Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 108 / Number 4
"To Do Justice to His Majesty, The Merchant And The Planter": Governor William Gooch and the Virginia Tobacco
Inspection Act of 1730
- By Stacy L. Lorenz, pp. 345–92
William Gooch served as governor of Virginia from 1727 to 1749. The fact that he maintained his position for twenty-two
years indicates that Gooch was an unusually effective governor, for colonial governorships were, as a rule, quite brief. This
article assesses Gooch's gubernatorial success by examining the most important political achievement of his administration
and his greatest triumph—the establishment of a system of tobacco regulation in Virginia during the 1730s.
Although Gooch's political effectiveness has been widely acknowledged by historians, his achievements have
not been examined thoroughly in the context of both local Virginia politics and the broader imperial administration.
As a result, this study analyzes Gooch's role in local and imperial politics as he attempted to sell his tobacco plan
in both Virginia and London. Through an examination of the tobacco inspection act of 1730, this article aims both
to identify those attributes which made Gooch an effective governor and to investigate the workings of the English
Atlantic empire in relation to such a leader.
Perhaps the main reason that Gooch achieved his goals was because of his ability to find common ground between
colonial planters and British merchants and officials. While actively pursuing the well-being of Virginians, Gooch also
tried to satisfy English commercial interests. The governor's expert presentation of his tobacco plan to London merchants,
Virginia planters, and imperial administrators illuminates his considerable political talent. Gooch knew how to frame his
arguments in such a way as to highlight the benefits for all parties involved.
This study also addresses the question of how Gooch operated within the patronage system that dominated
British politics and colonial administration in this era. In particular, this article suggests that policy and persuasion
-- not patronage -- could be the keys to a governor's political success in colonial America. Gooch's role in the
establishment of tobacco regulation demonstrates that a governor who relied on the promotion of sound policy
to win political support could still achieve success in the English Atlantic patronage empire.