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Walter Chiles

Member From: 1642 - 1666

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  • Birth Date: Unknown Birth Place:
  • Death Date: 1653
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
  • Spouse: Elizabeth
  • Children: William, Walter
  • Religion:
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  • Additional Info: ​Walter Chiles' one-day tenure as Speaker raised the issue of whether the House of Burgesses was free from executive interference in the choice of its officers and conduct of its affairs. 
  • Bio: WALTER CHILES was elected Speaker of the House of Burgesses at the assembly that began on 5 July 1653. He resigned the next day. His one-day Speaker raised the issue of whether the House of Burgesses was free from executive interference in the choice of officers and the conduct of its affairs.
    Chiles first entered the assembly for Charles City County n January 1642, four years after he had come to Virginia, and he signed the April 1642 declaration against he attempt to revive the Virginia Company of London. He also represented Charles City County in the assembly of 1643. During 1644 and 1645 Chiles engaged in "the discovery of a new river and knowne land bearing west southenrly from Appomattake river," where in 638 he had claimed more than 1,000 acres "toward the falls." Chiles is described as a merchant in surviving records; his Appomattox exploration probably was a trading venture, for which he and his three associates had license to "all profit whatsoever" from trad, except that a fifth of any mineral riches was reserved for the crown. Chiles brought his wife, Elizabeth, and sons, William and Walter, to Virginia about 1639, and apparently in 1644 or early 165 he moved to Jamestown, where he bought from Governor Sir William Berkeley in 1649 a brick townhouse built by Richard Kemp. Chiles represented James City County in the assemblies of 1645-1646, and 1646. He was not elected to the assembly of 1647-1648 but sat again for James City County in 1649. Governor Berkley appointed him to the Council, and he was present at the September 1651 meeting. Chiles was not continued on the Council after Virginia's surrender to Parlaiment, nor was he elected to the assembles of 1652. He represented James City County in the assembly of 1653 and died later that year.
    The controversy about Chiles election as speaker had complicated antecedents, beginning in 1651 before Virginia surrendered to Parliament but after parliament had begun to enforce its new navigation laws. On 24 January 1652 Chiles sailed his ship the Fame of Virginia, for Rotterdam. He was aware of the 3 October 1650 act of Parliament forbidding royalists colonies from trading with any foreign ports, but the assembly of 1651 have resolved to defy parliaments restrictions. Childes and the Fame of Virginia returned to Virginia waters in June 1652 and anchored off the Eastern shore. On the thirteenth Captian Richard Henfield seized the ship because Chiles had no license from Parliament, but the Northhampton County Court ruled that Henfield’s action violated the terms of Virginia’s surrender to the commonwealth of England, which provided “that the people of Virginia have free trade as the people of England do enjoy to all places and with all nations.” Henfield apparently agreed, but his superior, Richard Husband, claimed the Fame of Virginia on the pretext that it was owned by Dutch merchants, not by Chiles, and that its master and crew “belonge[d] to the [Dutch] West Indya Companye.” Parliament’s Navigation Act of 1651, which aimed to cripple the Dutch commercial fleet, required that foreign trade be carried in English bottoms owned by English merchants and manned by English seamen. Husband alleged that Chiles had been outward-bound from Rotterdam to Brazil and that he had intended to return to Holland.
    This allegation was denied by the Northampton County justices of the peace, who cited their own “experience both in the course of Trade from us to Holland and soe backe againe.” Husband pretended to cooperate with the Northampton County Court, which held him in custody, and agreed to arbitration by Nathaniel Littleton and Argoll Yeardley, two Northampton justices who were also members of Virginia’s Council of State. They decided against Husband: Chiles was to have his ship, and Husband was to be released from custody and protected from threat of lawsuit. On 18 June 1652 Husband wrote a letter ordering his crew to return the Fame of Virginia and was released, but the next day he sailed off with Chiles’s ship. The political consequences of Husband’s escape lingered for months and embarrassed the Northampton County Court.
