My cousin, Frances Culpepper (photo), was born in England in 1634 to Thomas Culpepper and Katherine St Leger. Thomas’s brother, John Culpepper the merchant, was my 10th great grandfather and will play a role later in her life. Frances was baptized 27 May 1634 at All Saints Church in Hollingbourn, where all of the family at that time was baptized. Her siblings were: Mary (1629-30 who died as an infant), Ann (1630-95), Alexander (1631- 24 Dec 1694, Surveyor General of Virginia), and John (1633-74 who often gets confused with John the Carolina Rebel, son of John the merchant).
Culpepper Connections website describes Frances as, “Apart from Pocahontas, Lady Frances Berkeley, the strong-willed, thrice-married and childless Colonial dame who ruled the political roost in Virginia from around 1670 until her death in the 1690s, was the Old Dominion’s most notable 17th century woman.”
Well, doesn’t that make you want to know more about her?
Her father, Thomas Culpepper, was one of the original proprietors of the northern neck of Virginia when the Virginia Charter was formed, transferring control of the colony from the Crown to individual investors. Following King Charles I execution, Thomas moved his entire family to Virginia in 1650 when young Frances was only sixteen. When she turned eighteen, she married the governor of the Albemarle settlement in what is now North Carolina. He was also the owner of Roanoke Island. Yes, where the very first colony disappeared from. His name was Samuel Stephens. Samuel and Frances lived for seventeen years on his 1350-acre plantation called Boldrup in what is now Newport News, Virginia. The plantation land and the house’s crumbled foundation is all that is left today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Following Samuel’s death in 1669, Frances inherited his large estate and in 1670, she married yet another politician, Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia (photo). They took up residence at his estate called Green Springs (photo) near Williamsburg, Virginia. Today, about 200 acres of the original plantation land is preserved by the National Park Service, which acquired the property in 1966.
In 1676 (100 years before the Revolution and the same year her cousin John Culpepper the Rebel was causing problems in Carolina) there was a dispute with the local Indians who had been chased north by militiamen. The Indians raided the Virginia frontier out of anger, hunger, revenge, who knows? Some colonists saw this as an opportunity to isolate or kill the Indians, some saw it as an opportunity for new slaves and lands. It was typical politics with each side rallying for their own cause. A newcomer to the land and the local Virginia Council was Nathaniel Bacon (photo). He asked Sir William Berkeley to form a party to kill off the Indians, but Berkeley refused as some of the Indians were Virginia’s closest allies. In defiance, Bacon raised a group of volunteers to fight the Indians. This led to a civil war of sorts, with Bacon’s followers against Berkeley’s loyalists. It also became a personal vendetta. At one point, tiring of Bacon’s threats, Berkeley bared his chest and dared Bacon to shoot him. After the public display, Berkeley threw Bacon out of the Council, later reinstated him, and then threw him out again. Berkeley ended up being chased out of town by Bacon’s men, who burned down the capital. Bacon died of dysentery in Oct 1676, but the fighting continued for a few more months without his leadership.
Here’s where Frances steps in…
Frances sailed to England on her husband’s behalf to ask King Charles II (photo) for help, and the King, unaware that Bacon was already dead, signed a proclamation for putting down the rebellion. He dispatched one thousand troops to Virginia, along with a commission of three men to find out what the hell was going on. By the time the soldiers arrived, without Bacon’s leadership, the rebellion had died down. The three members of the King’s commission watched Berkeley identify Bacon’s men as traitors and witnessed the hanging of twenty-three of them. Once the commission reported this back to King Charles II, he summoned Berkeley to return to England to explain his actions. As soon as spring arrived, Berkeley sailed to England to plead his case with the King. He became ill on the journey and went directly to his brother’s house in London upon arrival, where he died in July 1677 before getting a chance to tell his side of the story to the King. Frances didn’t receive the news of his death for months.
Here’s where uncle John steps in…
When John Culpepper the Merchant was fifteen years old, he attended Middle Temple, which was a law school. There he met a young William Berkeley, who was not a “Sir” at the time, and the two became fast friends. Though John was trained as a lawyer, he was more inclined to be a merchant, and in 1633, he bought a ship with his brother Thomas (Frances’s dad) called the “Thomas and John.” The ship delivered immigrants to the new world and shipped cotton, tobacco, and the like back to England. This was probably the vessel Frances and her family sailed on in 1650 to move to Virginia. During the rebellion, Frances and William Berkeley needed money to sail back and forth for this rebellion nonsense and they sold off Roanoke Island. Uncle John Culpepper was the lawyer who oversaw the sale of the land to the Lamb family, witnessing William Berkeley’s signature on the deed.
In 1680, Frances married her third husband, Col. Philip Ludwell (photo) of the 4,000-acre Rich Neck Plantation. Ludwell had been a chief supporter of Berkeley during the rebellion and also his cousin. Hmm. Frances never relinquished her title however and was known as Lady Frances Berkeley for the remainder of her life. She died around 1695 at the age of 61. Her body is interred at Jamestown Church Cemetery in Jamestown, Virginia.
As for Col. Ludwell, after serving as governor of the Colony of Carolina 1691-94, he returned to Virginia where he served as Speaker of the House of Burgessesin in 1695-96. In 1700, he moved back to England where he died in 1716.