Richard Bland (1710-1776) was an American planter and statesman from Virginia. He served foe many terms in the House of Burgesses, and was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775.
Family and early life
Richard Bland was a member of one of the main patriarchal families of Virginia, and was related to many of the others. This branch of the Bland family first came to Virginia in 1653, when Theoderick (1630-1671) immigrated from London. He established his plantation, called Berkeley on the bank of the James River. He served several terms in the House of Burgesses, and was its speaker in 1660 when he married Governor Richard Bennett's daughter, Anne. Before Anne died in 1688 they had three sons: Theoderick (1663-1700), Richard (1665-1720), and John (1681-1746).
Not being the eldest, Richard (the father of our Richard) moved further up the river and started his own plantation, Jordan's Point in Prince George County, Virginia. His first wife was Mary Swann, but she died without living children. In 1702 he married Elizabeth Randolph (1680-1720). They would have five children: Mary (1703) married Henry Lee, Elizabeth (1706) married William Beverley, Richard (1710), Anna (1711) married Robert Munford, and Theoderick (1718) whose son, Theoderick Bland, also became a congressman. The Richard of this generation also served in the House of Burgesses.
So, when Richard was born on May 6, 1710 at Jordan's Point, he was heir to the farm, and lived there his entire life. He inherited it early, as both his parents died just before his tenth birthday in 1720. His mother Elizabeth died on January 22, and his father Richard on April 6. His uncles, William and Richard Randolph, looked after his farm and early education. He attended William and Mary then, like many of his time, completed his education in Europe, at Edinburgh University. He was trained in the law and admitted to the bar in 1746, but never practiced law.
He married Anne Poythress (December 13, 1712-April 9, 1758), the daughter of Colonel Peter and Ann (Baker) Poythress, from Henrico, Virginia. The couple married at Jordan's Point on March 21, 1729, and made it their home. They had twelve children: William (1730), Elizabeth (1732), Sarah (1733), Mary (1735), Lucy (1737), Peter (1737), Theoderick (1738), Edward and John (twins, 1739), Ann (1743) and Richard (1745). He would marry twice after Anne died, but without any more children.
Early political career
Bland served as a Justice of the Peace in Prince George County, and was made an officer in the militia in 1739. In 1742 he was first elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. He would serve there continuously until it was displaced during the American Revolution. His thoughts and thoughtful work made him one of its leaders, although he was never a strong speaker. However, he was frequently put on Committees whose role was to negotiate or frame laws and treaties. He became involved in the creation of pamphlets, or published Letters, frequently as an anonymous author.
His first widely distributed public paper came as a result of the debates on the 1759-1760 over the established church, and the kind and rate of taxes used to pay Anglican clergy. His pamphlet "A Letter to the Clergy on the Two-penny Act" was printed in 1760, as he opposed increasing pay and the creation of a Bishop for the colonies.
Colonial Rights advocate
When the Stamp Act created controversy throughout the colonies, Bland thought through the entire issue of parliamentary laws as opposed to those the originated in the colonial assemblies. While others, particularly James Otis, get more credit for the idea of "no taxation without representation", the full argument for this position seems to come from Richard Bland. In early 1760 he write "An Inquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies". It was published in Williamsburg and reprinted in England.
Richard's Inquiry examined the relationship of the king, parliament, and the colonies. While hr concluded that the colonies were subject to the crown, and that colonists should enjoy the right of Englishmen, he questioned the presumption of total authority and government came through parliament and its laws. Thomas Jefferson described the work as "...the first pamphlet on the nature of the connection with Great Britain which had any pretension to accuracy of view on that subject, ... there was more sound matter in his pamphlet than in the celebrated Farmer's letters."
In 1774, the Virginia Burgesses sent him to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. A number of the views he had expressed in his Inquiry found their way into that first session of the Congress , in its Declaration of Rights.
Founding of the state of Virginia
In 1775 as revolution neared in Virginia, a convention replaced the Burgesses and the Council as a form of ad-hoc government. That year he met with the Burgesses and with the three sessions of the convention. In March, after Patrick Henry's "...give me Liberty of give me Death" speech he was still opposed to taking up arms, and led the defeat of that motion. He believed that reconciliation with Britain was still possible and desirable. Nevertheless, he was named to the Committee of Safety and re-elected as a delegate to the national Congress. In May he traveled to Philadelphia for the opening of the Second Continental Congress, but soon returned home, withdrawing due to the poor health and failing eyesight of old age. However, his radicalism had increased, and by the Convention's meeting in July, he proposed hanging Lord Dunmore, the royal governor.
In the first convention meeting of 1776, Richard Bland declined a re-election to the Continental Congress, citing his age and health. However, he played an active role in the remaining conventions. He served on the committee which drafted Virginia's first Constitution in 1776. When the House of Delegates for the new state government was elected, he was one of the members.
He died while serving in the new house, on October 26, 1776 at Williamsburg, Virginia. In November he was taken home one last time, and was buried in the family cemetery at Jordan's Point in Prince George County. Bland County, Virginia is named in his honor.