William Carver (d. 1676)

William Carver was a participant in Bacon's Rebellion (1676–1677). An experienced merchant mariner engaged in trade between London and the colonies, Carver owned land in Lower Norfolk County, where he was a burgess, tax collector, and sheriff. In June 1676 Carver requested a commission from Nathaniel Bacon to lead forces against the Indians. Instead, Bacon appointed Carver and Giles Bland commanders of a naval force and ordered them to capture Governor Sir William Berkeley. Their flotilla of small boats with several hundred men found Berkeley on September 1, 1676, in Northampton County. Berkeley gained the upper hand, however, and the next day seized Carver, Bland, and their men. The governor hanged Carver and four others within several days, then moved swiftly to retake Jamestown. MORE...

 

Carver was by the mid-1650s an experienced merchant mariner of uncertain age who was master of a ship engaged in trade between the English ports of Bristol (probably his native city) and London and the colonies. His name first appears in extant Virginia records on June 15, 1659, when he patented 500 acres of land on the South Branch of the Elizabeth River in Lower Norfolk County. By then Carver was already married to a woman named Elizabeth, maiden name unknown, and father of a ten-year-old son. Carver became a justice of the peace in June 1663 and in the following summer secured renewal of his original patent and acquired 890 acres of additional land nearby.

Elected to a vacant seat in the House of Burgesses in 1665, Carver represented Lower Norfolk County until 1669. During the session that met in October and November 1666 he served on the Committee for Propositions, and on September 26, 1667, at the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) he was appointed to a committee to inquire of the governor and Council whether there was enough money available to erect a fort. Carver was a tax collector for Lower Norfolk County in 1669 and 1672, took his turns overseeing the county roads in 1669 and 1671, and was sheriff in 1670. He continued to own trading ships but by 1668 described himself as a merchant rather than a mariner. In 1667 Carver placed management of all his property in the hands of his eighteen-year-old son. His wife evidently died about that time, and he probably remarried not long thereafter to a woman whose name is unrecorded.

Carver engaged in several serious quarrels with his neighbors late in the 1660s and in the 1670s. He possessed a volatile temper and may have indulged too frequently in drink. On July 25, 1672, while suffering from severe abdominal pains and perhaps taking alcohol to relieve the symptoms, Carver stabbed to death Thomas Gilbert, who was sitting beside him at dinner. Several witnesses described Carver as behaving irrationally, and Carver later stated that he did not remember anything about the incident or the several days before and after the stabbing. A General Court jury acquitted him of murder, presumably persuaded that he had been deranged and not responsible for his actions. Soon after Carver's return home from his trial in Jamestown, his treatment of his neighbors led the General Court to order his arrest. During a legal dispute three years later, he retaliated against his adversary by accusing the man's wife of practicing witchcraft.

In June 1676 Carver appeared in Jamestown while the assembly was in session and requested a commission from Nathaniel Bacon to lead forces in a campaign against the Indians. Instead, Bacon appointed Carver and Giles Bland commanders of a naval force and in August ordered them to capture Governor Sir William Berkeley, who about that time had retreated to the Eastern Shore. The two men organized a flotilla of small boats and with several hundred men sailed into the lower Chesapeake Bay, where they captured several small vessels and ships, including Thomas Larrimore's 265-ton Rebecca. They found Berkeley on September 1 at Arlington, the Northampton County estate of John Custis (d. 1696). Carver went ashore with a force of more than one hundred men, leaving Bland on board the Rebecca. Accounts of what happened next contain inconsistencies. Carver may have negotiated with Berkeley, the governor's men may have plied Carver with wine, or both, but Berkeley suddenly found himself with the upper hand. On the next day the governor seized Carver, Bland, and the Rebecca and its crew. Bland and Carver apparently blamed each other for Berkeley's success, but a later commentator speculated that it was not Carver's treachery but "the ju[i]ce of the Grape" that betrayed him and Bland into Berkeley's hands and doomed the expedition. Of the event, Berkeley wrote that Carver was a "valiant stout seaman, taken miraculously."

