Virginia was a promising community for persons without capital, who were ready to earn a subsistence
by working with their bare hands, but not for persons without any capital who were seeking to make
their way with their wits alone. Apart from the few individuals engaged in the professions, there
were, along economic lines, only two divisions of the population, one of which was represented' by
the landowner, and the other by the common laborer. The young Englishman reaching the Colony with
some means of support, could at once secure an ftiterest in the soil; if, on the other hand, he
arrived without such means, he was compelled to become at once an agricultural servant. Whilst the
general conditions prevailing made possible the accumulation of large estates by combining trading
and planting, the chances were not so extraordinary as to allow many men of the lowest social origin
to become rich by some stroke of fortune, or a succession of strokes, and'thus found families in the
possession of every social advantage which the Colony offered. The only prominent figure in the
social life of Virginia in the seventeenth century who is known to have passed his first years there
under articles of indenture, resembling those of an ordinary laborer, was Adam Thoroughgood. As his
nearest relative in England, a brother, was a baronet, it is quite probable that, like a good many
young Englishmen of that and a later day who established themselves in Virginia, his object in
beginning in so humble a way, was to obtain a practical knowledge of planting tobacco; and that he
was in the possession of pecuniary resources with which to make the most of this knowledge as soon
as it was obtained.
It was a conspicuous feature of the social life of Virginia during the seventeenth century, that,
like the political system, it was thoroughly organized from the beginning. There was no period in
the history of that social life when it resembled the social life of a community situated on our
extreme western frontier, where all social distinctions are merged in a rude social equality. From
the hour when the voyagers disembarked at Jamestown in May, 1607, all those social divisions which
had existed immemorially in England, took root in the soil of the new country; the line of social
separation between the gentleman and the common laborer was even sharper than that between the
military officer and the ordinary soldier, or between the civilian officer and the private citizen.
Not even in the interval of terrible want and sickness following, during the first summer after the
arrival of the earliest expedition, were these social divisions forgotten, simply because, under the
influence of inherited feeling and habit, and by the force of actual law, all Englishmen recognized
and acted upon differences in social rank.
When we picture to ourselves the vast wilderness which formed the background of Jamestown in 1610, a
wilderness of forest tenanted only by wild beasts and painted Indians, there seems an element of
ludicrous incongruity in the pomp and ceremony which De la Warr adopted on every public occasion,
and in the rigid etiquette which he, as nobleman and governor, required to be observed in relation
to himself.) An impression is made that he was extraordinarily solemn and formal by nature, but this
impression, which was undoubtedly true in a measure, did not represent all the influences directing
his action. De la Warr had come out to Virginia as a great nobleman, as an almost absolute governor
and captain-general, and finally as the trusted representative of that powerful company of peers,
knights, and gentlemen who had obtained the new charter of 1609. Virginia was not a colony composed
of a single village and a few small plantations; it was a great province of England, a wilderness,
as yet, it is true, but a wilderness that was certain, in time, to become wealthy and thickly
inhabited. In exalting the authority of office so characteristic of those times, the disposition of
De la Warr was to consider simply the dignity of his position, however nominal that dignity really
was in the light of the handful of settlers huddled together in misery at Jamestown. And in adopting
so much ceremonial in that little community, he was only doing what any other great English noble,
appointed governor and captain-general of a part of the kingdom, whether populous like Scotland and
Ireland, or with only a few white people like Virginia, would have done.
The spirit which governed De la Warr officially and personally was the spirit which, in a modified
way, pervaded the entire social life of Virginia throughout the seventeenth century. The community,
from a social point of view, was as if some shire of England, with its whole population, had been
moved bodily over sea. In no sense was it a community which, in its social framework, had grown
along lines entirely peculiar to itself. Every Englishman who, in those early times, went out to the
Colony, carried over the unconscious tenacity of De la Warr in claiming every form of social
consideration to which he had been entitled in England itself. There was not the smallest desire to
leave the old privileges and customs behind. Virginia was not looked upon as a new country; it was
simply an outlying possession, like the islands of Jersey and Guernsey; and there was no more reason
why the emigrant, in going thither, should abandon all those opinions as to the proper constitution
of society, which he had inherited, than if he were about to make a visit to Devon or Hampshire,
where marked gradations in social position had been recognized for over a thousand years. He would
find no great noblemen there, it is true, but this would be the result, not of the framework of its
society, but of the remoteness of the Colony from England, and its comparatively limited degree of
economic development as yet.
