Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Culpepper, Thomas (1635-1689) to his sister

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also request a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04298 Author/Creator: Culpepper, Thomas (1635-1689) Place Written: Boston, Massachusetts Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 20 September 1680 Pagination: 6 p. : docket ; 20.9 x 15.2 cm

Summary of Content: Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia Culpepper mentions his arrival in Boston, his impressions, and a near shipwreck. Claims success in governing Virginia. An addendum is dated 5 October 1680.

Background Information: In 1680, Thomas Culpepper (1635-1689), the Royal Governor of Virginia, travelled to Boston. On his way, he suffered a near-shipwreck and then had to walk through the Massachusetts wilds. Later, unhappy ...in Virginia, he left his post to live with his mistress in London. Due to his absenteeism he was removed from the governorship.
Culpepper's letter suggests significant demographic and economic contrasts between the Chesapeake region and New England. Because of its cold winters and low population density, seventeenth-century New England was perhaps the most healthful region in the world. After an initial period of high mortality, life expectancy quickly rose to levels comparable to our own. Men and women, on average, lived about 65 to 70 years, 15 to 20 years longer than in England. One result was that seventeenth-century New England was the first society in history in which grandparents were common.
Descended largely from families that arrived during the 1630s, New England was a relatively stable society settled in compact towns and villages. It never developed any staple crop for export of any consequence, and about 90 to 95 percent of the population was engaged in subsistence farming.
The further south one looks, however, the higher the death rate and the more unbalanced the sex ratio. In New England, men outnumbered women about 3 to 2 in the first generation. But in New Netherlands there were two men for every woman and the ratio was six to one in the Chesapeake. Where New England's population became self-sustaining as early as the 1630s, New Jersey and Pennsylvania did not achieve this until the 1660s to the 1680s, and Virginia until after 1700. Compared to New England, Virginia was a much more mobile and unruly society.
In his letter, Culpepper alludes to Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, when friction between backcountry farmers, landless former indentured servants, and coastal planters in Virginia exploded in violence. Convinced that Virginia's colonial government had failed adequately to protect them against Indians, backcountry rebels, led by Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy landowner, burned the capital at Jamestown, plundered their enemy's plantations, and offered freedom to any indentured servants who joined them. In the midst of the revolt, Bacon died of dysentery. Without his leadership, the uprising collapsed, but fear of servant unrest encouraged planters to replace white indentured servants with black slaves, set apart by a distinctive skin color. In 1660, there were fewer than a thousand slaves in Virginia and Maryland. But during the 1680s, their number tripled, rising from about 4500 to 12,000. Thomas Culpeper (baptized 1635-1689), 2nd Baron Culpeper of Thoresway, was the colonial governor of Virginia (1677-1683). He became governor of Virginia in July 1677 but did not leave England until 1680, when he was ordered there by Charles II. He arrived in the aftermath of the Bacon Rebellion of 1676, an uprising of backcountry farmers against the rich tidewater farmers of the coast, and won confidence by pardoning the rebellion's surviving participants, among other measures. He left for England by way of Boston four months after arriving (as described in this letter). He was forced to return two years later after a mishandling of riots caused by low tobacco prices in 1682. After initiating harsh policies against the tobacco farmers and the colonial assembly he left the colony without the permission of the King in September 1683 and was subsequently dismissed from his post.
See More

