Governed by Gossip: The Personal Letters and Public Purpose of Philip Ludwell in Early-Eighteenth-Century Virginia



In March 1703, Philip Ludwell wrote to his father in England about the unseemly behavior of Virginia’s governor, Francis Nicholson. Ludwell’s correspondence revealed his concern over Nicholson’s allegedly foul tongue and slanders as well as Nicholson’s aggressive pursuit of Lucy Burwell, to whom Ludwell was related. Because of this relationship, the governor’s treatment of Lucy Burwell escalated into a battle between the two men and, through Ludwell’s family connections, became part of the contest between the governor and his Council of State. A powerful body politic, the Council was the upper house of the legislature as well as the general court. The Crown appointed its members, including Philip Ludwell in 1702. From his councilor’s rank, Ludwell the scribe became narrator, witness, and judge of Nicholson’s actions and policies. Thus, Ludwell’s letters to his father cast him as protagonist and
Figure 3.1

Map of Virginia and Maryland in 1670 by Augustine Herrman, published in 1673.

protector of young Lucy from the determined governor. Despite the familial character of Ludwell’s interactions with Nicholson on Lucy’s behalf, their private relationship was conducted on a public stage and orchestrated according to a score of gentility. This genteel code guided social ritual and defined comportment; how effectively it was mastered reinforced the political position of Virginians within eighteenth-century society.2


State Paper Good Wife Political Alignment Social Ritual Parish Church 
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© Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost 2014

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