The other proofs of social distinctions and divisions would be as conspicuous to the emigrant on his
arrival in Virginia as they had been to him in England itself. For instance, one of the most
ordinary social badges in use was the coat-of-arms. One distinguished student of Virginian genealogy
in the seventeenth century has declared that, after a long course of investigation, he is unaware'of
a single person whose name in deeds is followed by the term "gentleman," who was not entitled to use
a coat-of-arms. This would fulfill the definition of a "gentleman" given by Sir Edward Coke.2 If
this statement holds good for all who were so designated in public and private documents during this
century, which, however, is highly questionable, then the number of persons legally entitled to
coats-of-arms was as great in Virginia, in proportion to population, as it was in England. In three
counties alone, namely, Essex, Lancaster, and Middlesex, the records of which for the century have
been very much cut down by different vicissitudes, there were at least forty-seven families which
regularly made use of coats-of-arms.
There is no reason to think that armorial bearings were as freely and loosely assumed in those early
times as they are so often now, under Republican institutions; such bearings were then a right of
property, as clearly defined as any other, and continue to be in modern England, what they were in
colonial Virginia. In the seventeenth century, when so large a proportion of the persons occupying
the highest position in the society of the Colony were natives of England, the unwarranted
assumption of a coat-of-arms would probably have been as soon noticed, and perhaps as quickly
resented, as in England itself. The prominent families in Virginia were as well acquainted with the
social antecedents of each other in the Mother Country as families of the same rank in England were
with the social antecedents of the leading families in the surrounding shires; they were, therefore,
thoroughly competent to pass upon a claim of this nature;' and the fact that they were, must have
had a distinct influence in preventing a false claim from being put forward. In a general way, it
may be said that it was quite as natural for Virginians of those times to be as slow and careful as
contemporary Englishmen in advancing a claim of this kind without a legal right on which to base it,
and, therefore, when they did advance it, that it was likely to stand the test of examination by the
numerous persons in the Colony who must have been familiar with English coats-of-arms in general.
2 Lyon G. Tyler in William and Mary College Quart., Vol. I., p. 112.
1 William and Mary College Quart., Vol. I., p. 167.
Before leaving England, some of the emigrants took care to have their coats-of-arms confirmed; for instance, in 1633, Moore Fauntleroy obtained such a confirmation from the Office of the English Heralds, who, in their report, declared that this coat-of-arms had been enjoyed by the Fauntleroys "time out of mind."4 Among the prominent families who are thought to have possessed a legal
4 Va. Maga. of Hist. and Biog., Vol. I., p. 224.
right to the coats-of-arms which they habitually used, were the Bacon, Berkeley, Bland, Byrd,
Bolling, Beverley, Bennett, Burwell, Claiborne, Gary, Cole, Cocke, Clayton, Digges, Farrer,
Fitzhugh, Kingsmill, Lee, Ludwell, Ludlow, Milner, Page, Parke, Robinson, Randolph, Spencer,
Thoroughgood, Throckmorton, Thurston, Tucker, of Lower Norfolk county, Willoughby, Woodhouse,
Washington, Booth, Batte, Chichely, Colthorpe, Fleet, Jennings, Lunsford, Peyton, West, and Wyatt.5
The English ancestry of most of 'the founders of these conspicuous families was as well known in the
seventeenth century as the ancestry of an equal number of persons belonging to the English gentry of
that day. They could follow their genealogical descent with a like precision and accuracy; in using
coats-of-arms in Virginia, they were simply doing what their fathers had done before them in
England, and what they themselves had done previous to their own emigration; and it appeared to them
as much a matter of course to use such coats-of- arms in the Colony as it would have been had they
never left their native Devon or Sussex, Staffordshire or Lincolnshire.
