John the Merchant
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John Culpeper the Merchant

By William A. "Bill" Russell, Jr.
Alexandria, Virginia

Culpepper Connections Note: This page contains a series of e-mails written by Bill Russell and responded to by Lew Griffin on the topic of John Culpeper, the Merchant. They are presented below in chronological order.

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23 May 2000:

I would like to [offer] some theories that I have about John Culpeper (of Lancaster)  the merchant.

First, John was clearly a ship owner with business interests throughout the colonies. He had been away from England for some time when he returned to protect his brothers estate in 1651. Their interests were probably more entangled than just their common ownership of the Thomas and John. It would appear that they may have owned a trading company with points of presence in England, Barbados, New England, and Virginia. Indeed, John probably had sons or sons-in-law in those places to carry out their trading business. I suspect that Hannah who married Edward Frisbie and Susannah who married Francis Lindley were both daughters. Edward Frisbie was from another prominent merchant trading family in Norfolk County, VA and removed to New England. Francis Lindley ended up in New Jersey after having lived in New England. I also believe the John Culpeper "the Carolina Rebel" was a son of John the merchant.

Second, John the Merchant was also John the lawyer, a fact we sometimes overlook and which may go some ways to unraveling some of the confusion over the various Johns. John the Merchant was at the Middle Temple as was his brother Thomas. More importantly, he was there at the same time as Gov. Sir William Berkeley. I believe that it was John the Merchant who represented the legal interests of Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley before the courts in North Carolina and who attested to Berkeley's signature on the deed to Roanoke Island in New England. Who better to entrust to such a job than the Governor's wife's uncle, a lawyer who owned a ship able to travel to North Carolina and New England on short notice and who personally knew the Governor. He makes a more logical candidate for the job than the relative young "Carolina Rebel" who had no legal training and may not have even reached North Carolina by the time in question.

Third, John the Merchant had known trading interests and presence in New England and Barbados. Charleston, SC was settled originally by groups from both places and it is possible the John the Rebel was his father's representative in those areas. Culpeper's Rebellion in North Carolina - really Albemarle -, was fomented by New England merchant traders. If John the Merchant handled the sale of Roanoke Island for Governor Berkeley, it is clear that the Lamb family who purchased it were friends of Sarah Mayo, John the Rebel's wife.1 From the records it would appear that John the Rebel arrived in Albemarle after the John Culpeper who was in court in the sale of the property, yet the later buyers were well familiar with John the Rebel's family. The Lamb family who bought Roanoke Island were also New England merchant traders who maintained a family presence in the Albemarle region of North Carolina.

The above is partly theory based upon available records. I believe that John the Merchant was the father of Hannah and Susannah of New England, Henry of Virginia, and John the Rebel. He may also have been the father of some of the Barbados Culpepers.

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24 May 2000, Lew Griffin responded

... I think we are in complete agreement at the moment, on the (theoretical) identity of the early John Culpeper of Lancaster, the Merchant. As you'll note in the Family Tree, we already list Henry, John the Rebel, and the Connecticut sisters, as his probable children. I wish we could learn more about John, the Sheriff of Northampton, as other than having been sheriff for a few years, left a young widow, etc., there seem to be few surviving details on him. I still feel (as I assume you do) that he was probably John, son of Thomas, and brother of Frances Culpeper Berkeley... My current confusion, in looking at various early records of a John Culpeper serving in a legal capacity, is whether they apply to this John, or to his uncle John, previously mentioned...

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25 May 2000, Bill responded:

Let me pull my notes on John the son of Thomas out of storage. If he came to Virginia with the rest of his family, he was only 18 when he left England. He could, of course, have had some training at law in Virginia by reading law - serving as an attorney's clerk while learning the law. He was at least literate enough to serve as clerk and sheriff. It is not clear one way or the other whether or not he was acting as an attorney - he may well have been.

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25 May 2000, Lew responded:

I'll be interested to see what you can find in your notes on John the son of Thomas Culpeper (1602-1652?) of the Middle Temple (Fairfax Harrison's "John the Rebel"). As far as I can tell, Fairfax Harrison does not mention any legal schooling for this John. And as you point out, this John was probably only age 18 or less when he left England. So chances are, he was not the one found acting as an attorney in Albemarle, even though, apparently, he was sheriff in Northampton Co., VA, for two years, some years later. The puzzle is, other than those two years as sheriff, what did he spend the rest of his life doing?

Given the lack of records, I'm wondering if (instead of being John "the Rebel") he was a fun-loving ne'er do well, who took advantage of his status, and his family background, and who just decided to have a good time in early colonial America, where standards must have been lax, and ministers were few and far between. Perhaps he was a devotee of cock fighting, horse racing, etc., until the money ran out, and then he managed to secure the job as sheriff of Northampton. He certainly does not seem to have been a family man, with a wife and eight children and a big and successful plantation.

There is no record that he had any children at all, since his land reverted to the State of Virginia after his death. Or if he was not a profligate, then perhaps he was a merchant, like his uncle John "the Merchant" and was part of John "the Merchant's" trade network. Or perhaps some combination of both.

