Culpeper's Rebellion

1677 to 1679 

Albemarle County inhabitants were a mixture of adventurers, escapees from both civil and religious penalties, and younger sons of gentry who had come to seek their fortune where land would not be withheld from them by ancient traditions enforced by the long-standing English tradition called primogeniture. They were not well educated men, in the main, but they knew when their rights were being infringed and took swift, bold actions to remove those trying to enforce laws or regulations which they thought improper. Unlike their more religious New England trading partners, they based their government on physical and martial strength rather than religion.

Into this disparate group of settlers in 1677 returned Thomas Miller, a man who would be governor, but who had last been seen in the county in May of 1676 as he was being escorted in chains and under armed guard for trial in Virginia for blasphemy and treasonous words. He was acquitted and went on to London where his tale of irregularities in both government and customs collections was corroborated by Thomas Eastchurch, a former speaker of the Albemarle County House of Burgesses. Through a series of events, Miller returned to Albemarle County in July of 1677 to claim the position of Acting Governor. Within less than six months he was removed in what is today known as "Culpeper's Rebellion."

In the three years following Governor Samuel Stephens' death, Albemarle's factional problems had persisted. Peter Carteret, who in December 1664 had been named by the Lords Proprietors to the post of Assistant Governor of Albemarle County, was named Acting Governor by the Executive Council on 10 March 1670 to succeed Stephens. The Executive Council's action was permitted by Stephens' instructions from the Lords Proprietors.

The Governor and Executive Council in a May 1671 letter to the Lords Proprietors objected to the new rules of the Fundamental Constitutions relating to laying out land in squares of 10,000 acres, increased quit-rents, rules against engrossers of lands, and the inability of those representatives chosen by the people to make proposals in the General Assembly. They also mentioned continuing disorders in the county.

Several years of major setbacks in agricultural production, included major August hurricanes in 1667, 1669, and 1670, and three months of drought, followed by a full month of rain in August of 1668, had caused considerable difficulty for the agrarian economy of the county.

The combination of the agricultural difficulties and the disagreeable new rules imposed by the Fundamental Constitutions led in April of 1672 to the Executive Council instructing Governor Peter Carteret and John Harvey to go to London and present the colony's grievences to the Lords Proprietors. At least seven of the nine members of the Executive Council who took that action were later to be involved on the same side as Culpeper in the 1677 disturbances.

Carteret was praised by the Executive Council for "more unity & tranquility than ever before," but those are comparative terms indicating that not all the controversy had been resolved. Carteret's mission was doomed to failure. John Harvey traveled only to New York with Carteret before "more than Ordinaire accident & Ocassion of busisynes necesitated to returne."

In December of 1671, Thomas Eastchurch wrote from Virginia to Governor Carteret to complain about "some mens madness" and several persons pretending that he was in debt to them so that they could attack and otherwise spoil his estate. He confirmed receipt of letters to Carteret from the Lords Proprietors via a Mr. Holden and stated that in the same delivery he had also received his own appointment as Surveyor General for Albemarle County.

The background for Eastchurch's complaint probably is found in the record of the General Court held September 27 when the governor granted a warrant to Captain Thomas Cullen to take possession of "several goods of Mr. Thomas Easthurt." It was before this same court that John Culpeper had appeared in three actions related to the settlement of the Stephens estate. John Willoughby, a member of the Executive Council, was also in that court with an order against Herman Smewin for bringing a Mr. Thomas Eastchurch to the court.

Prior to his departure for England, Governor Peter Carteret appointed "Leftenant Collonell John Jenkins" to be his deputy to act for him with full authority until his return or other directions from the Lords Proprietors. Jenkins was one of a group of relatively longtime residents who were given land grants on September 25, 1663 by Lord William Berkeley. Others of that group included John Harvey and William Jennings, both members of the Executive Council in 1672.

Carteret's failure to return to Albemarle, whether because of knowledge of the negotiations with Berkeley or for other reasons such as a possible appointment of Eastchurch as governor, is not known, but no available documentation of guidance from London for about four years exists. John Jenkins was still serving as governor as late as March 12, 1675 and probably as late as July 26, 1675, when he took depositions for the trial of Thomas Miller for blasphemeous utterances.

Thomas Eastchurch had begun his political maneuvering as he sought the post of governor of Albemarle County prior to the 1673 death of his relative, the Lord Treasurer Clifford, and several of the Lords Proprietors had promised that he would have it. At the Albemarle County elections held in September of 1675, in conformance with the terms of the Fundamental Constitutions, Eastchurch and his faction acquired control of the House of Burgesses, and Eastchurch was elected its Speaker.

It appears that after Eastchurch gained control of the assembly, he arranged to have the Acting Governor, John Jenkins, arrested and imprisoned for several unnamed misdemeanors. In the short time that he was in control of the government, Eastchurch apparently used only the title of Speaker, and not that of Governor.

At about this time, commissions were also sent to Albemarle County for two collectors named Copeley and Birch, who were to gather the pence per pound tobacco duty imposed by the Plantation Duty Act of 1673. Neither of these men were in the country, and their commissions directed that, in their absence, the governor to assign others to that task. When the governor set about executing the commissions, he was opposed "underhand or clandestinlie" by William Crawford with other local inhabitants, plus some New England men who were then there trading.

