Philip Ludwell – little-known today, a colonial American Orthodox Christian. George Washington – famous. And they could have become brothers-in-law.
Like most people born into the life of the wealthy planter class of colonial Virginia, Philip Ludwell III would have sought a marriage amongst his own class. And that is exactly what Ludwell achieved with his marriage to Frances Grymes.
Philip III was the son of Philip II, who was a member of the colony’s Royal Governing Council and Auditor General. And he was the grandson of Philip Ludwell I, a former governor of the colony of Carolina in the early 1690s (before it was divided into North and South) and Speaker of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Another family connection: Philip III’s first cousin was the wife of William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond, Virginia and the author of a then-secret diary that adds spice to our knowledge of early 1700s Virginia.
Philip Ludwell III’s In-Laws: The Grymes Family of Morattico
At the age of 21, Philip III married Frances Grymes in 1737. And that’s where the “almost” connection to George Washington lies – with Frances’ family. So who were the Grymes?
Frances came from Virginia’s Northern Neck – land that lies between the Potomac River to the north and the Rappahannock River to the south – two of numerous Virginia rivers that run from the mountains to the Chesapeake Bay. Today, the Northern Neck is thought of as only the Tidewater region – that area east of the rivers’ fall lines where the saltwater tides of the Bay mix with the fresh, mountain-sourced water of the rivers.
In the 1600s and early 1700s, the Northern Neck was prime real estate, from which it was convenient to deliver Virginia tobacco to Britain under the British Empire’s mercantile system which became increasingly fueled by the labor of enslaved Africans.
Frances Grymes Ludwell came from an eminent family. She was the daughter of Charles Grymes and Frances Jennings Grymes of Morattico, on the Northern Neck:
- Charles was sheriff of Virginia’s Richmond County (in the Northern Neck), and in the 1720s was a member of the colony’s legislature, the House of Burgesses, and of the Royal Governing Council, the highest legislative, administrative, and judicial governmental body in the colony.
- Frances Jennings Grymes was the daughter of the Cambridge University-educated Edmund Jenings, who served as Virginia’s attorney general, secretary of state, the president of the Council of State, and as acting governor from 1706 to 1710.
The Grymes plantation at Morattico was named after the primary town of the Moraughtacund Indian tribe (see map above), and calls to mind John Smith’s efforts to negotiate a peace between the Moraughtacund and Rappahannock tribes in 1608, the year after Jamestown was founded.
The Ludwell Family Bible relates the following about the 1737 marriage of Philip Ludwell III and Frances Grymes:
“The daughter of Charles Grymes, of North Farnham Parish in the County of Richmond, in Virginia, Esquire, and Frances his wife, daughter of the Hon’ble Edmund Jenings of Rippon, in Yorkshire, in England, Esquire, who was born at Morattico, in the aforesaid County and Parish on ye 19th day of November, An. Dom. 1717. The marriage took place at Morattico aforesaid A.D. 1737.”
Around 1750, Philip and Frances Ludwell inherited another Northern Neck property, Menokin, from the Charles Grymes estate. This property was later the home of their nephew Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and is undergoing a fascinating preservation.
Frances Grymes Ludwell’s Sister Lucy: Washington’s “Lowland Beauty”
Frances Grymes Ludwell had a much younger sister, Lucy, who was born in 1734. Coincidentally, George Washington was born in the Northern Neck in 1732, a few miles down the Potomac River from where Philip Ludwell III’s sister and brother-in-law Thomas Lee would build the now-famous Stratford Hall.
So it should come as no surprise that a young George Washington would have sought the hand of young ladies of position, such as Lucy Grymes, Philip Ludwell’s sister-in-law. By the time Lucy was coming of age, Philip Ludwell III represented Jamestown in the House of Burgesses and Lucy’s own sister-in-law was the mistress of Stratford Hall. Washington himself was raised in the “lowland” Tidewater lands of the Northern Neck and in nearby Fredericksburg, Virginia.
However, marriage to Lucy Grymes was not meant to be for Washington. As the January 1920 edition of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography put it, Lucy was “said by tradition to have been ‘The Lowland Beauty’, who was one of the youthful Washington’s loves.” Instead, in 1753 she married Henry Lee II of Leesylvania (in Virginia’s Prince William County), and became the mother of the Revolutionary War hero General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, and the grandmother of General Robert E. Lee.
George Washington was not to marry until the end of the decade, when in 1759 he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a Ludwell cousin. It turns out that love life was not in the forefront of Washington’s mind in the 1750s. In 1753 he was sent as a British emissary to French officials and Indians in western Pennsylvania and was deeply involved in the French and Indian War. During this time, Washington arguably had more involvement with Philip Ludwell III than with any of the ladies of the age.
By the 1750s, Ludwell had taken his brother-in-law Thomas Lee’s position on the Royal Governing Council, serving for a time as President of the Council in Williamsburg. In these positions, he would have been influential in working with Lt. Governor Dinwiddie, who rewarded Washington in 1755 with a commission as “Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty’s Colony.”
The Virginia Regiment was the first full-time American military unit in the colonies, as opposed to part-time militias and the British regular units. Philip Ludwell’s August 1755 correspondence to Washington regarding this military commission can be read here in an earlier Ludwell Blog post and reflects a time when both men were more concerned about military affairs than love affairs.
Portrait of George Washington in top header: The earliest authenticated portrait shows Washington wearing his colonel’s uniform of the Virginia Regiment from the French and Indian War. It was painted about 12 years after his service in that war.
Portrait of Philip Ludwell I: courtesy of NCpedia.
1624 map of Virginia: courtesy Library of Congress.