Cole, William (1638–1694)

William Cole of Warwick County, Virginia, a member of the Governor's Council during the period of Bacon's Rebellion, was the eldest son and namesake of William Cole (Coale; 1598–1664), an immigrant from Tillinham in Essex, England, who had come to the Jamestown colony aboard the Neptune in 1618 and settled in Elizabeth City County (later Warwick) by 1623. The elder Cole became a member of the House of Burgesses in 1629, representing the settlement at Nutmeg Quarter, and with his wife Francis (Frances; b. 1597), who came to Virginia in the Susan in 1616), Cole had three sons, William, John, and Richard. The younger William purchased Boldrup (Balthrope), a 1,350-acre tract on the Warwick River northwest of Nutmeg Quarter not far from Denbigh, from Governor William Berkeley in 1671. (Berkeley's wife, Lady Frances, had received the property from her first husband, Samuel Stephens, governor of Albemarle.) Three years later, Cole was named to the Governor's Council, where his associates singled him out as "an active member of the councill."

With one other councilor, Cole was appointed to negotiate with Nathaniel Bacon and his followers when the latter besieged Jamestown in 1676. Although he was a strong ally of Governor Berkeley, Cole thought that some of the grievances of the insurrectionists were just and ought to be addressed; the governor was not as flexible, however, and the negotiations came to naught. When Bacon drafted his "Declaration of the People, against Sr: Wm: Berkeley, and Present Governors of Virginia," he named Cole among the nineteen associates of the governor that "have bin his wicked and Pernicious Councellours and Confederates, Aiders, and Assistants against the Commonaltie in these our Civill Commotions." Bacon apparently had taken offense at Cole's defense of the legal rights of Native Americans (Cole was an attorney), for at his trial Bacon was accused of arraigning Cole "for saying that the English are bound to protect the Indians at the haserd of their blood." Furthermore, Cole, as a colonel of the militia, had represented the citizens of Gloucester to Bacon and several hundred of his followers at a public meeting, giving the troublemakers the "sence of all the Gloster men there present: which was sumed up in their desires, not to have the oath imposed upon them, but to be indulged the benefitt of Neutralitie." Bacon's response was to declare that neutrality was not an option, "that in this their request they appeared like the worst of sinners, who had a desire to be saved with the righteous, and yet would do nothing whereby they might obtaine there salvation." Cole's more judicious approach was not heeded by Bacon, nor did it win from Governor Berkeley anything but ire, albeit only temporarily. (Berkeley, in fact, engaged Cole to attest to the authenticity of his last will and testament the following year.) When Berkeley fled to Maryland to escape the reaches of Bacon's grasp, Cole was among the group that accompanied the governor.

Cole received a royal appointment as Virginia's secretary of state in the fall of 1689 and served in that capacity for almost three years, tendering his resignation because he was "lately much decayed in body" and suffering from "deepe Melancholly." At the same time, Cole gave up his office as collector of the Lower District of the James River. Cole was among the colonists who petitioned the Crown for the establishment of a college in the colony, and when the College of William and Mary was formed in 1692, Cole was named one of its first trustees.

Cole married at least three times, first in 1674 (wife unknown), again in 1680, to Ann Diggs (c.1657–1686), and after Ann's death, to Martha Lear (1668–1704), the daughter of fellow Councilor John Lear, by whom Cole had a son, William Cole, III (d. 1729), a burgess in the eighteenth century. Boldrup was the home of Cole and his descendents for about a century, but all that remains of the estate now are some brick foundations, archaeological remains, and a gravesite. The cemetery contains the graves of Cole and two of his wives; his tombstone, inscribed with the family coat of arms, reads in part, "Of him this may be loudly sounded far He was unspotted on ye bench untaynted at ye bar." A dig conducted by the James River Institute for Archaeology in the late 1980s revealed earlier English occupation of Boldrup from about 1636 to 1650. Cole patented a tract of 618 acres in York County in 1683, and two years later he purchased another 1,433 acres lying in both Warwick and Elizabeth City Counties, the site of the original settlement of Newport News.


References:Donald A. D'Amato. 1992. Warwick's 350-Year Heritage: A Pictorial History. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning. Edward M. Riley and Charles E. Hatch, Jr., eds. 1946. James Towne In the Words of Contemporaries. Washington, DC: National Park Service.

Launa3added this on 25 Mar 2010