Valentine Bird was appointed collector despite the opposition of the county's inhabitants to having any collector. Bird collected the duty until the Indian war broke out in 1676. Then George Durant, Valentine Bird, and a man named White persuaded the rest of the inhabitants, who were then in arms, to force the governor to reduce the duty from one pence (four farthings) to one farthing per pound on tobacco for the New England traders. Timothy Biggs, of the opposite faction, charged that George Durant, one of the original settlers and a prominent planter, had at that time a considerable quantity of tobacco to be shipped to New England.

In breaking their four-year silence, the Lords Proprietors, by their letter of 21 October 1676, acknowledged letters from the government in Albemarle County, dated November 17, 1675 and another dated March 28, 1676, both of which were delivered by Thomas Miller. They also commented on their discussions with Thomas Eastchurch and commended the government for its procedure with Lieutenant Colonel John Jenkins.

From the tone of the Lords Proprietors' letter, one has the impression that as late as March 18 Jenkins was still in prison, however, other evidence shows that on March 29 he was signing a statement which was sworn in court concerning the blasphemous words of Thomas Miller.

Miller apparently was prone to drink to excess, and when under in influence of alcohol, he spoke out with treasonous words against the king and blasphemous words against the church. Jenkins regained the governor's seat after having been released from prison by "a party of riotous persons in armes and these with some others vote him Generalissime." Jenkins turned out the Lords Proprietors' deputies and dissolved the Assembly, but it appeared to one anonymous observer that George Durant was really governing, since he was the most active and uncontrollable.

In view of the fact that George Durant called himself a mariner and that we have evidence of a number of his voyages, it seems unlikely that he was frequently available in the county. In fact, he gave a power of attorney to his wife, and she used it to appear in court, taking actions against others in financial matters.

Henry Hudson, a friend of Thomas Miller's, testified that in July of 1675 he was at the home of John Jenkins when he overheard Jenkins' wife, John Culpeper, and Thomas Willis conspiring to charge Thomas Miller with speaking treasonable words. Miller was brought before the Assembly of Albemarle County in March of 1676. Following that hearing, Acting Governor Jenkins committed Miller in irons as a prisoner, and in May of 1676 Miller was sent as a prisoner to Virginia for trial before Lord William Berkeley and the Virginia Council.

Despite any influence Culpeper may have had with Governor Berkeley, the Virginia Council acquitted Thomas Miller of the charges. Timothy Biggs, who attended the Virginia trial, brought this news back to Albemarle County. Culpeper was also in Jamestown at the time of Miller's trial, and he was seen several times in town with Miller after the trial.

He made an enemy in Thomas Miller by this testimony and this would probably be a major contributing factor in Miller's charges which led to Culpeper's trial in 1679 for high treason. In July of 1676, Thomas Miller embarked in the ship Constant for England, where he met with the Lords Proprietors to explain what had happened.

The Lords Proprietors were obviously uncertain about who was in charge in Albemarle County when they addressed their letter of October 21, 1676, "To the present Government and Assembly of the County of Albemarle."

In that letter the Lords Proprietors assured the colonists that there was no intention to relinquish control over their grant of Albemarle County. Yet, they recognized the apprehensions the colonists had of Sir William Berkeley, him being the sole proprietor in the colonies, and thus thinking it reasonable to take Thomas Miller to Berkeley for trial.

Objection was raised by the Lords Proprietors to anyone being tried in Virginia for crimes committed in Albemarle County since such action would prejudice their authority under the king's grant. The Lords Proprietors further stated their dislike of trying and condemning any person in either criminal or civil cases without a jury.

Unfortunately, little documentation is available for the period between 1672 when Governor Peter Carteret left the colony and July of 1677, when Thomas Miller arrived and claimed his appointment as surrogate governor for the officially appointed Thomas Eastchurch.

The dates of the travel of Thomas Eastchurch to England and who was in charge of Albemarle County's government between March 1676 and July 1677 are not known. Nor is it clear when George Durant talked to the Lords Proprietors in England and "declared to some of ye Proprs that Eastchurch should not be Governor & threatened to revolt."

Durant's threat could have been made any time between the backing of Eastchurch for governor by the Lord Treasurer in or before 1673 and Durant's October of 1677 departure from England on the voyage with Captain Zachariah Gillam.

By 1677, the scene was set for another confrontation between the opposing factions. Eastchurch as governor-appointee and Miller as Secretary and Collector of Customs, holding their commissions from the Lords Proprietors and the Commissioners of Customs, were enroute back to Albemarle County. Their opponents were apparently in nominal charge of the government there.

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 America. 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."

The President of the Executive Council normally acted as governor in that official's absence. 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.

Previous writers, using the testimony prepared for the November of 1680 trial of John Culpeper, have stated that Miller outfitted, manned, and sailed the shallop to North Carolina at his own cost for use in collecting customs and as defense for the colony in his role as commander-in-chief. A recently found deposition from a crewman on that voyage shows that Miller was only a passenger, and that the master, Solomon Summers, was directed by the shallop's owner, Thomas Leech, to return in 40 days with the proceeds from their cargo of calico, salt, and powder.

