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The Ludwell Blog

News and research on the life, community, and worldview of Colonel Philip Ludwell III.
governor francis nicholson depicted with Burwell family graves in Gloucester Virginia

Lucy Burwell and a Governor’s Unwanted Public Advances

There’s always been scandal. Such as: what if the royal governor started pursuing your daughter in the most public way imaginable? In May 1703, members of the Virginia colony’s Council of State (consisting in part of Ludwell family members and cousins) wrote to Queen Anne protesting Lt Gov Francis Nicholson’s behavior toward Lucy Burwell, who shared a grandmother with Philip Ludwell III – Lucy Higginson.

Lucy Burwell was the daughter of Lewis Burwell II and Abigail Smith Burwell. Like her first cousin Philip Ludwell III, Lucy was a product of the remarkable life of her grandmother Lucy Higginson, who married three times and had children from all her marriages. Her marriage to Lewis Burwell I was the first of the three, which explains how her granddaughter Lucy could have died at the age of 33 approximately two weeks before her first cousin, Philip Ludwell III, was born in late 1716. In the naming conventions of the time, Grandmother Lucy’s influence is probably a main reason why so many girls in the colony were named Lucy for the next 100 years.

But getting back to the scandalous acts of the governor … As Encyclopedia Virginia tells us, the governor’s

“persistent and unsubtle courtship of the beautiful eighteen-year-old Lucy Burwell turned Nicholson into a laughingstock: In a speech to the House of Burgesses on September 22, 1701, Nicholson professed his admiration “for the Natives” of Virginia, “in particular but principally for One of them,” but his marriage proposal to Burwell, daughter of the wealthy and influential Major Lewis Burwell of Gloucester County, was refused. The governor only made matters worse when he continued to publicly pursue Burwell even after she had become engaged to the equally privileged Edmund Berkeley II of Middlesex County.”

– Encyclopedia Virginia

Later that year, in December, Lucy Burwell married Berkeley, who was twelve years her senior. It was one of the only solutions to the public problem of a governor, already known for his temper, who had quite gone off the rails in his pursuit of the young lady.

For more information, visit Encyclopedia Virginia’s article about Lt. Governor Francis Nicholson.

Note: the graphic image above depicts Lt Gov Francis Nicholson inset, with Burwell family graves (including Lewis Burwell I, Lucy Higginson, and Lewis Burwell II) at Abingdon Church in Gloucester, Virginia.

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