Col. Burwell and the Mill

by George Harrison Burwell

Lt. Col. Nathaniel Burwell, 7th child and 1st son of Carter Burwell and his wife, Lucy Ludwell Grymes, of Brandon, Middlesex County, was the first entailed owner of “Carter’s Grove” on the James River. His mother
was the eldest daughter of Robert Carter of Coratoman,” who by will left this plantation to her for life, “then to go to the eldest son of her body, lawfully begotten.” Nathaniel graduated from William and Mary College
with a B.A. degree, an infrequent accomplishment in those days, and won the Botetourt Medal for The Natural Sciences, the future Bishop Madison winning the similar medal for Belle Lettres. Col. Burwell’s medal is now in
the Bank of Clarke, the property of his great grandson, J. T. Burwell.

Lt. Col. Nathaniel Burwell, owner of the Millwood Mill - photo courtesy Clarke County Historical Association

Col. Burwell commanded the James City County Militia in Gen. Washington’s Army during the Siege of York Town. Here he may first have known Gen. Daniel Morgan, who had commanded a prisoners- of-war camp near Winchester composed of the Hessian prisoners captured at the Battle of Saratoga, but who had gone back into combat as Brigadier General in time to command the Revolutionary force at the Battle of The Cowpens, helping to drive Gen. Cornwallis back into York Town.

Col. Burwell was recommended to Mrs. Lucy Ludwell Paradise by his contemporary Thomas Jefferson while Minister to France, as the most experienced and successful tobacco planter and the best choice to manage her Green Spring Plantation near Williamsburg, which she had inherited from her ancestor, Lord Berkeley, an unexpected compliment, as the two men differed on many topics. Mr. Jefferson was the founder and leader of the Democrats while Col. Burwell, as a follower and ardent admirer of Gen. Washington, was a staunch Federalist. He used to speak of Mr. Jefferson as “that young atheist from Albemarle, who despoiled The Church of its glebe lands.”

At any rate, Col. Burwell was among the first to discover that the day of the big tobacco planter was nearly over, that the market was most undependable and the James River soil much depleted from this use. Fortunately he owned about 5,000 acres of fertile limestone-day soil in the Great Valley, a portion of the quit rent grant from Lord Fairfax to the eight sons and grandsons of Robert Carter made in 1730. This would require time and expense to convert to grain and grazing, but seemed to be the best way to prepare for the conversion, which had to be faced, sooner or later. It had required several lifetimes to equip for tobacco raising and marketing, but would probably not require so long for corn and wheat. Nathaniel Burwell made the trip to inspect his valley land in 1771, the year of his coming of age. Encountering both encouragements and discouragements, he laid out his plans, of which the erection of the Millwood flour and grist mill was among the first. When it came time to execute these plans, Gen. Morgan was fortunately available. Just what the bargain was we do not know; but here was a man of action with more than 500 good German workmen at his disposal. Work was started on this mill in 1782, the year after York Town and the year before the treaty of Paris which would set the Hessians free.

Carter Hall built by Nathaniel Burwell in 1790 - Post card image courtesy Clarke County Historical Association

The mill was located on land belonging to Col. Burwell and his father since 1730. In 1805 it was insured in Col. Burwell’s name. After his death in 1814 it was appraised in his estate, and in 1837 it was sold by one of his heirs. The water for power came from springs mostly on his land. General Morgan furnished the Hessians for the first year of construction and for most of the second year. In 1785 it advertised as a Merchant Mill. It was old fashioned, but still working when I remember it in 1912, owned and operate.d by the Garvin family.

Text and images published by permission of the Clarke County Historical Association