The voyage had begun on May 20, 1677 but was not completed until July 9, 1677, an extraordinarily long time for such a short trip. On arrival in Albemarle County, the shallop was anchored off Timothy Biggs' landing. Miller and Summers, along with Leech's boy, took lodgings with Biggs, and the goods from the shallop were placed in Biggs' storehouse. Some of the calico was used for clothing for Biggs and his wife as well as for Miller. Additional calico was used for curtains and valences on Miller's bed.

The salt was used for preparing meat to be shipped to Antigua in Biggs' sloop. Miller, however, refused to account to Summers for the shallop's goods. The inhabitants of Albemarle County were told that Miller was the owner of the shallop's goods, and since those goods, which had not been distributed, were kept at Biggs' storehouse, no one doubted this statement.

On March 15, 1680 Summers stated in an affidavit to the Lords of the Treasury that he departed Bermuda on May 20, 1677 and arrived in Albemarle County on July 9. He further indicated that from that time until December 4 of the same year, he and his crew were employed by Miller for the prevention of frauds by stopping New England traders using the new inlet of the county.

Summers claimed £84 14s. 3d. as being due him for this work, yet recently found testimony from William Hammond, a resident of the county during that time, claimed that Summers had been so badly abused by Miller and Timothy Biggs that both Summers and Leech's boy had to take refuge in Durant's house prior to his ultimate departure in December.

Richard Gamble also testified that the shallop's sails were kept in the Biggs storehouse after Summers moved to Durant's house. During a May of 1678 trip to London with Gillam and Durant, Summers freely thanked Durant for the debt he owed to Durant's wife for entertaining him prior to Durant's return in December of 1677.

We see here evidence of a systematic process of thievery by Miller against Summers, and then later Summers pleading for relief from the English treasury for work not actually done. Miller was in London at the time Summers submitted his petition and could have protested this claim had he wished, but there is no evidence of his doing so.

We also see the close tie between Thomas Miller and Timothy Biggs, the two main sources for information on which much of the history previously written about this event has been based.

Some authors have said that Miller required armed force to establish his position as President of the Executive Council and Acting Governor, but neither Miller nor Solomon Summers, master of the shallop Success, report any such difficulties. We also find that another observer, as well as one of Miller's deputy collectors, Timothy Biggs, confirmed that "all people haveing quietly submitted... & the New England Men complied in payeing their duty."

Henry Hudson, appointed a Deputy Collector by President Miller, made no mention in his deposition of any difficulty on Miller's arrival. The Lords Proprietors in their summary of the case in February of 1680 wrote that Miller "is quyetly received into ye Governmt."

Similar words are used by the Lords Proprietors in their November 20, 1680 final statement on the affair. A remonstrance from Quakers in Albemarle County declared that "Miller was received as President by the Inhabitants of this County."

The one place where we find documentation of armed resistance at Miller's arrival is in the unsigned document entitled "Representation to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina Concerning the Rebellion in that Country. To be Made use of in Further Examinations."

That anonymous author stated, "Bird and the rest of the subscribers were the first that took armes and opposed Miller at his first landing."

Without knowing either the full meaning of the "first landing" or author of this piece, we cannot evaluate his bias or his access to the facts.

Solomon Summers does report "upon ye 2d or 3d day of ye sd Miller's arrivall there was great abuse & affronts offered to him ... by some of ye inhabitants there." Summers also reported a violent assault by "Patt White" at Richard Foster's house when White "swearing yt he could freely run his knife were itt not for feare of ye law into ye sd Miller . . . many other words to this or worse purpose uttered by . . . White & his wife & others . . . "

Dangerous words to be sure, even felonious words in those times, but they hardly fit the twentieth century usage of "armed resistance." One must conclude that Miller was received peaceably despite the prior attempts to prosecute him for his intemperate language.

Culpeper's reaction to Miller's arrival is not known. Mattie Erma Parker has written a comprehensive study of the "Legal Aspects of 'Culpeper's Rebellion'" in which she shows that Miller was not on firm legal ground in assuming the position of Acting Governor. She also makes extensive use of a then recently found, but as yet unpublished, narrative by Timothy Biggs, which discusses events of the Miller administration in the second half of 1677.

Regardless of how he was received, Miller gained control of the government in the summer of 1677 as President of the Executive Council and promptly began to follow his instructions from Thomas Eastchurch to set the affairs of the county in order.

Summers reported that Miller "reduced & quietted ye Indians settled ye Malitia brought ye Inhabitants to a good ordr & peaceable decorum & lastly settled his Majtys affaires in reference to the customes & all this done wthout ye least dropp of bloodshed wch peaceable & quiett posture of affaires to ye then general satisfaction of ye Inhabitants soe continued from July aforesd nothwthstanding the seditious designes of a few there till Xber [December] following."

Another report of Miller's actions on his arrival is the Biggs narrative, which was written about January of 1678. Biggs wrote that Miller arrived about July 15, 1677 with various commissions, including one for himself to act as governor in Albemarle County and as deputy to one of the Lords Proprietors. Miller called a meeting of the Assembly, whose power the Lords Proprietors had confirmed until the new elections scheduled for September under the Fundamental Constitutions could be held.

Major Richard Foster, designated as deputy for Sir George Carteret, initially declined the appointment and even allowed his home to be used by Patrick White to abuse Miller. Foster later relented and accepted Carteret's commission as well as one as Deputy Collector of the county from Miller.

