The Littlepages

Just which families should be recognized among the First Families of Virginia (FFVs) has long been a topic of lively conversation. The colony’s emerging elites, when finally secure somewhat from starvation and disease, hostile natives and restless indentures, paused to consider their unsteady image in the English mirrors they had (on account) just purchased. They then strove to secure for themselves and their children a solid foundation for local kindred sovereignty. Thus was born the paradigm of the FFVs, Virginia’s Gentry. As back home in England, family would matter. But which families?1

As with much, timing was (almost) everything. Curtis Carroll Davis’ entertaining, “A Long Line of Cupbearers – The Earliest Littlepages in America,” commences,

“To begin with, the line was not, either socially or chronologically, among the prime and peerless.” 2

They just did not get off the boat soon enough. But for them, given the high mortality rate among Virginia’s first English settlers, and the scarcity of suitable English women, that was probably just as well. 3

But when the first known colonial Littlepage, Richard, does appear in extant records he seems very much the proverbial right man, in the right place, at the right time. That time was the early 1660s. Back home the disruptions of Civil War and the Interregnum were passing. In the Virginia colony local native opposition to European settlement had been somewhat neutralized. Peace seemed at hand. The place was New Kent County, then colonial frontier. Fanning out northwest along Virginia’s rivers were the colony’s next generation of leaders, soon to eclipse most of the early first families. Richard Littlepage’s base of operation as the colony rapidly expanded was his strategically located estate of Cumberland on the Pamunkey. 4 From there his descendants established large colonial plantations across the river into Pamunkey Neck, up river into what would be Hanover County, and further into the Piedmont, eventually Louisa County. Interwoven with ownership large colonial land holdings and their bounty was political power and custody of the Faith. The Littlepages soon became deeply woven into that fabric. Through industry, and certainly an advantageous marriage or two, in short order their family became one to be reckoned with. To quote Mr. Davis again about Richard Littlepage,

“For he and his descendants, if not chronologically, socially strode within the circles of the FFV’s. Although never attaining the levels of a few toplofty lines like the Byrds, Harrisons, or Carters, they were at the very least equal to such families as the Washingtons, and appreciably superior to such as the Jeffersons or the Henrys.”

Major Lewis Littlepage’s father, Capt. Hardin, was born probably in King William near the Piping Tree, about 120 years after his Great-Grandfather Richard first appears in colonial land patent records. As a child Hardin watched the Virginia colony become a State. As a teen he heard of the exploits of his cousin from Hanover, General Lewis Littlepage. Hardin then married well, Elizabeth Quarles of another old, landed King William family. They moved near the Courthouse, Aspen Grove, and before he died relatively young at forty-six Hardin and Elizabeth produced six children. One they named Lewis.

  1. An excellent overview of the FFVs can be had in the late Emory G. Evans’ A Topping People – The Rise and Decline of Virginia’s Old Political Elite, 1680-1790, 2009. Susan Dunn’s Dominion of Memories – Jefferson, Madison & the Decline of Virginia, 2007, takes up where Evans ends. But the FFVs left something behind; see Brent Tarter’s The Grandees of Government – The Origins and Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in Virginia, 2013.  (back)
  2. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 72, No. 4 (Oct., 1964), pp. 434-453  (back)
  3. Over the years the term FFV has become somewhat elastic. The relatively recent, but still century-old, Order of the First Families of Virginia, which exists to honor FFVs, and by extension their descendants, does not publish rolls; neither does it seem to have a website. It does, however, sponsor the publication of the rigorously researched – and pricey – three-volume, >3,000 page, Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia 1607-1624/25, the most recent 4th edition edited by John Frederick Dorman. The Littlepage family only appears by marriage, a generation or two after the appearance of the Adventurers. Also representative of organizations dedicated to Virginia’s earliest settlers are the less restrictive Jamestowne Society, which does recognize Richard, and the more focused, more recently formed Order of the Descendants of Ancient Planters 1606-1616, which would not. Martha W. McCartney also recently provided us with the excellent Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635, A Biographical Dictionary, 2007. No Littlepages.  (back)
  4. Cumberland was so well located that it was seriously considered less than a century later as a new site for Virginia’s capital. See “The Helish Scheme to Move the Capital,” Alonzo T. Dill and Brent Tarter in Virginia Cavalcade, Summer 1980.  (back)