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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  3. Billings, Warren. A Little Parliament: The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century. Richmond, VA: Library of Virginia, 2004.
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  7. Dowdey, Clifford. The Great Plantation: A Profile of Berkeley Hundred and Plantation Virginia from Jamestown to Appomattox. Charles City, VA: Berkeley Plantation, 1980.
  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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  10. Freeman, Douglas Southall. George Washington: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribners, 1957. (Specifically Volume 1).
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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.

Jamestown Burned! Interview with Eyewitness Thomas Mathews

(L-R) Thomas Mathews, portrayed by Willie Balderson and his bodyguard

Nathaniel Bacon’s 1676 burning of Jamestown was a watershed moment. It symbolized the end of an era, or better stated, the end of eras. The era of Jamestown’s position as colonial capitol, Berkeley’s governorship, Indian peace, and free blacks ended.

The conflict began when Robert Hen, Thomas Mathews’ overseer, was murdered by the Doeg Indians. Matthews, a Northern Neck merchant, witnessed much of the conflagration from start to finish, and penned an account years after the chief players had passed. His account is one of the major primary sources that shed light on this turbulent period.

Each year, on or as close to September 19th as possible, Historic Jamestown reenacts Mathews’ account. Willie Balderson, a spectacular actor with a wide repertoire spanning more than three centuries, transforms into Thomas Matthews, and with the aid of others walks his listeners through a cresset lined path.

Along the path the audience hears from a feisty New Town resident, a runaway slave, and heartbroken Mrs. Drummond as well as musket reports from the battle for Jamestown. It is a captivating performance that brings Bacon’s Rebellion to life before one’s eyes and leaves a deep impression not to be forgotten.

Mr. Mathews was so kind as to sit down and tell me what he had witnessed in this special interview. I trust you’ll be as impressed as I was.







All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of reenactors staging the Burning of Jamestown.

Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “Summer” selections from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, RV 315  movements I – Allegro non molto and III – Presto performed by Sarah Chang and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra also available on iTunes.