Culpeper’s Rebellion (Part III)

Written By North Carolina History Project

[Editor’s note: This is the third part of a three-part essay on Culpeper’s Rebellion (1677). See Part I and Part II.]

The British crown’s investigation into the rebellion in Albemarle did not conclude until November 20, 1680, when the Court of King’s Bench began its trial of Culpeper for high treason. Lord Shaftsbury presented a “masterful defense” for Culpeper, which began with the assertion that there had been no legal government in Albemarle from the beginning. Since there had been no legitimate government, a revolt against the government was impossible. Shaftsbury explained that Miller “without any legal authority, gott possession of the government,” along with committing several illegal and arbitrary acts, and drank to excess. The fact that the colony had obeyed the proprietors since Governor Harvey and Collector Holden had taken office was further proof that the proprietors were capable of controlling the colony.

Shaftsbury’s defense was crafted around the two facts that Holden had returned customs receipts to the royal treasury and that people of Albemarle had collected taxed to repay the customs seized by the rebels. Shaftsbury’s well-crafted defense and the apparent end of the rebellion led to the unexpected acquittal of Culpeper.

Yet Albemarle did not continue on a peaceful path after Culpeper’s trial; the county would face four other “incidents” in the next three decades. Most notably, the Cary Rebellion, a product of another “internal power struggle between political/religious factions,” ended with a permanent ban on Quaker involvement in government affairs. In the end, Culpeper’s Rebellion established a tradition in Albemarle County of opposition to taxation and resistance to a government across the Atlantic.