The representatives from Currituck precinct declined to appear at the scheduled Assembly meeting, claiming the press of business, but Miller proceeded with the meeting and presented the instructions, commissions, and orders which he had brought from London and from Eastchurch. Prior to adjourning, the Assembly appointed a court to begin clearing cases, some of which had been pending for three or four years. The court found several persons guilty of sundry misdemeanors, and Biggs claimed that to protect the court from danger, Miller was forced to have a guard of men in arms.

It would appear that the only protection required was from the inhabitant's reaction to Miller's attempts to acquire excessive power. This is supported by the recently found depositions which contain statements that Miller assembled the guard for his personal protection. The depositions also alleged that the guard consisted of thirty to forty men of bad repute who had assisted Bacon in his rebellion in Virginia and who had fled or been run out of that colony after Bacon's death.

In addition to the previously noted irony that Culpeper (with possible connections to Berkeley) was a member of the faction described by some writers as anti-Proprietor, we see here that Miller was supporting the so-called Proprietor faction with fugitives from Bacon's Rebellion. Again we have evidence that while the factions certainly existed, they did not see themselves as primarily pro- or anti-Proprietor.

As the time for elections approached, Miller obtained the consent of the appointed deputies to issue the necessary writs for the election of burgesses. Miller's instructions that accompanied the writs, however, called for new election procedures requiring the use of ballots and specifically excluded certain persons who opposed Miller. Even though some of those whom Miller had excluded were elected anyway, Miller's supporters would not allow them to serve.

This led to considerable dissension among the inhabitants. The accepted members of the Assembly met with the appointed deputies and with Miller as President to elect Thomas Cullen Speaker. This Assembly set a tax levy to cover the cost of the recent Indian wars, and since there had been no levy for the two preceding years, it was high. In addition to "omitting many hainous matters" Miller was later accused in a remonstrance drawn up by Culpeper of denying free elections of an Assembly, cheating the county of 130,000 pounds of tobacco, and raising the levy to 250 pounds of tobacco more than it otherwise would have been to pay for his "pipeing guard."

To assist him in collecting customs, Miller appointed Timothy Biggs and Henry Hudson to be his Deputy Collectors. They recovered a £500 sterling bond given by Valentine Bird, the collector serving at Miller's arrival, for allowing ships to depart without paying the required duties; seized a £200 sterling bond from John Willoughby for allowing John Liscomb, a New England trader, to sail for New England with 70 tons of tobacco without paying the necessary customs; and forced Richard Foster, a Deputy Collector and then member of the Executive Council, to surrender a bond of 410 hogsheads of tobacco. The total of these bonds and tobacco, plus other seizures and customs, was £1242 8s. 1d., in addition to 817 hogsheads of tobacco and the vessel Patience.

According to Timothy Biggs, all was quiet until the December 1, 1677 arrival of Captain Gillam's ship from London with George Durant on board. In the newly-found depositions made by other residents of Albemarle County during that time, we find a different view. John Wood, who was in Albemarle County from 1677 until May 1679, declared in an August 4, 1681 deposition that three or four days prior to the arrival of Gillam's ship, Miller had commanded the inhabitants to bring their arms to him.

Peter Brockwell, who was in Albemarle County from October 1677 until about 1680, also deposed on July 25, 1681 that when Miller feared that the country would not endure his government, he sent out warrants in his name for the inhabitants to bring their arms to him. Thus Miller's own actions had created the climate for rebellion prior to the arrival of Gillam's ship. This is at significant variance from previous histories of this event in that it clarifies the immediate readiness of many inhabitants to oppose openly Miller's government.

The newly found depositions also show that another factor in the readiness of the colony to revolt against Miller was that he had threatened to hang George Durant. John Wood deposed that he had on several occasions heard Miller say that he would hang Durant at his own home as soon as he returned. Peter Brockwell confirmed that threat.

Miller may have said this because of a report from England that Durant would turn rebel if Thomas Eastchurch became governor or Miller may have been present when the statement was made by Durant. The proposal to hang Durant at his home was not necessarily an indication of special vindictiveness on Miller's part, since Durant's home was then the normal meeting place for the primary court, and all the necessary apparatus for punishment was installed there. This threat to Durant's life has not been mentioned in previous histories of this disturbance.

The Navigation Act of 1663 required the master of each ship arriving in a colonial port to report to the governor the name of the ship, the name of the master, certification that the ship was English built, that the ship's crew was three-fourths English, and a complete inventory of her cargo showing where it was loaded. This action had to take place before any unloading or loading could commence.

On the evening of his arrival and anchoring at Pasquotank, Captain Gillam proceeded ashore with a four or five man boat crew to make his report to Miller, who was both Acting Governor and Collector of Customs. "180 hogsheads," was Gillam's response to Miller's question of how much tobacco Gillam had carried out of the country in the previous year. Miller then requested payment of one penny per pound for that tobacco, but Gillam responded that he had already paid the customs in England and had aboard his ship the necessary port clearances and certificates to prove those payments.

Miller demanded that he be paid before the ship left the country and then arrested Gillam, seized his papers, and imprisoned both Gillam and his boat crew. Several authors have written that Miller placed the ship's crew in confinement, but Gillam's testimony indicates that only the four or five men who accompanied him ashore in the ship's boat were taken into custody. The recently found depositions of two of his crew members who accompanied Gillam ashore also confirm that only Gillam and his shore party were arrested by Miller. The correct nautical usage, certainly that used by Captain Gillam, and that shown in the Oxford English Dictionary as then current, was to use "boat" only for those waterborne craft carried on a ship. In his deposition from which much of the above information is taken Gillam uses the word "ship" six times and only once mentions "boat"; the latter in connection with his the imprisonment of himself and his boat crew.

Miller was wrong in demanding the payment of taxes in Carolina for that tobacco being shipped directly to England. The Navigation Act of 1673 (Plantation Duty Act) provided that one could give an adequate bond that the tobacco was being taken to England, Wales, or the town of Berwick upon Tweed, there to be unloaded and put on shore. Only when such bond was not given was the payment of one penny per pound duty on tobacco required.

The remonstrance published by the rebels later indicated that Gillam had been placed under a £1,000 sterling bond and that some inhabitants had to persuade him not to depart immediately. In view of his cargo and the size of the alleged bond, it seems most unlikely that Gillam would have left without selling his goods. Gillam, however, failed to mention the bond in either his February 1680 testimony or in his recently found August 1681 deposition. One must conclude that Miller requested, but never received, a bond from Gillam.

Previous histories of this event have discussed Miller's proceeding to Gillam's ship the evening of Gillam's arrest and arresting or attempting to arrest George Durant, and that Gillam returned to the ship about midnight to find Miller still aboard. There has always been some question whether or not Durant was mate of Gillam's ship.

The newly-found depositions of members of the Carolina's crew confirm that George Durant was the Chief Mate of the Carolina at her August 1677 launching at Limehouse, England, on her trip to Albemarle County between October 1677 and December 1, 1677, and on her return to England from May to July of 1678.

Durant had remained on the ship in Gillam's absence as the next senior ship's officer and was in charge of the security of the vessel and its cargo. On the day of the ship's arrival, Peter Brockwell, who had been residing in Albemarle County since October of 1677, went aboard to warn Durant of Miller's hanging threat, and Durant relayed that information on to Gillam.

Brockwell remained aboard with Durant when Gillam went ashore. Brockwell reports that "Miller sent & commanded" Durant to come ashore. Durant refused and increased the security of the ship by posting a sentinel. Others who were not on board that night indicated that Miller came aboard with loaded pistols, one of which he pointed at Durant's breast, but Durant refused to yield, and Miller remained on the ship until Gillam returned about midnight.

The weight of the evidence, including the testimony of Miller himself, is that Miller gained access to Gillam's ship, but that he failed in his attempt to make Durant a prisoner. It was Miller who was made a prisoner, and at the February 1680 hearing for Gillam in London, Miller complained of having been kept prisoner for more than one and a half hours after Gillam's return to the ship.

After Miller came aboard, was disarmed, and placed under guard, he was probably told that he would not be released until Gillam and his boat crew were freed and allowed to return to their ship. This would account for Gillam and his boat crew being released so late at night and for Miller complaining about being kept prisoner after Gillam's return to the ship. Miller certainly would not have wanted the captain of the ship or any of his boat crew released from custody before he was able to capture Durant. This removal from harm's way of a portion of the crew was probably the reason for Miller imprisoning Gillam and his men when they came ashore.

Two days after Gillam's arrival, a group inspired by Valentine Bird and led by Edward Wells came armed with muskets and swords to Timothy Biggs' house in Perquimans precinct. After breaking open chests and locks they found Miller's commission and instructions for collecting customs as well as his records. All of these papers were taken to William Crawford's house.

The following day a group of thirty to forty men from Pasquotank precinct also led by Bird and Wells seized Miller, John Nixon, and Timothy Biggs in Pasquotank and imprisoned them at Crawford's Pasquotank home. At this time Gillam's ship was anchored off Crawford's house.

If we are to believe Miller's affidavit, a number of the ringleaders including Bird, Crawford, and Wells went aboard following Miller's capture to join Culpeper and Durant. Bird and his friends left the ship with new cutlasses for themselves and their supporters. It is noteworthy that Miller made no claim that Gillam was supplying firearms to those who opposed Miller.

Gillam later testified that he did not know of Miller's imprisonment for two days since he was aboard his ship. In view of the problems experienced on his first trip ashore, it seems reasonable that Gillam would stay on the ship to ensure her security as well as that of her cargo.

Recently found depositions from crew members show that Durant remained on the ship for about two weeks after Miller was seized even though the ship was anchored only about 20 miles from his home in Perquimans precinct. At the same time it seems doubtful that news of Miller's capture took two days to reach Gillam and Durant in their ship.

On December 3, Culpeper drew up a remonstrance to explain to the rest of the inhabitants of the province why Miller had been imprisoned and his records seized. A letter signed by Culpeper, Bird, and Crawford was sent to Richard Foster at his home in Currituck precinct to inform him of their progress and directing him to seek the election of new burgesses as well as to seize and bring Henry Hudson to Durant's house.

Foster made Hudson a prisoner and summoned the inhabitants of Currituck precinct to choose burgesses for a new Assembly. Hudson was forced to attend the election even though he was that day to receive one hundred hogsheads of tobacco for customs from John Williams, a New England trader, who subsequently sailed without any duty having been collected.

At the election many spoke out against Landgraves and Caciques, positions of nobility under Carolina's Fundamental Constitutions. Foster stopped this treasonous outcry, and with yet one more cry of derision against the Lords Proprietors, the crowd began to choose their burgesses. Following their selection, the electors instructed the new burgesses that they should absolutely insist on free trade for tobacco so that it could be sold anywhere without payment of duty to the king. Miller was also denounced for cheating the country of 135,000 pounds of tobacco now held for the king but which the people thought should belong to them.

About the sixth of December, Culpeper went to Chowan precinct and there seized the Marshal of the county, Edward Wade, along with his papers. On Culpeper's return Miller's clerk was seized. Shortly afterwards, an armed party from Chowan arrived at Crawford's house with the Marshal their prisoner.

After Miller and other deputies had been held close prisoner for fourteen or fifteen days, they were escorted to Durant's house in several guard boats filled with armed men. There the prisoners were again held close and not permitted to talk to one another. As the prisoners and their escorting guards passed Gillam's ship, three guns were fired as a salute and another three were fired when they arrived at Durant's house.

The following day a group of armed men headed by Bird found Miller's commissions and other papers as well as the great seal of the county in a box that had been hidden in a tobacco hogshead. The box was returned to Durant's house where it was broken open in the presence of Culpeper, Crawford, and Durant. At the beat of a drum 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.

The mob then made merry with money belonging to Miller, their merriment made more exuberant with drink provided by Gillam. Gillam later testified that he always tried to attend court days, since so large a gathering of people made sales easier. Gillam also confessed that he did serve drink to his customers at that December 1677 court, and he saw to it that Miller got his share.

The mob expressed its dislike of the king's proclamations and of the Lords Proprietors' authority. Meanwhile, scouts and parties were being sent throughout the countryside to "Threaten, seize, disarm, imprison, or chase out of ye Country all in authority or office or any else that would not Joyn with ym." No specific mention is made of the "pipeing guard" after the arrival of Gillam's ship although it was not effective in protecting Miller against seizure. They were also most likely those members who were being chased out of the country back to Virginia.

Miller and the other prisoners were held at Durant's house for four or five days until Foster arrived with 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. Jenkins, Bird, Crawford, 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 asserted that he believed that only four of the jury could read or write.

Two stories of the actions of this jury emerged from the testimony. Miller, who was most directly concerned, treated the matter somewhat casually. Hudson, on the other hand, delivered a highly-colored description of the events. Miller testified that the jury went out with such articles as Culpeper, their chief councillor and scribe, and George Durant, their attorney general, had contrived against Miller. The jury quickly returned, and, as the foreman blurted out in open court, "did what ye sd Culpeper had ordered him to do."

Grand juries were expected to return either Billa Vera (true bill) or Ignoramus (we ignore the bill). Hudson's story of these events is that the foreman consulted with Culpeper, their collector, chief scribe and counsellor, about what verdict he should bring in. Culpeper told him that he must "Indoss Billa vera." The jury went out and quickly returned, but the foreman had put down "Bill of Error."'

While the court looked on with amazement, Culpeper snatched the paper from the foreman and told the court that it was only a mistake of the foreman, but the foreman said he had done as Culpeper had told him. The bill was then mended and without the jury retiring for a second time, and a true bill rendered. Hudson further testified that this series of events was confirmed to him by Foster and others of the court. The representation to the Lords Proprietors made by an unknown person at an unknown time, but which sounds much like the words of Biggs, confirms that Durant altered the verdict of a jury in the case of Thomas Miller.

Miller later accused the sheriff of being drunk when he gathered a petit jury from the crowd. Another New England trader, Joseph Winslow, was selected as jury foreman, but the proceedings were stopped at that point by the receipt of a proclamation from Governor Eastchurch, who had landed in Virginia eight or nine days earlier. Culpeper, as Miller claimed, "corruptly abbreviated and transcribed [the proclamation] and so by him published to the rabble the originall ... not suffered to bee seen or published to the Inhabitants ... "

Armed men were sent north to oppose Eastchurch and to prevent him from entering the county. Miller and the other prisoners were sent to separate places of confinement where they were allowed no writing materials. Culpeper was appointed collector. The Assembly and Court were broken up and went to their homes. Some, however, stopped aboard Gillam's ship where they were entertained to the firing of several of the ship's guns.

Foster, Crawford and Culpeper were seen to go aboard in a boat with Gillam, who shortly thereafter "opened store and traded with ye Insurrectors chiefly." It was this armed opposition to Eastchurch, the governor appointed by the Lords Proprietors, that should have been punished, but the point was never stressed in the subsequent court proceedings.

In the newly-found deposition by Gillam, we find the remarkable statement that at Miller's trial Durant approached Gillam with the request that he do what he could to try to prevent some members of the court from demanding Miller's death. Durant reported that he had already spent some time on his own trying to prevent such action until after they had heard from the Lords Proprietors. This statement, if true, would do much to reduce the impression previously held of the strong political power of George Durant in Albemarle County.

Four or five weeks later Thomas Eastchurch died in Virginia. This event may be considered the thermidor of the 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 General Assembly was called into session to meet at Jenkins' house. Gillam, Culpeper, Durant, John Willoughby, Foster, James Blount, and Crawford were present. This Assembly decreed that a loghouse ten or eleven feet square be built to imprison Miller and that he should have no writing materials nor should any friends be allowed to visit him.

