Perhaps the Armisteads, pronounced “Ahmi-steyud” by colonial Virginians, are not the most important First Family of Virginia, but their impact is without question. They feature in most First Family genealogies, including two presidential lines the Tylers and Harrisons. They also have ties to other important figures such as Robert E. Lee and Robert “King” Carter to name a few.
Beyond family connections, the Armisteads were involved in settling along early Hampton and Norfolk as well as the Middle Peninsula, where the main family branch settled. Soon thereafter, the Armisteads were involved in not only Virginia, but also Maryland, and then North Carolina, before they started to spread south and westward into the evolving United States.
Along the journey, Armisteads featured in all of early America’s Wars from Independence to 1812, Mexico, and the Civil War to name a few. The most notable figures from those conflicts were William and his slave James, George, and Lewis Armistead respectively.
The Armisteads did more than fight America’s wars; however, they helped unite leading families, and build a Commonwealth as well as a newly formed Country. For that, their inclusion in the First Family list is undeniable.
Music used for the first episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on Apple Music, and “The Crossing” performed by The East Pointers, also available on Apple Music.
It’s hard to think about Yorktown, VA without the Nelson family. In fact, one could say it another way – It’s hard to think about the Nelson family without Yorktown. They were so instrumental in creating the once prominent port city that they’ve often been called the city’s founders. Whether they were or not is debatable, but what is not debatable is that Yorktown as we know it would not have existed.
“Scotch Tom” emigrated to Virginia in the early 18th Century, began many businesses, and established a solid foundation for his descendants in the process.
Those descendants became major figures that shaped Virginia and then the United State’s History. Undoubtedly that history would be quite different had this important family not existed, which is why the Nelson’s must be discussed.
The Parke Family may not have endured as the others on the First Family list, but their impact, mostly negative due to Daniel Parke, Jr, is undeniable. They burst onto the scene in both England and Virginia relatively quickly. Within a few generations, all that remained of them was their name, which was curiously demanded to be added to any who wanted to inherit Parke wealth.
The Parkes helped build Yorktown and Williamsburg. In the process, they found themselves at the heart of a thriving colonial community. It was a community that the last Parke male heir wanted to govern, but he couldn’t govern himself. In the end, the family that had intermarried with Ludwells, Byrds, and Custises saw their inheritance pass into those and other leading families of their day.
All families on the First Families list were involved across the world in one way or another, but arguably no one was more involved than the Custises.
Their family history is relatively short, but from their rather humble beginnings as Cliffes in England, they grew into important figures. The Cliffe name morphed into Custis, and then the Custis name spread to Ireland, Belgium, The Netherlands, the Caribbean, and Virginia.
Along the way, they mingled with royalty and aided some of history’s most famous people. Then, they became important and famous themselves. The main Virginia Custis line may have ended in the 1850s, but their accomplishments and landmarks endure, from the somewhat obscure Custis tombs to the hallowed Arlington National Cemetery. Indeed, without them, there wouldn’t be an Arlington.
In this pair of episodes, we take a look at the Custis family beginnings, and detail how they became the great family who played an important part in so much of Virginia’s history.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is of the Custis Family Crest. Woodlawn and the Tudor Place are both from Wikipedia. The Arlington Mansion sketch is from Northampton County.
Westover is one of the great James River Plantation manor homes. After the Byrd family purchased the land, they undertook the spectacular monument meant to reflect their prestigious colonial position. The Byrd’s left their mark all over the land, from William Byrd II’s grave to powerful eagles adorning the carriage entrance gates. A nearby graveyard once attached to Westover Parish also contains Byrd family remains.
Beyond the tangible reminders, however, the Byrd’s left a much more ethereal, paranormal reminder behind. William Byrd II’s daughter Evelyn Byrd, the colonial beauty, who, according to tradition, caught King George I’s attention, causing him to comment about all of the beautiful birds in his Virginia colony, fell in love during her English visit. Her love choice, however, was not met with William’s pleasure. He demanded their separation, which sent Evelyn into despair.
Upon the Byrds’ return to Virginia, William became more detached and Evelyn fell into melancholy. She never married. She did cultivate at least one close friendship and that was with neighbor Anne Harrison. The pair made a pact stating that whoever died first would visit the other who remained alive.
That pact was put to the test just before Evelyn’s 30th birthday, she caught smallpox and died soon thereafter. Evelyn honored her agreement, and ever since that first meeting between ghost and living, Evelyn has been witnessed by many.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image and subsequent images are from my various trips to Westover and Evelynton Plantations.
If one is seeking to understand the philosophy driving The 1619 Project as well as the Project‘s goals, then Dr. Grabar’s work is a must read. I trust our discussion illustrates my claim, and that my listeners will get a copy of this important new book.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is Dr. Mary Grabar from the author’s website.
Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on Apple Music, and Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, The New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein also available on Apple Music.
The Grymes have a hazy beginning in Virginia. The consensus is that they came from Ightham, England through Reverend Charles Grymes, but there are other theories. Bishop Meade, a Grymes descendant himself, claimed that they came from Thomas Grymes, Lieutenant General in Oliver Cromwell’s army. Famed genealogist Louise Pecquet Du Bellet recounts the same theory in her monumental work. But evidence supporting the claim is lacking. Either way, we do know who the Grymes were by their second generation.