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26 May 2000, Bill responded:

He actually held the office of clerk of court in addition to being sheriff - for both Northampton and Accomack Counties which were both merged and separate at this period of time. Looks like he held some position or other for at least four years but was absent during some of that time.

You're right about no children. The land escheated to the state because he had not settled it by building a house. This would have happened whether or not he had children. He may not have been married very long at the time of his death.

I have long thought that some of the family members may have held land and or estates in the Northern Neck. They owned the whole thing and were the proprietors who actually issued the deeds so may have felt no need to issue deeds to themselves - after all they held the best deed available at the time, the grant to all the land from the King. They could have settled there in 1651/2 and there would be no record of a deed because none was needed.

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29 May 2000, Lew responded:

You raise an interesting point about the land. As you point out, they would have had no need to take out a deed, since they were proprietors of the entire tract. But I'm wondering if some record would have been generated when the land reverted to the colony, or when they sold it, etc. This might be a possibility worth looking into sometime.

[End of this particular e-mail exchange]

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17 Sep 2000, Bill followed-up:

One person has asked about any references to my assertion that the Lamb family who purchased Roanoke Island from Frances Culpeper (Lady Berkeley) knew the family of John the Carolina Rebel.

There is an interesting series of deeds and correspondence related to Roanoke Island and the death of Joshua Lamb in the deeds of Pasquotank County, NC. Their most accessible form is the book by Gwen Boyer Bjorkman, Pasquotank County, North Carolina Record of Deeds 1700-1751, Heritage Books, Bowie, MD, 1990. See particularly pages 9, 31, 32, and 49. In addition to a letter from Joshua Lamb's widow, Mary, from Roxberry, MA in 1703 in which she asks that her respects be given to Madame Henley, there is a court record in 1716 in which Matthew Pritchard acknowledges selling a 1/8 interest in Roanoke Island that he had received by legal action from Joshua Lamb. At the time of the 1703 letter the Rebel's widow Sarah Mayo was married to her second husband, Patrick Henley - thus Madame Henley. She married thirdly Matthew Pritchard.

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24 Sep 2000, Lew responded:

Great information. My Griffin ancestors were Quakers from early Chowan / Perquimans, and so have I looked at some of the early records in this area from their point of view, as well as with regard to the Henley and Pritchard connections to the Culpeppers.

And so I was aware already of a migration of various persecuted Quakers from Massachusetts to eastern NC. In some cases I think the families were originally Puritans, and converted to Quakerism. I think there is probably sufficient material on this topic to make an interesting book, or a good master's thesis. I'm not sure if anyone as yet has ever done a cross-comparison of early Massachusetts records with those of early eastern NC. But several Massachusetts families are mentioned in Hinshaw's book on the North Carolina Quakers, and there are no doubt others.

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16 May 2001, Bill initiated a new thread:

Regarding Henry Culpeper in 1668.

The following is only the last part of the copy of a document pertaining to the estate of Richard Russell contained in The Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary, Peter Smith, NY, 1951, Vol. 4, pp. 112-113.

"Wee the Sub-Scribrs being by ordr of Lower Norfolk County Court ordered to Appraizer the Estate of Richard Russell decd have accordinly to the best of Or Judgmts appraized Soe much as was Shewed to us to ye Som of Seaventeen thousand Eight hundred & Sixty pnds of Toba & Caske whereunto wee have Sett or hands this 7th April 1668."

This is a true Inventory of my husband Richard Russells Estate to the best of my Knowledge


Anne Russell, Wm WA Andrews, Wm Green, Jno Lownes, Henry A Culpeper

An cco of debts due to the Estate
Mr ffrancis Sayer, by bill 1638
Jno White by bill 1650
Batt. Ingobritson by bill 2600
Batts bill 4 barrell Ind Meale 5888
Juriat in Cur 16th Jany 1668 Test Jno Okeham Cl Cur

(The editor noted that the WA in the name Andrews and the A in the name Culpeper were their marks)

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17 May 2001, Lew responded:

Bartholomew Ingolbertson / "Batt. Ingobritson," and John White, listed in your document above, were also witnesses to a power of attorney of Henry Culpepper to his wife Elizabeth, in 1672, some four years after the 1688 date of your document. See 1671 Deed for the details.

Ingolbertson / Ingobritson is an enigmatic figure, I have found very little on him. He was the godfather of Henry Culpepper Jr. in a 1671 deed (above ref.). The name Ingolbertson sounds more Scandinavian than British, to me.

John and Patrick White are both mentioned in deeds with the early Henry Culpepper of Norfolk. And Patrick White is mentioned, as I recall, as an acquaintance of John Culpeper of Albemarle, in Bill Smith's important thesis. To me, at least, this bolsters our current theory, that the first Henry of Norfolk, and John of Albemarle, were brothers, and sons of John Culpeper the Merchant.

By the way, I have seen the marks on Henry's early deeds in Norfolk, and he signed, as you might imagine, with an "H" and not an "A." But I can understand how easy it would have been for Peter Smith to have made this mistake, in transcribing the record.

