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In mid-1677, Thomas Miller, who was just appointed as the new Secretary of the colony and Collector of Customs, and the newly-appointed Governor Thomas Eastchurch, sailed together from England back to Carolina. Eastchurch and Miller took a ship sailing one of the normal trade routes from England to the island of Nevis in the Leeward Islands where they could obtain another ship for home. In Nevis, Eastchurch met a woman of considerable fortune and took the opportunity to marry her. Not wishing to depart quickly and to avoid further delay in settling affairs in Albemarle County, Eastchurch provided Miller with a commission to serve as President of the Executive Council until his arrival and gave him "very full and ample powers." Eastchurch never returned to Carolina, but died in Virginia in December of 1677.
The President of the Executive Council normally acted as governor in that official's absence. Thomas Miller, however, chose this time to begin his own scheme for acquiring power and fortune. Instead of taking a ship directly for America, he went via Bermuda where he took passage for Albemarle County in the shallop Success, where he landed on July 9, 1677. Several sources claim he did not land until July 15th.
Miller was received with mixed reviews - some refused to acknowledge the papers he presented from Eastchurch, while others decided the papers were legitimate. Regardless of how he was received, Miller somehow gained control of the government in the summer of 1677 and promptly began to follow his instructions from Eastchurch to set the affairs of Albemarle County in good order. He also made some very stupid mistakes that only brought him great troubles.
Thomas Miller's acting governorship can best be described as the root cause for the so-called "Culpeper Rebellion" of 1677. The causes of Culpeper's Rebellion can be reduced to two: 1) Miller's abuse of power in attempting to obtain personal autonomy over the colony, and 2) the failure of the English government to recognize that the tax rate imposed on tobacco by the Plantation Duty Act was an intolerable burden to the planters of Albemarle County who had little or no access to direct shipments to England.
After a very long story, by December of 1677, Thomas Miller, John Nixon, and Timothy Biggs, were seized by Valentine Bird and Edward Wells, and imprisoned at the home of William Crawford in Pasquotank Precinct. Shortly afterward an armed party from Chowan Precinct arrived at Crawford's house with Marshal Edward Wade their prisoner. At the beat of a drum Thomas Miller was accused of blasphemy, treason, and other crimes and, at the urging of the crowd, was placed in irons. At this point the stocks and pillory were overturned and thrown into the river.
Thomas Miller and the other prisoners were next held at George Durant's house for four or five days until Richard Foster arrived with Henry Hudson as his prisoner. On Foster's arrival the sixty to seventy men already gathered there held an election for their assembly of eighteen members. John Jenkins, Valentine Bird, William Crawford, Patrick White, and James Blount from the new assembly were then chosen to sit with Richard Foster as a court in the cases of Biggs, who was accused of murder, and John Nixon, another Executive Council member who was accused of treason. Miller, still in irons, was then brought before the court and a jury impaneled from the crowd with Mordslay Bouden, a New England trader, as foreman. Miller later wrote that he believed that only four of the jury could read or write.
All were found guilty, but the proceedings were stopped at that point by the receipt of a proclamation from Governor Thomas Eastchurch, who had landed in Virginia eight or nine days earlier. Armed men were sent north to oppose Eastchurch and to prevent him from entering the county. Thomas Miller and the other prisoners were sent to separate places of confinement where they were allowed no writing materials. John Culpeper was appointed Collector. The assembly and court were broken up and went to their homes.
Less than six weeks later Eastchurch died in Virginia. This event may be considered the thermidor of Culpeper's Rebellion since from that time the government settled down and armed action, other than guarding the prisoners, was not required. On receipt of notice of Eastchurch's death the Albemarle County, the General Assembly was called into session to meet at John Jenkins's house. Capt. Gillam, John Culpeper, George Durant, John Willoughby, Richard Foster, James Blount, and William Crawford were present. This Assembly decreed that a loghouse ten or eleven feet square be built to imprison Thomas Miller and that he should have no writing materials nor should any friends be allowed to visit him.
He remained in custody until the Fall of 1679, when he escaped with the help of Henry Hudson and Timothy Biggs. Miller then went to London to tell his side of the story to the Lords Proprietors. A more complete telling of these events can be found in Thomas Miller's governor webpage herein.
|On December 27, 1677, the so-called "Rebel
Council" sent a letter to the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
about the "Eastchurch - Miller Ordeal." It was signed
- Richard Foster
- William Crawford
- Valentine Bird
- Thomas Cullen
- James Blount
|John Nixon of Pasquotank Precinct was a known member of the Executive Council from 1677-1679. He was the Deputy of Sir Peter Colleton.|
|Since Thomas Miller's tenure as Acting Governor was so short and so full of turmoil with him being imprisoned soon after attempting to get control of the Albemarle County government, it is most likely that he never convened a full gathering of his alleged Executive Council. But, if some did actually sit with him in a formal setting, no records of any of these few meetings have survived.|
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