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John Holloway

Member From: 1720 - 1734

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  • Birth Date: ca. 1666 Birth Place:
  • Death Date: December 14, 1734
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
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  • Additional Info: Speaker of the House-1720-1734 Holloway resigned as Speaker prior to the 1734 session. He was succeeded as Speaker by Sir John Randolph.
  • Bio: JOHN HOLLOWAY was Speaker of the House of Burgesses at the three assemblies between 1723 and 1734. He had represented King and Queen County in the assemblies of 1710-1712 and 1712-1714, but had not been elected in 1715 or 1718. York County sent him to the House of Burgesses in 1720, when he was elected Speaker. In the assembly of 1723-1726 he represented Williamsburg, and in the assembly of 1728-17 34 he was elected by both York County and Williamsburg. He chose to sit for York County and served as Speaker until he resigned on 24 August 1734.
    A sketch written by Sir John Randolph is the basic source of information about John Holloway's early life. Holloway had been a clerk, but Randolph thought he had had no formal education. Early in his twenties he had entered the English army and served in Ireland, and later he had practiced law in the Marshalsea court. He had tried his hand at business, but had failed, "ruined himself," and traveled to Maryland and then to Virginia. (The surname Holloway appears in the records of both colonies at the close of the seventeenth century, but it is not known whether Holloway already had relatives in America.)
    In September 1704 John Holloway began to assist the Council with legal matters. The next year Governor Francis Nicholson employed Attorney General Stephens Thompson, Richard Wharton, and John Holloway to render an opinion "in Point of Law'' about complaints made against him by some members of the Council. During the next decade Holloway practiced law and sometimes aided the attorney general. According to Randolph, Holloway's reputation at the bar "was such, that he was universally courted, and most people thought themselves obliged to him, if he would engage their side upon any terms .... This gave him great opportunities of exacting excessive fees; which," Randolph concluded, "I have heard he always did." William Byrd's diaries and the Council minutes lend some support to Randolph's charge, but, as Jack P. Greene has observed, Speaker Holloway's ability to acquire "wealth, position and political power without the advantages of connections with older families'' is evidence ''that social lines were still fluid and that political power was still attainable for the ambitious and gifted.'' Randolph admitted that Holloway's ''greatest excellence was his diligence and industry,'' and that ''his opinions were by most people looked upon as decisive, and were very frequently acquiesced in by both parties, those against whom he pronounced being discouraged from disputing against so great authority.'' Speaker Holloway participated in the 1720 codification of the laws, published in London as An Abridgement of the Publick Laws of Virginia in 1722, and later was appointed to examine candidates seeking licenses to practice law in the county courts.
    In 1710 King and Queen County elected Holloway to the House of Burgesses, where he lost the election for Speaker to Peter Beverley by a vote of twenty-one to sixteen. He again represented King and Queen County in the assembly of 1712-1714, and again may have been nominated for Speaker. In 1711 William Byrd wrote that Holloway offered to pay Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood £500 for an appointment as auditor. Holloway was defeated in the election of 1715 by Gawin Corbin, one of Spotswood's fiercest critics.
    Nor was Holloway elected in 1718. It seems that Holloway was on good terms with Lieutenant Governor Spotswood-too good to be elected to the assemblies of 1715 and 1718. Holloway had been prominent on the 1713 committee that had drafted Spotswood's unpopular tobacco program, which was a major issue in the 1715 elections. The 1713 tobacco law attempted to stop Virginians from growing low-quality tobacco that they used only to pay debts. The legislation, which Spotswood claimed to have written, established public warehouses and agents to inspect tobacco and required that low­quality tobacco be destroyed. Spotswood had pushed hard for passage of the bill and had promised that appointments as tobacco agents, which were expected to be worth £250 annually, would go to burgesses who supported his program.
    Holloway fared well. In 1714 he was judge of the vice admiralty court, justice of the peace for King and Queen County, naval officer for the lower James River (an office he held until June 1716), and also a member of Spotswood's Virginia Indian Company, which was formed in 1714. In 1715 Holloway patented 833 square feet of land that ''by his industry and at his great expense" he had raised above the high-water mark of Archer's Hope Creek to become the site of a warehouse "at the Landing belonging to the City of Williamsburg called Princess or Princess Anne Port, which he hath erected into a Wharfe, convenient for landing and taking off goods into Boats, sloops and other Vessels." In short, Holloway was ready to benefit fully from the 1713 tobacco act he had helped Spotswood enact, although his support of the governor kept him out of the House of Burgesses in 1715 and 1718.
    Holloway fell from Spotswood's favor in 1718 when he defended the notorious pirate William Howard. Holloway brought suit for £500 ''for the (pretended) false Imprisonment of this fellow, and,” Spotswood wrote, "I have now by me Holloway's receipt for three Ounces of Gold dust paid him by Howard for his fee in these Suits." Holloway also sat on the bench at Howard's trial. When the other judges objected to Holloway's participation '' on the Tryal of a person for whom he had been feed as an Attorney,'' Spotswood asked Holloway to disqualify himself. ''This he took so heinously,'' wrote Spotswood, that "he refused to act any longer as Judge of the Court of Admiralty, w'ch, I confess, I was not much displeased at, since it gave me an opportunity of putting an honester man in his place.'' Spotswood named Attorney General John Clayton to the vice admiralty bench. Howard eventually was executed. Presumably Holloway kept the gold.
    In January 1717 Speaker Holloway had been appointed ''first Commissioner of the Peace for the County of York,'' and in 1720 York County elected him to the House of Burgesses. Incumbent Speaker Daniel McCarty was not present when Spotswood directed the burgesses to choose their Speaker and commented that ''if the person you prefer be noted for a deserving and moderate man I shall then conclude your future behaviour will be of the same stamp." Nicholas Meriweather, whom Spotswood had stripped of office a few years before, nominated Holloway. John Waller, one of Spotswood's tobacco agents, nominated Attorney General John Clayton. Holloway's election signaled the governor that the spirit of resistance had not yet disappeared in the House of Burgesses. At the opening of the assembly of 172 3-1726 Clayton nominated William Randolph II but Holloway was reelected. The assembly in 1723 also appointed Holloway as treasurer to succeed Peter Beverley.
    Speaker Holloway was closely associated with the construction of Williamsburg and the completion of the Capitol and the Governor's Palace. In 1710 he had helped to arrange an appropriation for the expansion of Bruton Parish Church, and ten years later he was ''permitted to erect a gallery on the end of the south wing of the Church at his own charge.'' He had been named a vestryman by 1721, and a year later, when Williamsburg received its charter, John Holloway was the capital's first mayor. Although Speaker Holloway's will has not survived, it is estimated that during his career in Virginia he had acquired more than 16,000 acres of land.
    On 1 February 1728, "Mr. Holloway was unanimously chosen'' Speaker. He took the chair, the mace was placed under the clerk's table, and the burgesses accompanied their Speaker­elect to attend Lieutenant Governor William Gooch in the Council chamber, where Gooch confirmed the election. After the burgesses had returned to their chamber the mace was placed on the table to signify that the House was in session. Speaker Holloway presided over three sessions of the assembly of 1728-1734, and on 24 August 1734, the third day of the last session, he submitted a brief letter explaining that ill health forced him to resign. Sir John Randolph, who had recently resigned as clerk of the House of Burgesses, was immediately and unanimously elected to the vacancy; the assembly also named Randolph to replace Holloway as treasurer.
    Holloway, the 1734 act appointing a treasurer said, "of late, through the infirmity and weakness of his body and memory, is become incapable of executing the said office, and unable to pass his accounts." When Holloway's accounts had been laid before it, the assembly had discovered "that there is a considerable sum [about £18,000] now in arrear, and unpaid," and also that there was ''money by him lent out, and now outstanding." For these reasons Holloway "assigned to certain trustees, all his estate, both real and personal, in trust, for satisfying the debt aforesaid." Sir John Randolph, whose task it was to straighten out Holloway's finances, wrote of his predecessor that ''his management of the treasury contributed to his ruin, and brought him to the grave with much disgrace.'' John Holloway died on 14 December 1734, without issue and "little lamented," Randolph wrote, "in the sixty-ninth year of his age."
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Mayor of Williamsburg (1722-1723)
    Speaker of the House of Burgesses (1720-1734)
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1720-1722 York Speaker of the House
1723-1726 Williamsburg Speaker of the House
1728-1734 York Speaker of the House

*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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