The possession of coats-of-arms by the leading Virginian families in the seventeenth century is disclosed in various incidental ways. Insignia of this kind are frequently included among the personal property appraisedinventories.6 And they were also stamped on pieces of fine silver plate. In a letter to George Mason, of Bristol, Fitzhugh requests him to invest eighty-five pounds sterling, lying in his hands to the writer's credit, in silver dishes, candlesticks, and the like, but to be careful to work no ams on them, as this could be done in Virginia by a servant under indentures to Fitzhugh, whom he declared to be "a singularly good engraver."7 This is one of the numerous instances which shows that this prosperous planter and lawyer always maintained a thrifty and economical mind, even when there was a large sum at his command. The purchase of large quantities of silver plate, not for household display, but as a means of making a safe investment, was one of the commonest acts of wealthy Virginians in those early times, but, in the ordinary course, the engraving was done in England before the plate was shipped away to the Colony, because it was not likely that any person acquainted with so difficult an art could be found there.
William and Mary College Quart., Vol. I., p. 120. The original spelling of the Farrar name was Ferrer. Not long after the family settled in Virginia "a" seems to have been substituted for "e" in the spelling of the name, probably as more in harmony with its pronunciation.
6 For an instance see inventory of Philip Felgate, Lower Norfolk County Records, Vol. 1646-1651, p. 47.
The custom of carving coats-of-arms on tombs was as general in Virginia as in the Mother Country
itself. If the person buried underneath was a woman who, during her life, had been married, the
coat-of-arms of husband or father was used indifferently; for instance, on the tomb of Mrs.
Nathaniel Bacon, the elder, who was a daughter of Richard Kingsmill, the Kingsmill's coat-of- arms
is chiseled, whilst the coat-of-arms cut into the tombstone of a Miss Bassett, who inter-married
with the Allans, of Claremont, is that of her husband's family.3
7Letters of William Fitzhugh, July 21, 1698. Richard Lee also had his coat-of-arms engraved on his silver plate.
Va. Maga. of Hist. and Biog., Vol. VII., pp. 49, 211. The Allan arms were the same as those of the
Allan family of Derbyshire and Staffordshire.
Owing to the custom prevailing among prominent families in these early, as in later, times of
burying their dead in the garden near the dwelling house, many of these costly gravestones, with
their elaborate carvings of armorial bearings, have alone remained to mark the site where a colonial
home once stood. The vicissitudes of time have destroyed the residence and dispersed the family, but
the tombstone, as compact as ever, continues to point silently to an era when the social laws and
habits of England, inherited from a remote past, but destined in Virginia to perish under new
institutions, followed men in the Colony even when consigned to the dust. It is not uncommon, even
at the present day, to find these ancient tombstones, with their facings blackened by storm and
sunshine, but still legible, standing in an open field or meadow of Eastern Virginia.10 Sometimes,
the name on one of these stones has sunk into such obscurity as to have no interest even for the
most learned genealogist. For instance, on what is known as the Church Pastures Farm, a part of the
Brandon estate, on Lower James River, there is still to be observed the isolated grave-slab, stamped
with armorial bearings, which informs us that a certain person, "gentleman," was born in London in
1649, and died in Virginia in 1700.1 1 There was, perhaps, no other record in the Colony that such a
man ever existed. He represented a case that, no doubt, occurred very frequently in the seventeenth
century; that is to say, an Englishman of good family emigrated to Virginia, lived and died there
childless, and his very name was soon lost even to tradition. If preserved at all, it was preserved,
like the name of this person, on the fragment of his tombstone, tossed about a field, and trodden
upon by wandering cattle.
Westmoreland County Records, Vol. 1005-77, folio, p. 186.
10 Such is the situation of the Moseley tombs, in Princess Anne county, which, however, are still
surrounded by a crumbling brick wall. The remains of the Yeardley tombs are hardy perceptible in the
grounds of the Nottingham home in Northampton county. Va. Maga'. of Hist, and Biog., Vol. VII., p.
