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A "Topping People"

The Rise and Decline of Virginia's Old Political Elite, 1680-1790

Emory G. Evans

Publication Year: 2009

A "Topping People" is the first comprehensive study of the political, economic, and social elite of colonial Virginia. Evans studies twenty-one leading families from their rise to power in the late 1600s to their downfall over one hundred years later. These families represented the upper echelons of power, serving in the upper and lower houses of the General Assembly, often as speaker of the House of Burgesses. Their names—Randolph, Robinson, Byrd, Carter, Corbin, Custis, Nelson, and Page, to note but a few—are still familiar in the Old Dominion some three hundred years later.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Cover

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pp. c-ii

Title

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p. iii-iii

Copyright

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p. iv-iv

Dedication

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pp. v-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiii

I began to think about t he Virginia elite in a serious way in the 1960s, but administrative responsibilities kept me from working systematically on the project until the late 1980s. The need for such a study grew out of my work on planter indebtedness and the Revolution in Virginia. Many of the wealthy carried a heavy debt into the Revolution and did not recover from it once the war...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-4

The origins, growth, and influence o f Virginia’s upper class have long fascinated scholars and the wider public. Louis B. Wright writing in 1940 set forth what is the generally accepted view: “The tight little aristocracy that developed in Virginia in the later years of the seventeenth century quickly gained a power and influence far in excess of the numerical importance of its members,...

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1. Beginnings

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pp. 5-22

The migration of large numbers of people from one part of the world to another is an endlessly fascinating process, and none more so than the movement of English- speaking peoples to North America and the Caribbean in the seventeenth century. The twenty- one families that are treated in this study represent only a minute part of the total group, but they played an inordinately...

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2. Politics, 1700–1737

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pp. 23-89

Francis Nicholson was sworn in a s governor of Virginia on December 9, 1698. At this point Virginia’s population was about 62,000 , more than any of England’s other North American colonies. But by any measure it was a small place in which a few families dominated its political, social, and economic worlds. In that year some fifty- nine men made up the Council of State and the...

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3. The Economy

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pp. 90-120

When Sir John Randolph died i n 1737, the same twenty- one families remained dominant in Virginia society. From their ranks came ten of the eleven members of the Council of State: William Byrd, John Carter, John Custis, Cole Digges, John Grymes, Thomas Lee, Philip Lightfoot, William Randolph, John Robinson, and John Tayloe. Commissary James Blair, from the second group...

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4. Society, 1700–1776

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pp. 121-176

When Governor Francis Nicholson complained in 1701 of the difficulty that recent arrivals had in attracting mates, the elite by then were predominantly creole. Although ties with the mother country remained strong, a distinctly Virginia identity was emerging. They continued to travel back and forth across the Atlantic with some regularity, but this contact appears merely to have strengthened...

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Epilogue

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pp. 177-202

From the election of John Robinson Jr. as Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1738 until the Declaration of Independence, the elite families controlled Virginia politics. Robinson and Peyton Randolph, who succeeded him, made sure that members of these families dominated the major working committees of that body. Charles Carter of Cleve, Landon Carter, Benjamin Harrison...

Notes

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pp. 203-254

Index

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pp. 255-266


E-ISBN-13: 9780813930374
E-ISBN-10: 0813930375
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813927909
Print-ISBN-10: 0813927900

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 12 b&w illus. (12 redacted)
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Upper class -- Virginia -- Biography.
  • Gentry -- Virginia -- Biography.
  • Landowners -- Virginia -- Biography.
  • Politicians -- Virginia -- Biography.
  • Elite (Social sciences) -- Virginia -- History -- 18th century.
  • Elite (Social sciences) -- Virginia -- History -- 17th century.
  • Virginia -- Politics and government -- To 1775.
  • Virginia -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Virginia -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Virginia -- Economic conditions -- 18th century.
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