Colonel Philip Ludwell III, the first known American convert to Orthodoxy in America, reposed in London two hundred and fifty years ago this month. The day was March 14 according to the calendar of the Russian Church to which he belonged, corresponding to March 25 on the civil calendar in England and America at that time. Because the gap between these two calendars continues to widen over time the anniversary of his repose could be said to fall either on Sunday March 25 or Tuesday March 27 this year.
So far no sources have come to light that reveal the cause of his death. He had only just turned fifty at the beginning of 1767. We do know that his health had been declining for a number of years and this may have been one of the factors that contributed to his move to London with his three daughters in the summer of 1760. Shortly after their arrival he met the Rev. Andrew Burnaby, an Anglican cleric who had just spent two years in America.
In April 1761 Burnaby wrote to George Washington at Mount Vernon that:
Cap. Ludwell is, I think, in a declining way; he is at present in London.
This statement is confirmed in a letter almost two years later in February 1763 from Benjamin Franklin to Ludwell. Franklin writes:
I pray sincerely that every Blessing may attend you, wherever you are, and particularly that of Health. O that I could invent something to restore and establish yours!
The records of the Orthodox church in London give glimpses of the final months of Philip Ludwell’s earthly life:
Sept 17, 1766: Sunday The sick Philip Ludwell received holy communion in his house during the day.
Feb 22, 1767: Ailing Philip Ludwell confessed and received communion and holy unction in his own house. Present were Peter Paradise, three Ludwell daughters.
March 14, 1767 Wed: Philip Ludwell died at 5 p.m.
The parish records continue on to describe the services performed for Col. Ludwell as he began his journey into eternal life:
March 15, 1767: Canon after departure of soul
March 19, 1767: Monday, fourth day of Great Lent funeral service was chanted.
March 22,1767: Mr. Ludwell was buried in the village of Bow, in the crypt in which earlier was a priest David who was a Jacobite
We do know that at least one other prominent early American was present for some of these funereal rites. This was Edmund Jenings (1731 -1819), whose grandfather had been President of the Council of Virginia and father the deputy-secretary of the Maryland Colony. Jenings would become a close associate of John Adams during the Revolutionary War and through his influence was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1788. Jenings was also a friend of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence. Jenings wrote to Carroll some six weeks after Ludwell’s repose:
our friend Coll: Ludwell … died after a long decay the 25th of March last and I attended his Remains to the Grave. He was ever Mindful of you and has left to you as token of his Esteem the Choice of his books in Virginia.
Several months later came the reply from Carroll:
I did not hear of my friend Col: Ludwell’s death till I saw an acct of it in the english papers — I really was much concerned at the news for I had a sincere esteem & regard for that worthy gentleman: his remembrance of me in his last moments as it is a proof of his friendship, can not but be pleasing
The newspapers had noted Colonel Ludwell’s passing very simply and succinctly.The Lloyds Evening Post in its list of deaths for March is seemingly the fullest:
25. The Hon. Philip Ludwell Esq.; at his house near St James’s, one of His Majesty’s Council of the Province of Virginia.
At some point in the years prior to his repose Colonel Ludwell recorded in his Commonplace Book of Services and Prayers a long intercessory prayer that formed part of his Devotions for the Evening. In the Christian tradition the night is a foreshadowing of death, that is in turn the entrance into eternity with Christ. An extract from this prayer gives an insight into how Philip Ludwell III would have viewed his own sickness and death. May his memory be eternal!
who are in Trouble, Sorrow,
Need, Sickness or any other
Adversity wheresoever, or how
so ever afflicted, or Distressed,
in Mind, Body or Estate; of thy
Fatherly goodness give Patience
under their sufferings & unhappy
Issue out of all their afflictions.
Unto me & all thy People give a
Life of Righteousness, a calm and
happy Death, a joyful Resurrection
& perfect consummation in Life ever-