Samuel Stephens

Governor of Albemarle 1667 to 1669

In 1662, Samuel Stephens was appointed "Commander of the Southern Plantation" by the council in Virginia - preceding all Governors during the Proprietary period - a post he held for a very short time.

In the autumn of 1667 the Lords Proprietors, acting, it is possible under the advice of one of their own, Sir William Berkeley, and on suggestions from the colonists, appointed Samuel Stephens governor of Albemarle County on October 6th, filling the shoes of Governor William Drummond. Stephens was given authority to select an Executive Council, and, if the Lords Proprietors failed to act, a Secretary and Surveyor General, all to serve during the pleasure of the board. The instructions issued to Stephens were the Concessions of 1665, though in 1668 these were partially superseded by the provisions of the Great Deed of Grant relating to land.

Governor Samuel Stephens served from 1667-1669. Born in Jamestown in 1629, Stephens was the first governor of any colony to be born in America. He was married to Frances Culpeper, the sister of Lord John Culpeper.

When Stephens died in 1669, Frances Culpeper Stephens married Governor William Berkeley. After Berkeley's death in 1677, she married thirdly to Phillip Ludwell, Governor of Charles Town, in 'South' Carolina. Stephens had owned a tract of 4,000 acres of land in Albemarle County, which was sold upon his death to John Hill of York County, Virginia. In 1693, this same tract of land was sold by John Hill's son, Samuel Hill of Warwick County, Virginia and his wife, Mary, to Governor Seth Sothel.

Existing records of Warwick County, Virginia, show that Samuel Hill and his wife, Mary, sold 4,000 acres of land in Albemarle County in November, 1693. This land had recently been the property of Samuel Stephens, late Governor of Albemarle County, and was sold by Hill to Governor Seth Southel of Albemarle. One wonders if Samuel Hill's wife, Mary, was a daughter of Stephens, or if Samuel Hill's mother, Mrs. John Hill, married secondly Samuel Stephens. The records offer no explanation
Almost from the beginning of formal government in Albemarle County there was friction. The first executive of any description was Samuel Stephens, appointed by the Council of Virginia as "commander of the southern plantation," in 1662. It seems, however, that Stephens was little more than a deputy for Virginia's Governor William Berkeley.

After the granting of the Charter in 1663, the Lords Proprietors had placed the establishment of formal government into the hands of Sir William Berkeley, and his instructions outlined the pattern of government they envisioned for Albemarle County. He was delegated authority "to nominate, constitute and appoynt such persons as he shall conceive fitting to be and contineu Governor,... he behaveing himself well." In addition to a governor, Berkeley was to appoint six "fitting persons" as an Executive Council to assist in government as well as aid in the selection of all military and civil positions other than Surveyor and Secretary of the Colony. The Governor and his Executive Council, "with the consent of the freeholders," or their delegates, were cautioned "to make good and wholesome lawes, ordnances and constitutions for the better Government and good of the Collony." All such laws were to be transmitted to the Lords Proprietors within one year for either their "rattification" or "denyall."

Dummond's successor was by appointment of the Lords Proprietors, although it is not unlikely that it was upon Sir. William Berkeley's recommendation. The same Samuel Stephens who had been named "commander of the southern plantation" in 1662, was known to Governor Berkeley as a "mild gent.," and was named Governor of Albemarle in October of 1667.

Government in Albemarle County assumed a more definite pattern in Stephens' instructions from the Lords Proprietors. Stephens, aided by his Executive Council and with their consent, was allowed almost complete control over the executive branch of the government. His Executive Council, which could be no fewer than six, could be expanded to twelve if he felt the increase to be necessary. And now the freemen of "each respective denizen, tribe or parish," were to gather every January 1st to elect delegates to the House of Burgesses. These delegates, along with the Governor and his Executive Council, were to compose the body of a somewhat bicameral General Assembly.

Stephens did not govern a happy people. Land tenure gave rise to grumbling, especially when just across the border in Virginia the annual quit-rent amounted to only one farthing an acre, payable in produce. In Albemarle County, the sum due each year was a half-penny an acre and payable only in coin. This inequity, wrote Surveyor General Thomas Pollard, was a great factor in discouraging prospective settlers from Virginia, "it being land only they come for." In reply to such complaints and arguments the Lords Proprietors, on May 1, 1668, issued the document that was to become known as the Great Deed of Grant. Henceforth, they promised, the inhabitants of Albemarle County would hold their lands "upon the same terms and conditions that the Inhabitants of Virginia held theirs."

The General Assembly passed certain statutes in 1669 designed to attract new settlers to the colony. Those concessions, felt attractive to newcomers, included a one-year tax exemption and a five-year protection against law suits. Land holdings were restricted, while "Strangers from other parts" (Virginia) were prohibited from entering Albemarle "to truck and trade with the Indians."

Internal strife continued to mark domestic affairs in Albemarle County. There were the "many & various Commotions, disorders & irregularities" that are always present in a young and weak government. The amiable Governor Samuel Stephens was not the strong figure needed at such a time and invited disrespect; "some were so Insolent as to draw their Swords against him." And Sir William Berkeley later was to censure one unnamed rabblerouser "who gave soe ill an example of offering violence and indignityes" to the Governor of Albemarle. Sometime before March 7, 1670, Governor Samuel Stephens sickened and died. By July his widow, the former Frances Culpeper, had become the second wife of Sir William Berkeley.

The earliest certain record of John Culpeper is dated 15 July 1670. It records his appearance in a North Carolina court, where he was identified as attorney for Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia and one of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. Culpeper was in court to petition for administration on the estate of Samuel Stephens, recently deceased governor of the North Carolina colony, then called Albemarle.

Stephen's widow, Frances, had married Berkeley the preceding month, but, for reasons not given in surviving records, the court departed from usual practice and, instead of naming Berkeley administrator, granted administration to Culpeper.

Click Here for what little is known about the Executive Council under Governor Samuel Stephens.
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