There was the clearest recognition of class distinctions in every department of Virginian life
during the seventeenth century, a fact brought out in numerous ways by the silent testimony of the
different legal documents which have survived to the present day, after passing through all the
vicissitudes of war and revolution. The colonial custom, following the immemorial English, was in
such documents, to fix by terms, whose legal meaning was fully understood, the social position of
the principal persons mentioned therein. The total omission of a term after a name was as
significant in one way as the insertion of a term was in another. There were certain particular
designations to show calling which were applied generally^ without social discrimination. In one
instance alone, perhaps, did such a designation carry a distinct inference of social importance
without, however, nicely defining its degree; the word "planter" probably at a late period conveyed
such a meaning. Not long after the abolition of the company, we find the term "planter" applied to
the lessees whose names appear in the grants of land belonging to the office of governor. The area
contained in these grants was not extensive, and the lessees were men of no social consequence.12
Not many years later, the term "planter" was applied with great freedom, whether the patentee
acquired title in a large tract or in a small; whether he was a citizen of marked' prominence in the
Colony, or possessed no prominence at all. But, by 1675, we find, in the ordinary conveyances,
recorded in the county courts, an indifferent use by the same man, as applicable to himself, of the
terms "gentleman" and "planter," as if the two were practically interchangeable. At this time, the
estates, in many cases, spread over many thousand acres, and whilst all who owned' and cultivated
land of their own, whether great or small in area, were, in a strict sense planters, the term may
have come to have a subordinate social meaning as applicable to men of large estates, whose social
position by force of birth, as well as of worldly possessions, was among the foremost in the
community. Or it may be, which seems, on the whole, more probable, the person drawing up one of
these deeds designated himself there as "gentleman" if he happened at the moment to think of his
social rank, or as "planter" if he thought of his calling.13
12 See Va. Land Patents, 1625-30.
"John Goode, of Henrico county, in some of the deeds in which his name appears describes himself as
"gentleman"; in others, as "planter." See Henrico County Records, Vol. 1677-92, orig., pp. 189-90.
The following would seem to show that the term "planter" designated simply the calling without
social significance: "Know all men by these Presents that wee, Walter [missing---check original for
The calling or social rank of the grantee in a deed was stated with the same particularity as that
of the grantor. One example of this fact, among many which might be brought forward, will be found
in an agreement, which, about 1679, was entered into by Robert Bowman and Richard Kennon, of Henrico
county; Bowman is designated as "planter" and Kennon as "merchant;" whilst in a second deed recorded
in the same county, both Martin Elam and John Bowman described themselves as "planters."14
The men who followed a mechanical trade were as careful as the planters to apply to themselves in legal documents the terms used for their special pursuits, such as "carpenter," "cooper," "tailor," and the like, some of which callings enjoyed in the Colony the same measure of social consideration as that attached to them in England. Not infrequently a person will designate himself as "gentleman" in one deed, and "cooper" or "carpenter" in another. This, for instance, seems to have been the habit
Jones, Chirurgeon, William Wilson, gent., Richard Street, planter," etc. Elizabeth City County Records, Vol. 1684-99, p. 285, Va. St. Libr.
"Henrico County Records, Vol. 1677-92, orig., pp. 83-84.
with George Wyatt, the son of Rev. Hawte Wyatt, and the nephew of Governor Wyatt, a man, who, by
birth and social connections, belonged to the highest social rank in the Colony.15. Major William
Barber, under whose supervision the capitol at Williamsburg was built, described himself in some
deeds as "cooper;" in others as "carpenter." He was a church warden, justice of the county court, a
member of the House of Burgesses, and had married the daughter of Henry Gary, whose name in legal
documents was always coupled with the term "gentleman," a term to which he was entitled as a member
of a family well known to be of gentle descent.16 It was, no doubt, equally applicable to Barber
also. In those early times, the' word "carpenter" expressed more than it does at the present day; it
signified not only one who worked in wood with his hands, but also a builder, architect, and
contractor, and it was not improbable that it was used, in this broader sense, in connection with
Barber himself. And in the same way, the word "cooper" had a wider meaning than it now conveys.
"I was born a gentleman," exclaimed Cromwell on one occasion in addressing Parliament, "and in the
old social arrangement of a nobleman, a gentleman and a yeoman, I see a good interest of the nation
and a great one."17 Nobleman, gentleman, yeoman—these were the terms which carried a .clear and
precise social significance wherever Englishmen had established a community.
15 See Va. Land Patents for 1642 for patent in which Wyatt designated himself as "cooper"; William and Mary College Quart., Vol. X., p. 60.
15 William and Mary College Quart., Vol. V, p. 195.
"Green's Short History of the English People, ehapt. viii., Sect. 10.
There was no order of noblemen in Virginia in the seventeenth century, but there was, to use the
Protector's language, a "social arrangement" of gentlemen and yeomen.13 The term "yeoman" appears
with special frequency in the early land patents, and it was used to express exactly the same rank
as the like term inserted in a contemporary legal document in the Mother Country. The fact that it
was not freely used, is an evidence that, when employed at all, it was employed with discrimination.
There were only about fifteen persons so designated in the early land patents; these were William
Spencer, Gabriel Holland, Thomas Sully, John and Edward Johnson, John and Robert Salford, Thomas
Godby, John Taylor, John Powell, Alexander Mountney, Elizabeth Dimthorne, William Lamsden, Thomas
Bouldin, John Sibsey, and Adam Dixon. None of these names, with the exception of Sibsey, became
prominent in the social history of the Colony. The term "yeoman" is used very often in the county
records long after the names of these early settlers were entered in the land patents. In 1646, John
Sawies, of Surry county, so described himself in a deed; so did James Pope, of Westmoreland county,
in 1660; and Robert Beverley ,of King and Queen county, about i694.19 Numerous other instances of a
like character might be given; and they continued to occur throughout the colonial period.20
Originally, "yeoman" meant simply a small landowner, and his social position in the community lay
between that of the gentleman and that of the common laborer. Both Pope and Beverley were in
possession of large tracts of land, and both represented families of prominence.
13 Maeaulay estimated that the yeoman class of England in the seventeenth century embraced
one-seventh of the whole population, and that the average income of each head of a family belonging
to this class ranged from sixty to seventy pounds sterling; see History, chapt. iii.
"Surry County Records, Vol. 1645-72, p. 37, Va. St. Libr.; Westmoreland County Records, Vol.
1653-72, p. 122; Essex County Records, Vol. 1692-95, p. 174, Va. St. Libr. The Beverleys were
probably originally small land-owners in Yorkshire, and were as such perhaps designated as yeomen.
It seems remarkable, however, that such a term should have been retained by the younger Robert
Beverley, one of the la'rgest land-owners in the colony. Its retention was perhaps due to mere whim,
"after the order of the use," as Mr. W. G. Stanard has pointed out, "of only wooden stools at
Beverley's house, Beverley Park, in King and Queen county; this, too, at a time when the houses of
much poorer men were full of handsome chairs."
In conversation, the term "mister" was, no doubt, applied to both gentlemen and yeomen, but when it
appears in legal documents as a prefix to a name, it signifies that the person so designated was
entitled to a higher degree of social consideration than was enjoyed by a mere yeoman The term in
fact to have been reserved in those early times in all forms of written and printed matter, such as
records and books, for persons whose claim to be gentlemen inthe broad social sense, was admitted by
all. Insome cases, the term appeared~fo~caf"fy" "ScT much dignity that it could only be used
properly of one who filled a high political office; for example, in the list of gentlemen who
accompanied the expedition to Virginia in 1607, the first to go over, Edward Maria Wing- field, the
President of the Council, and as such the Governor of the new Colony, was the only one whose name
was preceded by the word "mister."21
"Edward Wilson James in the Lower Norfolk Antiqua'ry (No. I., Part 1, p. 45) gives an instance from
the records of 1728: "Thomas Lawson, gentleman, to Nat. Hutchings, yeoman," etc.