Biggs was also placed in custody but escaped a short time later. Miller said in his affidavit that when the rebels found that Biggs had escaped from prison, they sent two agents, John Willoughby and George Durant, to England to present their side of the story to the Lords Proprietors. The evidence for this is missing and it probably did not happen since Durant did not leave for England until May of 1678. The newly-found deposition of a crew member on that voyage makes no mention of Willoughby.

John Culpeper was not a key figure in the new government, since his only documented position was that of Collector. Not even Miller in his later testimony in England spoke of Culpeper holding any other position except those associated with the events surrounding the first few days after his overthrow. Biggs did not mention Culpeper in his January 1678 narrative. Culpeper seems to have been a man capable of using his pen to good effect, but even his fellow conspirators were unwilling to give him a senior position in the new government.

The assignment of the name "Culpeper's Rebellion" appears first in George Chalmers' 1780 work "Political Annals" where he writes of "Culpepper's rebellion" despite the position of the Lords Proprietors that no rebellion had occurred since Miller was not legally the governor. Chalmers may have used this name since only Culpeper was ever tried in connection with this disturbance. He may not have been aware of the 1681 suit brought in Chancery Court by Durant against Miller, Summers, and Leech.

Later authors added the capital letter to 'rebellion.'

John Hill Wheeler, in his 1851 "Historical Sketches of North Carolina from 1584 to 1851," is the first writer found to have capitalized 'Rebellion,' but then only in the index.

Francis L. Hawks, in his "History of North Carolina," mentions "George Durant, who countenanced Culpepper's rebellion".

William L. Saunders, in his preface to the first volume of "The Colonial Records of North Carolina," published in 1886, is the first writer found to use the full term 'Culpeper Rebellion' in his text as he says, "In 1677 began the Culpeper Rebellion, so-called."

Thereafter, the term "Culpeper's Rebellion" is used in most histories which discuss the event. The authenticity of the printed records, and Saunders' clear dislike of the English and all connected with them may have given undue authority to Saunders' acceptance of this mistaken name for the event.

After escaping from confinement in Albemarle County, Biggs appeared before the Lords Proprietors in April of 1678 and proposed that they send a vessel with eight or ten guns to put down the rebellion. This proposal was put on the calendar of the King and Privy Council but was subsequently withdrawn at the request of the Lords Proprietors.

At this time the English government was trying to decide if it should go to war with France in support of the Dutch. During the spring peace negotiations resolved that issue, but the government was quickly embroiled in consideration of paying off the army. Lord Shaftesbury, the senior of the Lords Proprietors at the time, was leading the opposition party and probably had little time for concerns in Albemarle County and the New World.

In September of 1678, Biggs received from customs officials a commission as Comptroller and Surveyor General of Customs in Albemarle County, and by February of 1679 he was back in Albemarle County attempting to exercise that commission.

Culpeper took exception to Biggs trying to take upon himself all functions of the king's affairs including entering and clearing vessels since the latter task was that of the collector. Culpeper tore down the notice to this effect which Biggs had posted and put up a notice of his own addressed to all inhabitants of Albemarle County and stating that he would seize and bring to trial anyone who attempted to clear their vessels through Biggs.

In addition to Biggs attempting to assume all the king's affairs in the colony, he was accused by Attorney General George Durant of helping Thomas Miller to escape. Threats against Biggs continued, and he again fled through Virginia to England.

On February 5, 1679, the Lords Proprietors appointed John Harvey as President of the Executive Council to act as governor of Albemaarle County until the arrival of Seth Sothell, a new Lords Proprietor who had been sent to be governor but was captured en route by Algerian pirates and was still their prisoner. The instructions given Harvey were much the same as those sent to previous governors.

From the spring 1672 departure of Governor Peter Carteret until the arrival of the commission of President of the Executive Council for John Harvey in 1679, the Lords Proprietors were not in control of Albemarle County, either in theory or in practice. Even after 1679 they had but little control since those who had been in power following the overthrow of Thomas Miller managed to acquire many of the important positions in the new government.

Robert Holden, recently appointed Collector of Customs, arrived in Albemarle County in the summer of 1679 after a stop in Boston. During his Boston visit, Holden determined that collection of customs in Albemarle County were being handled by "one Mr. Culpeper" and that they "were never more infatuated, cheated, and exhausted."

Between August and November, 1679, Thomas Miller escaped from custody with the assistance of several of his friends, including Biggs and Henry Hudson. Miller and Hudson went to England to inform the Lords Proprietors of the events recently taking place in Albemarle County.

Lord Shaftesbury had just lost a fight on the Exclusion Act in the House of Lords and was probably not interested in further offending the king. Initially, the Lords Proprietors supported the testimony of Miller and Hudson, but as additional information became available, King Charles II ordered the Lords Proprietors to appear before the Lords of the Committee of Trade and Foreign Plantations and to bring with them a copy of their charter. Since the Virginia charter had been revoked following a similar procedure, the Lords Proprietors looked very carefully at all of the information available to them before responding.

Miller's complaints, however, were sufficient to cause the Privy Council to issue on December 19, 1679 an arrest order for John Culpeper, who was then aboard a ship at Downes, a protected rendezvous for ships off the English east coast of Kent near Deal. He was arrested at Downes before the ship could depart for Albemarle County and imprisoned in Newgate. By an 11 February 1680 order of the Privy Council, Culpeper was charged with treason after he had acknowledged the facts before the Committee of Trade and Plantations.