The governor hanged Carver and four other men within three or four days, then moved swiftly to retake Jamestown, which he achieved on September 7, 1676. The five were among the first men the governor executed. Carver's burial place is not recorded. Early in November, Berkeley ordered that Carver's property be confiscated and sold and later specifically excluded him from the proclamation of pardon issued to Bacon's lesser followers. Carver's widow reportedly died of grief shortly after he was hanged. A year later Carver's son petitioned the Crown for restitution of the estate, a part of which he recovered and sold in 1681. On that land William Craford established the town of Portsmouth in 1752.

Time Line

  • June 15, 1659 - William Carver patents 500 acres of land on the South Branch of the Elizabeth River in Lower Norfolk County.
  • June 1663 - William Carver becomes a justice of the peace in Lower Norfolk County.
  • Summer 1664 - William Carver secures renewal of his original land patent in Lower Norfolk County and acquires an additional 890 acres nearby.
  • 1665 - William Carver is elected to a vacant seat in the House of Burgesses, representing Lower Norfolk County. He serves until 1669.
  • October–November 1666 - William Carver serves on the Committee for Propositions in the House of Burgesses.
  • 1667 - William Carver places the management of all his property in the hands of his eighteen-year-old son.
  • September 26, 1667 - William Carver is appointed to a committee to inquire of the governor and Council where there is enough money available to erect a fort.
  • 1669 - William Carver serves as a tax collector for Lower Norfolk County and takes his turn overseeing the county roads.
  • 1670 - William Carver serves as sheriff for Lower Norfolk County.
  • 1671 - William Carver oversees the county roads of Lower Norfolk County.
  • 1672 - William Carver serves as a tax collector for Lower Norfolk County.
  • July 25, 1672 - While suffering from severe abdominal pains and perhaps taking alcohol to relieve the symptoms, William Carver stabs to death Thomas Gilbert, who is sitting beside him at dinner. He is later acquitted of murder charges.
  • 1675 - During a legal dispute, William Carver retaliates against his adversary by accusing the man's wife of practicing witchcraft.
  • June 1676 - William Carver appears in Jamestown while the General Assembly is in session and requests a commission from Nathaniel Bacon to lead forces in a campaign against the Indians. Bacon instead appoints Carver and Giles Bland head of a naval force.
  • August 1676 - Nathaniel Bacon orders William Carver and Giles Bland, commanders of a naval force, to capture Governor Sir William Berkeley, who has retreated to the Eastern Shore during Bacon's Rebellion.
  • September 1, 1676 - Nathaniel Bacon's small navy locates Governor Sir William Berkeley's hideout on the Eastern Shore and bottles up the loyalists at the Arlington plantation of John Custis in Northampton County.
  • September 2, 1676 - William Carver, Giles Brand, and the Rebecca and its crew are seized at Arlington in Northampton County by Governor Sir William Berkeley during Bacon's Rebellion.
  • September 3–6, 1676 - William Carver, a commander in Bacon's Rebellion, and four other captured men are hanged by Governor Sir William Berkeley.
  • September 7, 1676 - Governor Sir William Berkeley, having battled and defeated some of Bacon's rebels on the Eastern Shore, retakes the capital at Jamestown without firing a shot.
  • February 10, 1677 - Governor Sir William Berkeley issues a proclamation of pardon for treasonous actions during Bacon's Rebellion. Several men, already dead, are exempted and adjudged convicted and attainted of high treason as though they were tried.

References

Further Reading
Andrews, Charles M., ed. Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675–1690. New York: Scribner, 1915.
Deal, John G. "William Carver." In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 98–99. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Horn, James. Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
Tarter, Brent. "Bacon's Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 119 (2011): 2–41.
Washburn, Wilcomb Edward. The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Deal, J. G., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. William Carver (d. 1676). (2015, October 29). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Carver_William_d_1676.

  • MLA Citation:

    Deal, John G. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "William Carver (d. 1676)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 29 Oct. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: July 25, 2011 | Last modified: October 29, 2015


Contributed by John G. Deal and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John G. Deal is assistant editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography at the Library of Virginia.