" Works of Oapt. John Smith, Vol. I., p. 163, Richmond edition.
A similar designation accompanies the names of many of the grantees appearing in the early land
patents; among these names were those of planters, who, like Thomas Eaton, Adam Thoroughgood, George
Menifie, Nathaniel Hooke, and Jeremiah Clement, were men of recognized prominence in the community.
Whalley, one of the most active lieutenants of Nathaniel Bacon, the younger, in the Insurrection of
1676, is always honored in the narratives of that uprising by the title of "mister," which was
either a proof of his high social position, or a tribute to the conspicuous part played by him in
the course of the tumult.22
Sometimes in the same document a man is designated first by the term "mister," and then by the term
"gentleman ;" for instance, in the land patents, Adam Thorough- good is found very often entered in
grants as "Mr. Adam Thoroughgood, gentleman." The same joint use of the two words is observed in the
county records; by a deed preserved in Elizabeth City county, Thomas Tench, of Maryland, conveyed
property to "Mr. William Mallory, gentleman," who was an inhabitant of Virginia;23 and a similar use
of "mister" and "gentleman" occurs in deeds passing between Thomas Wythe and Edmund Swaney, who were
justices of the Elizabeth City county court; it is possible that the high position which this fact
gave them in the community, apart from birth and fortune, entitled them to the right to be so
elaborately designated in a legal document. The use of the term "mister" is observed most constantly
in the lists of the county tax levies; in these lists, the word "gentleman" does not
a William and Mary College Quart., Vol. IV., p. 3. "Elizabeth City County Records, Vol. 1684-99, pp.
208, 222, 246, Va. St. Libr.
appear, whilst the word "mister" is employed wherever the person whose name is mentioned could lay
claim to any special social consideration. When the name entered was that of a man who belonged to a
social grade below that of gentleman, it is not accompanied by a designation of any kind.24
Whenever the term "gentleman" appears in the records of the seventeenth century attached to a
name, it was I intended to convey a meaning that had been defined with legal precision. It was a
term that was never used loosely, lightly, or indiscriminately in those times, even in papers
without legal importance or significance; in legal documents, such as the patents and county
records, it was applied as nicely and advisedly as if this had been required by a decision of the
highest court in the kingdom. Indeed, its use was regulated by social customs, which, among
Englishmen and the descendants of Englishmen, had all the force of a legal judgment. No one could
assume the right to couple the term with his name in a legal document unless his claim was too
generally recognized to be disputed. According to the great lawyer, Coke, it was an error to
designate a man as a "gentleman" (when the question was one of mere social rank) unless he possessed
the undeniable privilege of bearing arms. Whilst it seems improbable that the use of the term in the
Colony was strictly confined to those who had the right to do this, however large the number might
have been, nevertheless, it is plain that its use did not extend beyond those who, either by birth
or fortune, occupied a position of influence in the social life of the community.
M A good example of a county levy from the point of view referred to in the text will be found in
the levy for 1696 in the Henrico County Records for that year.
