. George Hamilton, first Earl of Orney, was the governor, but stayed in England. I was actually the Lieutenant Governor, serving from 1710 to 1722.
Like those before me, one of my greatest challeges was relations with the native Americans. I confess my economic interests came first, but I desired not the heavy-handed approach of the burgesses.
One of my key pieces of legislation was the “Tobacco Act of 1713.” It foreshadowed The Tobacco Act of 1930. The planters huffed and puffed, but the new law made the pick up more efficient.
Of course, they got their revenge and voted out my appointees.
I gained some favor by sketching out architectural plans for places in Williamsburg. I was also proud of constructing an iron works in Germanna, and leading an expedition to the mountains. I’ve heard that someone later called us the “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe.”
I had the tough duty of serving as the Restored Governor during the Civil War and then during Reconstruction. I grew up in what is now West Virginia. Some folks called me the Father of that state.
I started out in politics supporting the Whigs and the abolition of slavery. In June, 1861, with the war ramping up, I was elected as the provisional governor of Virginia by the Wheeling Convention. The following May, they made me the regular governor, if you will.
On the first day of 1864, I moved with the reorganized government to Alexandria. We had out first meeting there in 1863 and convened again in 1864.
A historical marker at 415 Prince Street in Old Town points out I established the “restored government of Virginia” at this brick home, and used the building as the official governor’s residence 1863-65.
I moved again in the summer of 1865 when the government was relocated to Richmond. For the next three years, I promoted the rights of freed blacks. That fight, however, was an up-hill battle. I was also roundly criticized by my own party for offering an Olive branch to the ex-Confederates.
During Reconstruction, I asked the General Assembly to support the 14th Amendment.
Another failure. White conservative Virginians had lost the war, but they were not going to lose control of the state.
I was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia to a political family. After moving to Winchester, we read glorious stories of southern traditions.
Like my forebears, I had a taste for political office. I served as a State Senator from 1916-1926, Governor from 1926 to 1930, and US Senator from 1933-1965. I lived near Berryville from 1928 to 1966.
I shook many hands as Governor. Folks thanked me for opposing the gasoline tax and favoring a pay-as-you-go system. As a publisher of several daily newspapers, President of the Valley Turnpike Company and owner of several apple orchards, I knew how to run a business.
My “Program of Progress” was popular and became a part of the “New South.” I was so good they called my organization the “Byrd Machine.”
My critics hammered me for my staunch stance against desegregation. They called it “Massive Resistance.”
In 1969, when I declared my candidacy for a state Senate seat, the newspapers described me as a “Negro lawyer.”
In 1984, when I went to Alexandria to raise funds for my candidacy for Lieutenant Governor, the sponsor of the event, a friend, said his attendance “in no way connotes an endorsement” for me.
In the summer of 1988, when I threw my hat in the ring for the Governor’s seat, just twenty-some years after the passage of the Civil Rights legislation, I knew the odds did not favor me. Just a month before the election, the Democratic Party Chairman of a county in southern Virginia said, “We have to figure out a way to make Wilder white.”
I won each of those races, each a milestone on the Civil Rights trail. I’m very proud to say I became the first black governor in the United States.
Born in Richmond, a grandson of enslaved humans, I served my country in the Korean War. Using the GI Bill, I graduated from Howard University Law School in Washington. In 1969, I became the first African American elected to the Virginia senate since Reconstruction. I served in that seat for the next sixteen years.
In November 1989, I won the governor’s race by the slimmest of margins. The race involved a lot of mud slinging. A recount confirmed me as the winner.
In 2004, I was elected Mayor of Richmond. My recent work includes founding the United States National Slavery Museum and authoring, “Son of Virginia: A Life in America's Political Arena.”
Sir William Berkeley (1605-1677)
Alexander Spotswood (1676-1740)
Francis Harrison Pierpont (1814-1899)
Harry S. Byrd, Sr. (1877-1966)
Douglass Wilder (b. 1931)