Full Transcript: [draf]
Boston in New: England 20th September
1680
Deare Sister,

I suppose it will not bee unacceptable to you to heare from me and therefore I write this not onely to ...Let you know that I am here But that both my selfe and All with me are perfectly well, And that on the 10th Day of August that I left Virginia, Every individuall person that came over with me in the Oxford (soldiers as well as servants) were soo too, Except onely Mr Jones, who had been very sick of the seasoning (though occassion'd first by Drinking) but was on the mending Hand alsoe. Those with me are John Polyn, The Cooke, The Page, the great Toolman, and the Little one that Embroiders. I was received here with all the militia viz. ([strikeout] [inserted: Twelve] companies) in Armes, and have been highly treated beyond my Expectation or Desert. I am Lodged to my Wish, and find noe Difference between this place, and old England but onely want of Company. I have not been sick one day since I saw you (wch was more than I could say last summer.) nor once taken any kind of physick, but for prevention of Acute Diseases, have been twice Let Bloud, and now and then fasted at nights. The Last Time of my bleeding was here the 10th Instant wch I shall Remember a Good while, for goeing out some time after though I was very well Let bloud, yet my Arme being ill Tyed, the orifice burst [inserted: out] [strikeout] bleeding afresh, wch I did not soe soone perceive, but that I lost at Least 7 or 8 ounces of Blood, before I could have helpe to remedy it, but I verily beleave It will proove to be the better for me. Besides this small [2] Accident, I have had nothing momorable during my whole voyage, but the Great Danger I escaped on the 22th August (being Sunday) about 2 in the morning in comming hither that our shippe Run aground in unknowne shoales with a Great Gust of wind, and Lay beating two or three houses in A night as Dark as a pitch, five miles from any Land, and Every minute or rather knock, Expecting our last Doome, and that shee would bulge and breake in peeces but wee being but on the Tayle of the land, and Deepe water to the Leeward of us, the strength of the Wind made us beat it over, And when we absolutely dispaired of Any helpe but our Long Boate, wch could hardly have lived with six persons in that Rough sea, when wee were foure and Twenty, we found our selves aflote again miraculously I think verily. The owner of the shippe was Mr Jarvis (that married our Cousen Nat Bacon the Rebels Widdow) And the name the Betty being her Xtian name, He and John Pohen were almost out their wits and I conclude my Direction under God Almighty was our preservacon. I was resolved to stay noe longer abord but made my selfe bee set on shore next morning (though on an unknowne shore and not without some Danger of Drowning alsoe) with J Polyn and The Cooke, Each of us with a Gun, wch prooved to be 130 or 140 miles from hence. that Day we walked in the woods amongst wild Beasts, and more sauvage Indians at Least 20 miles, when Expecting to lye in the woods, or worse, we met An Englishman, who brought us to his cottage, and the next morning shewed us the way to Sandwich (a small English Village in this Country) where wee [3] were furnished with Horses and a Guide that with much adoe, through unrough places, brought us hither at Last, but our shippe (In wch was All my plate, Goods, and Furniture to a Considerable value [inserted: for wch I would then have taken 10#) did not arrive here till 10 Dayes after us.
I am now to Enforme you that notwithstanding my Goeing [lesse] [inserted: of all] [struck: when] [inserted: after] my Lrd Carlisle and All other Governors have failed, I have successefully performed all the King commanded and Expected and that alsoe to the Entire satisfaction of the Country (a thing very rare now a dayes) as I doubt not [Ere] this you have heard from other hands wch I had much rather you should on this subject than from mine This is the Cause that I cannot for the present Give you soe Good and Account of my but I shall far exceed all that I ever told you, If I can Get home safe from [Homes] and [Argerines] this yeare, And next yeare if I Live, It will I doubt not Double uppon mee, notwithstanding all wishes and Indeavours to the Contrary In Relation to Relations, I am of the same mind, I alwayes was of from the very first, and just as when you Left me in the downes to a Tifle, I know not how things may have hapned during my absence, by the Ill mannagement of others but at my Returne you shall find that I will for ever knock downe the unjust pretences of those that Love to fish in troubled waters, and settle everything to my mind, and if in the meane time the thing hath fallen, I shall be very Glad of it. My Designe is to returne this Winter for England [inserted: And that] in soe few dayes after the vessell, whose master brings [struck: thither] this, that I may very probably be at home, before this comes to your hands
[4] But if you doe not heare of me by the 20th Novemb, you may conclude something Extraordinary is befallen mee.
I shall then most infaillibly settle your Annuity (God willing) my selfe, Therefore Except some thing very Extraordinary offer it selfe, I would advize you to defer it till then, for I assure you I will not be as quiet till tis done; as it ought to be,
I assure my selfe that Long ere this you have Received The hundred pounds of Mr Ganze Corbyn, wch hath I am sure quite put you of Debt, that you Soe sillily entred into for noe reason in the world, I hope you will be soe interested by it, as hereafter to Distinguish between true Friends and pretended selfe interested [inserted: Two penny] ones of wch sort there are more amongst my [wise] relatons, then in all Kent and London besides whose malice and sencelesse Conduct I equally Despise, I know I am arrived to that Height, that any Condiscencon of mine would be accounted Generosily, but the Bitter Venom of their Loathsome Gall, hath soe narrowed my Heart and their pittyfull conduct soe Lessened my Esteeme that nothing But an Entire submission, or Law shall ever decide businesses. For your selfe, you see how carefull I have been, and by this 100# Every part whereof was a Direct pure gift (viz. 20# for the first yeares Annuity for wch you could demand but 100#, when [illegible] I have now allowed you 120# from the beginning, 50# I purely gave you, for there was noe promise At all till after All was sealed and then t'was when the King payd me, who owes me yet bona fide 6000.# and the Last 30# was nothing but pure Kindnesse) you may judge of my intentions to Live with you as I ought, Besides wch I have Remembered and performed too my promise (as I expect you have yours) and In all things you shall Alwayes find me to be your Affectionate Brother and Assured Friend TC.
I have not had a Line or word from Any body since I left England but from Whitehall. I have Given [illegible] A Good office on my Lady Brookes Account who I hope is yet Living. I thinke to set sayle in the James on [such] Days.
[5] Boston Octob 5th 1680
Since I writte the Last, I have seen the master of a Vessell that came from Ireland the 6th August In whose shippe came a passenger that saw Mrs Hamilton and Mrs Philippe at London: derry and Mount: Cassell some few days before, who was uppon her Returne for England again. you will Receive this by the [inserted: Good Shippe The] Edward and Anne of this Towne of Boston, one Walley Matser who set out with me on the 7th. God send us a Good Voyage, for the winds and seas will Rage, and yet the Argerines are as Dangerous to the [hull]. I have taken All the care that man can doe, but tis god Almighty that only can give a Blessing and successe to my Indeavours. If I returne in safety I doubt not of Giving a Good Account both as to the publick as well as private, but Especially the first. I am Exceeding well in health never better in my Life, but this Rough season and Rougher Argerines [6] doe almost frighten mee. If a six Cl[o]ckes place be not fallen by this time, I shall think they are bewitched. I hear the parts sits in Novemb, and I very much desire to be at it. I intend to [inserted: returne] shortly Into these parts again for I thinke in my conscience the Country and Climate [inserted: is] better than old England.
My Lady Berkely is married to Mr Tudwell, and thinkes noe more of our World. I shall now marry Cate as soon as I can, and then I shall reckon my selfe to be a freeman, without clogge or charge. once more Adieu. God send us a Good meeting. I am [answerably]
yours
TCulppr
[docket at the top of page 4]
Tom Colepeper to his sister Sep. 20. 1680
See More

People: Culpeper, Thomas

Historical Era: Colonization and Settlement, 1585-1763

Subjects: Government and CivicsTravelMaritime

Sub Era: Early Settlements

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources