The First Thanksgiving Took Place in Virginia, not Massachusetts

Remembering some of my earliest history lessons–Our teachers got it all wrong!  All those days at school coloring, cutting out and pasting turkeys, pilgrim shoes, hats, and hearing about the first Thanksgiving shared by pilgrims and “Indians”? Here’s the real scoop on the first Thanksgiving celebration

The First Thanksgiving Took Place in Virginia, not Massachusetts
“First Thanksgiving” by Sidney King; photograph courtesy Berkeley Plantation.

Years of elementary school history lessons taught us that Plymouth, Massachusetts, was the site of the first Thanksgiving. Those lessons were false. A year and 17 days before those Pilgrims ever stepped foot upon New England soil, a group of English settlers led by Captain John Woodlief landed at today’s Berkeley Plantation, 24 miles southwest of Richmond. After they arrived on the shores of the James River, the settlers got on their knees and gave thanks for their safe passage. There was no traditional meal, no lovefest with Native Americans, no turkey. America’s first Thanksgiving was about prayer, not food.

On September 16th, 1619, the Margaret departed Bristol, England, bound for the New World. Aboard the 35-foot-long ship were 35 settlers, a crew, five “captain’s assistant”, a pilot, and Woodlief, a much-experienced survivor of the 1609/1610 Jamestown’s “Starving Time.” The mission of those aboard Margaret was to settle 8,000 acres of land along the James River that had been granted to them by the London-based Berkeley Company. They were allowed to build farms, storehouses, homes, and a community on company land. In exchange, they were contracted as employees, working the land and handing over crops and profits to the company.

After rough two-and-a-half months on the Atlantic, the ship entered the Chesapeake Bay on November 28, 1619. It took another week to navigate the stormy bay, but they arrived at their destination, Berkeley Hundred, later called Berkeley Plantation, on December 4. They disembarked and prayed. Historians think there was nothing but old ship rations to eat so the settlers may have concocted a meal of oysters and ham out of necessity rather than celebration. At the behest of written orders given by the Berkeley Company to Captain Woodlief, it was declared that their arrival must “be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” And that’s exactly what they did–for two years. On March 22, 1622, the Powhatan, who’d realized the settlers intended to expand their territory and continue their attempts to convert and “civilize” them, attacked Berkeley and other settlements, killing 347. Woodlief survived, but soon after, Berkeley Hundred was abandoned. For three centuries, Virginia’s first Thanksgiving was lost to history.

Graham Woodlief is a direct descendant of Captain Woodlief. While he’s known his family’s history since being a teenager, he’s devoted a considerable amount of energy to research since he retired in 2009. Today, Woodlief is president of the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival, which has been held annually since 1958. Woodlief says he thinks the major reason that Plymouth, and not Berkley, is universally thought to be the site of the first Thanksgiving is that “they had better PR than we did.” He also said the emphasis on prayer, instead of Plymouth’s festive harvest meal, also made Virginia’s Thanksgiving a bit less appealing, though more accurate. “In fact, most Thanksgivings in the early days were religious services, not meals,” Woodlief says.

309 years after the 1622 battle with the Powhatans, Berkeley Plantation’s missing history was rediscovered. In 1931, retired William & Mary President (and son of President John Tyler) Dr. Lyon G. Tyler was working on a book about early Virginia history. While doing research, he stumbled upon the Nibley Papers, documents, and records taken by John Smyth of Nibley, Gloucestershire, about the 1619 settlement of Berkeley. Originally published by the New York State Library in 1899, the papers’ historical significance had gone undetected. According to Virginia historians, the papers are concrete proof that the New World’s “day of Thanksgiving” originated in their region. Upon his discovery, Tyler told Malcolm Jamieson, who had inherited Berkeley plantation in the 1920s. The plantation was already considered one of the more historic homes in the state, once a residence to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the birthplace of a US President. Now, it had another feather in its historic hat. Jamieson, with the help of descendants of Captain Woodlief, instituted the first Virginia Thanksgiving Festival in 1958. It’s been celebrated ever since.

While locals are convinced about Berkeley’s place among Thanksgiving lore, the rest of the country has been a tougher sell. Throughout the 1960s, Virginia state Senator John J. Wicker Jr. took it upon himself to tell the world of the real story of the first Thanksgiving. He pleaded Virginia’s case to Massachusetts governor John A. Volpe. He went on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson dressed in full 17th-century settler garb. When President Kennedy gave his 1962 Thanksgiving Proclamation and said that Plymouth was the site of the first Thanksgiving, it was Wicker who chastised the White House for ignoring Virginia. Much to his surprise, he received a reply from Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy’s appointed historian and speechwriter. Schlesinger’s response was also amazingly candid: “The President has asked me to reply to your telegram… You are quite right and I can only plead an unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff… I can assure you the error will not be repeated in the future.”

And it wasn’t. In Kennedy’s 1963 Thanksgiving Proclamation (made 17 days before his assassination), the president acknowledged Virginia’s claim, saying “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving.” In 2007, President George W. Bush also noted the history while visiting Berkeley Plantation, commenting that, “The good folks here say that the founders of Berkeley held their celebration before the Pilgrims had even left port. As you can imagine, this version of events is not very popular up north.”

Today, hundreds of people attend the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival every year on the first Sunday of November (it was originally held in December, but moved years ago in hopes of having better weather). “We want to set history straight,” Woodlief says. “It is an important historical event that happened in Virginia. It needs to be recognized as such.”

YOLO–Carpe Diem, Folks!

Amidst the agony and pain of observing my parents increasingly debilitating aging process, we also have experienced a sprinkling of moments that remind us of better days when all their faculties were present and they were high functioning adults who volunteered and thrived within their family, friends, and social circles.

I remember my dad, Frank Burton Boling, as a very handsome young man with pretty white teeth, a great smile, and wonderfully funny sense of humor. Dad turns 89 on December 7, 2017. He’s now partially bald, his hair is fully white where it once was thick, dark and wavy; his brilliant blue eyes aren’t as lustrous as they were when he was younger.  Macular degeneration has caused him to lose the sight in one of them;  Over the past year his teeth have been rapidly rotting and falling out.  He demanded, even against his doctor’s better judgment, that his remaining teeth be pulled and replaced with dentures.  This was back in August.  The dentures when he wears them look beautiful, but he has lost twenty-plus pounds because of difficulty adapting to drinking, eating, chewing, and even taking his meds.  Dad’s years as a printing pressman and the loud noises from the machines have also taken a toll on his hearing–he’s now fully deaf in his right ear; and, his former leg neuropathy has become fully peripheral leaving his arms, hands, and legs so very weak that his mobility is minimal.

Mom, Norma Florence Ford Boling, turned 90 in August.  She weighs less than 100 pounds, wears oxygen 24/7 and requires help with daily activities.  Mom has only moments in time when she appears fully alert, and consistently repeats questions about what day is it, where are my dogs, do I have anything to do today….

Yet, even today, God gives us those ever so precious moments that we must seize and treasure–those once again fun times as a family and funny moments that seem to naturally occur. Here’s just one of those times and moments:

We’re in my parents’ primary care doctor’s exam room–Mom, dad, and me for a routine visit. It just so happens that this physician is extremely well read on almost any topic you can think of and he regularly shares his preeminent knowledge with his patients, often in the form of 5+ minute tangents, if you will.  So, let’s call him “Dr. P.”  Here’s the scene:  Dr. P. is talking with Dad and me about Dad’s muscle spasms he’s been having in his back–and as Dr. P. often does, he goes off on one of his tangents and he has been talking for quite some time. Mom, although sitting quietly and waiting ‘patiently’ (pun intended) raises her hand high and boldly shaking it to get our attention (reminding me of Horshack from the 1970’s TV show, Welcome Back, Kotter).  She says with utmost importance “I have a statement to make!” We all chuckle, and Dr. P. says, “Yes?” Mom then proceeds to state: “Your hair and my daughter’s match each other’s–they’re exactly the same color (white)!  We all laugh.

Next,  Dr. P. says “Well, I can assure you that mine is natural.” And Dr. P. continues; “But yours may be colorized!” Mom strokes her hair and says, “Oooh No–this has always been my hair color (red)! Finally, dad, with his ever famous sense of humor and quick wit, adds his two cents:  “And, we refreshed it for her just last week at her hairdressers for only $84!” And we all laughed, ending our visit on a happy note and making my day!

But please remember, you younger people, YOLO, Carpe Diem! (You only live once–seize the day!)

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, Doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief!

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, Doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief–that’s the first line from one of my childhood jump rope rhymes.  I thought it appropriate for opening this post that connects farmers, merchants, lawyers, sailors, a kidnapper, and even a President, Indian Chief, and an Indian Princess who became famous for her peacekeeping powers after her marriage to a white man in 1614.

Let’s just see how simply I can relate myself to the notable people in this post. First, there were the ancestors of George Washington who left France for England in 1066 following the Norman Invasion of England. They settled in Northamptonshire, England and lived there from the16th through 19th Centuries.  Well, I’m aging, but not that old and I live in the United States–some 3,600 miles, or, some 5,800 kilometers in England’s unit of measure.  Let me try again–Sally Washington (1750-1796), was the fifth great-granddaughter of Lawrence Washington (1500-1583) and married my paternal great-uncle (7X removed) Robert Bolling, IV (1759-1839) whose ancient aristocratic family’s origin was also England.  That’s better, but just the beginning.  And of note, Sally Washington’s uncle was George Washington, the first president of the United States.  And, it was Sally’s fifth great-grandfather, Lawrence, who was a wealthy wool merchant, became Mayor of Northampton and bought the Sulgrave property as the Washington family home.


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Lawrence and his wife, Lady Pargiter had 4 sons and eleven daughters.  Their eldest son was named Robert and their second, Lawrence. This started a Washington family tradition to name one of their sons Lawrence.

It was their second son, Lawrence Washington, who married a wealthy widow, Mary Argall, making her son, Samuel Argall, Lawrence’s stepson.  Now, Samuel became a prominent Sea Captain who was based in Jamestown, Virginia.  He captained a ship named “Treasurer,” and pioneered a faster means of traveling to Virginia by following the 30th parallel, north of the traditional Caribbean route.  Samuel first arrived in Jamestown in June 1610, just after the “Starving Time” when the surviving colonists were ready to quit for Newfoundland. Although he joined in the war against the Virginia Indians, Argall also engaged in diplomacy, negotiating provisions from Lopassus (Japazaws) of the Patawomeck tribe.    Argall explored the Potomac River region in the winter of 1612 and spring of 1613, and there, with Lopassus’s complicity, kidnapped Pocahontas while visiting the village of the Patawomeck Indians. Argall wanted to use Pocahontas as a hostage in exchange for Englishmen being held captive by Powhatan’s group and for the return of colonists’ tools and supplies stolen by Native Americans. This move helped establish an alliance between the Patawomecks and the Virginians. Argall also helped negotiate peace with the Pamunkey and Chickahominy tribes. As deputy governor of Virginia, Argall improved military preparedness but did not enforce martial law in the same way as Sir Thomas Dale had, making his administration a bridge between the old politics and a new more democratic era. Knighted by James I of England in 1622, Argall led an English fleet against the Spanish in 1625 and died at sea in 1626.

Meanwhile, Sir Thomas Dale, Governor of Virginia treated Pocahontas with respect.  After being instructed in the Christian religion, she was baptized and admitted to Christianity by taking the Christian name Rebecca.

John Rolfe (1585–1622), (my 11th great-grandfather), originally from Heacham, England, fell in love with Pocahontas and asked Dale for permission to marry her. Dale readily agreed,  Pocahontas father, Chief Powhatan, also consented, and the marriage took place in April 1614 in the church at Jamestown in an Anglican service. Both Native Americans and Englishmen apparently saw their union as a bond between them. Hence, Pocahontas’s 8-year marriage to Rolfe brought peaceful relations in Virginia and her “peacemaker and friend to the colonists” notoriety.

20th Century to Present

One hundred years ago in March 1917, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA), began fundraising efforts for the restoration and preservation of 1539 Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington in Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, England.

In 2014, however, Sulgrave Manor was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List “to call attention to the need for increased resources and to promote the development of creative management strategies to ensure the long-term survival of the property.”

The bicentennial of the Treaty of Ghent was celebrated at the site in 2014, and a comprehensive strategic plan was funded by the Estate of Paul Mellon. Recent restoration projects have been funded by the Colonial Dames and the Daughters of the American Revolution.   And, today’s Sulgrave Manor property is administered by the Sulgrave Manor Trust.

As an added treat below is a three-minute clip from BBC’s Antiques Roadshow of 29th September 2013 that was filmed at Cirencester Agricultural College. It included the Garsdon Church linked to the Esquire Lawrence Washington who died at Sulgrave Manor in 1583.  Its focus is on the silver communion plate and silver chalices donated to the Church over three hundred years ago by the Lady Amy Pargiter, widow of Lawrence Washington.  The appraiser valued them at more than £100,000 on the program.


America’s Red Summer – 1919

As I continue to dig more deeply into my family’s history, I am learning more about their life and times.  Today I received more leads and resources from the National Archives and The Wake County Historical Society.  I hope these help me find my third maternal great-grandfather, Henry Ford, who was from Wake County, North Carolina.

As research would have it, though, I stumbled upon a story whose history dates back nearly 200 years to when Henry Ford’s grandson–my great-grandfather, John C. Ford,  then 55 years old, was renting a row house along the Florida Avenue Northeast Corridor at 611 Morton Place, N.E., Washington, DC.  (The next to last house in the 2014 Google Maps picture, above.  These houses were probably built around 1900 and are now selling for about $700K!)  He lived there with Susan,  his wife of 25 years, and his son, my grandfather, Robert Gideon Ford, who was 21 and single at the time.

Meanwhile–The Great Migration 1910-1970 (An Interactive Map)

In 1910, 83% of African-Americans lived in the South, about the same percentage that had lived there since at least as far back as 1790.

As the map shows, migrants from the South were particularly attracted to the North’s big cities: Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. To this day, more African Americans live in Chicago than in the state of Mississippi.

As the map shows, migrants from the South were particularly attracted to the North’s big cities: Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. To this day, more African-Americans live in Chicago than in the state of Mississippi.

When World War I ended, thousands of Americans returned to their homes in the North to find that their jobs and factories were now filled with blacks who had migrated from the south.  Radical and ethical prejudices were all over.  Adding to the tension was what very little freedom the blacks had once they returned home, being denied such basic rights as equal housing and equality under the law. During this time, the Ku Klux Klan revived its violent activities throughout the south.   During the summer of 1919, riots across the U.S. would break out in areas like Washington, DC., Knoxville, TN, Omaha, NE, and Chicago, IL, and other cities.

The Red Summer of 1919 

Fast forward within our nation’s capital to Saturday, July 19 through Wednesday, July 23, 1919, and not far at all from my family’s home there:

On Saturday night, July 19, 1919, in a downtown bar, a group of white WWI veterans sparked a rumor about the arrest, questioning, and release of a black man suspected by the Metropolitan Police Department of sexually assaulting a white woman who was a wife of a Navy man. The rumor traveled throughout the saloons and billiard parlors of downtown Washington, angering soldiers, sailors, and marines who were taking their weekend liberty–including many veterans of World War I.

Later that night, a predominantly white mob of veterans still in their uniforms and armed with clubs, lead pipes, and pieces of lumber in hand headed toward Southwest D.C. to a predominantly black, poverty-stricken neighborhood. There, they proceeded to beat any and all African-Americans that crossed their paths. The veterans took African-Americans from their cars and from the sidewalks and, while drawing little to no attention by local police.

On Sunday, July 20, the violence had continued to grow, as the Metropolitan Police Department did nothing. The African-Americans continued to face brutal beatings in the streets at the Center Market on Seventh Street NW, (which was less than two miles away from my family’s dwelling), and even in front of the United States White House (only three miles away from the Ford Family).

By late Sunday night, July 20, the African-American community began to fight back. They armed themselves and attacked whites as they entered their neighborhoods. Both black and white men fired bullets from inside moving cars. At night’s end, ten whites and five blacks were either killed or severely wounded.

After four days of violence and no police intervention, President Woodrow Wilson, (husband of my paternal third cousin Edith Bolling Galt Wilson), finally ordered nearly two thousand soldiers from nearby military bases into the district. However, it was a heavy summer’s rain that effectively helped end the riot on July 23, 1919.

By the riot’s end, several men were dead from gunshot wounds; nine were killed in the severe street fights, and about thirty or more eventually died from other riot-related wounds. In all, over 150 men, women, and children were beaten, clubbed, and shot by both African-American and white rioters. Six Metropolitan Policemen and several Marine guards also were wounded or shot–two of them fatally.

View the <4-minute video below for a more detailed United States picture of the riots of The Red Summer [from The 20th Century Time Machine].

Epilogue and Timeline of Riots in the United States in 1919

One of my intentions of this blog was to devote my posts to help my legacy family learn from lessons of the past. Yet,  here we are today, still making the same or bigger mistakes that have an even greater probability of leading mankind to its demise. Yet, as I’ve repeatedly experienced in my life, people don’t always learn or change as a result of their own pain-filled experiences or through learning about events in their history.    ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’  –  This saying comes from the writings of George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Henry, John C., Susan, and Robert Gideon Ford may you forever Rest In Peace.

Below is a timeline of race relations in America taken from

Progress: Benjamin Franklin petitions Congress to abolish slavery.

Regress: Petition ridiculed, tabled. One month later, Naturalization Act of 1790 limits citizenship to whites.

Progress: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” passionately advocates for the end of slavery…

Regress: …and advances pervasive stereotypes: mammy, pickaninny, tragic mulatto, Uncle Tom.

Progress: Mexicans in New Mexico receive full U.S. citizenship after state’s admission to Union.

Regress: Whites of Forsyth County, Georgia, violently drive out nearly 1,100 of their black neighbors.

Progress: W.E.B. Du Bois publishes “The Negro,” seminal history of African and African American people and their achievements in America.

Regress: D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation portrays black men as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women; emboldens Ku Klux Klan.

Progress: Nineteenth Amendment gives women right to vote.

Regress: Most African American women, like African American men, prevented from voting in Southern states.

Progress: National Labor Relations Act guarantees right to organize and form unions.

Regress: Act excludes farm and domestic jobs, historically held by African Americans and Latinos.

Progress: Bracero Program invites Mexican citizens to work temporarily in U.S.

Regress: President Roosevelt authorizes mass internment of more than 120,000 Japanese American citizens and documented immigrants.

Progress: In Brown v. Board of Education, Supreme Court unanimously rules segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Regress: Immigration and Naturalization Service institutes “Operation Wetback” to deport undocumented Mexicans living in U.S.

Progress: Rosa Parks keeps a seat on the bus.

Regress: Emmett Till murdered for whistling at a white woman who, decades later, will admit to false testimony.

Progress: Some 250,000 attend March on Washington, hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver “I Have a Dream” speech.

Regress: Klan members bomb 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four black girls in Sunday school.

Progress: President Johnson signs Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin.

Regress: Civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman murdered by Klansmen in Mississippi.

Progress: In Loving v. Virginia, Supreme Court rules prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional.

Regress: During “Long Hot Summer,” race riots erupt across U.S., killing dozens, injuring thousands, setting the stage for historic violence of 1968.

Progress: President Bush proposes “guest worker” plan permitting undocumented immigrants working in U.S. to apply for temporary status…

Regress: …but allows U.S. Border Patrol agents to deport them with no hearing before an immigration judge.

Progress: Sonia Sotomayor becomes first Latina Supreme Court justice.

Regress: Harvard professor, renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering—at his own home.

Progress: Federal courts halt enforcement of President Trump’s order effectively banning Muslim immigrants from seven countries.

Regress: Trump signs revised order; stays silent in face of increasing violence against mosques; moves forward on Dakota Access Pipeline, Mexican border wall….

Photos (from top): U.S. National Archives And Records Administration (2). Joseph Wright Of Derby/Art Images/Getty Images. Chris Dorney/Alamy Stock. Universal History Archive/Uig Via Getty Images. Dorothea Lange/Library Of Congress. Loc/Alamy. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images. The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images. Chase Swift/Corbis/Getty Images. Jemal Countess/Getty Images. Kena Betancur/Afp/Getty Images.

Read more:

Other Sources

Peter Perl, “Race Riot of 1919 Gave Glimpse of Future Struggles”, The Washington Post Company,; Rawn James Jr., “The Forgotten Washington Race War of 1919,” History News Network,; “Race Riots of 1919”, Global Security,

Mashpee Indians in Massachusetts Sue for Recognition

I subscribe to Mass Moments daily posts about events in the history of Massachusetts.  I copied today’s (October 17, 2017) slug because of its relevance to my ongoing research into my Native American heritage.  What’s different about this article is this piece comes from our 20th-century history and not the 16th century, and shows that Native Americans are still fighting for recognition as a race or ethnic clan, if you will.Mass Moments-Mashpee Tribe

Please listen to the full synopsis from

Or, read the full story.

They Migrated From Maryland to Virginia – Just 300 Years Apart

Our eldest son moved his family from Maryland to Lynchburg in Virginia’s Southern Piedmont Valley about 12 years ago to allow his sons to attend christian colleges there.  He knew little of the area’s history, but found a home and a job just outside Bedford County and the City of Lynchburg.  As it turns out, he’s not the first of my family to migrate from Maryland to this part of Virginia.

Straight Line from Maryland to Virginia 1685

And, here’s how this story goes:

My Phelps-Bolling Connection

My sixth great grandmother was Martha/Mary Phelps (1737-1767) of Albemarle, Virginia.  She married my sixth paternal great grandfather Major Benjamin Bolling from Wilkes, North Carolina, when she was just 16. They had ten children in 16 years.  At age 29, she died in Flat Gap, Virginia, giving birth to their daughter Elizabeth Bolling.    Major Bolling married four more times before he passed away some 65 years later at age 98 when still residing in Flat Gap.

Martha was also called Mary or Polly.  Out of eight children, Martha was the fifth daughter born to Colonel John Phelps (1705-1772), of Albemarle County, Virginia, and Mary C. Gibson (1705-1763) originally of Hanover County, Virginia.

John Phelps Sr. 1683-1747

John Phelps Sr. 1683-1747 Picture Shared by Taylor Phelps and Shelly Phelps Barnett.

Colonel John was the son of John Phelps, Sr. (1683-1747), from Goochland County, Virginia, and Martha Margaret Talbot (1684-1747) born in Maryland.  John Phelps, Sr.  was the son of William Phelps and Ann Rachel Gorsuch (originally from Somerset, England).  John Phelps, Sr. along with his sons, had land grants totaling 8000 acres from George II of England in Henrico, Goochland and Bedford Counties, Virginia. (1727-1747)

Founding and Development of Bedford County

In fact, Bedford County was formed in December 1753 from the counties of Albemarle and Lunenburg.  It was this second John Phelps, who, with William Callaway, served as Bedford’s first two burgesses. He also served four assemblies in the House of Burgesses beginning August 22, 1754. At the time of his appointment, Colonel Phelps already enjoyed a reputation as a respected Justice in Lunenburg and Bedford Counties; he was a Coroner in Lunenburg, and an Anglican Vestryman in Lunenburg’s Parish of Cumberland.

From “Our Kin / The Genealogies of Some of the Early Families Who Made History in the Founding and Development of Bedford County Virginia,” by Ackerly, Mary Denham, and Lula Eastman Jeter Parker, Published by J.P. Bell Co., Inc., Lynchburg, VA, 1930, we learn that Colonel Phelps founded and developed Bedford County, Virginia:

John Phelps, the first of the name of whom we have any authentic record, was already settled in Brunswick County, Va., when Lunenburg was taken from that county, and was one of the first Justices of the new county. He, with Matthew Talbot and others, was present at the first Court of Lunenburg County held May 5, 1746. When the increase in population made it necessary to form still another county from Lunenburg’s territory, and Bedford came into being, we find John Phelps again at the head of affairs-“Justice of the Peace, and a Justice of the County Court in Chancery.” He and William Callaway were Bedford’s first representatives in the House of Burgesses, and from Hening’s Statutes, Vol. VII, we learn that he was a Colonel in the Colonial Army…


The House of Burgesses in the 1750s

Virginia House of Burgesses 1750-1774

John Phelps’ entered his first session as a burgess with fellow freshman Peter Jefferson of Albemarle County, father of future Declaration of Independence author, Thomas Jefferson. (Thomas Jefferson later represented Albemarle County in the House of Burgesses from 1769-1774). It is likely that Phelps was already acquainted with the family; in 1749 he was sworn in as Justice of the Peace and Justice of the Chancery with Field Jefferson, uncle of Thomas Jefferson, in Lunenburg County.   The two also served as Vestrymen in the Parish of Cumberland.

Further, Phelps served in the House of Burgesses with Augustine Washington (another of my distant relatives), of Westmoreland County, and father of George Washington. In fact, he served in the company of many Virginians who would later become venerable leaders of the American Revolution:  Peyton Randolph, Virginia Attorney General and later first president of the Continental Congress; Benjamin Harrison of “Berkeley” in Charles City County and George Wythe of Williamsburg, both signers of the Declaration of Independence and both representatives to the Continental Congress; Richard Bland of Prince George’s County, Maryland (and husband of my seventh great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Bland Blair Bolling), also a member of the Continental Congress. The oratorical and legislative experience these burgesses gained would serve them well in the years to follow when they would forge their own country after the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781. The House of Burgesses was dissolved by the Governor in response to its actions against the Townsend Act, so named for Charles Townsend, British Chancellor of the Exchequer. Passed by Parliament in 1767, the Act placed a tax on common products imported into the American Colonies. These items included lead, paper, paint, glass, and tea. In contrast to the Stamp Act of 1765, the laws were not a direct tax, but a tax on imports. The most public display of protest toward the Act was carried out in 1773 in what has become known as the Boston Tea Party. Rather than continue to pay the oppressive import tax, colonial Bostonians dressed as Indians raided British ships carrying imported tea and dumped the leaves into Boston harbor.

John Phelps Service in The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

French and Indian War - Rebel History

French and Indian War – Rebel History

Researcher, Mary Galgan, has done an amazing amount of research on the Phelps Family.  She writes that on August 20, 1756, then Captain John Phelps was commissioned to command a Company of Rangers to be raised in Bedford County to protect the settlers from the French and Indians in the area. There is also evidence that six years prior to his Ranger commission, John Phelps and other “Gentlemen” of Lunenburg County were sworn in as “Captains of the Foot in this County.”  For their service in “the defence and protection of the frontier of this colony, against the incursions and depredations of the French, and their Indian allies” members of the Militia of the County of Bedford were paid in September 1758. Captain John Phelps tops the long list of Bedford militia troops, receiving the sum of £2.8.0 for his service.

Captain Phelps returned to Bedford after the French and Indian War, living out the rest of his days quietly with his family on his land near Lynchburg. He died in Bedford County in 1772. His will, recorded in Will Book “A” page 137, lists wife,
Mary and children, Jane, Judith, Sarah, Ann, Mary, Betty, John, and Aggey. His son, Lt.
John Phelps d 1801, also served as an officer in the militia, and later, as an officer in the
Virginia line during the American Revolution.

The French and Indian War made life on the Virginia frontier particularly dangerous, especially for men like Colonel Patton and Captain Phelps who lived west of Albemarle County. During the conflict the majority of Indian tribes sided with the French, with the one exception of the Iroquois Confederacy who fought on the side of Great Britain and the colonies.

Trading posts and forts were used by both the British and the French forces whose
countries went to war over the disputed territory “the Ohio Country,” bounded east to west by the Appalachian mountains and the Mississippi river, and north to south by the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. While serving as Lieutenant Governor Virginia from 1751 to 1758, Robert Dinwiddie began granting patents of land in the Ohio valley to Virginia citizens after learning the French were entrenching themselves in the region (at the time, Virginia stretched from the Chesapeake Bay to the Mississippi). In the winter of 1753-54, Dinwiddie sent a 21 year old Virginia militia officer, George Washington, to deliver a letter on behalf of the Crown demanding the French vacate the region; however, the French refused. The years 1754 and 1755 included several clashes, but the war didn’t officially begin until May 15, 1756, when Britain declared war on the French, marking the beginning of what is referred to in Europe as the Seven Years’ War.  Washington suffered his first and only military defeat of his career during the war and mourned the death of his commander, Major General Edward Braddock whom he carried off the battlefield near present day Pittsburgh on 9 July, 1755. It wasn’t until 1758 that the British tide began to turn with victories in the north at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) on Lake Champlain, and Fort Frontenac on the eastern edge of Lake Ontario. The war ended with the British victorious on 10 February 1763 upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Update:  Post College and Outward Migration

Our three grandsons have since graduated college; two of the three serve in the United States Armed Forces and are stationed elsewhere; the only one who remains near his parents in Virginia and now a new homeowner works in Law Enforcement.  As for our now “empty nester” children–they just recently added a beautifully screened in porch over their patio and refinished their recreation room.  Their eldest son married and visits with his family that now includes a one-year-old.  We elders keep praying there will be outward migration closer to our home in Maryland, but I’m thinking God has other plans.  The good news is our children are just a five hour commute away!


The Statutes at Large; Being A Collection Of All The Laws Of Virginia, From The First
Session Of The Legislature In The Year 1619. Volume VII. Franklin Press, Richmond,
Virginia, 1820.

Our Kin: the genealogies of some of the early families who made history in the founding
and development of Bedford County, Virginia. Mary Denham Ackerly. 1930
Colonial Virginia Register, compiled by William Glover and Mary Newton Standard,1902.

The Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1910–1911)

“Wingapo” – Welcome, My Beloved Friend

“Welcome, my beloved friend”

European colonists arriving in Virginia may have been greeted with, “Wingapo,”  (pronounced win-gà-po), which translated means “Welcome, my beloved Friend.”  So we know that the State of Virginia’s history did not begin in 1607. We are learning that Indians have lived in Virginia for thousands of years.  In fact, if you ask any Virginia Native American, “When did you come to this land?”, he or she will tell you, “We have always been here.”

Native American Tribes Led by Chief Powhatan

Little is known about Chief Powhatan’s life before the arrival of English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. He apparently inherited the leadership of about 4-6 tribes, with its base at the “fall line” near present-day Richmond, and his Algonquin native name “Powhatan,” which means “at the falls,” and describes his people’s original lands. Through diplomacy and/or force, by the early 17th century, Powhatan had assembled a total of about 30 tribes that included an estimated 10,000-15,000 people.

According to early chroniclers, Powhatan’s father may have come to Virginia from either Florida or Maya territory in Central America. The Mayan word “Pohotun” refers to ancient ones. Their civilization had a history of conquest and tribal consolidation.

About the Powhatan “Confederacy”

The Powhatans populated the northeastern part of the United States at the time of its colonization [1492-1673].  Their boundaries in 1607 stretched from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., and onto the Eastern Shore region (about 16,000 square miles). [Note: A Washington Post map by Gene Thorpe dated December 13, 2006, showed the land and water areas were in fact between 18,700 to 19,250 square miles.]

Map Showing The Boundaries Of The Powhatan Confederacy 

Boundaries of The Powhatan Confederacy 1607

Boundaries of The Powhatan Confederacy 1607

Treaty Between The English And The Powhatan Indians, October 1646

The oldest Treaty in America dates back to  October 1646, two years after Pamunkey Chief Opechancanough, brother of Powhatan, ordered coördinated attacks on English settlements that killed about 500 people. The government of the colony and Chief Necotowance, son of Opechancanough, and nephew of Chief Powhatan, on behalf of the Powhatan tribes, negotiated a treaty that ended hostilities between the remnant of the Powhatan and the English Virginians. Later in the year, the British General Assembly enacted the treaty into law and adopted other laws to enforce its terms.

The substance of the “Treaty of 1646,” placed Indians in eastern Virginia under the control of the King of England.  In theory, it provided the tribes’ people protection from other tribes and from encroaching settlers. Yet, it imposed many restrictions on them by 1) confining them to land north of the York River; 2) prohibiting them from interfering with English settlements south of that river; 3) requiring them to communicate with the government by messengers while dressed in distinctive clothing; 4) requiring them to return all hostages, including “negroes,” 5) to turn in their guns; and, 6) to acknowledge and make tribute to the King for such protection by paying unto the King’s Governor 20 beaver skin’s annually  at the time the Geese migrated south.

From that time on, the colonies, governments, and Indian leaders negotiated treaties that allowed people of European origin or ancestry to settle in areas that Indians had formerly occupied. Often, these treaties put an end to open hostilities or organized warfare.  These legal doctrines also showed that Indians did not bear the same relationship to the colonial governments that free white men enjoyed. In fact, some colonial laws and practices treated Indians as foreign nations. And, when Indians resided in or near European settlements, they were not given the full rights of free white men. In the case of the Treaty of 1646, the affected tribes were known as “tributary nations,” because they were required to pay tribute to their victors who had imposed the terms of the treaty on them. As a result,  their required annual tribute by payment of beaver skins to the government compared to the European settlers taxation, which exempted Indians.

Our Constitution also included some of those same attitudes toward Indians residing within its boundaries:

  • Article I, Section 2, in providing for the counting of people for the purposes of assigning direct taxes and the number of members each state would have in the House of Representatives, exempted “Indians not taxed” from the population entitled to representation.
  • Article I, Section 8, empowered Congress to regulate commerce “with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes,” treating Indian tribes as if they were sovereign, foreign countries.
  • The authorization in Article II, Section 2, for the president to negotiate, with the advice and consent of the Senate, and make treaties was understood to include Indian tribes as well as foreign nation states. In fact, our first President and then President of the Constitution Convention of 1787, George Washington, clearly understood this clause and assigned agents to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes while during his term of office.

The status of Indians became even more complex after the new federal government concluded its own treaties with western Indians. Those treaties created different relationships with the federal government for western Indians than eastern Indians had negotiated with individual state governments.

Settlers Westward Expansion: 1787 – 1869

The constant westward expansion of the settlements by people not of Indian ethnicity and the recurring warfare with people of Indian origin led to more than a century of treaties and actions by the federal government, unlike any agreements or laws adopted that pertained to free or enslaved people.

Pamunkey John Watson Miles-Mills

Pamunkey John Watson Miles-Mills

Pamunkey John Miles-Mills was born in Hanover,  King William County, Virginia, in 1847 to Mary Frances Miles. It was often the custom for children of Indian women to carry the mother’s surname. Mary Frances was the daughter of the
Pamunkey Indian headman (chief) Isaac Miles and his wife Nannie Custalow Miles. The
Pamunkeys’ and the village of the same name were the main seat of the Powhatan Chiefdom.   King William County land records show Mills land (and Mills family including John Watson Mills, age 3 in 1850) near Aylett and Rt. 30 on the Pamunkey River, a tract of 110 acres called Pigeon Hill. The land was deeded to Edward
Mills by his uncle Captain Daniel Miles (spelled Mills, Myles, and Miles) a trustee of Delaware Town, or De La Warr Town, now called West Point. The land was originally owned by Opechancanough, Powhatan’s half-brother.  Like many Virginia Indians living away from the reservations, Pamunkey John saw many changes in his racial classification before he died in Fairfax County in 1923 and was buried in the Pleasant Grove churchyard.  You see, Indians were called “Indian,” as long as they remained on reservations. When they left, they were called fringe Indians, mulatto or mulatto, colored, negro and black. John married Martha Loretta Goings in Fairfax County July 18, 1876. On the marriage certificate, the bride and groom were designated “Black.”
Christopher Mills, John’s brother, married, at age 65, in King William County in 1908. His marriage record shows him as Indian. In the words of a Mattaponi philosopher, John and Martha “got called out of their race.”

Although the historic events and details of each tribe’s situation vary considerably, the legal rights and status maintained by Native Americans are the result of their shared history of wrestling with the U.S. government over such issues as tribal sovereignty, shifting government policies, treaties that were made and often broken, and conflicting latter-day interpretations of those treaties.

The result today is that although Native Americans enjoy the same legal rights as every other U.S. citizen, they also keep unique rights in such areas as hunting and fishing, water use, and Gaming operations. In general, these rights are based on the legal foundations of tribal sovereignty, treaty provisions, and the “reserved rights” doctrine, which holds that Native Americans retain all rights not explicitly abrogated in treaties or other legislation. Not even the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which defined as citizens “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” conferred full civil rights and liberties on our Native Americans.



My Heritage: A View From The “Great” American Indian Wars

John Carpenter Ford

My post of January 12, 2013, mentioned my maternal great-grandfather, John Carpenter Ford, from Wake County, Raleigh, North Carolina.  John’s U.S. Army Enlistment Records of August 14, 1888, show his date of birth as January 15, 1864, which would have been just one year before “The ‘Great’ American Indian Wars began (1865-1890). His enlistment record also shows that this 24-year-old stood only 5’8” tall, had fair skin and grey-blue eyes.  He was assigned to Infantry Company D, 17th Regiment out of Washington, DC.

Fort D.A. Russell, Cheyenne, Wyo. 1910

After serving 3-1/3 years in the Infantry, Private John C. Ford, just shy of his 28th birthday, was discharged on December 10, 1891, from Fort D.A. Russell, in Laramie, Cheyenne, Wyoming. His record also included “General Order 80,” which was the U.S. War Department’s credit for battle participation and “Adjutant General Order 90.” The date of John’s discharge would also have been one year after the Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Indian Massacre. This regrettable and tragic clash of arms, occurred December 29, 1890. It was the last significant engagement between Indians and soldiers on the North American Continent, ending nearly four centuries of warfare between westward-bound Americans and the indigenous peoples.

On December 29th, the U.S. Army surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. A brutal massacre followed, in which 230 Indian women and children and 120 men at the camp were killed. Army casualties were 25 dead and 39 wounded. The total casualties were probably the highest in Plains Indian warfare except for the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The battle aroused the Brules and Oglala on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, but by January 16, 1891, troops had rounded up the last of the hostiles, who recognized the futility of further opposition. Although he didn’t speak of his infantry service that I am aware, this engagement could have left deep emotional scars on John and have been the cause for his later irascible disposition.  When he passed away at age 97 on November 12, 1961, he was only one of two remaining Indian War veterans.

With his father, Robert Jackson Ford present as one of three witnesses to his Wedding Ceremony, John married Mary Susan Morris, age 20, also of Wake County, Raleigh, on September 23, 1894.  The irony of their relationship–she was full blooded Native American and just three years later he had put the Indian wars behind him, and John and Mary Susan found each other and were married.  Although, it appears that John may have lied to Mary Susan about his age as 27.  He listed his year of birth as 1867 on the marriage register of Wake County, North Carolina.  And the Decennial Census records beginning with the 1870 Census listed his year of birth as 1867.  I believe he used his brother William Sherman Ford’s year of birth instead of his own to keep the 10-year age span from his wife. I discovered further evidence of John’s birth year as 1864 when I looked at his brother William’s death records at  There, William’s year of birth was listed as 1867. And, our family always went with John’s military records–which means John was in fact 10 years older than his wife, Mary Susan.

The following link tells the story of the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota in about four minutes:

As an American whose Native American heritage comes from my maternal great-grandmother Mary Susan Ford and my paternal 11th great grandmother, Pocahontas, my heart aches for all of those involved in these horrific injustices.  And it aches, too, for my maternal great-grandfather, John Carpenter Ford, who because of his enlistment in the Army became a part of this unforgivable moment in history that haunted him apparently for the rest of his long life.  You see, he and my great-grandmother separated in the early 1940’s because he was too difficult a man to live with.  He moved to the National Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C. where he remained until his death in 1961.  Mary Susan lived with maternal grandparents until she passed away suddenly in her sleep.  She was 73 years and 7 months old–and I was just 14 months.

THE MAKING OF A NATION – by the Voice of America. (A podcast about the Sioux Indians and the Battles of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee.) 

I Remain in the Thicket, Hoping to Learn from our Children

Victoria Prooday

Just one month ago this week, I began writing this post about a two-month-old article I came across that was written by Victoria Prooday, an internationally-known educator, motivational speaker, registered Occupational Therapist, and founder and clinical director of a multidisciplinary clinic.  It speaks to a silent tragedy that is affecting our very own children all around the globe!  It interested me because I remain deeply concerned about our children and the futures and legacies being left for their generations to come; i.e., what we are teaching them and what healthy and helpful lessons are we leaving behind.  Are we truly building time-honored and loving relationships, generously sharing our wisdom, experiences, special stories, and the family histories and traditions that generations before us created to help make our lives easier, happier, emotionally and physically healthier as members of their families and communities so they can prosper? Ironically, life rudely interrupted my daily, somewhat uninspiring routine, and thrust me head first into this thicket of young people’s realities in the twenty-first century.  I guess the lesson for me was to experience up close and first-hand their daily routines, struggles, stresses, and yes, even some small successes along the way.

Even as I write today, I remain in this thicket of underbrush.  I consider myself a woman of the world, well-read and wise on so many topics.  Yet, I find I have been so un-under informed about this century’s daily and toxic demons that lay in wait to consume our children’s lives.  These amusing babysitting gadgets and high-tech “social media” lifestyles rob them of this world’s simple everyday joys that are around them and cheat them out of warm and loving connected family dynamics where they could share mutual trust, love, support, and respect for one another.  And when did this all start?  Was it World-War-II’s silent generation, the baby-boomer generation, the women’s rights movement? Regardless of when or why this estrangement from family unity and the lure of “anti-social” high-tech instant gratification, I agree with Victoria’s findings that the impact of modern-day parenting and high-tech lifestyle’s on our children’s nervous systems is a tragedy on life and society.  In fact, in the short two months, since Victoria released her article (that follows), 10 million people have already read it and the numbers of readers keep growing.  Every parent who cares about the future of his/her children and wants to keep informed on this subject will want to read it and weigh its message and tools for themselves. Victoria says if you follow her recommendations at the end, you will see positive changes in your child’s life and be further proof that the problem she describes is real and should be close to all parents’ hearts.   Please take a read.

“The silent tragedy affecting today’s children . . .”

There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels – our children. Through my work with hundreds of children and families as an occupational therapist, I have witnessed this tragedy unfolding right in front of my eyes. Our children are in a devastating emotional state! Talk to teachers and professionals who have been working in the field for the last 15 years. You will hear concerns similar to mine. Moreover, in the past 15 years, researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:


How much more evidence do we need before we wake up?

No, “increased diagnostics alone” is not the answer!

No, “they all are just born like this” is not the answer!

No, “it is all the school system’s fault” is not the answer!

Yes, as painful as it can be to admit, in many cases, WE, parents, are the answer to many of our kids’ struggles!

It is scientifically proven that the brain has the capacity to rewire itself through the environment. Unfortunately, with the environment and parenting styles that we are providing to our children, we are rewiring their brains in a wrong direction and contributing to their challenges in everyday life.

Yes, there are and always have been children who are born with disabilities and despite their parents’ best efforts to provide them with a well-balanced environment and parenting, their children continue to struggle. These are NOT the children I am talking about here.

I am talking about many others whose challenges are greatly shaped by the environmental factors that parents, with their greatest intentions, provide to their children. As I have seen in my practice, the moment parents change their perspective on parenting, these children change.

What is Wrong?

Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:

  • Emotionally available parents
  • Clearly defined limits and guidance
  • Responsibilities
  • Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
  • Movement and outdoors
  • Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom

Instead, children are being served with:

  • Digitally distracted parents
  • Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
  • Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
  • Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
  • Sedentary indoor lifestyle
  • Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments

Could anyone imagine that it is possible to raise a healthy generation in such an unhealthy environment? Of course not! There are no shortcuts to parenting, and we can’t trick human nature. As we see, the outcomes are devastating. Our children pay for the loss of well-balanced childhood with their emotional well-being.

How to fix it?

 If we want our children to grow into happy and healthy individuals, we have to wake up and go back to the basics. It is still possible! I know this because hundreds of my clients see positive changes in their kids’ emotional state within weeks (and in some cases, even days) of implementing these recommendations:

Set limits and remember that you are your child’s PARENT, not a friend

Offer kids well-balanced lifestyle filled with what kids NEED, not just what they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “No!” to your kids if what they want is not what they need.

  • Provide nutritious food and limits snacks.
  • Spend one hour a day in green space: biking, hiking, fishing, watching birds/insects
  • Have a daily technology-free family dinner.
  • Play one board game a day. (List of family games)
  • Involve your child in one chore a day (folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table etc)
  • Implement consistent sleep routine to ensure that your child gets lots of sleep in a technology-free bedroom

Teach responsibility and independence. Don’t over-protect them from small failures. It trains them the skills needed to overcome greater life’s challenges:

  •  Don’t pack your child’s backpack, don’t carry her backpack, don’t bring to school his forgotten lunch box/agenda, and don’t peel a banana for a 5-year-old child. Teach them the skills rather than do it for them.

Teach delayed gratification and provide opportunities for “boredom” as boredom is the time when creativity awakens:

  • Don’t feel responsible for being your child’s entertainment crew.
  • Do not use technology as a cure for boredom.
  • Avoid using technology during meals, in cars, restaurants, malls. Use these moments as opportunities to train their brains to function under “boredom”
  • Help them create a “boredom first aid kit” with activity ideas for “I am bored” times.

Be emotionally available to connect with kids and teach them self-regulation and social skills:

  • Turn off your phones until kids are in bed to avoid digital distraction.
  • Become your child’s emotional coach. Teach them to recognize and deal with frustration and anger.
  • Teach greeting, turn taking, sharing, empathy, table manners, conversation skills,
  • Connect emotionally – Smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, or crawl with your child.

We must make changes in our kids’ lives before this entire generation of children will be medicated! It is not too late yet, but soon it will be…

Does Art Imitate Life or Life More Often Imitate Art?

In recent years, several excellent historical drama series have emerged that depict the life and times of ancient peoples and cultures.  We sit back comfortably in our chairs, on our couches, or even lay back on our bed pillows and watch in high definition color on our flat screens as peoples’ thirsts drive them forward at any and all costs in their quests for political and social stature, and even designs of world dominance.  And, whether dramatic art or in the reality of our own world today, we see individuals and groups wrestling for social and political power and world sovereignty.  I’d like to know who was right;  Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC), who viewed art as an imitation of life; or the author from Ireland, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), who believed that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.  These series like The Tudors, Reign, Marco Polo, Medici-Masters of Florence,  Hell on Wheels, The Hatfields and McCoys, West Wing, and House of Cards, in fact, have inspired my subsequent research into the real stories behind them and to root out the naked truths.

In Art – Let’s start with The Tudors:

The Tudors included 38 episodes over four seasons and followed the life of Henry VIII from the time of his crowning until his death. His personal and political struggles and victories.  It also detailed his paranoia, his scandalous life that included many marriages and extramarital affairs, and his changes to the Catholic Church to create the Church of England–all for his own personal benefit.

Next – there was Reign:

Reign ran for four seasons and 78 episodes. Reign followed Mary, the dainty but fierce 15-year-old from Scotland, as she re-entered French court after spending her adolescence at a convent. She was torn between her duty to Scotland and her Scottish family’s political aspirations for her to marry Prince Francis, future King of France; and her blossoming love for this man, Francis, who she was betrothed to as a child and had spent much of her childhood with him as playmates.  Yet, throughout her life, even Mary had to remain ever-vigilant due to social and political threats against her life and crown.

In Reality – Executions at Tower Hill Ordered by British Royalty

What I quickly learned from these historical dramas and my subsequent research is that everyone had to be ever vigilant.  Their harsh realities–there were few who could be trusted loyal friends and many unknown enemies who were more than willing to strike them down in whatever fashion in their attempts to get ahead–and this scenario was especially true among the royals and their “closest” associates!

I found a couple of interesting resources: 1) Capital Punishment UK and 2) British Royal Family History. I used both of them when generating this Google Sheet that covers the “Executions on Tower Hill by English Kings and Queens (1377-1820).” As you can see, it spans nearly 500 years; seven ruling families; and, 18 blue-bloods who decided who amidst them would advance within the royal ranks and who they would execute at their sole discretion because they had in some way become “inconvenient” to them rather than genuine traitors.

The majority of these beheadings were at the behest of royalty and took place at the Tower of London. It is a 900-year-old castle and fortress in central London that is notable for housing the crown jewels and for holding many famous and infamous prisoners.

It seems the history of these beheadings by British Royalty goes back to early medieval England’s Anglo-Saxon times (about  450 A.D. to 1066 A.D.) and that beheading was widely used in Europe and Asia until as recently as the 20th century.  Even today, as barbaric as it is, we still are witness to political-based and/or jihad-inspired beheadings by peoples primarily on the continents of Asia and Africa in places like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia, and Boko-Haram.  But among the British Royalty, beheading with a sword or axe was considered a more honorable and less painful form of death than other execution methods used at the time. (And, like hanging, it was a cheap and practical method!)

Throughout its history, the tower was used to imprison a wide range of prisoners, from deposed monarchs to more common criminals. Prisoners included Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for about a week in the 16th century before she was deposed by Mary I.

Also imprisoned there were two princes, Edward and Richard, ages 12 and 9, who were the sons of Edward IV (died 1483). They appear never to have left the tower alive and some thought they were killed by Richard III, their uncle who took the throne for himself.

Another notable prisoner was Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 attempted to blow up the House of Lords and the monarch by detonating gunpowder in the cellars below. He was imprisoned in the tower and tortured.

And, of course, King Henry VIII, one of the more notorious members of the House of Tudor, who ruled for about 38 years.  He had all but 5 his 31 “treasonous” country-men/women beheaded on Tower Hill.  If fact, he imprisoned two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and later executed them. It also was Henry, who turned England into a Protestant country, and in doing so had a number of his dissenting clergymen committed to the tower and later killed, including his former counselor Sir Thomas More.

In all, just within the Tower of London or on an ancient scaffold on Tower Hill, 122 people were put to their deaths–many after also spending torturous times imprisoned within the walls of the Tower.

Of those executed:

  • 94 were beheaded
  • 12 were hanged
  • 11 were hanged and drawn and quartered
  •   3 were killed by firing squad
  •   2 were burned at the stake

You also can see on my google sheet that from the years 1649-1660, that 11-year-period between the reigns of King Charles I and King Charles II, that the British parliament and government ruled the Kingdom, and even then eight persons were beheaded for various “treasonous plots” against the Royals or their armies.  Included among them was British Monarch, Charles I–the only monarch ever to be executed by Parliament, but not in Tower Hill. He was beheaded on Tuesday the 30th of January 1649 on a raised scaffold in front of the Palace of Whitehall. He had been convicted of High Treason and “other crimes” for his activities during the civil war against the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. An act of parliament had to be passed to set up a means to try him before a special court composed of Commissioners. The trial began on the 20th of January 1649 and the king refused to recognize the court or to enter a plea. In Charles’ case, the executioner was skilled and managed to sever his head with a single blow–unlike so many others put to their deaths by beheadings and orders of the blue-bloods.

So where does this leave us on the art imitating life or life imitating art question?  I’m not sure I am qualified to say.  If I’m to be honest (like TV personality Simon Cowell often says), we’ve each seen examples of art imitating life and life imitating art.  I guess it’s safe to say it’s like the chicken and the egg story–which came first?