In the early patents, the term "gentleman" appears as an affix only to the names of such grantees as
filled the most important place in the Colony; among these names are those of Yeardley,
Yeardley,' to whome this depont replied, saying: 'Mr. Charlton, you doe Mr. Yeardley much wrong, for
hee is a gentleman whom I did never see in my life.' "; The
Yeardley here referred to was probably Argoll Yeardley, a son of Governor Yeardley. This deposition
shows the particular use of the word "gentleman" in ordinary conversation. Edward Wilson James has
an interesting note on the general use of the word in England in early times; see Lower Norfolk
County Antiquary, Vol. I., p. 100.</ref> Croshaw, Sandys, Waters, Burnham, Hamor, Utie, Maurice
Thompson, Spelman, Claiborne, Cheeseman, Willoughby, Felgate, Harwood, Tucker, Alington, Poole,
Saunders, and Arun-dell. Wherever the term is observed in the county records, it is found attached
to the names of persons whose social position is known to have been high. Many of the most prominent
citizens never failed in ordinary conveyances to designate themselves in this manner. A father
transfers an estate to a son; son and father each is referred to as "gentleman;" such was the case
in a deed which, in 1637, passed between Hugh and William Bullock ;26 and other examples might be
brought forward. Occasionally, there would be placed on record a deed, in which a half dozen men
would be designated as "gentlemen," and one as "good-man," a term which indicated that this person
alone of the entire company filled a subordinate place in the society of the community. The
"goodman" in this case may have been some one from New England. It was a term which was in general
use only in the Northern Colonies, having, however, been brought from England. The following is from
the Elizabeth City County Records, Vol. 1684-99, p. 283, Va. St. Libr.: " Know all men by these
presents yt we Pascho Curle, gent., Thomas Curle, gent., and Coleman Brough, gent., all of ye
aforesaid county, gents."</ref>
20 Va. Maga. of Hist, and Biog., Vol. II., p. 414.
23 See Middlesex County Records, orders Jan'y 5, 1686, for an instance of the use of the term
"gentleman" in a; court order. " Stephen Cocke having moved this court to assigne certain gent. of
this Countye to meet such as shall bee appointed by the Court of Charles Citye Countye to view and
receive the bridge over Turkeye Island Creeke, it is ordered that Capt. William Randolph and Captain
Fra. Eppes doe meete these gent. as shall be appointed by Charles Citye Countye." This is from the
Henrico County Records Orders June 1, 1697.
A military title was considered to be so honorable that it was not thought necessary, as a rule, to
follow a namr, to which such a title was prefixed, with an additional term of distinction; for
instance, in an order of court, bearing the date of 1697, William Randolph and Francis Eppes, of
Henrico county, two of the most prominent citizens of the Colony, from a social, as well as from a
political point of view, were designated simply as "captains," the military title they bore as
officers in the militia;32 but in numerous other instances of military officers, who were also
conspicuous members of the society of the community, the name is as regularly followed by the term
"gentleman" as it is preceded by the military title itself. For example, Thomas Willoughby, a
leading resident of Lower Norfolk county, is in the records of that county almost invariably
referred to as "Lieutenant Thomas Willoughby, gentleman;" and the same use of the double designation
is observed in the text of many of the early land patents; for instance, it was generally
" Henrico County Records, orders, June 1, 1697.
"Captain Robert Felgate, gentleman," and "Captain Raleigh Croshaw, gentleman," instead of the one or
the other designation omitted.
"esquire" , was the most honorable and respectful in its personal application which was in use in
Virginia ; and from many points of view, it carried all the distinction of an English title. In
England, the term was employed to designate either the son of a knight, or one who filled an office
of universally recognized responsibility and prominence ; in Virginia, on the other hand, its proper
application seems to have been confined to the members of the Council, who, as members also of the T
Tppe£TTniispj>f J^tp j^igneral ^jsernhly, held a position, which, in its social dignify,
a^wetr-as-in- its relation to legislation, corresponded to that of a member of the English House of
Lords. The office of Governor alone was superior to that of a member of this Upper House ; and when
to the importance thus derived, there was added the importance derived from being also a member of
the Governor's advisory board, it can be easily seen that a Councillor was relatively as great a
personage in the Colony as a leading nobleman was in England.
The Councillor was really chosen a member of the Board simply because he was a man of large estate
and great personal influence in the community. Invested with this new dignity and authority, and
obtaining by the office extraordinary opportunities of further enriching himself, he secured a hold
upon the consideration of the Virginian population of all classes which few noblemen in England
enjoyed beyond the boundaries of their own properties, and the circle of their own dependants. The
name of one of these Councillors is never found entered in even the obscurest of the county records
without the affix of "esquire;" this always displaces the term "gentleman;" and in some cases,
seemed to cause the omission of the military titles, which are generally entered so unfailingly. The
name of William Byrd, the elder, is invariably coupled with the term "esquire," whilst it is
frequently recorded without the military title of "colonel," which he bore.33 In the early land
patents, however, the military title also is usually inserted; for instance, we find Roger Smith,
Ralph Hamor, and Henry Browne, all members of the Council and the Upper House of Assembly,
designated each as both "Captain" and "Esquire."34 George Menifie, who, in the early patents, is
described as "merchant," in the later, when he has become a member of the Council, always appears as
"Mr. George Menefie, Esquire."
