“With more zeal and earnest then ever I had at any time for any thing in my Life”: William Anne Keppel and the Depths of Dignity

The pursuit of patronage in any age is never a pretty picture.  Whether today or 200 years ago, it is, at its worst, an undignified scrum for lucre and scraps of influence.  It was hardly different in the 18th century, when even (or especially?) peers of the realm were reduced to grovelling with officers of the crown for jobs for their friends. This letter from William Anne Keppel (1702-1754), Earl of Albemarle and the Governor of Virginia, to Thomas Pelham-Holles (1693-1768), Duke of Newcastle, written on this date in 1742, reveals the occasional depths of that desperation. John Carter (c1695-1742), the Secretary of Virginia, was indeed on his deathbed, but such news often erupted in unbecoming battles over the spoils the not-yet-so dearly departed was about to leave behind. But it was rarely about the money; more often it was about influence, or at least the perception of influence, which can be as important. On the other hand, failure could signal that one’s access to the halls of power was slipping away.  One wonders, however, just what was going on between him and Dick Shelby to generate such a plea.

“By a letter I received this Evening from Lt Governour Gooch I am informed that Mr Carter ye Secretary to ye Colony grows worse every Day & that they have no hopes left of his Life. – Lett me then once more entreat you with more zeal and earnest then ever I had at any time for any thing in my Life to remember my early application to your Grace for my friend Adair who for many reasons greatly deserves from me this mark of friendship, and don’t (after ye flattering hopes I have fed myself with for these last years) Lett me be beat by Dick Shelby.  Pardon me Dear Duke of Newcastle for being so anxious, & pray consider that making a friend happy is making oneself so too.”

In the end, Newcastle settled on Albemarle’s choice, William Adair.  But that was hardly enough for Albemarle for he was back at his fulsome best the next year, pledging his support for Peyton Randolph for the position of Virginia’s attorney general while begging Newcastle to “Forgive me for God sake ” for some unknown slight to Henry Pelham, Newcastle’s brother and the Prime Minister. Clearly, Albemarle had an unfortunate tendency to affront people in high places, although he hung on to his post as Virginia’s governor until his death in 1754.

[See VCRP SR 07569 for precise citation for letter]

NPG D7195; William Anne Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle by and sold by John Faber Jr, after  J. Fournier

“Are not the Gentery Lords and the common people vassals”?: Abigail Adams Takes Stock of the Virginians (1776)

In the year of American independence, as representatives of the colonies in Philadelphia were still considering whether they could–or even should–become united, people elsewhere were wondering the same thing.  One thing we tend to forget these days is just how different and disconnected each American colony had been from each other from the very beginning.  They were separated by religion, ethnicity, political history, and, it should not be gainsaid, political economics.  In March 1776, the venerable Abigail Adams wondered:

What sort of Defence Virginia can make against our common Enemy? Whether it is so situated as to make an able Defence? Are not the Gentery Lords and the common people vassals, are they not like the uncivilized Natives Brittain represents us to be? I hope their Riffel Men who have shewen themselves very savage and even Blood thirsty; are not a specimen of the Generality of the people.

She was happy to give them credit for producing someone such as George Washington, already an icon of patriotic virtue (and Abigail had not yet met him), but something about the Virginians troubled her more: their commitment to freedom.

I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Eaquelly Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and christian principal of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us.

The representatives in Congress were able to set aside their qualms, even if the presence of slavery in Virginia engendered regional distrust for decades to come–and charges of hypocrisy to this day.


“Who does his King but once deny, With him I live, with him, I die.” (July 2, 1776)

One day, when I was burrowing through the Brock Collection at the Huntington Library (and not getting ready to go surfing, I swear), I found this poem.  It was scribbled on the obverse of a letter written on this date, 2 July, in 1776, from Charles Hansford at the Halfway House, a tavern at the midpoint between Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia, to the Rev. Mr. Samuel Shield in Caroline County.  Clearly, it was hastily composed and might well be a copy of a more well known piece that I have yet to find.  It struck me for several reasons, not least with its relatively early lionization of Congress, Washington, and the local committees, and its simple definition of what it takes to be a patriot: Deny the King.

“I love & ever will obey

What Congress either does or say

Where George the 3d his sway maintains

There’s nothing but Tyranny & Chains

If yonder Washington commands

May he be crushed with endless woe

Who to the Congress is a Foe

What George the 3d by Law commands

To Ruin upon once happy Lands

Fair Freedom sits & waites around

Where active Committees abound

A band of motley Paltroons waits

Who does his King but once deny

With him I live, with him, I die.”


SOURCE: Huntington Library mss, BR Box 258 (29).

“Eating seems to be the predominant passion of a Virginian.” (c1775)

From the Rev. Mr. Thomas Gwatkin, Williamsburg, Virginia, c1775, to a friend in England.

“A short account of their manner of living may afford you some entertainment.  Their breakfast like that of the English consists of tea coffee and chocolate; and bread or toast and butter, or small cakes made of flower and butter which are served to Table hot, and are called hoe cakes, from being baked on a hoe heated for that purpose.  They have also harshed meat and homony, cold beef, and hams upon the table at the same time, and you may as frequently hear a Lady desiring to be helped to a part of one of the dishes as a cup of tea.  Their tables at dinner are covered with a profusion of meat: And the same kind is dressed three or four different ways.  The rivers afford them fish in great Abundance: and their swamps and forests furnish them with ducks teal blue wing, hares, squirrels, partridges and a great variety of fowl.  Eating seems to be the predominant passion of a Virginian.  To dine upon a single dish is considered as one of the greatest hardships.  You can be contented with one joint of meat is a reproach frequently thrown into the teeth of an Englishman.  Even many of the fair Sex would be considered as Gluttons in England.  Indeed I am inclined to believe more disorders in the Country arise from too much eating than any other cause whatsoever.  In the afternoon tea and coffee is generally drank, but with bread or toast & butter.  At supper you rarely see any made dishes, Harshed and cold meat roasted fowls, fish of different kinds, tarts and sweetmeats fill up the table.  After the Cloth is taken away both at dinner and supper; Madeira, and punch or toddy is placed on the table.  The first toasts which given by the master of the family, are the King; the Queen and royal family; the Governour and Virginia; a good price to Tobacco.  After this if the Company be in a humour to drink, the ladies retire, and the Gentleman give every man his Lady; then a round of friend succeeds; And afterwards perhaps each of the company gives a sentiment; then the Gentleman of house drinks to all the friends of his company and at last concludes with drinking a good Evening according to the time of day.”

American Loyalists set forth “melancholy facts” in petition to George III asking attention to claims

1788 April 9, London’s Public Advertiser.

They have met every danger and risked death to support His Majesty’s authority “and the rights of the British legislature.” Their right to compensation for their losses “is perfectly founded on the immutable principles of reason, and of justice, which form the establishments of all civil societies; on the fundamental laws of the British Constitution” and His Majesty’s proclamation calling on all faithful subjects to support the state against the rebellion. They lay at His Majesty’s feet the “melancholy facts”: Many have been reduced from affluence to poverty; “others, under the pressure of want, have died with broken hearts–and some have been driven by their distress into insanity, and from insanity to suicide, leaving their helpless widows and orphans to prolong their miserable existence on the cold charity of strangers.”

Signed by Wm Pepperrell, Geo Rome, Jas De Lancey, Jos Galloway, Rbt Alexander, John Randolph Grymes, &c.