Very little is known about Burwell's early life. His father died shortly after Burwell's birth, and in 1724 his mother married a second time, to George Nicholas, a Williamsburg physician. Burwell inherited large estates in Frederick, Isle of Wight, and Prince William counties and perhaps elsewhere, as well as at least one tract in North Carolina. For most of his adult life he lived in Isle of Wight County, which he represented in the House of Burgesses from 1752 to 1758. Burwell was a vestryman of Newport Parish, one of the first trustees of the town of Smithfield in 1752, and in 1763 one of the incorporators of the Dismal Swamp Company. About 1742 he married Sarah Nelson, of Yorktown, half sister of William Nelson (1711–1772) and Thomas Nelson (1716–1782), both of whom became presidents of the Council. William Nelson, in turn, married one of Burwell's sisters, which made Robert Burwell an uncle of Thomas Nelson (1738–1789), a signer of the Declaration of Independence and future governor of Virginia. Burwell and his wife had one son and one daughter.
Nothing is definitely known about Burwell's attitude toward the imperial crises that resulted in independence in 1776. Whether because of some lingering uncertainties about his intelligence or temperament, some unrecorded Loyalist leanings, or premonitions of failing health, nobody seriously considered him for any responsible position when the new government of the commonwealth of Virginia was established in July 1776. Burwell lived quietly with his second wife at her Newington estate in King and Queen County until his death there on January 30, 1777. The place of his burial is not recorded.
June 3, 1720 - Robert Burwell is born, probably at Fairfield in Abingdon Parish, Gloucester County, to Nathaniel Burwell and Elizabeth Carter Burwell.
ca. 1742 - Robert Burwell marries Sarah Nelson. They will have one son and one daughter.
1752 - Robert Burwell is one of the first trustees of the town of Smithfield.
1752–1758 - Robert Burwell represents the Isle of Wight County in the House of Burgesses.
April 1762 - Robert Burwell is appointed to the governor's Council.
July 30, 1762 - Robert Burwell takes the oath and is admitted to the Council.
November 3, 1763 - Robert Burwell signs the Dismal Swamp Land Company Articles of Agreement.
March 1770 - Robert Burwell's wife, Sarah Nelson Burwell, dies.
December 31, 1774 - Robert Burwell marries Mary Blair Braxton.
January 30, 1777 - Robert Burwell dies at his wife's Newington estate in King and Queen County.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Robert Burwell (1720–1777). (2016, November 28). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Burwell_Robert_1720-1777.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Robert Burwell (1720–1777)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 28 Nov. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 17, 2013 | Last modified: November 28, 2016