Despite a Habeas Corpus bill passed by the Parliament in April of 1679, which required that prisoners be given a speedy trial, Culpeper was held in prison until his November 20, 1680 treason trial. The response of the Lords Proprietors to the king's order for more information was delivered in an address by Lord Shaftesbury who stated that Miller "without any legall authority gott possession of the government." This statement and the rest of Shaftesbury's testimony resulted in the acquittal of Culpeper on charges of rebellion, despite Culpeper's previous acknowledgment of the facts and the testimony against him by Miller, Hudson, Brockwell, Summers, and John Taylor.

Later documentation on John Culpeper appears only in brief court records for minor legal actions between 1683 and 1691. He died in Albemarle County sometime between June 11, 1691 and February of 1694.

John Culpeper may have moved in the social circles of the powerful in Albemarle County because of his relationship with Governor William Berkeley of Virginia. He was not a powerful man in the politics of the county and never achieved a higher position than that of Collector of Customs, but he was apparently adept with a pen and at administrative details. That his name was associated with the disturbance was simply an accident of his being in England at the time Miller arrived, and he was thus easily captured and held for the only trial known to come out of the event.

That he was guilty of diverting the royal customs monies from the king, there is no doubt: that he was the prime mover in the overthrow of Miller, there is no evidence. It was more than 200 years before William Saunders firmly attached the name "Culpeper's Rebellion" to the events of December of 1677, even though a better name for them would be "Miller's Debacle."

This event forced the public recognition in England that, at least in Albemarle County, the colonists were successfully evading the navigation acts passed by the English Parliament. The armed resistance to Miller was excused by the finding that Miller was never legally authorized to act as governor. The question of armed resistance to governor-designate Thomas Eastchurch, who had impeccable credentials from the Lords Proprietors, was never raised and therefore never resolved.

The latter resistance was clearly a rebellion which can be more clearly identified with George Durant than John Culpeper because of Durant's threat of rebellion spoken to the Lords Proprietors.

It is reasonable to assume that the natural sequel to Thomas Miller's removal was the rejection of Eastchurch, and the arrival of Eastchurch at the height of emotions during Miller's trial simply eased the problem of raising a resistance force. It was the fortuitous death of Eastchurch shortly after the border guard was set that avoided the colonists being in armed conflict with a 200-man force, which even then Eastchurch was assembling in Virginia.

The obsessive concern of Miller for his own affairs probably deflected attention from the far more serious matter of the resistance to Eastchurch, and the Lords Proprietors who feared that they might lose their charter were willing accomplices in minimizing any appearance of undue unrest in their colony. Lord Shaftesbury, who was acting as Palatine for the Lords Proprietors, already had more than enough problems in his dealings with the king than to allow such an insignificant place as Albemarle County to further strain that relationship.

The faction which Culpeper supported recognized that rules and appointments made three thousand miles away simply did not work well on the frontier of a newly-colonized land in a widely-scattered group of less than a thousand adult white males. The colony's inhabitants were successful in adapting many rules to meet their needs.

The Lords Proprietors tried to obtain good men to fill their government positions, but the only type of individual who was willing to accept such a position and be good at it had a natural aggressiveness, personal ambition, and low morals that required a great deal more direct supervision than could be brought to bear from the far away offices in London. The Lords Proprietors were remiss in often sending from England men who were more interested in their own wealth than in justly governing Albemarle County. They obviously were more concerned with their own positions in the rapidly changing conditions around them in England than those in Albemarle County and as a result were poor stewards of their charter.

The recently found depositions reveal five significant new points about these events.

First, Miller's demand that all the inhabitants turn in their weapons to him meant that even prior to the arrival of Gillam and Durant the country was in turmoil.

Second, Miller had threatened to hang George Durant immediately on his return.

Third, Miller's guard was a personal force manned by fugitives from Bacon's Rebellion.

Fourth, Miller did not pay for the shallop which brought him to Albemarle County to be his armed custom's boat.

Fifth, George Durant may not have had as much political power in Albemarle County as he has previously been credited with; in fact, the overthrow of Miller seems to have been more of a grass roots movement with no single strong leader.

Other minor points have also been made clearer by these documents. Perhaps their greatest contribution is that they present the other side of the story from that upon which most histories to date have had to rely. The credibility of these depositions comes from the consistency of their contents despite the fact that they were taken over a period of several months rather than all at the same time from a group in close association with one another as was the case in the previously used testimony related to John Culpeper's trial.

There are probably more manuscripts on these events that are still to be discovered. Searches which seem most promising are in Barbados and the Sir William Berkeley records to determine more about the Albemarle citizen, John Culpeper.

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 county, 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 access to direct shipments to England.

The factions which developed in Albemarle County were not pro- or anti-Proprietors but were power groups struggling for personal or financial reasons. Edward Hyde pointed out that similar underlying flaws in government were at the heart of the seventeenth-century revolutions in England.

Thus, the December of 1677 events in Albemarle County represented a continuation of similar disturbances in England rather than the beginning of a new trend of independence movements in America.

William S. Smith, Jr.
Raleigh, North Carolina
April 1990

With minor edits by this Author.

Click Here for complete version with more background and analysis, and with the Author's minor edits.


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved