William(4) and Mary (Caldwell) Pettypool of Lunenburg County, Virginia are known to have produced at least five sons.1   The eldest of the group, Colwell (presumably named for his maternal grandfather), was the only one to have lived out his life in Virginia, likely in part because of his favored status as the first-borne male.  He was to reap the benefits of primogeniture, or the inheritance rights of the oldest male child to the exclusion of any female and male younger siblings.

Edward Caldwell, Mary’s father, had designated both of his grandchildren, “Colwell Petepool and William Petepool,” as recipients of land he had deeded for “life use” to William(4) and Mary in 1748.2  However, when the property was divided as part of a series of transactions on 25 June 1773, Colwell received 320 acres of a 420-acre plot and William Jr. only 100 acres (which Colwell immediately proceeded to buy for 100 pounds.)3

We can surmise that Colwell was born by the year 1742 as he appeared as a defendant in a suit brought in Lunenburg County Court on 12 August 1763.4  In 1765 Colwell contracted what became an advantageous union with Mary Gromarrin, one of two living daughters of Gillee Gromarrin of Henrico County.5  When the elder Gromarrin died without living male heirs shortly after his daughter’s marriage, Colwell became the beneficiary of half of the Gromarrin estate.  This event netted him assets of 1000 pounds when the division and disposition of the estate was ultimately settled by the issuing of a statute of the Virginia Assembly in February of 1772.6

During the decades of the 1760s through the 1780s Colwell appeared regularly among the court and deed records of Lunenburg County.  He took part in minor ways in the governance of his home territory.  He was appointed a captain in the Lunenburg County militia on 8 February 1770 and probably participated regularly in “processioning” or walking and marking off the boundaries of property lines between adjacent neighbors.7

As were most of his contemporaries in Lunenburg of this era, Colwell no doubt participated in the growth and sale of tobacco for export.  Although no definitive statement about what he was farming has been found, a trust deed of 1 September 1772 between Colwell and the Scottish mercantile company of Buchanan and Hastie strongly suggests that tobacco was his crop of choice.8  In late 1772 Colwell owed more than 284 pounds to Buchanan, Hastie and Company, a well-known lender to growers participating in the annual “boom and bust” tobacco cycle in the colonial Virginia Southside.  To secure his debt Colwell had mortgaged 200 acres of the land acquired in the Gromarrin estate settlement as well as considerable personal property (seven enslaved people also acquired with the receipts from the Gromarrin estate.)9

In a series of deeds on 25 June 1773 William(4), Mary and their grown sons, Colwell and William Jr. transacted a series of exchanges of both real estate and personal property for which the exact intent cannot be readily inferred.10  It may be that there already were intimations of old age or ill health for William(4) (he died in 1774), and that these transactions were legal maneuvers to dispose of his estate with the least cost to his heirs.  It is also possible that Colwell needed ready cash to settle his mercantile debts.  The outcome was that Colwell appeared to use part of the proceeds he had acquired in these exchanges to cover his Buchanan and Hastie debt.  That debt was also discharged, according to the Lunenburg court records, on 25 June 1773.11

In the mid part of the 1770’s Colwell joined with his brothers Laban and Baxter and served with other Virginians in the War for American Independence.  Colwell joined the 6th Virginia Regiment, raised in Williamsburg in 1775 and attracting recruits from surrounding counties, including Lunenburg.12  Muster and pay roll records show that he enlisted for duty on 27 January 1777.13  According to the existing records he never achieved a rank higher than private, receiving a salary of 2 pounds 10 shillings per month until he mustered out on 15 February 1778. 14

At the end of his Revolutionary War service and through the remaining decade of the 1770s the Lunenburg deed and court records suggest that Colwell may have been reaping the financial benefits of earlier investments and/or that his agricultural efforts were producing steady profits.  Records of his financial endeavors during this period suggest access to considerable funds.  The rate of his property transactions increased during the latter part of the decade and the amounts expended and received increased as well.

In one instance he seemed to be speculating on real estate with somewhat spectacular results, buying “200 acres containing the Lunenburg County courthouse” for 1200 pounds on 10 December 1778 and re-selling the land less than six months later for 3140 pounds on 8 April 1779.15 Not much later, in August of 1779, a sale record for the 420 acres on Couches Creek for 1000 pounds suggests that he had sold the family parcel bequeathed in 1748 by his grandfather for a handsome profit.16  Colwell must have found an especially attractive replacement property since three days later he spent 3100 pounds for 500 acres on Tusekiah Creek, also in Lunenburg County.17

It was also around this time that Colwell committed the only transgression against society that was recognized by the local court.  On 10 September 1779, he was defendant in a suit brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia for “assault committed on the body of Jemima Gafford.” No further explanation of the nature of the assault is provided in the court record although it must have seriously offended local norms.  Colwell was ordered to pay a 50 pound fine.18

This spurt of vibrant financial activity culminated in the latter part of 1780 in transactions in which Colwell seemingly transferred the bulk of his financial assets as deeds of gift to his children.  On 9 November 1780 he conveyed ownership of seven enslaved persons to his seven children (named in the deed as Martha, Ursula, Wiltshire Gromarrin, Susanna, Francis, Elizabeth Burton and Mary) “for love and ten pounds consideration.”19 On the same day he transferred title to the 500 acres on Tusekiah Creek to his only son, Wiltshire Gromarrin Pettypool, for the same consideration.20

Subsequently, during the decade of the 1780s Colwell presumably continued to participate in the Virginia economy.  Property and land tax records for Lunenburg County clearly include him.21  However, none of the transactions associated with him in any capacity were as impressive as during the previous decades.  Most involved debts of less than 50 pounds with only a couple exceeding that amount.22  Finally, toward the end of the decade, Colwell’s financial status had taken a decided turn for the worse.  He was listed insolvent for the 14 pounds due for property taxes to Lunenburg County for the year 1787.23

His ultimate financial decline is best summarized in a report from 1788.  At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War hostilities George Craighead had been appointed special agent to Lunenburg County in order to collect debts owed by former American colonists to British mercantile interests. In debt once again to Buchanan, Hastie and Company for more than 83 pounds, Colwell was described as follows by Craighead:  “Had only one horse in 1788.  Previously possessed of considerable property which he conveyed to his children to prevent recovery of debt.”24

Although no will has been found for Colwell, a chancery suit from 10 February 1791 and guardian accounts from later in the same year document his death when the remains of his estate (192 pounds 5 shillings) were divided and set out to support the needs of his minor children (named as Francis, Susanna R., Elizabeth B. and Mary C.).25  The proceeds for this division had come from the sale of the four enslaved people still alive from Colwell’s original 1780 bequest to his children.26  Although it is impossible to know with certainty his age of death, Colwell’s estimated birth date would suggest that he died around the age of 50.

16 December 2015, revised 20 December 2015

  1. For a biography of William (4) see p. 15 from “The William Pettypool Family of Southside Virginia:  Lineage Reconstruction Based on a Contemporary Review of Evidence,” by Carolyn S. Hartsough, available from the Pettypool Family in America website, www.pettypool.com. 
  2.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 1, 1748-52, 326-328. 
  3.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 12, 1771-1777, 304-311. 
  4.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Order Book 9, 1763-1764, 162. 
  5.   J. Staunton Moore, The Annals and History of Henrico Parish, Diocese of Virginia, and St. John’s P. E. Church (Baltimore, 1979), 229. 
  6.   William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, Vol. III, February 1772 – 11th George III (New York, 1823; reprint Charlottsville, 1969), 643-646. 
  7.   See Lunenburg County, Virginia, Order Book 13, 1769-1770, 16; Landon C. Bell, Cumberland Parish, Lunenburg County Virginia, 1746-1816 Vestry Book 1746-1816 (Richmond, 1930; reprint Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1994), 524, 554. 
  8.    Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 12, 1771-1777, 266-267. 
  9.   Ibid. 
  10.    Ibid., 304-311. 
  11.   Ibid., 311. 
  12.    “6th Virginia Regiment,” Valley Forge Legacy: The Muster Roll Project (http://valleyforgemusterroll.org/regiments/va6.asp:  accessed 12 Dec 2015). 
  13.   Citing National Archives, Washington, D.C., “U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783,” database, index and images, Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/: accessed 12 December 2015), Colwell Pettypool entry for May, 1777 muster roll; citing National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, 138 rolls); War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93; Roll Box: 103; Roll state: VA; Image 37 of 756; Captain James Johnson’s Company, 6th Virginia Regiment. 
  14. Citing National Archives, Washington, D.C., “U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783,” database, index and images, Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/: accessed 12 December 2015), Colwell Petty Pool entry for February, 1778 pay roll; citing National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, 138 rolls); War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93; Roll Box: 103; Roll state: VA; Image 469 of 756; Captain Billey Hailey Avery’s Company, 6th Virginia Regiment. 
  15.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 13, 1777-1784, 179, 214. 
  16.   Ibid., 246. 
  17.   Ibid., 277. 
  18.   Lunenburg County, Virginia Order Book 14, 1777-1784, 40. 
  19.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 14, 1777-1784, 364-365. 
  20.   Ibid., 365. 
  21.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Land tax records, 1782-1799, Virginia State Library microfilm reel 180; Lunenburg County, Virginia, Personal property tax records, 1782-1807, Virginia State Library microfilm reel 217. 
  22.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Order Book 15, 1784-1790, 4, 39, 50, 62, 86, 87. 
  23.   Robert Y. Clay, “Some Delinquent Tax Payers 1787-1790,” The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 19 (3), 1975, 46. 
  24. “British Mercantile Claims,” The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 18 (2), 1974, 127. 
  25.    Lunenburg County, Virginia, Order Book 16, 1791-1796, 12-13;  Lunenburg County, Virginia, Guardian Accounts, 1791-1851. 
  26.   Lunenburg County, Virginia, Order Book 16, 1791-1796, 12-13.