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Sir George Yeardley (1587-1627) was a planter and three time colonial Governor of the British Colony of Virginia. A survivor of the Virginia Company of London's ill-fated Third Supply Mission, whose flagship, the Sea Venture, was shipwrecked on Bermuda for 10 months in 1609-10, he is best remembered for presiding over the initial session of the first representative legislative body in Virginia in 1619. With representatives from throughout the settled portion of the colony, the group became known as the House of Burgesses. It has met continuously since, and is known in modern times as the Virginia General Assembly.
Yeardley was baptized on July 28, 1588, in St. Saviour's Parish, Southwark, Surrey. He was the son of Ralph Yeardley (1549-1604), a London merchant-tailor, and Rhoda Marston (d. 1603). He chose not to follow his father into trade, but instead became a soldier and joined a company of English foot-soldiers to fight the Spanish in the Netherlands. As captain of a personal bodyguard, he was selected to serve Sir Thomas Gates during his term as Governor of Virginia.
Yeardley set sail from England on June 1, 1609, with the newly appointed Gates aboard the Sea Venture, the flagship of the ill-fated Third Supply expedition to Jamestown. After eight weeks at sea, and seven days from expected landfall, the convoy ran into a tropical storm and the Sea Venture was shipwrecked in the Bermudas. Fortunately, everyone survived the storm. Despite numerous problems, including civil unrest among the former passengers resulting in Gates to declare martial law, two small ships were built within 10 months. The two ships,the 70-80 ton Deliverance and the 30 ton pinnace Patience, arrived at Jamestown on May 23, 1610.
The shipwreck survivors found the colonists of Jamestown in desperate condition. Most of the settlers had died from sickness or starvation, or had been killed by Indians. Sir Thomas Gates agreed with the Jamestown settlers to abandon the colony and return to England. He ordered Captain Yeardley to command his soldiers to guard the town preventing settlers from setting fire to the structures that were evacuated. Lord de la Warr soon arrived bringing supplies to save the struggling colony. Captain Yeardley was co-commander of the early Forts Henry and Charles at Kecoughtan. In October 1610, Lord De La Warr ordered Captain Yeardley and Captain Edward Brewster to lead 150 men into the mountains in search of silver and gold mines.
In 1616 Yeardley was designated Deputy-Governor of Virginia. One of his first accomplishments was to come to an agreement with the Chickahominy Indians that secured food and peace for two years. He served from 1616 to 1617. Yeardley was appointed Deputy-Governor again in 1625.
On 18 October 1618, Yeardley married Temperance Flowerdew, daughter of Anthony Flowerdew of Hethersett, County Norfolk, and his wife Martha Stanley of Scottow, County Norfolk. "Exactly a month later he was appointed to serve three years as governor of Virginia, and was knighted by James I during an audience at Newmarket on 24 November". Temperance Flowerdew had also sailed for Virginia in the 1609 expedition, aboard the Faulcon, arriving at Jamestown in August 1609. She was one of the few survivors of the Starving Time.
In 1619, he patented 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of land on Mulberry Island. He owned another private plantation upriver on the south side of the James River opposite Tanks Weyanoke, named Flowerdew Hundred. It is often assumed that Yeardley named this plantation "Flowerdew Hundred" after his wife, as a kind of romantic tribute. However, the land appears to have been in use by Stanley Flowerdew, Yeardley's brother-in-law, before it was patented by Yeardley, so the plantation may have been associated with the Flowerdew name before Yeardley's patent. Note that Yeardley named his Mulberry Island plantation "Stanley Hundred", undoubtedly after his Stanley in-laws. In other words, both of Yeardley's plantations were named in honor of his wealthy in-laws.
Another Flowerdew relation, John Pory, served as Secretary to the colony from 1618-1622. And when Flowerdew Hundred sent representatives to the first General Assembly in Jamestown in 1619, one was Ensign Edmund Rossingham, a son of Temperance Flowerdew's elder sister Mary Flowerdew and her husband Dionysis Rossingham. Clearly, the Yeardley-Flowerdew alliance was as much to do with power politics and social status as with romance.
With a population of about thirty, Flowerdew plantation was economically successful with thousands of pounds of tobacco produced along with corn, fish and livestock. In 1621 Yeardley paid 120 pounds (possibly a hogshead of tobacco) to build the first windmill in British America. The windmill was an English post design and was transferred by deed in the property's 1624 sale to Abraham Piersey, a Cape Merchant of the London Company.
The plantation survived the 1622 onslaught of Powhatan Indians, losing only six people. It remained an active and fortified private plantation, unlike many others in the area such as the Citie of Henricus.
Yeardley led the first representative Virginia General Assembly, the legislative House of Burgesses, to meet on American soil. It convened at the church in Jamestown on July 30, 1619. One of the first acts of this representative body was to set the price of tobacco. Yeardley was appointed Deputy-Governor again in 1625. He served a second time as Governor from March 4, 1626/27 until his death on November 13, 1627. He is buried in the church at Jamestown, Virginia.
Yeardley married Temperance Flowerdew, daughter of Anthony Flowerdew and Martha Stanley. The couple had three children: