In Search of Peter Colvin: What The Records Tell Us, II

This essay is an update to an earlier post

(c) Alex Colvin, 2020

Understanding where an ancestor lived in colonial Virginia necessitates understanding, with as much accuracy as possible, not just knowing approximate dates, but also the conditions and geography which existed at the time he is believed to have  lived. Knowing something of these secondary features can give us great insight into an ancestor’s life. For example, if we know he lived in a county which experienced a boundary change, this will likely explain why in the records he seems to have crossed a boundary  when, in fact, the boundary crossed him.  

Applying this to the case of Peter Colvin,  means understanding something about  Nansemond County, Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in particular, about a certain parcel consisting of, in part,   2,000 headright acres known as “Wickhams,”  granted to Col. John Blake in 1670 located in the vicinity of a tiny English settlement known as South Quay.

And while 19th and  20th century maps put Wickhams squarely in Virginia, in reality,  the land and the three generations of  manor houses built upon it, each known as Buckland, were in fact, in North Carolina.

The confusion comes from the somewhat obtuse fact that not until 1728 – some half a century after Blake imported his forty indentures into Virginia – did a permanent border between the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina exist. Prior to that year things were rather fluid, as well as contentious with numerous boundary disputes; there was even a “dead zone” along a great swath of the border where colonists were banned from settling.[i]

It was William Byrd, however,  who was drafted with the momentous task of remedying this condition by “re-surveying” the border between the two colonies and about whose exploits much has been written.[ii]  Byrd himself even wrote two accounts of his surveying adventure,  one of which,  The Secret History of the Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina. was never expected to be seen by the general public.[iii]

For our research, however,  this meant that prior to 1728, while Wickham was, in fact, in Nansemond county, Nansemond county was not exclusively bound by today’s state borders.  In fact, on contemporary maps, the neighborhood of Blake’s original land grant will be found in Grant county, North Carolina.  And on the few acres of it that remain one now finds a rather dystopian reminder of  the eroded fortunes of the Blake beneficiaries.

For there sits the decaying ruin of Buckland’s 3rd incarnation built in 1795 by William Baker – now a dilapidated husk of its former glory.


“Buckland” Front View
North Carolina State University archives

We know this thanks to not only the application  of a few significant  21st-century cartographic tools:  USGS topographic quadrangle maps, Google Earth,  the digital county boundary atlases of  Virginia and North Carolina,  but also to the literary work of a 20th century descendant of Col. Blake, Thomas F. Baker, whose insightful  monograph, Buckland Plantation: 1670-2014, includes a map which provided  worthwhile leads necessary to find Buckland.

Unfortunately, Baker’s map showed no dividing line between the two states; worse, perhaps, not only were distances compressed, it showed water courses now extinct. Nevertheless,  several features on it were useful in being able to pinpoint the old manor house’s location and to show how it is roughly twelve miles (as the crow flies,)  from the remnants of South Quay, itself still well within the Virginia state line on the Blackwater river.[iv] Thus, when John Blake’s original land patent tells us that Wickham was “hard by” South Quay, it was, indeed, correct. Twelve miles would not have been seen as far away.

Trying to  find an approximate location of  Blake’s parcel on  a period map (something ca. 1650,) however, is another animal altogether,  owing to not merely elaborate and ornate cartographic customs of the time, but the generally poor grasp of how to best render three dimensional things on a two-dimensional map which turns spatial relations into something surreal with predictable results. The general  ignorance of the flora and fauna of the Virginia wilderness the explorers expressed didn’t help matters, since they seemed to generally hold it all as being rather uninhabitable and dangerous. In his Map of Virginia and Maryland of 1670, for example, Augustine Herrman, in ornate script made his assessment clear,  [f = long s]:

“The land between James River and Roanoke River is for the moft parts Low Suncken Swampy land not well paffable but with great difficulty. And therein harbours Tygers Bears and other Devouring Creatures.”

Tygers,  Bears,  and Creatures. Oh my.  

Fortunately it’s unlikely any  of the several generations through which the lands and Buckland  passed over the decades, being devised and sold off in pieces as they went,  ever encountered a Tyger. Perhaps an occasional stray Bear.

In 1928, what remained of the estate passed out of the Baker family, into the Charlie Smith family and thereafter, and finally, sold to  one of their tenants whose heirs hold possession of it today.[v]

What then of Peter Colvin, by whom our quest began? The possibilities are numerous.

Much is known of the Baker family, including their considerable wealth and influence in what, by the late 18th century  became Gates County; it was William Baker, for example, who not only built Buckland, but who, as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons, introduced the bill that brought Gates County into existence.  And that wealth and power among his siblings and parents was spread across thousands of plantation acres overseen by at least five known manor houses which employed hundreds of slaves at its peak. The Bakers were, in fact, among the county’s largest landowners.[vi] Might indentured servants brought from England have worked at such places.

Almost certainly. Might  Peter Colvin have been among them?

The answer to that intriguing question awaits additional research.  


[i]            Mary Root, “Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia & North Carolina,” Backsights Magazine, January, 1994. Backsights Magazine is an organ of the Surveyor’s Historical Society. A reprint of the article was published on the Virtual Museum of Surveying website, among their considerable list of Backsights reprints.
[ii]           Ibid
[iii]           Ibid
[iv]          U.S. Geological Survey, Holland, VA, quadrangle Virginia [map]1:62500 Washington , D.C.; USGS, 1920.  Imported into Google Earth as a .kmz file and overlaid onto the region, measurements were obtained from the software of the distance between the South Quad site, (labeled as such on the USGS map,) and the known location of Buckland. The former South Quad site is located at 36°37’34.98″N, 76°53’32.72″W, and Buckland at 36°28’31.27″N, – 76°45’45.57″W
[v]           “Buckland,” National Parks Service, National Register of Historic Places nomination report, January 9, 1986, downloaded from  NC Listings in the National Register of Historic Places, North Carolina state Historic Preservation Office,
[vi]          Ibid.
Posted in Buckland, Peter Colvin

The Library of Virginia has a surprise and its not a pleasant one.

I’m going to put this as bluntly as I think fit to print: The Library of Virginia, in its infinite wisdom to “improve” its catalog search function nine months ago, has made it all but impossible to find anything in their catalogue unless one lives in the state and visits the library in person. This is,  to put it politely: insane.

Indeed throughout the new catalog search experience, if one wishes more “details” on an item found, he is told to “sign in”. Likewise, if he finds an item in the vast Virginia Memory catalog of digitized documents,  and he click the item’s link,  he is sent not to a scan of the item, but to a page promoting the glories of the new search experience. And again, he is reminded for the umpteenth time,  if  he wishes “more details” of an item he must sign in.

But those without a library account cannot sign in.

Because those accounts, according to their own website, are not available to non-residents. In short their logic is:  to access records you need an online account; but those outside VA are not issued accounts. Brilliant.

Those living outside of the Old Dominion, in other words, are locked out of the treasure house that is Virginia’s state library’s holdings, left instead with having to order materials (at $.50 per page,) once digitized and easily downloadable. 

Now, he must try to navigate a labyrinthine, irrational search process which leads only to bibliographic info, or no info at all.  This is the  insufferably  mindless result if, for example, one wishes to order a single page from a colonial era tax record, or the one   page out of a 360- page petition, on which his ancestor’s signature  appears.

Worse, if one emails an archivist to find something or some cyber direction to a  document once digitized and easy to find, (particularly one he downloaded previously but whose source he now wishes to  review,) he is given the link to an information page about the library’s shiny new catalogue. He is, in other words, sent in a complete circle from whence he came.

This infuriating madness is recent. Only a few years ago, I had no trouble using their numerous and outstanding databases with much success and discovered a wealth of original documents relating to my Colvin ancestors.  Today those documents are found only in bibliographic references, such as the Ten Thousand Names Petition. – the largest such petition ever sent by its citizens to Virginia’s colonial legislature. It was formally digitized and displayed on the library’s website. Today one finds only a religious petition category in their legislative petitions database which contains over 600 digitized petitions. One will need to comb through them afresh to find the most famous one.

This is the convoluted state of things at the Library of Virginia’s search catalogue. Good luck, and may God hold you in the palm of his hand least you tear your hair out in fury.  

Posted in Uncategorized

In Search of Peter Colvin: What The Records Tell Us


© 2020, Alex Colvin

Establishing where a person was  located in time and place is what genealogists do routinely; in many cases this is made easy with the use of records such as birth and death certificates, population schedules, city directories, and so forth. But what if you’re seeking information on an individual in Colonial Virginia about whom almost nothing is known and in a period from which records are scarce? That was what I was challenged with  when  contacted by a Colvin who believed Peter Colvin may have been his ancestor.  In sorting through the available records, the following is what’s known thus far:

1825 Herman Boye map showing New South Quay for blog post

Figure 1. Enlargement of panel from Herman Boye’s,  “A Map of the State of Virginia,” 1827. David Rumsey Map Collection

We can say with confidence that Peter was among sixty imported English immigrants who arrived in the 1670s possibly at a now extinct English settlement known as South Quay, (pr. Key,) in what was then known as Nansemond County, one of Virginia’s southernmost border counties.[1]

In the case of finding the elusive Peter Colvin, there is more known about the circumstances of his Atlantic passage and where he may have landed  than the man himself.  For example, he’s listed among the sixty immigrants on the 1673 land record which granted 2,000 acres to a Col. John Blake; the same patent grants 1,000 acres to his associate,  William Cadogan. But  only one of them paid Peter’s passage to Virginia. This is a fair assumption because, in the 1670s, the headrights system, as it was known, allowed for fifty acres per “head”  to the person paying the passage of one or more immigrants. It was also a system fraught with abuse. [2]  

Although the land patent grants 3,000 acres in total, Blake was entitled to only 2,000 of them. This indicates he paid for the passage of only forty immigrants. William, conversely, received 1,000 acres, indicating he’d paid the passage  of the remaining twenty. With which  group Peter immigrated is unknown; however, it’s probably safe to claim he was indentured.  Scholars have long known that England peopled much of its Virginia colony in the 18th  century with bound labor, by some estimates up to 75% of the population consisted of indentured servants.[3]

Moreover, the metes and bounds given in the instrument indicate only a single parcel was ever surveyed and granted for land at a place called  “Wickhams”,  not two separate parcels as one might expect for the two men. As to its location, the grant says Wickhams was hard by,  “So. Quay.”[4] 

 Though extinct today, South Quay was a tiny English settlement on the eastern bank of Blackwater river, (see Figure 1.) itself part of the southwestern border of Nansemond county. It was very much Virginia back-country.

19th century maps can offer excellent precision in showing us where South Quay was, but not whether a boat bearing English immigrants rowed up Blackwater to its docks.[5]             

Fig. 2. Reconstructed plat of a 3,000-acre parcel granted to Col. John Blake and William Cadogan in the vicinity of South Quay, 1673.

As for Col. Blake’s grant, we can reconstruct a  reasonably accurate plat of  the his parcel, owing to the metes and bounds found in the grant language. Modern platting software renders it as a perfect rectangle, (Fig 2).

Some 80 years later, Blake’s parcel was also the subject of great interest to the vestrymen of the Upper Parish where the parcel and South Quay were located. At a meeting in Suffolk in 1752, for example, they ordered that it be surveyed by the church wardens to determine not whether but how much of it was glebe land. Apparently there was a scheme afoot to sell some glebe land in order to fund construction of a poorhouse near Suffolk, the county seat. [6] It is interesting to contemplate whether the survey took the form of processioning which was the ritual imposed by the church and required of parishioners in determining their property boundaries. Colonists could be fined or even jailed if they did not participate in the process which church wardens were required by law to undertake at least once yearly while land owners were required to maintain marks on trees and other natural features to distinguish their land boundaries; indicators of these marks  can be found in a survey’s metes and bounds language. In the Blake survey, for example, each mete and bound is defined by a mark on a tree.[7]

1673 Col. John Blake entry for blog post

Fig. 3. Peter Colvin [highlighted] listed in digitized original of the John Blake patent, February 25, 1673, Virginia Land Office Grants and Patents, Book 6, p 501, Library of Virginia.

Unfortunately, nothing in Blake’s land patent or South Quay’s 18th century  culture tells us anything about Peter Colvin other than who gained headrights by Peter’s  importation. (Fig. 3.) More unfortunate is the fact that among several databases available to explore Virginia’s colonial  indentures, no Peter Colvin (the surname in the grant language appears  as “Colvyn”) turns up. Among the databases consulted, for example, was the massive compilation, “Registers of Servants Sent to Foreign Plantations,” a listing of more that 15,000 indentures sent to the American colonies from Bristol, Middlesex,  and London,  England  between 1654-1759, maintained by the Virtual Jamestown website.[8]  Of the four English registries on the database, only the Bristol registry covers the period 1654-1686. The other three registries begin 1682 and later. One source which held out hope but proved futile upon closer study was the Ship and Passenger Lists  on the website Pilgrim Ship Lists Early 1600’s.[9] The latest transatlantic crossing by any of the 290 ships listed, however, was 1638.  Another promising data set which listed ships that arrived in Virginia in the 1670s, was that of, which listed,  among its numerous logs of colonial ships and manifests, a vessel names “George”. This ship arrived in Virginia in 1677. However, as proves often the case with poorly maintained older websites, many of the “passenger list”  hyperlinks lead to empty, dead web pages. A closer inspection of the extracted material showed no source material cited.[10]

 If we circle back to the one source that lists Peter Colvin as an immigrant to Virginia in 1673, we find him listed in an abstracted work they call,  “U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s,” but which is actually a transcription of the multi-volume series, “Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s,” edited by Percy William Filby, and published in 2012 by Gale Research. According to the source citation for Peter Colvin,  that individual, appears in the well-known Nell M. Nugent work, “Cavaliers and Pioneers,” who gave his date of arrival as 1673/4. However, their source citation is also incorrect because they list Nugent’s entry for Peter Colvin as being in Volume II,  (Patent Books 6-8, ) but the Blake patent was recorded in Land Patent book 5. A digitized original of that recordation is held by the researcher who obtained it from the Library of Virginia where the original patent books are now held and have been fully digitized.

At this juncture, it’s useful to remember, a recordation date may be soon after an instrument is executed, or years later. Even today, in many states, there are no laws compelling a homeowner to have his deed recorded; some never do.

Thus, it is more accurate to say 1673/4 is the date of the Blake land patent recordation, not Peter Colvin’s arrival date.  Ergo, the route to find Peter Colvin had led us unavoidably to what is a dating error first by Nugent and then by who perpetuated the error.

As noted earlier,  land patents issued as a result of headrights were fraught with abuse. Moreover, it’s instructive to recall that the Blake patent was granted because the passage for sixty immigrants was paid by the grantees. Nowhere, however,  on the document does it indicate when the voyage occurred, whether it involved one ship or several, whether the immigrants disembarked at South Quay or Suffolk. Nor, for that matter, can we be confident that all of the passengers survived a voyage which very likely took more than a month and certainly under less than ideal conditions.

The miseries of  17th century transatlantic voyages by the poor coming to the new colonies were well known on both sides of the Atlantic, and has received a good amount of coverage in modern literature.  Less well known is that in 1750, the suffering of immigrants enroute to their new life was given a  full eye-witness treatment by Gottlieb Mittelberger, a writer from the Duchy known then as Württemberg, (Germany). In his, Journey to Pennsylvania.  Mittelberger not only suffered the crossing himself but became an indenture and eventually returned home – all of it endured so he could write his tale to discourage aspiring German surfs foolish enough to embark on such a reckless adventure.[11]

 What, then,  if Peter Colvin never arrived in Virginia because he died at sea and whose corpus  was unceremoniously dumped overboard in the wee hours as would have been the custom?  That possibility cannot be ruled out.

That possibility has not apparently kept some eager researchers  from assigning Peter Colvin various vital statistics based on no evidence whatsoever. According to several family trees found online,  for example, Peter Colvin was born in 1642 in the village of Colchester in Essex County, England; he died, allegedly, in 1697. Where is unstated. But wait, there’s more. Peter had a wife, so say these compilers who do not provide evidence. Her name was Clare Martin whose birth or death dates are likewise absent. The couple’s marriage place or date? Absent from their claims as well.  

Nevertheless, we will indulge our fancy and imagine Peter did arrive at South Quay in 1673, (at the imaginary age of thirty-one,) and who somehow managed to remain in Virginia. If he’s an indenture, he won’t show up on any tax lists until he’s on his own, which may be anywhere from three to seven years post-1673,presuming he didn’t run off. Many indentures did.  If he’s still in Nansemond County we may never know his whereabouts if he died in 1697, (presumably at the age of 55,) because whatever tax or rent roll on which he may have been enumerated have been lost. The earliest extant tax records for Nansemond County are its quit rent rolls of 1704, and there are no Colvins or anyone bearing a similarly spelled name on them.[12]

Where then does this leave us?  We know a few things: That a person named Peter Colvin may have survived a 17th century transatlantic crossing in order to be imported into the Virginia colony; we know his passage was paid by either a Virginian named John Blake or by his associate, William Cadogan, but  who jointly received a patent for land very near South Quay,  an English village which existed on the eastern bank of the Blackwater river. We know also that the Blackwater river was one of the borders of Nansemond County. We can also say with confidence that Nansemond county, earlier known as Upper Norfolk, (established only 40 years earlier,) had been one of the original Five Shires which composed the royal colony known as Virginia.[13]

We know these things as historically-documented facts which may have impacted Peter Colvin if, indeed,  he established himself in Virginia. What remains is discovering if he did become a Virginian and if so, what became of him.

Read the update.



[1]           John Crump, “Old South Quay in Southampton County, Its Location, Early Ownership, and History,”  The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol.88,  No. 2, (Apr. 1975,) 160-172. In his essay Crump uses Boye’s map to distinguish between the two settlements.
[2]           Daphne Gentry,  “Headrights”,  Library of Virginia website,   February 14, 2020
[3]           David Galenson, “British Servants and the Colonial Indenture System in the Eighteenth Century.” The Journal of Southern History 44, no. 1 (1978): 41-66.
[4]           Digitized original, Col. John Blake land grant, February 25, 1673, Virginia Land Office Patents and Books Book 6, p 501, Library of Virginia. See also, John Bennett Boddie, “Southside Virginia Families Vol I,” p 8 wherein the Will of Col. Blake’s daughter, Mary Barker (nee Blake) is discussed in reference to her conveying to her son, her land called “Wickhams” in 1734.
[5]           Herman Boye, “A Map of the State of Virginia,” 1927, David Rumsey Map Collection.
[6]           Wilmer L. Hall, Ed., “The Vestry Book of the Upper Parish Nansemond County, Virginia 1743-1793,”  1949, lvii
[7]           William H. Seiler, “Land Processioning in Colonial Virginia,”  The William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 3 (Jul., 1949), pp. 416-436
[8]           “Registers of Servants Sent to Foreign Plantations,”  Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia,  February 13, 2020
[9]           Sharry A. Stevens, “Pilgrim Ship Lists Early 1600’s,” Packrat Productions website,  February 14, 2020
[10]          Illya J. D’Addezio , “Directory of Passenger Ship Arrivals,” website, February 14, 2020.
[11]          Carl T. Eben, Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return to Germany in the Year 1754, trans. Gottlieb Mittelberger, Philadelphia, 1898. The digitized translation  is available at the well- known Internet Archives, here:   Mittelberger’s account has been reprinted and re-translated dozens of times since first published in the closing years of the 19th century  and can today be found commercially among any number of publishers, some more respectable than others. Pertinent passages which help capture the awfulness of a lengthy 18th century  sea voyage for the poor immigrating to the colonies and how the indenture process itself played out once the new arrivals docked,  can be found at  a posting by the History Department of Hanover College here:
[12]          “Virginia Quit Rent Rolls, 1704, [Nansemond County],” in Gary Parks, Virginia tax records,, Genealogical Publishing, 1983, 433-443.  Rather than consult the original records, Parks abstracted all of his data from three well-regarded historical journals: Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, which is currently published by the Virginia Museum of History & Culture;  William and Mary College Quarterly, (Now the William and Mary Quarterly,) which is currently published by the Omohundro Institute; and Tyler’s Quarterly Historical & Genealogical Magazine which ceased publication in 1952.
[13]          John H. Long  Ed., et al, “Atlas of Historical County Boundaries,” William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture, Digital Newberry,  Newberry Library,  This project by historians, years in the making, provides the only comprehensive map of county boundary changes for all fifty states. Knowing when and where county boundaries changed, is critically important when trying to assess where and when an individual was born, lived, and died. In many cases, an ancestor who appears to have crossed a boundary, in reality never moved at all; the boundary crossed him.
Posted in Buckland, Peter Colvin

A Query into the Questionable Tale Regarding the Attempted Rescue by Capt. Humphrey Hughes (1775-1858) of Napoleon Bonaparte Imprisoned on the Isle of St. Helena

Capt. Humphrey Hughes annotated

There has been no shortage over the years of tales of daring-do regarding the various rescue attempts of former Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, from his prison exile on the Isle of St. Helena.[i] Among those anecdotes recently found, is one involving a “Captain” Humphrey Hughes of Cape May, New Jersey who, so the legend goes,  failed in his attempt and was imprisoned. While incarcerated his portrait was purportedly sketch and said portraiture has been passed down among his descendants.[ii] What validity there is to firstly, his rescue attempt, thence secondly  whether the provenance of the portrait itself is valid are both the subject of this essay.

To begin our query, it’s instructive to start with some preliminary background information regarding  who Capt. Humphrey Hughes was.

Among the earliest attempts to sort out the Hughes of Cape May and their connection to Mayflower Pilgrim, John Howland, was theologian and genealogist, Rev. Paul Sturtevant Howe, in his 1921 monograph, Mayflower Pilgrim Descendants in Cape May County, New Jersey, 1620-1920.[iii] Using primary sources, Howe laid out the case of Cape May’s 17th century settlers and their familial connection to their Mayflower ancestors, while correcting and refining earlier sources as he went. As for the Hughes, they were among the earliest landholders as well as whalers.[iv] The progenitor of his Cape May line, according to sources Howe reviewed, was an earlier Humphrey Hughes, quite likely the same Humphrey who owned the 206 acres of land, according to Dr. Maurice Beasley’s Sketch of the Early History of the County of Cape May, which Howe consulted.[v]

However, there were other early Cape May Hughes, those from whom Rev. Daniel Lawrence Hughes (1820-1902) descended and who’s own great-grandfather, Jacob Hughes (1711-1772),  had settled in Cape May as early as 1711, reportedly  from Wales, according to the genealogy he published in 1891 which Howe likewise heavily consulted. [vi]  These two Hughes lines converged with the marriage of Rev. D.L. Hughes to Elmira William Hughes, in Cape May in 1843, she, the granddaughter of Captain Humphrey Hughes (1775-1858).[vii] The Jacob Hughes, already noted, married in 1743 in Cape May to Priscilla Leaming (1710-1758), although for Priscilla, Jacob was her second marriage.[viii]

There are two known 19th century sources for the Capt. Humphrey Hughes-Bonaparte rescue story – each suffering from inherent weaknesses which we’ll examine in detail. The first of these is the two-volume compendium, published in 1897 for members of the New Jersey bar, The Judicial and Civil History of New Jersey.[ix]

“Captain Humphrey Hughes, who during the war of 1812 sailed under letters of marque issued by the French government and gained considerable fame for his attempt to rescue Bonaparte from his imprisonment at St. Helena—an attempt which, but for the premature discharge of a weapon caused by the fall of a sailor. would undoubtedly have been successful.”

Typical of such hagiographic works of the period, no source citation is given for this account. It has ever since simply been taken prima facie and passed along unquestioned and cited often whenever Capt. Humphrey Hughes is mentioned biographically. There is much in the historical record to show that Privateering, as legal piracy was termed during both the American Revolution and the War of 1812,  was an attractive and sometimes profitable undertaking to adventurous seamen.[x] However, whether Capt. Hughes participated to the degree family lore claims, is another question entirely.

The second account is a verbatim repetition of the first published in 1900 in Volume Two of the two-volume set, Biographical, Genealogical and Descriptive History of the First Congressional District of New Jersey Illustrated, published in 1900 by New York-based Lewis Publishing Company.[xi]

A careful analysis of the claim, however, reveals its several fault lines. Firstly, there is the matter of the “…letters of marque issued by the French government…”

That’s incorrect because it was not the French government from whom Hughes received his letters of marque, but from his own. On April 3, 1776, the Continental Congress provided its seaman a means by which  to aid the Independence movement that was both profitable (albeit dangerously so,) for them and greatly aided the Revolution’s virtually-non-existent naval forces: it created letters of marque in an instrument known today by its lengthy title:

Instructions to the commanders of private ships or vessels of war, which shall have commissions or letters of marque and reprisal, authorising [sic] them to make captures of British vessels and cargoes.

As William Young, a Juris Doctorate candidate at the Washington & Lee University School of Law explained in his 2009 essay, “A Check on Faint-hearted Presidents: Letters of Marque and Reprisal” :

In stark contrast to the wealth and military power of Europe during the eighteenth century, America’s thirteen colonies possessed little in the way of financial resources or naval might during the Revolutionary War. The use of privateers allowed the fledgling nation to supplement its small navy and do a great deal of harm to British commerce. During the Revolutionary War, America had just sixty-four ships in its official navy and commissioned only twenty-two “men of war” during the conflict. In contrast, the federal and state governments commissioned around 2,000 privateers during the War.[xii]

Moreover, although letters of marque were issued to seaman during the War of 1812, there is no record of them having ever been issued to a Humphrey Hughes, born in 1775. Instead, the record shows they were issued to who was likely his father, Humphrey Hughes, born in Cape May in 1752. The entry from the “Letters of Marque,(1778-1782)”  section in Volume 1 of Thomas L. Montgomery’s,  Pennsylvania Archives, lists Humphrey Hughes as the captain of a twenty-ton sloop named New Comet owned by Thomas Leaming & Co. It carried a crew of twenty-five and six gun carriages. Hughes’ Letters of Marque were issued November 9, 1778 by the Continental Congress. We can tell because he and Leaming jointly paid a $5,000 bond.[xiii] That exorbitant surety was part of the requirement per the act already noted which both codified privateering and set forth its rules of conduct.[xiv] Bonds were required to assure the vessel would not be put to any illegal means. Moreover, there is the faithfully transcribed bond itself recorded by Raymond Finley Hughes, a mid-20th century genealogist claiming descendancy from Humphrey Hughes. The bond not only clearly identified the bond holders but also their intended purpose of the vessel.[xv] There is also the rather obvious fact that, if born in 1775, the younger Hughes would have only been three years old in 1778.

According to several vague accounts Hughes the elder “died at sea”. There is also good evidence he died during his seafaring adventure as a privateer in 1778 — the same year he purchased the bond and acquired his letters of marque. For example,   Jane Whilliden, (1756-1790) wife of Hughes the elder married the next year to Jeremiah Edmonds on July 1, 1779 in Cape May.[xvi] She was Edmond’s second wife. Unfortunately, the marriage ended abruptly and tragically with Jane’s death in 1790 leaving the newlywed a widower to raise his step-son, Humphrey the younger. One document which seems to bear this out is the will of Humphrey’s maternal grandfather, James Williden, who executed the document October 11, 1780. In his will he explicitly directs Edmonds to,  ”take care and educate and maintain the son of my daughter Jane [Williden] commonly known by the name of Humphrey Hughes, until he shall attain the age of 14, etc.,” [xvii] In 1780, Humphrey Hughes the younger was only five years old.

From a closer analysis of the extend record, we can begin to understand that part of the problem for latter-day researchers and their descendants appears to be their reliance upon 19th century writers like Whitehead who managed  to conflated the two Hughes men by attributing to Hughes the younger a letter of marque issued to his father; Such early writers further complicated the confusion by  misidentifying another document issued to Hughes the younger some years later. That second instrument was not a privateering document at all but rather a Certificate of Protection. One way we know which document Hughes the younger had was by his own sworn affidavit which he gave to Richard Palmer, a Philadelphia County Justice of the Peace in 1806. He explained to Palmer that:

“…on or about the month of April last [he]…received from the Custom House of the Port of Philadelphia a certificate of protection as an American seaman…”

              Hughes further explained he’d managed to lose his certificate and would return it if ever he found it again.[xviii]

Unlike letters of marque, a seaman’s letter of protection could be had cheaply at a local Custom’s House and were issued to nearly any seaman applying for one for as little as twenty-five cents, or roughly the equivalent of $5 U.S. dollars today.[xix]  This, at a time when British impressment (forced military service,) of Americans captured on the high seas was a serious problem. Certificates of Protection thus were granted to American seamen as a means by which to  prevent their being made slaves of British military servitude. Replacing one, such as in the Hughes case, was a matter of re-applying via documents establishing one’s identity or, barring that, a sworn statement. Ergo, the deposition. A more in-depth overview of the historical significance and context of these certificates and why they were issued to seamen plying their trade along America’s eastern seaboard is available from the National Archives here.

            Thus far the first part of the claim has been addressed and it’s fair to conclude the Humphrey Hughes named is probably Humphrey Hughes the elder, but as a privateer he was conflated with his son insofar as who had the letters of marque and what it was reportedly for. It’s also been shown why letters of marque and certificates of protection were two different instruments, issued at two separate times to two different people: very likely father and son.

The second part of the same claim, however, implies Hughes (with his letters of marque) attempted to rescue the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte from his imprisonment on the mid-Atlantic isle of St. Helena and that his failure to do so resulted in his capture and imprisonment there and that during said incarceration his portrait was done. We’ll address this claim next.

The claim, as already noted, bears no citation to any known authority or documented evidence. But there is plenty of documentation and historical accounts we can assess to get at what likely happened and then see how that comports with the claim.

As already noted, Humphrey Hughes’s portraiture provenance is likely based on the dubious claims by 19th century writers such as Whitehead, whose account has gone untested against available evidence. That leaves us to examine what the records surrounding these events might tell us. First, we have to understand something about Napoleon’s exile to such a remote island. It was more than a thousand miles from the nearest land mass, a location so remote and so well guarded, Napoleon’s escape was never achieved; it was here that he died in 1821 after six years of banishment. For a sense of its remoteness, here’s a description from Norwood Young’s 1915 monograph, “Napoleon in Exile”:

[St. Helena] is 1140 miles from the nearest land in South Africa, 1800 miles from South America, 700 from the island of Ascension,1750 from Capetown, and 4400 from England.[xx]

The trip aboard the British naval vessel, Northumberland, with his entourage took more than two months; they finally dropped anchor,  October 15, 1815. It was not a deserted wasteland; it was a rocky, remote, volcanic island and British outpost which at the time was administered exclusively as a kind of fiefdom by the East Indian Company, though used extensively as a way station for ships along trade routes. It was inhabited by a colony known as Jamestown of some 600 “whites” and others and there were more than 1,000 slaves in use according to records.[xxi]

Moreover, fearful of another Alba-like escape, the coming and going of every ship arriving and departing the island was strictly monitored by the British which heavily garrisoned and fortified the island during Napoleon’s exile. The contents of those lists are now housed with the  British Library ‘Western Manuscripts Collection,” among the Sir Hudson Lowe Papers, (Add.MS 20161) and nowhere do they list prisoner ships or prisoners among their manifests as being bound for St. Helena.[xxii] Of those vessels which did drop anchor at St. Helena, such as the convict transport ship, Friendship, in October, 1817, (which stayed long enough to drop off a few well-vetted Napoleon visitors,) its 101 women and four grown children convicts were bound for the British penal colony, New South Wales, Australia.[xxiii]  Also, it’s worth noting, Napoleon’s exile did not begin on St. Helena until 1815 – some thirty-seven years after Hughes the elder — who had letters of marque — had died. This is not to say St. Helena had no incarceration facilities; it is to say, the island was not in the habit of accepting convicts shipped in from elsewhere.

Further, while there is a rich history of Napoleonic rescue plots, only one may  have caught the ex-emperor’s interest and it involved a kind of proto-submarine vessel. Historian, Mike Dash,  explored this fascinating tale for the Smithsonian Institute’s blog in 2013 with his essay, “The Secret Plot to Rescue Napoleon by Submarine.”[xxiv]

If we accept that it may have been Hughes the younger who attempted the rescue, it had to have occurred while the Northumberland was enroute, but there are no records of any such rescue attempt, and no mention of any in the numerous accounts of life aboard the vessel during its voyage; there certainly was none made while Napoleon was alive on St. Helena. The island’s location gave it’s lofty, cliff-positioned garrisons unobscured views of the Atlantic for miles in every direction. And any approaching vessel was spotted long before it ever reached the island’s few places to land. Visitors likewise were carefully vetted requiring passes and escorts. And there was no getting anywhere near Longwood, Napoleon’s prison home after sunset.

Thus, if there was no realistic way for Hughes to have hatched a plot to rescue Napoleon, there would have been no incarceration for doing so. In short, no prison, no prison portrait.

This essay has explored the tale involving a family anecdote passed along to modern descendants connecting their ancestor to what appears to be an untested claim regarding how a portrait of Captain Humphrey Hughes came to be. It has assessed how 19th century writers likely conflated two men for one and ascribed to one of them documents a father and son likely possessed separately and in so doing attached to one of them perilous and valorous actions for which there is no actual evidence. The claims defy both known records as well as the space-time continuum, not to mention basic biology. (Dead people do not go on voyages of daring-do with letters of marque to rescue exiled fallen emperors.) How then to explain the Humphrey Hughes portrait? It’s a good question which certainly should be of interest to those who own it, rather than a fiction which does not hold up under scrutiny.

[i] Emilio Ocampo, “Rescuing Napoleon from St. Helena,”
[ii] Mary Evertz  to researcher, email, July 13 2017, “This is a photo of the pastel portrait of Captain Humphrey Hughes (1775-1858) made while he was in prison on St. Helena trying to rescue Napoleon and they were caught when one of his men tripped on a landyard [sic]. This portrait has been handed down from generation to generation of direct male descendants of Capt. Humphrey Hughes, now in the home of one of my wife’s Hughes cousins. Got the exact picture he’s talking about on ancestry except his is pastel instead of black and white.”
[iii] Digitized original, Rev. Paul Sturtevant Howe, “Mayflower Pilgrim Descendants in Cape May County, New Jersey,  1620-1920,”  Albert R. Hand, 1921, Cape May. 
[iv] See: Richard M. Romm, “America’s First Whaling Industry and the Whaler Yoweman of Cape May 1630-1830” master’s thesis, Rutgers University, 2010. 
[v] Maurice Beesley,  “Sketch of the Early History of Cape May County,” Office of True American, 1857.  
[vi] Rev. Daniel Lawrence Hughes, “The Covenant Fulfilled in Pious Households from 1711-1891” J.D. Landis, 1891. Author’s person family copy, inscribed to his maternal great-grandmother, Emma Sinclair Hughes (1863-1956) by her father, Rev. James Potter Hughes (1827-1920) brother to Rev. D. L. Hughes.
[vii] Ibid. p. 96. An unsigned, digitized original is available at
[viii] Raymond Finley Hughes, “Hughes family of Cape May County, New Jersey, 1650-1950 : a genealogy of the descendants of Humphrey Hughes of Long Island, 1650 and later of Cape May County, New Jersey.” Self-published, c. 1950, p. 5.  Hughes’s findings comport with Dr. Howe’s who writes, “Priscilla Leaming, mother of Margaret, married twice, first John Stites, second Jacob Hughes,” p. 35. Both she and Jacob are buried in the Cold Spring Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Cold Spring, Cape May County, New Jersey.
[ix] Digitized original, John Whitehead, “The Judicial and Civil History of New Jersey, “Volume 2,” Boston History Company, 1897.p. 411. The work’s original intent was to give both a comprehensive overview of the history of New Jersey laws (Volume I) and in-depth biographical sketches (Vol. II) of  New Jersey lawyers and jurists of its day. Hughes is included in the biographical sketch on Richard Thompson Miller, a circuit court judge of Camden County because Miller’s great-great grandmother was Humphrey Hughes’s wife, Esther “Hetty” W. Williams (1781-1870)
[xi] Digitized original, “Biographical, Genealogical and Descriptive History of the First Congressional District of New Jersey Illustrated Vol 1,”  Lewis Publishing 1900, p 578.  Lewis Publishing Company, a New York publishing house, was a popular 19th-century publishing house of local and state histories. Many of its titles have been digitized. See:
[xii] William Young, “Letters of Marque and Reprisal in the United States The Revolutionary War” in  A Check on Faint-hearted Presidents: Letters of Marque and Reprisal, Washington & Lee University School of Law, May 2009 pdf.
[xiii] Digitized original, Thomas L. Montgomery, “Letters of Marque,(1778-1782)”  in Pennsylvania Archives, Vol. I., Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1906,  p 614.
[xiv] Digitized original,  “In Congress, Wednesday, April 3, 1776: Instructions to the commanders of private ships or vessels of war, which shall have commissions or letters of marque and reprisal, authorizing them to make captures of British vessels and cargoes.” United States Continental Congress, John Hancock, John Dunlap, and Continental Congress Broadside Collection,  Library of Congress,
[xv]  Raymond Finley Hughes, “Hughes family of Cape May County, New Jersey, 1650-1950: A genealogy,1950, self-published, p. 10. In his genealogy, Hughes faithfully transcribed  the $5,000 dollar bond taken out by Humphrey Hughes and Thomas Leaming in 1778 wherein they explicitly state the purpose of the ship and their Letters of Marque.
[xvi] William Nelson, “Marriage Records 1665-1800” in Archives of the State of New Jersey, First Series, Vol. 22 p. 452.
[xvii] Raymond Finley Hughes, “Hughes family of Cape May County, New Jersey, 1650-1950: A genealogy,1950, self-published, p.44.
[xviii] Digitized original, Humphrey Hughes affidavit regarding his lost Certificate of Protection,  Richard Palmer, Justice of the Peace, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, March 15, 1806, 
[xix] Estimate based on results provided at
[xx] Digitized original, Norwood Young, “Napoleon in Exile at St. Helena (1815-1821)”, Stanley Paul & Co, 1915, p. 87.
[xxi] “Slavery on St. Helena Until August 1834” St Helena Island info website.  March 12, 2019, Although the webmaster is a permanent resident and purveyor of St. Helena tourist swag, the information on his website is well cited and exceptionally thorough. In terms of the East India Company’s monopoly of affairs on the island, see: Digitized original, “Period 1673-1836” in G. C. Kitching, Records of the Island of St. Helena, Lat. 15° 55′ S. Long. 5° 428W, The American Archivist, 1946, Vol 9-10, p.159-162
[xxii] It is worth noting that St. Helena was, in fact, as a place of exile for Napoleon, a habitat on loan from the East India Company to British authorities, just as Lowe, the island’s governor was beholden to both his EIC overlords and the British Crown. The Crown supplied the military force necessary to fortify the island while Napoleon was exiled there. See Kitching, 162.
[xxiii] Lally Brown,  “Ahoy Napoleon!”, January 23, 2015, Dawlish Chronicles blog,
[xxiv]Mike Dash, “The Secret Plot to Rescue Napoleon by Submarine,“  March 8, 2013, website  See also: Emilio Ocampo, “Rescuing Napoleon from St. Helena,”
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Coming soon to a website near you….

Website Project

 Narratives in Black and White: Historical Profiles of Mixed Race Couples from the American Antebellum and Beyond.

© 2018 Alex Colvin

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(Click the image to visit the site (under construction)


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Image of Charles Colvin Cabin found on 1997 Google Earth satellite image: an update

© 2017, Alex Colvin
all rights reserved.


Last revised: July 4, 2017

This revision included new genealogical data regarding the relationship between the cabin’s last known occupant and the current land owner.

Charles Colvin log cabin GE satellite image 1997

Though the resolution is less than ideal, the Charles Colvin cabin can be clearly discerned in this 1997 Satellite image. Elevation approx. 700 feet. Source: Google Earth

Thanks to a research collaboration between James Carr, longtime Pendleton County, Kentucky resident, and The Colvin Study, the image of Charles Colvin’s cabin built in the late 1790s has been positively identified in older satellite images of land in Pendleton County, situated just a few miles south of Falmouth. Charles is believed to be the progenitor of a line of Colvins which today number several thousands and whose present-day descendants can be found in numerous states including Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, to name a few. Originally from Culpeper County, Virginia, Charles died in Pendleton County in 1810.[i]

Carr was a critical contributor to this latest development as he was able to provide not only a positive eyewitness account of the cabin’s location but was also personally acquainted with its last occupant, Charles “Charlie” Karl Ritter, who died in Harrison County, Kentucky in 1996.[ii] Explaining his friendship with “Charlie,” Carr recalled, “I can see it now with the smoke from the chimney curling up through the morning air as Charlie made his own breakfast and prepared to meet the day.” [iii]  Records show Charles Karl Ritter, was a lifelong Pendletonian and a first- generation German-American whose father,  Joshua Ritter, (1850-1910) immigrated to the U.S. in 1869.[iv] Pendleton County, property records for the parcel on which the cabin sat is listed  as Ideal Drive, Falmouth, Pendleton County, Kentucky,  with the owner listed as Mildred Showalter. [v]  Additional research was able to determine that Mildred was actually Charles’s niece. Mildred L. Ritter,  (a widow from her 1st marriage to Harry Samuel Sydnor [1920-1940] according to marriage records, ) married 2nd to  Howard Showalter in 1942 in Indiana; she was the daughter of Charlie’s brother, William Jacob “Willie” Ritter, Sr. (1892-1967) [vi]

Charles Colvin was among some of the first Colvin members of his line to venture into Kentucky. Records show, on August 13,  1799,  Charles purchased over 390 acres of what was considered the Howell Lewis survey paying fifteen shillings an acre or £300.[vii]  It was believed his log cabin was located on this acreage.  It’s location was alluded to in  Nell Bradford Woolery,’s 1940s self-published narrative, “Some Old Homes of Pendleton County,” [viii]  but with little elaboration. Moreover, the log cabin was not within the same area where the  Four Oaks enclave was established which can be clearly discerned from an 1884 atlas which lists several of Charles’ relatives by name.[ix]  In addition, many of those same relatives, such as Birkett Landrum Colvin,  (1827-1905) can be found depicted in several photographs taken in 1886, wherein Birkett and his family can be seen posing inside and outside their home in the Four Oaks community.[x] Charles’ land  was a few miles north, as the crow flies, in an area whose borders began less than a mile outside Falmouth proper. In the days of horseback travel, at a trot, he could have been in Falmouth within twenty minutes.  He also purchased three  one-quarter-acre town lots from the city of Falmouth the same year.[xi]

Though the image is less than ideal, the structure can be seen on the satellite imagery. Finding the cabin’s location involved using a combination of  period United Stated Geological Survey (USGS) satellite imagery, and Pendleton County Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping data. Though demolished sometime post-1997, why it was demolished is unknown.  It had apparently managed to survive the Great Falmouth Flood of 1996 because, according to Carr, its location  was above the area flood plain. Nevertheless, the cabin is absent in 2003 satellite imagery, which is the next year of available digitized data for the area.  Images post-2003 show a small structure built a hundred yards or so directly in front of the area where the log cabin was located. When the cabin and the lands it sat on left the Colvin family remains under investigation.


[i] Charles Colvin Last Will and Testament, March 15, 1810. Recorded  May 24, 1810, Pendleton County, Kentucky Deed Book B[1803-1815]:287. See also,  Pendleton County, Kentucky Court Order Book B:243.
[ii] “Charlie Ritter” listing, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, See also digitized original, 1910 U.S.. federal census, Joshua Ritter hh, Falmouth district, Pendleton County, Kentucky sons include Charles Ritter (13) and his brother, William (18) hh 232, line 51,
[iii] Carr to Colvin email May 14, 2015 wherein James Carr related memories of “Charlie Ritter”.
[iv] Joshua Ritter household,  digitized original 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Falmouth District, Pendleton County, Kentucky, line 90, hh 172.
[v]  Pendleton County Property Records, GIS interface,  showing parcel: 051-00-00-020.00, 145 Ideal Dr. Falmouth,  Kentucky.
[vi] Digitized original, William J. Ritter, Jr., hh, April 1, 1940 U.S. federal census, 31 U.S. Hywy 27, Falmouth District, Pendleton County, Kentucky, hh 400, line 41; Mildred is listed in her father’s home as Mildred L. Sydnor with her husband “Harry” Sydnor. Harry Samuel Sydnor, according to his death certificate,  died that same year in December. See also, digitized original, Mildred L. Sydnor, widow, marriage record to Howard Showalter, Wayne County, Indiana, September 19, 1942. Father listed as: Will J. Ritter.
[vii] Pendleton County, Kentucky, Deed Book A: 38. The Howell Lewis survey, as it is known, consisted of some 10,000 acres in Kentucky devised to him by his father, Fielding Lewis,  upon his death in 1782.  Howell Lewis was a nephew of George Washington, his father, Fielding, having married Washington’s sister, Elizabeth “Betty” Washington   in  May 7, 1750. See also: “Fielding Lewis’ Will” transcription, George Washington Foundation website,  See also, Howell Lewis thumbnail bio, George Washington Foundation website,
[viii]  Nell Bradford  Woolery, “Some Old Homes of Pendleton County,”  unpublished manuscript,  March 7, 1940, Pendleton County Library Collection.
[ix] ” McKennysburg Precinct 2  Pendleton County ” Atlas of Bracken and Pendleton Counties, KY 1884  , J.D. Lake & Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, plate 41.  digital collection.  
[x] Colvin Family at Four Oaks,” 1896,  Carol Kirkwood Collection to author. In this image is a small gathering of Colvins and Wiggins among whom are  Birket Landrum Colvin (1827-1905) and his wife, Sarah “Sallie” E. Beckett (1840-1918) and their children.
[xi] Pendleton County, Kentucky Deed Book A: 74.
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Pilgrim’s Rest and the Colvins. (revised)

Pilgrims Rest, LOC Prints and Photo Div. I

Pilgrims Rest front view, ca. 1936. Library of Congress. Photographer unknown.

In 1938, Susan Morton, a worker with the Virginia Historical Inventory, a preservation-minded program under  F.D. R.’s  Works Progress Administration,  visited Pilgrim’s Rest, because her agency was tasked with inventorying old properties throughout Virginia.[1] Being one of the oldest estates in the county, dating  to the early 18th century, Pilgrim’s Rest fit the criteria perfectly.  She’d visited and reported on other Colvin estates in the area such as Truro, Hazelwood, and Tenerife — all of  which  belonged to members of the particular  family  I have been studying for some time, but none of those homes, while old and certainly historically valuable,  would make it onto the National Register of Historic Places.

A while back, I was contacted by Elizabeth Colvin, grand-daughter of Bruce Steel Colvin, (1932-2000), and  great-granddaughter of  Dr. Henry Lynn Colvin, (1900-1974). In her email, she complimented me for my efforts and kindly offered to assist if she could.  I am always gratified when this blog gets the attention of living descendants of its subjects.  In Elizabeth’s case, her g-grandfather was the first Colvin to come into possession of that venerable old home which had been in place for well-nigh three centuries. The lands today are highly prized by archaeologists for its abundance of pre-historic Native American artifacts.[2]

Pilgrims Rest is significant not only because its architecture represents old Tidewater style, (the double-chimney is a dead giveaway, see insets below, ) but because it sits on land which was once part of the original Foote tract.

Those who know Piedmont Virginia history know that Richard Foote and his compatriots (fellow developers, as it were, ) Robert Bristow, Nicholas Hayward, and George Brent, had received their patents totaling  some 3,000 acres directly from the crown (that’s King James II.) The quartet thought things would work out if they invited scores of Huguenots (outcast French Catholics) to settle in their new idea for a neighborhood to be called Brent Town. It was named after George Brent who was — you guessed it  —  a Catholic from neighboring Stafford County. But things didn’t work out the way they planned. The Huguenots never came, mostly due to terrible marketing ideas in Europe by the four, and competition by others wanting immigrant settlers just as badly, and so, slowly  those huge tracts dwindled either via direct sale or lineal passage to smaller and smaller ones. But the home, Pilgrims Rest, remained, eventually passing –  along with some 640-acres —    to Rev. Levi Hazen (a Methodist minister)  who by 1849  re-christen his plantation Mt. Wesley. (After  Methodism founder, Rev. John Wesley,  no doubt) It was the good minister’s grandson, Melvin Colvin Hazen, who acquired the property in the early 20th century and re-renamed it Pilgrim’s Rest.   It was this “Melvin Hazen” who is named in her  1930s WPA report  by  Susan Morton when she was out trekking around old homes in the area during that Goliath New Deal historical project. And it was that same Melvin, again, who was visited by folks from the Historic American Building Survey during the same period, and whom, after taking their notes and measurements,  took some of the only 1930s-era photos known to exist of the home and which are now safely housed with the Library of Congress.

Pilgrims Rest, LOC Prints and Photo Div. III

Pilgrim’s Rest rear view. ca. 1936. Library of Congress. Photographer unknown.

It was during those New Deal years, however, that three nephews of Melvin Colvin Hazen  first acquired Pilgrims Rest – bringing it officially into the Colvin family for the first time. And in the 1940s, Elizabeth’s great-grandfather, Dr. Henry Lynn Colvin, a Washington, D.C.-based pediatrician,  bought out his cousin’s shares and acquired the estate and who performed  some restoration and renovations  in 1956. But by 1982 it passed out of the family, sold by Dr. Colvin’s widow, Virginia Colvin [nee Steel] to Dr. and Mrs. Thom Thomassen.

In 1993, the Thomassens, in turn, sold the estate to Dr. and Mrs. Rodney J. Klima, the 1257OPcurrent owners.    Dr. Klima, an orthodontist,  serves the Fairfax community. [3]   Nevertheless, by  1989,  Pilgrims Rest’s historic features made it a candidate for listing with the National  Registry of Historic Places.[4] In addition to helping restore the main house,  in 1996,  the Klimas began  salvaged an 18th–century Kingsley Granary outbuilding which had sat, dilapidated and  abandoned, near its original site along the banks of what had been Broad Run. Years earlier, in 1968, that water course was flooded to create Lake Manassas to expand the county’s water supply. Threatened with submersion, the Klimas bought the structure from the county and had its two-stories worth of stone and beams hauled in pieces to its new site at Pilgrim’s Rest where they restored enough of it to not only re-purpose it as a guest house, but to included it along with Pilgrim’s Rest in an updated application to the National Registry of Historic Places.[5]

By 2004,  Pilgrim’s Rest took its honorary place on that valuable directory. In 2013, Pilgrims Rest was added to the Virginia Landmark Registry.

[1] Susan Morton, “Report # 191, Pilgrim’s Rest,” 1938,  Works Progress Administration,  Virginia Historical Inventory, Library of Virginia
[2] Pilgrim’s Rest registration forms 1989, 2004, National Register of Historic Places
[3] Kilma Orthodontics website,
[4]  Pilgrim’s Rest registration forms 1989, 2004, National Register of Historic Places
[5]  Dave Marino-Nachison, “18-Century Kingsley Mill outbuilding to be relocated,” September 17, 1996, Manassas Journal.
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