After 1634, when the number of patents for each year shows a remarkable increase, the designation of
the patentees of the public lands as "gentlemen," "yeomen," and the like, is discontinued, but the
term "esquire" is used as often as ever in these public grants. It is found in all of the county
records,35 orders of Council, and Acts of Assembly, and! was invariably employed by the Councillors
themselves in their private legal papers, such as ordinary conveyances and affidavits. In a document
of the latter nature, which Colonel Richard Lee signed at Gravesend in 1655, ne described himself as
"Colonel Richard Lee, of Virginia, in the partes beyond the seas, Esquire;"36 and it was also in the
same words that he referred to himself in his will.37 By the year 1678, the term, in its
unabbreviated form, had come into common use in conversation as a way of alluding to a Councillor;
for instance, we find Rowland Place spoken of as "Esquire Place" in the testimony which a witness,
about this date, gave in the Henrico county court.33 Whiting, another Councillor, is designated as
"Esquire Whiting" in the testimony of a second witness who appeared in the county court of
Rappannock.39 Ralph Wormeley is always so referred to.40 The records show that the Collectors of
Customs and the Naval Officers also received the title of "Esquire," but this honor was conferred
the more readily because these positions were almost invariably filled by the members of the
33 "An agreement between William Byrd, Esquire, and Richard Kennon, gentleman," etc., Henrico County
Records, Vol. 1677-92, orig., p. 156; see, also, orig., p. 415.
MVa. Land Patents for 1634.
"An instance: "Philip Taylor doth owe and stand indebted unto Nathaniel Littleton, Esq." See Northampton County Records, Orders, Aug. 31, 1643; May 28, 1644.
The term "Honorable" seems to have been applied only to a persorn holding a great office, which was
never filled by more than a single incumbent, such as that of Governor, Secretary, Auditor, or
Treasurer. The wife of one of these officials was generally designated as "Madam;" it was by this
title that the wives of Nicholas Spencer, the Secretary of the Colony, and of William Byrd, the
Auditor, were known; there are frequent references to "Madam Spencer" and "Madam Byrd" in the
records. The wife of another Secretary of the Colony seems to have been addressed as "Madam
Elizabeth Wormeley."42 The title, however, was not restricted to the wives of such officials; for
example, we find that the wife of Robert Dudley, a prominent citizen of Middlesex county, who had
never filled any of these high positions, was always referred to as "Madam Dudley," a tribute very
probably to her extraordinary force of character, her beauty of person, and charm of manner.43
" British Colonial Papers, Vol. XII., 1653-6. No. 51.
37 Lee of Virginia, p. 61. The will was drawn in England.
" Henrico County Minute Book 1682-1701, p. 6, Va. St. Libr.
39 Rappahannock County Records, Vol. 1682-92, p. 73, Va. St. Libr.
40 "To Mr. George Parks for trouble in conveying Esqr. Worme- ley's negro over the river." Essex
County Records, Orders, Nov. 12, 1692.
11 Peter Heyma'n, who was Collector for Lower James River, was always designated as "Esquire,"
although he does not appear to have been a member of the Council. See Elizabeth City County Records,
orders, Aug. 22, Sept. 20, 1699.
a See for Madam Spencer, Westmoreland County Records, Vol. 1665-77, folio p. 79; for Madam Byrd,
Henrico County Records, Vol. 1688-97, p. 148, Va. St. Libr.; and for Madam Wormeley, Middlesex
County Records, orders, March 5, 1693.
"Middlesex County Records, Vol. 1694-1713, p. 100.