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 proprietors, acting, it is possible, under the advice of Berkeley, and on suggestions from the colonists, appointed Samuel Stephens governor of Albemarle on October 6th, filling the shoes of Governor William Drummond. Stephens was given authority to select a council, and, if the 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 The instructions issued to Stephens were the Concessions of 1665, though in 1668 these were partially superseded by the provisions of the Great Deed of Grant relating to land.

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 Cupleper Stephens married Governor William Berkeley. After Berkeley's death in 1677, she married thirdly to Phillip Ludwell, Governor of Charlestown, in 'South' Carolina. Stephens had owned a tract of 4,000 acres of land in Albemarle which was sold upon his death to John Hill of York County. In 1693 this same tract of land was sold by John Hill's son, Samuel Hill of Warwick Co. and his wife, Mary, to Governor Seth Sothel (Southwell).

Existing records of Warwick Co., Virginia, show that Samuel Hill and his wife, Mary, sold 4000 acres of land in Albemarle in November, 1693. This land had recently been the property of Samuel Stephens, late Governor of Albemarle, and was sold by Hill to Governor Southell 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 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 Berkeley.

After the granting of the Charter in 1663, the 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. 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 a 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 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 Proprietors, although it is not unlikely that it was upon Berkeley's recommendation. The same Samuel Stephens who had been named "commander of the southern plantation" in 1662, and who was known to Berkeley as a "mild gent.," was named Governor of Albemarle in October of 1667.

Government in Albemarle assumed a more definite pattern in Stephens' instructions from the Proprietors. Stephens, aided by his Council and with their consent, was allowed almost complete control over the executive branch of the government. His 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 1 to elect delegates to the General Assembly. These delegates, along with the Governor and his Council, were to compose the body of this legislature.

Stephens did not govern a happy people. Land tenure gave rise to grumbling, especially when just across the border in Virginia the annual quitrent amounted to only one farthing an acre, payable in produce. In Albemarle 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 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 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. There were the "many & various Commotions, disorders & irregularities" that are always present in a young and weak government. The amiable 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 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 a proprietor 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 Gov. Samuel Stephens.
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