From that generation onward we know a fair amount about this prominent Middle Peninsula family. They owned much land, served in high offices, and married very well. But by the late 18th Century the Grymes wealth had been spread thin, either by poor financial management, or inheritances which moved holdings out of the family.
The name still carried some weight into the 19th Century, especially as Grymes women continued to marry very well for themselves. However, those marriages served to spread remaining Grymes wealth throughout Virginia, and eventually out of the Commonwealth, furthering their slow decline.
Today little is left other than what was once Grymes’ land or tombstones of their most well-known family members. But they were once a proud family, a family that could rightly boast of their position among Virginia’s elite.
Jane Lucas DeGrummond. “Cayetana Susana Bosque Y Fanqui, ‘A Notable Woman.’” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, vol. 23, no. 3, 1982, pp. 277–294. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4232191.
“Grymes of ‘Brandon’ &c.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 27, no. 2, 1919, pp. 184–187. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4243724.
“Grymes of ‘Brandon’, &c (Continued).” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 27, no. 3/4, 1919, pp. 403–413. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4243739.
“The Grymes Family (Continued).” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 28, no. 1, 1920, pp. 90–96. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4243758.
“Grymes of Brandon Etc. (Continued).” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 28, no. 2, 1920, pp. 187–192b. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4243769.
“Grymes of Brandon, &c (Continued).” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 28, no. 3, 1920, pp. 283–285. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4243781.
“Grymes of Brandon, &c (Concluded).” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 28, no. 4, 1920, pp. 374–375. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4243794.
The Ludwell family had arguably more impact upon Virginia’s foundations in the shortest amount of time. In just over a century three Philip Ludwells stood atop Virginia’s power structure, and then because of no male heirs, the name vanished in all but first and middle names used by other First Family relatives.
They hailed from Bruton, Somersetshire, England, the same area as Governor William Berkeley. In fact, they were most likely related to the powerful 17th Century Colonial leader, which appears to have aided the Ludwells from the very beginning.
Thomas Ludwell served in the Cavalier army during the English Civil War alongside Governor Berkeley’s brother John. John Berkeley recommended Thomas to become Virginia’s Colonial Secretary of State as a reward for his service to the Crown, and Charles II obliged. Thus, Thomas moved to Virginia. Philip, Thomas’s youngest brother, tagged along, and together they planted the Ludwell name firmly in Virginia’s history.
Virginia B. Price. “Constructing to Command: Rivalries between Green Spring and the Governor’s Palace, 1677-1722.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 113, no. 1, 2005, pp. 2–45. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4250232.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is of Philip Ludwell Sr’s Crest. Greenspring Plantation is from Green Spring Plantation as seen by Benjamin Latrobe during the plantation’s Ludwell ownership. The Ludwell Paradise House is from Virginia Places.
Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on Apple Music, and “Roots” by The Arcadian Wild also available on Apple Music.
The Covid pandemic has hurt many businesses during this past year. One hard hit industry is tourism due to places being shut down. Historic locations across the country have reported difficult numbers during this time, as many are shutting down, never to reopen. Some of those sites have come up with creative solutions like offering virtual tours or weekly online lectures with museum personnel. This podcast episode is yet another way that historic locations are working to attract attention during the shutdown.
The James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage, located in picturesque Orange County, and I teemed up to highlight their important collections and work. Director Bethany Sullivan graciously took the time to walk me through the museum as we discussed some of its collection. We hope that our quick podcast tour will pique your interest and get you out to visit the museum soon. When you go, please, tell Bethany that you heard our discussion! It’d be much appreciated.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is the James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage’s logo. All other photography is generously provided by the James Madison Museum of Orange County, unless otherwise noted.
Not all of Virginia’s First Families held the Colony’s highest offices, but they didn’t need to hold those offices in order to affect Virginia’s history. Some of them, like the next name in our series moved in the same circles as the other families, and often intermarried within those social spheres.
A few things make the Taliaferro name an interesting study. Legends regarding their founding reach as far back as Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror’s Norman Invasion, and into Europe’s royal families. That’s before the Taliaferro name even made it to Virginia. Once in the New World, Robert Taliaferro “The Immigrant” got to work forging new bonds, while working to expand Virginia’s landscape. That work didn’t end with Robert’s death.
The Immigrant’s children picked up where their trailblazing father left off and expanded Virginia’s borders even further. While doing so, they began adding to the colonial framework, especially along the Middle Peninsula, before moving slowly westward. Along the way, Taliaferros featured in all of Virginia’s wars from as early as small skirmishes along frontier lines to the War for Independence, War of 1812, Civil War and beyond.
Their work has left a lasting legacy that soon spread not only beyond Virginia borders, but also color lines as well. Today, it is not uncommon to see the name shared by both white and black Americans. One former slave even proudly kept the name as part of his own. Perhaps this family didn’t put a son into the highest positions, but Virginia would not be the same without the Taliaferros immigration.
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is of one of the Taliaferro Family Crests. The William Booth Taliaferro and Booker T. Washington portraits as well as the Thomas Jefferson Sketch of the Taliaferro Crest are from Wikimedia Commons. The Taliaferro County, Georgia Map is from My Genealogy Hound. The final picture is of Carter’s Grove Plantation, a home designed by Richard Taliaferro from Riley and Associates.com