Wyatt, Francis (DNB00)

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WYATT or WYAT, Sir FRANCIS (1575?–1644), governor of Virginia, born about 1575, was the eldest son of George Wyat of Boxley Abbey, who married, on 8 Oct. 1582, at Eastwell, Kent, Jane, daughter of Sir Thomas Finch, kt., of Eastwell, by his wife Katherine, elder daughter and coheiress of Sir Thomas Moyle of Eastwell. This George Wyat, who was the son of Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger [q. v.], was restored to his estate at Boxley by Queen Elizabeth in 1570, and was buried at Boxley on 1 Sept. 1623.

Through his wife's kinsmen of the Sandys family [see Sandys, Sir Edwin, and Sandys, George], Sir Francis (he was knighted in 1603) became interested in the affairs of the Virginia Company. In 1619 some of the leading colonists in Virginia sent home a petition that a nobleman ‘like the late Lord de la Warr might be sent as governor.’ On 25 Jan. 1620, failing the reappointment of Sir George Yeardley [q. v.], whose commission was wellnigh expired, the Earl of Southampton proposed as governor Sir Francis Wyat, ‘who was well reported of in respect of his parentage, good education, integrity of life, and fair fortune.’ A week later the company proceeded to a ballot, and Wyatt was elected with but two blackballs. After his election several steps were taken to improve the condition of the Virginia colony, the English board of the company being greatly strengthened. The new governor went out with nine sail, arrived at Jamestown at the close of October 1621, and entered upon his government on 18 Nov. (Stith, p. 204). He was accompanied as chaplain by his brother, Hawte Wyat (d. 31 July 1638), subsequently rector of Merston in Kent, by William Claiborne as surveyor, John Pott as physician, and George Sandys [q. v.], the translator of Ovid, as treasurer.

Wyat brought with him the new constitution for the colony, the opening clause of his instructions reading as follows: ‘To keep up the religion of the church of England as near as may be; to be obedient to the king and do justice after the form of the laws of England, and not to injure the natives; and to forget old quarrels now buried.’ All former immunities and franchises were confirmed, trial by jury was secured, and the assembly was privileged to meet annually upon the call of the governor, who was vested with the right of veto. No act of the assembly was to be valid unless it should be ratified by the Virginia Company; but, on the other hand, no order of the company was to be obligatory without the concurrence of the assembly. This famous ordinance furnished the model of every subsequent form of government in the Anglo-American colonies.

During the first year of Wyat's governorship twenty-one vessels arrived in Virginia, bringing more than thirteen hundred settlers, and for a brief space new life was imparted to the community. Jabez Whitaker set up a large guest-house for the accommodation of immigrants; Captain William Norton, with some Italians, erected glass-works near Jamestown, and great attention was paid to the manufacture of iron and the importation of metal and skilled iron-workers. Unfortunately the prosperity of Wyat's governorship received a severe check from a great uprising of the Indians towards the end of March 1622, when over three hundred of the settlers were massacred. News of the massacre reached London in July, whereupon the governor's wife, who had remained in Kent, ‘determined to share her husband's anxieties,’ and set sail in the Abigail, arriving at Jamestown in December. In April 1624 it was intimated to the company in London that Sir Francis desired to retire from the governorship at the close of his term of five years, but upon several of the planters commending his ‘justice and noble carriage’ it was decided by ballot ‘to urge his continuance.’ A few months later the charter of the old Virginia Company was annulled, but Sir Francis was continued as governor by royal commission, and upon James's death in March 1625 he was likewise continued in office by Charles I.

Wyat's father died in Ireland in September 1625, and upon the receipt of this intelligence Sir Francis straightway prepared to leave Virginia. It was not, however, until the close of May 1626 that he reached England and succeeded to his property at Boxley. The governorship was taken over by Sir George Yeardley. Thirteen years later Wyat returned again to Virginia, and succeeded Sir John Harvey as governor (November 1639). Virginia was now torn by factions, and, as he was unwilling to promote certain interests, Wyat became unpopular during his last term of office. After eighteen months Sir William Berkeley was appointed his successor, and in February 1642 landed at Jamestown. Next year Sir Francis Wyat went back to England in time to be present at the death of George Sandys, his wife's uncle, at Boxley Abbey. In less than a year after this, on 24 Aug. 1644, Wyat was himself buried in the family vault in the same churchyard at Boxley. He married, in 1618, Margaret, daughter of Sir Samuel Sandys of Ombersley, Worcestershire, son and heir of Archbishop Edwin Sandys [q. v.] She predeceased her husband, and was buried at Boxley on 27 March 1644.

[Miscell. Geneal. et Herald. new ser. ii. 107; Smith's Governors of Virginia, pp. 86 sq.; Virginia Hist. Collections, vols. vii. and viii.; Stith's Hist. of Virginia, 1747, pp. 204 sq.; Neill's Virginia Governors under the London Company, 1889, pp. 19–31; Doyle's English in America, Virginia, pp. 252, 276; Winsor's Hist. of America, pp. 146 sq.; Neill's Annals of the Virginia Company; Appleton's Cyclop. of American Biogr. vi. 629; Cal. Colonial State Papers, America and West Indies. Copies of letters of Sir Francis Wyatt, with particulars of the history of his family, are in the volume of Wyatt MSS. now the property of the Earl of Romney.]

T. S.