Robert Beverley (ca. 1740–1800)

Robert Beverley was a planter whose wealth in land and slaves made him one of the richest Virginians during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Born in Essex County, he was educated in England and returned to Virginia to manage his father's estate. He married into the powerful Carter family and built Blandfield, his imposing Georgian mansion in the Rappahannock River valley. Beverley generally avoided politics, although his refusal to support independence did not prevent his election to the House of Delegates in 1780. A longstanding feud with the Roane family erupted in violence when Thomas Roane assaulted Beverley with a cane in 1789. Beverley was not seriously injured and successfully sought redress in court. He died in 1800. MORE...

 

Beverley was born about 1740 at his father's plantation in Essex County, one of two sons and three daughters of William Beverley and Elizabeth Bland Beverley. His brother died young. His father took him to England in 1750 for his education and enrolled him in a school at Wakefield. When Beverley matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, on May 19, 1757, he gave his age as seventeen. Earlier that year he was admitted to the Middle Temple to study law, and he was called to the bar on February 6, 1761. Beverley returned to Virginia almost immediately to manage the enormous estate he had inherited when his father died in 1756, and consequently he never practiced law.

At his father's death, the Beverley estate consisted of valuable properties in England, more than 3,000 acres in several large plantations in Essex County, and huge holdings in the Shenandoah Valley, which combined to make Robert Beverley one of the wealthiest young men in the colony, with an annual income from rents and tobacco of about £1,800 in 1762. On February 3, 1763, he married Maria Carter, daughter of Landon Carter, of Sabine Hall. They had ten sons and six daughters. In 1769 he began several years of construction on a new residence, which was one of the largest and most elegant of all the Georgian plantation mansions in the Rappahannock River valley. His descendants retained his Blandfield mansion until 1983.

Beverley became a member of the Essex County Court by 1764 and served until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. He eschewed the world of politics, although he kept himself well informed and once, in 1772, commented that he might like to have a seat on the governor's Council. Early in 1775 he was elected to the College of William and Mary's board of visitors, the only public office outside Essex County he held before the Revolution. In 1774 and 1775 Beverley tried to exert a moderating influence on the local political leaders whom he thought were unwisely rushing toward independence. He deplored every action thereafter that widened the breach between Virginia and Great Britain. Beverley opposed independence and refused to take any part in the government of the county or of his parish during the war. The Essex County authorities accordingly deprived him of his arms. Nonetheless, his standing as one of the best-educated and wealthiest men in the region resulted in his being elected to the House of Delegates in 1780, "without offering himself a candidate or being present," according to an unfriendly neighbor. Beverley probably did not take his seat in the assembly, but since he also refrained from active opposition to Virginia during the contest, he was left in peace at his elegant new house for the duration of the war.

In 1787 the Essex County justices of the peace asked the governor to reappoint Beverley to the county court. Spencer Roane angrily petitioned the governor's Council against the proposal, charging that Beverley's actions during the Revolutionary War should disqualify him, but the governor consented after the justices renewed their request. That episode was only one of several conflicts between Beverley and members of the Roane family, culminating two years later when Thomas Roane assaulted Beverley on a public highway and attempted to beat him with his cane. Roane either knocked Beverley from his horse, or Beverley fell while attempting to avoid the blow, and he was injured. Beverley successfully prosecuted Roane for the assault.

In the 1780s Beverley owned approximately 50,000 acres in at least eight counties, with his largest holdings being in Culpeper and Caroline counties. He wrote his will in 1793 and added nine codicils to it between then and January 24, 1800. He owned more than 400 slaves during the 1790s, and his slaves and personal property listed in his Essex County estate inventory were worth almost £8,500. Beverley died at Blandfield on April 12, 1800, and was probably buried there.

Time Line

  • ca. 1740 - Robert Beverley is born at his father's plantation in Essex County.
  • 1750 - Robert Beverley is enrolled in a school at Wakefield, England.
  • May 19, 1757 - Robert Beverley matriculates at Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • February 6, 1761 - Robert Beverley is called to the bar after studying law at the Middle Temple, in London.
  • February 3, 1763 - Robert Beverley and Maria Carter marry. They will have ten sons and six daughters.
  • 1764 - By this year Robert Beverley is a member of the Essex County Court.
  • 1769 - Robert Beverley begins construction on a new residence, a Georgian mansion called Blandfield.
  • 1775 - Robert Beverley is elected to the College of William and Mary's board of visitors.
  • 1780 - Robert Beverley is elected to the House of Delegates without offering himself as a candidate. He probably does not take his seat.
  • 1787 - The Essex County justices of the peace ask the governor to reappoint Robert Beverley to the county court. Despite opposition from the Roane family the governor complies.
  • 1793 - Robert Beverley writes his will.
  • January 24, 1800 - Robert Beverley adds the last of nine codicils to his will.
  • April 12, 1800 - Robert Beverley dies at Blandfield.

References

Further Reading
Tarter, Brent. "Beverley, Robert." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, et al., 473–474. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Robert Beverley (ca. 1740–1800). (2017, April 5). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Beverley_Robert_ca_1740-1800.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Robert Beverley (ca. 1740–1800)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 5 Apr. 2017. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: April 5, 2017 | Last modified: April 5, 2017


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