Edward-Maria Wingfield was the only member of the Virginia Company’s leaders to go to Jamestown to oversee his investment and became the colony’s first president. Wingfield came from a wealthy family England and served in the military in Holland and Ireland. His leadership in Virginia became controversial as the colonists were displeased with the way Wingfield ran the colony. They eventually removed Wingfield from office and had him jailed for a short period. Wingfield stayed in the colony less than a year and returned to England where he died sometime after 1619.
Edward-Maria Wingfield was born in 1550 in Stonley Priory located about one-hundred miles north of London. His father, Thomas-Maria Wingfield, received the added name “Maria” from his godmother, Queen Mary of France (Henry VIII’s sister), and passed it on to his son. Young Edward attended a school for barristers in 1576 but he left his studies uncompleted after three years to fight against the Spanish in Holland. He also saw military service in Ireland before his involvement with the Virginia Company.
Wingfield became one of the chief financial contributors to the Virginia Company along with Rev. Richard Hakluyt (the younger), George Popham, Thomas Gates, George Somers, Thomas Hanham, Raleigh Gilbert, and William Parker. When the young company was in financial trouble, Wingfield mortgaged his estate to support the venture. Edward-Maria Wingfield was the only senior company member to risk his life in the New World. This made him the logical choice for the first president. However, his presidency was short-lived and unhappy due to many factors. Primarily it was his military background and management style that created a rift with the people of the colony.
Edward-Maria Wingfield was a rather mysterious figure who deserves credit for getting the colony up and running. He risked his life at age 56 to make the voyage to Jamestown while the rest of his peers waited in London to watch their investment from afar. Many historians have commented on Wingfield’s shortcomings in leadership but none can deny the important role he played in establishing Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.
- John Graves, Jamestowne Society Communication Committee 2018-2019