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John Pory

Member From: 1619 - 1619

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  • Birth Date: approx. 1572 Birth Place:Thompson, Norfolk, England
  • Death Date: 1636
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
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  • Education: Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; bachelor of arts 1592; master of arts 1595.Honorary degree of master of arts awarded by Oxford Univ. on 18 April 1610.
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  • Additional Info: Pory, while not an elected Burgess, served as the Speaker during the 1619 session and is therefore included herein as a participant in that session.
  • Bio: JOHN PORY was secretary of the colony of Virginia and described himself as Speaker of the General Assembly that met at Jamestown from 30 July too 4 August 1619– the first representative assembly in the New World. A cousin of Governor Sir George Yeardley's wife, Temperance Flowerdew, Pory had been commissioned as secretary by the Virginia Company of London on 2 December 1618, and as secretary was a member of the Council of States.
    In Virginia's first assembly and for the first two decades hereafter, the governor, councilors, and burgesses met together in one chamber. According to Pory's handwritten report of the 1619 meeting, the assembly met in the choir of the church at Jamestown and the councilors sat next to Governor Yeardley "excepte onely the secretary then appointed speaker," who sat in front of the governor and was assisted by the clerk. Pory's careful description of the organization of the General Assembly testifies to the importance that he and his contemporaries attached to these matters of procedure. The office that Secretary Pory held in the unicameral assembly of 1619 differed in three important ways from the office of the Speaker of the House of Burgesses after 1643. First, Pory was a councilor, not an elected burgess, when he acted as Speaker. Second, Pory was appointed (evidently by Governor Yeadley) and had been named to the office before the burgesses had taken the oaths with which they were admitted to membership in the assembly. Third, Pory and Governor Yeardley both presided over the assembly. After 1643 the Speakers were burgesses, elected by the lower house, of which the governor and councilors were not members.
    John Pory and his twin sister, Mary, where born at Butters Hall in Thompson, Norfolk, and baptized in the parish church on 16 March 1572. Sixteen-year-old John Pory entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in Easter term 1588 and received the bachelor of arts in 152 and the master of arts in 159. He remained at the college, teaching Greek and mastering other languages, until 1597, when he left to study cosmography and history with the Elizabethan geographer Richard Hakluyt. In 1600, the year which Pory published his translation of A Geographical Historie of Africa, Written in Arabicke and Italian by John Leo . . . (London), Hakluyt recorded that he had "for these 3. yeeres last past encouraged and furthered in these studies of Cosmographie and forren histories, my very honest, industrious and learned friend M. John Pory, one of special skill and extra ordinary hope to performe great maters in the same." Although it was Samuel Purchas who carried on Hakluyt's work, and at convocation n 18 April 1610 Oxford University awarded Pory the degree of master of arts in recognition of "the reputation of his learning, and his skill in the modern languages."
    John Pory's political career began on 5 November 1605 when he was elected to the House of Commons by the borough of Bridgwater, Somerset. Pory held his seat n James I's first Parliament until its dissolution on 9 Febuary 1611. In a letter of 17 July 1610 that described in detail the House of Commons' bargaining with the king, Pory wrote that James I disapproved of the ancient precedents to which the House of Commons had appealed, and concluded that he and his fellow members of Parliament were deciding "with what cordes we shall bind Sampsons handes." Pory served on five committees during his career as a member of Parliament. Between 1611 and 1618 Pory traveled extensively on the Continent, often on diplomatic assignments, and from 1613 through 1616 Pory was often employed by the Levant Company's ambassador in Constantinople.
    John Pory's connection with the Virginia colony had begun in 1607 when Captain Christopher Newport, returning from the first colonizing voyage to Jamestown, carried a letter to Pory from "a Duchman who wrote him in Latin from the new towne in Verginia." Two years later John Pory was listed among the grantees in the Second Charter of the Virginia Company of London. When the company choose George Yeardley as governor in October 1618, he asked that Pory be appointed secretary. On 28 November, the day on which Yeardley was knighted, Pory confided o Sir Dudley Carleton hat on the twenty-seventh he had been chosen secretary by the council of the company. Yeardley and Pory sailed from England in January and reached Jamestown n 18 April 1619.
    Late in June 1619 Governor Yeardley and the Council of State called for the election of burgesses to meet in Jamestown on 30 July. Pory was appointed speaker, and, having organized the working papers of the assembly "into fower books" for consideration by committees, he presided with Yeardley over the meeting. Pory's familiarity with parliamentary practice is evident in the assembly's reliance upon committees, its decisions on the credentials of its members, its procedure in voting on legislation after three readings, and its determination of a judicial case after hearing testimony at "The Barre." After it had levied a tax that included provision to pay Pory for his "great paines and labour," the assembly was prorogued on 4 August 1619, and Pory prepared copies of the legislation for the localities that had sent representatives to Jamestown. The prorogued assembly was never reconvened, and no other assemblies met during Pory's term as secretary.
    After Sir Francis Wyatt had been appointed Governor, Christoper Davidson, the eldest son of Sir William Davidson, a secretary by the Virginia Company of London. Davidson assumed his duties in Jamestown in October 1621, and, after exploring parts of present day North Carolina, Pory left Virginia aboard the Discovery early in summer 1622. The Discovery stopped at the Plymouth colony in August 1622 and later in the year wrecked in the Azores, where Portuguese officials charged Pory with piracy, imprisoned him, and threatened to hang him. Although the circumstances of his release are unknown, in August 1623 his friend Sir Dudley Carleton learned that Pory had "come home very poore, and the best helpe he can get or hope from his friends is to procure him protection from his old debts."
    During Pory's absence the bankrupt Virginia Company of London had fallen into the internal strife that eventually led to its dissolution by James I. In May 1623 the king announced his intention to investigate the company, and on 24 October the Privy Council appointed Pory, John Harvey, Abraham Persey, Samuel Mathews, Sr., and John Jefferson as commissioners to investigate the colony. They found Governor Wyatt and the General Assembly of 162 reluctant to assist their inquiry. Antagonism quickly developed on both sides. The council clerk and acting secretary, Edward Sharpless, had his ears nailed to the pillory after he confessed that he had given Pory copies of Council papers and letters in exchange for Pory "Promise of reward." Soon after 24 August 1624 John Pory left Virginia to report to the Privy Council, but the company charter was declared vacant on 24 May 1624, three weeks before he reached London. On 15 July James I named Pory to a commission to establish a new government for the colony, but the king's death on 27 March 1625 ended its proceedings, and Pory returned to his work as the writer of newsletters for a circle of prominent subscribers. John Pory died in 1636 and was buried at Sutton Saint Edmunds, Lincolnshire.
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Elected to the House of Commons by the borough of Bridgwater, Somerset 1605 - 1611.
    Secretary of the colony of Virginia; member of the Council of State: 1618 - 1621
    Speaker of the Assembly of 1619, appointed by Governor George Yeardley
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1619 Speaker of the Assembly

*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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