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16 May 2001, Bill initiated another new thread:

A quick study of the correspondence of William Byrd for the period around 1684-1686 shows that he was shipping much of his goods to England and back on the ship Culpeper and doing business with a firm variously named Bradley, Pagger & Culpeper or Hall, Bradley & Culpeper. Spellings varied and the ship was apparently owned by the firm in London. They also had dealings with Perry & Lane as did Byrd. Pagger may be Paggens, Paggen, etc. This may be a successor firm to my long suspected Culpeper 17th century trading firm (John Culpeper the Merchant). I can find no additional records although given the late date there may well be more in England about the ship and, hopefully, the firm.

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17 May 2001, Lew responded:

All I have on the ship Culpeper can be seen in our excerpt from The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776, by Peter Wilson Coldham.

Note that Micajah Perry was a passenger on one voyage by the ship Culpeper. As you know, Micajah was the inspiration for the book, Perry of London, A Family and a Firm on the Seaborne Frontier, 1615 -- 1753, by Jacob M. Price (available from So perhaps John Culpeper, "the Merchant," and Micajah Perry were acquaintances. The other names mentioned are probably significant, and should be researched as well.

As far as Culpeper's Rebellion goes, all of this suggests that John Culpeper of Albemarle was a member and a representative of the merchant class in society.

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17 May 2001, Bill responded:

I can pretty well track the ship Culpeper over the years that you have mentioned. The corresponding return trips are mentioned in Byrd's dated correspondence.

John of Albemarle and George Durant were operating in concert with merchant in Massachusetts when they "seized" the government of Albemarle.

Following patterns is important in trying to unravel much of this mystery. One pattern that I have noticed is the prevalence of Quakers surrounding John of Albemarle. 

bulletHis widow married two Quakers including one, Patrick Henley, who had been in Barbados at the same time as John.
bulletHer father, Edward Mayo, was another Quaker from Barbados. He came to Virginia to Isle of Wight County which was a center for Quakers and then down to Albemarle. 
bulletHenry White was another.
bulletMany of the Culpeper neighbors in Lower Norfolk County were Quakers.
bulletThe record of the estate inventory mentioning Henry Culpeper that I sent earlier is for Richard Russell who was a noted Quaker.
bulletMany of the Massachusetts merchants involved in trade with Albemarle were also Quakers. I am willing to bet that some of these same merchants were among the original backers of the Charles Town (Charleston) settlement. I am wondering whether or not the real reason for John of Albemarle being forced out of South Carolina might not have to do with Quaker activities.

More things to study.

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18 May 2001, Lew responded:

I think you may be on to something interesting and important, in exploring the Quaker links to John of Albemarle, Henry Culpepper of Norfolk, etc.

On the Henry White you mention (one of my Griffin ancestors), I have the following:

"Henry White settled first in York County, VA, then removed to Isle of Wight Co, VA. Eventually he settled in the Carolina Colony in 1660. His will is dated 14 Nov 1669, and proved 6 May 1670. Sources: Early Records of North Carolina, Vol. IV, Wills 1663-1722, p.96, Dr. Stephen E. Bradley, Jr., Keysville, VA., 1993. History of Perquimans County, North Carolina, p. 425, Mrs. Watson Winslow, Raleigh, NC, 1931."

The migration path just mentioned seems to have been a common migration path into early Albemarle.

In Norfolk, Henry Culpepper sold land to Thomas Hollowell, a Quaker, in 1675. Both Thomas Hollowell and Henry Culpepper were mentioned William Green's 1673 will; Thomas was mentioned as William's friend, and Henry, a witness to the will (William was probably the brother of Henry's wife.)

Interestingly enough, one finds the names Joseph and Benjamin in the Hollowell family in early Norfolk. But I have found no evidence in published books on the early Hollowell family that a daughter of the line might have married the first Robert Culpepper, for instance, whose wife Sarah's maiden name is unknown. Other families in early Norfolk used the names Joseph and Benjamin as well, and I'm reasonably sure that these names come from the distaff side and not from the Culpepper side of the family.

If you know of other Norfolk / Nansemond / Isle of Wight Quakers with known connections to the early Norfolk Culpeppers, I'd be interested to hear. Perhaps Robert Culpepper's wife Sarah's parentage can be identified in one of these other families.

As you say, more things to study.

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22 May 2001, Bill responded:

Thanks for the information on Henry White. The Quaker connection may be a particularly valuable one since they kept fairly good records. I'll look at the Virginia ones - I've pretty well gone through the NC meeting records.

Another clue that keeps popping up is Roxbury, MA. It seems that the residents of Roxbury had many trading activities with Albemarle and Charles Town settlements and with John Culpeper. I have been trying - unsuccessfully so far - to review available 16th century Roxbury records. I am wondering if John the merchant might not have had close ties to the merchants in Roxbury. I am also beginning to believe that John the Merchant may have moved back to London sometime after 1676.

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25 May 2001, Lew responded:

Looks like the LDS library has some early records from Roxbury, MA. I'll make a note to take a look at them the next time I'm in Salt Lake City.

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Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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