    The next summer, rumor “that a greate summe of money is to be paid to satisfye for a ship taken here by Capt. Rich[ard] Husband and restored by a Court unto Mr. Walter Chiles” swept through Northampton County. “Instigated thereunto merely through the Effects of feare,” people gathered in angry meetings, at one of which young “Steph[en] Horsey Revile[d] against some of the magistrats of this County. (Sayeinge) the County would be ruinated by a company of Asses and villayns.” The assembly of 1653 sent Governor Bennett to settle the peace. Late in July his entourage held court, at which county inhabitants apologized, prayed to be “protected from payment for the said ship,” and asked that “the Countys reputacon (if possible) maye bee repayred.”
    Meanwhile on 6 June 1653, “Mr. Gunnell and Mr. Reade[,] masters of London Shipps,” boarded the Dutch Leopoldus of Dunkirk in Virginia waters. Their attempted capture was unsuccessful, but after they left, a party of Virginians boarded the ship, and “the Skipper Said to Coll: [William] Clayborne and others Who then came aboard, if they were Prize they would be prize to the Country [that is, to the Virginians not to the Londoners], And if they pleased to send fifty men on board they Should be Welcome.”
    Evidently Chiles saw the capture of the Leopoldus of Dunkirk as an opportunity to recoup his loss on the Fame of Virginia. Arrangements were made (probably involving Chiles, Claiborne, Littleton, and Yeardley) whereby Chiles got the Leopoldus of Dunkirk for £400, which seems to have been a bargain price for a 300-ton vessel, “her guns, tackle, apparel and furniture and whatsoever belongeth or appertaineth to the said ship,” as well as her cargo.
    On 11 July 1653 Governor Bennett signed an order for the surprise and capture of Dutch ships. The next day Chiles’s bill of sale was signed. His £400 went into appropriate pockets: William Claiborne £100; Samuel Matthews, Sr., £250; Speaker William Whitby £30; and two others, £10 each. The assembly ratified the deal in July 1653.
    Governor Bennett probably had had a hand in these arrangements, for when Chiles was elected Speaker, Bennett wrote the burgesses “that it is no so proper nor so convenient at this time to make choice of him for that there is something to be agitated in this Assembly concerning a ship lately arrived, in which Left. Coll. Chiles hath some interest.” Nevertheless, having elected Chiles “by a plurality of votes” on 5 July, the House of Burgesses sent a four-man committee to “attend the Governor and Councill, to request of them their reasons, wherefore they cannot joyne with us Burgesses in the business of this Assembly, about the election of Lev’t Coll. Walter Chiles for Speaker of this Assembly.” The next day Speaker Chiles explained “to the house his extraordinarie occasions in regard of the dispatch of some shipping now in the country in which he is much interested and concerned,” and the House of Burgesses allowed him to resign.
    While Governor Bennett apparently had thought the election ill-advised and had tried not to challenge the burgesses’ parliamentary privilege, he probably also favored Edward Major for Speaker. The House of Burgesses seems to have guarded its independence by electing Chiles and, after it allowed him to resign, William Whitby. During the 1650s the House of Burgesses learned to guard its privilege carefully; Walter Chiles’s short tenure as Speaker was an important initial episode in that development.
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Elected Speaker of the House of Burgesses on July 5, 1653 but resigned the next day. He was followed by William Whitby.
    Member of the Council of State: 1651 - 1652
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1642 Charles City
1643 Charles City
1645-1646 James City County
1646 James City County
1649 James City County
1653 James City County Speaker of the House
1659 James City County
1660 James City County
1661-1676 James City

*The information within this interactive and searchable application has been researched extensively by the House Clerk’s Office. As with any historical records of this age and breadth, there may be discrepancies and/or inconsistencies within records obtained from a variety of credible sources. Any feedback is encouraged at history@house.virginia.gov.

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