First Families of Virginia – The Burwells

The families making up the First Families list intermarried with one another throughout their generations. Arguably no family played a more central role in those marriages than did the Burwells.

Marriage lifted Lewis Burwell II out of a fatherless middling status in that his mother Lucy remarried twice, elevating both her and her son’s station each time. Lucy’s last marriage to Colonel Philip Ludwell Sr. solidified their inclusion among Virginia’s most powerful colonial elite.

Lewis only added to his now elevated position by also marrying well. He first wed Abigail Smith, cousin to Nathaniel Bacon Sr, and then Martha Lear, William Cole’s widow. He was an intelligent planter, merchant, and builder, and that work brought him much praise throughout the colony. He was involved in moving Virginia’s colonial capitol from Jamestown to Williamsburg, as well as laying out the new power-center’s infrastructure. This work would have seen him enter the Governor’s Council, but the situation went awry when his daughter Lucy refused to marry Governor Francis Nicholson.

In the end, Lewis and family endured long enough to see Nicholson’s downfall instead of their own. The Burwell name remained and grew upon Lewis’ foundation, thus leaving her imprint upon the colony, Commonwealth, and later United States. Their influence was such that a West Point family named a son after the great Lewis Burwells of history. That son went on to achieve great things as well, and he’s still highly revered, especially by his beloved Marine Corps.



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  8. Evans, Emory G. A “Topping People”: The Rise and Decline of Virginia’s Old Political Elite, 1680-1790. Charlottesville, VA: UVA Press, 2009.
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  19. Washburn, Wilcomb E. Virginia Under Charles I and Cromwell 1625-1660. Kindle Edition.
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  22. Wright, Louis B. First Gentlemen of Virginia. Charlottesville, VA: Dominion Books, 1982.

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All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is of the Burwell Family Crest. Lewis Burwell II, Fairfield Plantation, Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller.

Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “If You’re Still In, I’m In.” by The East Pointers, also available on iTunes.

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