Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779)

Lewis Burwell, a planter, was a member of the House of Burgesses (1769–1776), the Convention of 1776, and the House of Delegates (1776–1778). The descendant of Robert "King" Carter inherited more than 10,000 acres after the death of his father, but the recession of the early 1770s delivered a major blow to his financial health. He suffered additional damages from claims upon his landed wealth. Despite these issues, he raced horses at considerable expense. Gloucester County's freeholders elected Burwell to the House of Burgesses in 1769. He served in the House and its successors as it transitioned from a colonial to state governmental body, taking part in the Convention of 1776 and sitting in the House of Delegates. His death by 1779 and his poor financial standing ended the Burwell family's long residence at Fairfield. MORE...

 

Burwell was born probably late in the 1730s at Fairfield on Carter's Creek in Gloucester County, the son of Lewis Burwell (d. 1756) and Mary Willis Burwell. His father served as president of the Council and was acting governor of Virginia in 1750 and 1751. Little is known about Burwell's childhood or education, but contrary to what has been written about him, he did not attend Eton, Oxford, or Cambridge or gain admission to the Inns of Court, at each of which his father and some of his other relatives of the same name were educated. Following his father's death Burwell inherited about 7,000 acres in Gloucester County and other large holdings elsewhere, including approximately 5,000 acres on Bull Run in Prince William County. He inherited and resided at his father's Fairfield estate, one of the largest and oldest plantation houses in a region of the Tidewater famed even then for its spacious dwellings.

By about 1760 Burwell had married his near neighbor Judith Page, of Rosewell, like him a descendant of Robert "King" Carter and in turn a niece and sister of other councillors. They had two or three sons and two daughters before her death in September 1777. Burwell appears to have been hit hard by the recession early in the 1770s and tried to sell a large tract of land to pay the very "considerable fortunes" that his father's will had promised to his several sisters. He also had many large claims on his landed wealth, some probably inherited, some perhaps self-acquired. Burwell spent heavily on blooded racehorses, and although he won some handsome purses, he doubtless lost some, too. Whether for that or other reasons, his financial condition appears to have been precarious, as was his physical health.

Burwell was a justice of the peace in Gloucester County beginning in 1765, and in 1767 he was sheriff. From 1769 until 1776 he represented the county in the House of Burgesses. Burwell sat on the Committees for Courts of Justice, of Privileges and Elections, and of Religion, but he never moved into the ranks of the leadership. He took the side of the colonial protestors during the disputes leading up to the American Revolution (1775–1783). Burwell was eligible to serve in all five of the Virginia conventions that met from August 1774 to July 1776 but was absent from the fourth convention and from parts of the third and fifth, probably because of poor health. At the Convention of 1776 he was a member of the Committee of Privileges and Elections. On July 3, 1776, Burwell drew pay for about thirty-two of the fifty-two days of active session. No vote tallies were taken at the convention, but because each major decision passed unanimously, if he was well enough to attend on the day of each pertinent roll call he voted for independence on May 15, for the Virginia Declaration of Rights on June 12, and for adoption of the first written constitution of Virginia on June 29, 1776.

Burwell also represented Gloucester County in the House of Delegates from 1776 to 1778. He served in a low-ranking position on the Committee of Privileges and Elections. Burwell's death was reported without date and without comment in Dixon and Nicolson's Williamsburg Virginia Gazette of March 19, 1779. He was buried probably in the family cemetery at Fairfield. Within weeks Burwell's fine stable of horses and his valuable household furniture went on the auction block. His death brought to an end a full century of Burwell family residence and political distinction at Carter's Creek in Gloucester County.

Time Line

  • Late 1730s - Lewis Burwell is born at Fairfield on Carter's Creek in Gloucester County, the son of Lewis Burwell (d. 1756) and Mary Willis Burwell.
  • 1756 - Following his father's death, Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779) inherits about 7,000 acres in Gloucester County and other large holdings elsewhere.
  • ca. 1760 - Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779) marries Judith Page, of Rosewell. They will have two or three sons and two daughters.
  • 1765 - Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779) becomes a justice of the peace in Gloucester County.
  • 1767 - Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779) is sheriff in Gloucester County.
  • 1769–1776 - Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779) represents Gloucester County in the House of Burgesses.
  • August 1774–July 1776 - Lewis Burwell serves in the first, second, and parts of the third Virginia convention. He is absent from the fourth and parts of the third and fifth conventions because of poor health.
  • June 12, 1776 - The Virginia Convention adopts the Declaration of Rights, including the sixteenth article, which guarantees citizens the "free exercise of religion."
  • June 29, 1776 - The Virginia Convention adopts a new constitution that transforms Virginia into an independent republic with the House of Delegates holding most of the governmental power.
  • 1776–1778 - Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779) represents Gloucester County in the House of Delegates.
  • September 1777 - Judith Page Burwell, wife of Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779), dies.
  • March 19, 1779 - Lewis Burwell dies sometime before this date, when his death is reported in Dixon and Nicolson's Williamsburg Virginia Gazette.
Further Reading
Breen, T. H. "Horses and Gentlemen: The Cultural Significance of Gambling among the Gentry of Virginia." William and Mary Quarterly 34, no. 2 (April 1977): 239–257.
Keim, C. Ray. "Primogeniture and Entail in Colonial Virginia." William and Mary Quarterly 25, no. 4 (October 1968): 545–586.
Mooney, Barbara Burlison. Prodigy Houses of Virginia: Architecture and the Native Elite. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008.
Tarter, Brent. "Burwell, Lewis (d. by 19 March 1779)." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 435–436. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779). (2013, July 31). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Lewis_Burwell_d_by_1779.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Lewis Burwell (d. by 1779)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 31 Jul. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 17, 2013 | Last modified: July 31, 2013


Contributed by Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Brent Tarter is founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography