Culpeper Ships
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The Culpeper Ships

17th Century ships believed to have been owned
or used by Culpeper family members and which
sailed between England and
the Colonies

Source of much of this material and commentary: William A. 'Bill' Russell

Table of Contents

The Short Life of Ships in this Era

To best evaluate the records below, it is important to keep in mind the short life of ships in this era. A Portuguese historian, Rui Duque, states on his Causa Merita website that "the average life time of ships of the seventeenth century ranged from three to four years."

Reuse of Names? It would also be useful to know more about naming practices for ships during the seventeenth century. Specifically, if one was destroyed, was it likely that the owners would build a replacement ship with the same name? Certainly, reusing of names was a common practice where a child was lost at an early age.

Thomas and John

There were at least three and possibly as many as six different ships named Thomas and John sailing the Atlantic in the seventeenth century. At least one of these was owned by Thomas and John Culpeper. We have included here all of the references we can find to these ships with the hope of eventually sorting out which were connected with Culpepers.

"Of London". No Culpepers mentioned:

  • 1627 – Ship Thomas and John of London, John Hurlston, master, bound for Virginia

  • 1627 – email from Josh Graml reference librarian at the Mariners Museum, Newport News, to Roy Huddleston – colonial records indicate that the Thomas and John was in Virginia waters and the Richard Cocke, a prominent Virginian may have been the purser of the Thomas and John.

  • 13 May 1628 – Virginia Colonial Records Project – records of the Thomas and John of London, John Huddleston master, from Virginia loads 2,400 lbs of tobacco for Edward Morgan & Co.

  • 15 May 1628 – VCRP – mentions a variety of importers (actually exporters of tobacco) using the Thomas and John

  • 9 July 1628 – John Hanger & Co cleared customs with 3,314 lbs of tobacco in the Thomas and John

Owned by brothers Thomas Culpeper of the Middle Temple (#8470) and John Culpeper the Merchant (#8384). This is the only record that ties the Culpepers to a Thomas and John.

  • 28 September 1633 – John and Thomas Culpepper are mentioned as the owners of the ship Thomas and John of London which was furnished with 18 pieces oif cast-iron ordinance (cannon) at the shipyards at Shoreham-By-Sea. Bill Russell believes this is the above ship that was fitted out with cannon, not a new ship.

"Of Colchester" in one record. No Culpepers mentioned:

  • 1635-1637 – The Thomas and John mentioned as “of Colchester,” which may be a good suggestion of where to look for further Culpeper/Culpepper records, particularly given Thomas’ connection with the siege of Colchester.

  • 6 June 1635Thomas and John of Colchester, Richard Lambert master, 105 passengers clears for Virginia (my note – this would seem to indicate a 200 to 300 ton vessel based on similar records for other vessels)

  • 20 May 1636 – John Goodwyn testifies in admiralty court to the sickness and death of Richard Lambert, master of the Thomas and John “within sight of the Bermudas.”

  • 6 April 1637 – Port Book City of London Thomas and John from Virginia Michael Andreanson & company imported 2,909 lbs of tobacco worth L484 16s 1d, duty was L6 1s 2 1/2d

  • 1640 – mention of J Bradley shipping in the Thomas and John

Probably "Of London". No Culpepers mentioned:

  • 2 March 1649/50 – Committee of the Council of State on the Affairs of the Admiralty to permit the Thomas and John to go to Virginia giving security not to carry arms and ammunition

  • 25 March 1650 – above Admiralty Committee permits the Thomas and John and the Flower de Luce to go to Virginia giving security to the Mayor and Justices of Gravesend (my note – the Flower de Luce had been going to Virginia since at least the 1630s)

No records found, but it appears this was a period of major disruption of shipping records for the colonies.

"Of Lynn (MA)". No Culpepers mentioned. Given the 21 year span of time (1650-1670) in which there are no records of the Thomas and John, given the fact that the original ship would have been nearly 50 years old in 1671, and given its new location (Lynn), this is clearly a different ship than that of any of the preceding records.

  • 30 July 1671 Thomas and John of Lynn, Michael Scott, master, Edm. Lloyd & Co, 7 hogs heads, 2,025 lbs of tobacco (it would be interesting whether this was from Lynn, Massachusetts or Kings Lynn, County Norfolk – if MA, it might tie in with my belief the John the Merchant was operating out of MA)

  • 9 January 1673/4Thomas and John of Lynn, John Salmon, master, John Nicholls shipping.

  • 1674 – I believe there may have been a couple of additional references but they did not seem important at the time.

"Of Barbados". Owned by Thomas Watson and John Stewart.
Most likely this is yet another ship.

  • July 1688 - "To Mr Thomas Mackoly, mate of the ship Thomas and John,
    We wish you safe to the South Carolina in said ship, Mr John fforrest, Commander.  We desire the kindnesse of you that if it should so happen that Mr fforest now our master should die and in case of his mortality that you will please take into your custody and possession our aforesaid ship with the cargo now belonging to us and return with our vessel to the Island of Barbados as you see convenient.  If it should so happen Mr fforrest departing this life and you will much oblidge.  Your loving friends,
    Thomas Watson and John Stuart, Wit: Jonathan Amory,
    Proved 27 Sept 1688 before Will: Dunlop and Will: Salmon  (This would be considered  a Power of Attorney giving Mackoly authority to replace and control their ship on the death of Commander fforrest.
    Susan Baldwin Bates and Harriott Cheves Leland, Abstractors and Editors, Proprietary Records of South Carolina Volume One, "Abstracts of the records of the Secretary of the Province 1675-1695," July 1688, page 317 (provided to Culpepper Connections by Dee Green)

Recovery (1658-1678)
Diane Rapaport, Historical/Genealogical Consultant, Quill Pen Historical Consulting, Lexington, MA

I found records showing a connection between the Culpepers and a ship named the Recovery, in a variety of New England records. (Note: There may have been more than one vessel named Recovery, as records use the terms "ship," "barque," "ketch," "brigantine," etc.) (Following this section are Wikipedia's descriptions of these ship types.)

  • Possibly the Recovery was the same as the ship originally named Lord’s Increase, which had been renamed Recovery and was owned by Jonathan Ruck in 1658. Ruck sued Agustine Lyndon in Essex County, Massachusetts, "for taking possession of, detaining or selling and disposing of a quarter part of the ship."
    George Francis Dow, ed., Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, 9 vols. (Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1911-75), 2: 126.

    • In 1666, another Essex County lawsuit mentioned the ship in a lawsuit against Ruck by a Captain Thomas Clark, and documents in that case dated 1658 to 1666 referred to shipping between New England and Barbados.

      Dow, Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, 3: 369-70. (see "Court Records" section of "Research Notes" in complete report)

      Note: References to Thomas Culpeper and "Mr." Culpeper also appeared in another case involving Captain Thomas Clark. See comments re: Thomas Culpepper, below.

      Note: In our Colonial Massachusetts Archives, see text about the ketch Recovery, whose master was John Bonner, which included the name Mr. Culpeper in a list of goods (probably tobacco) bound for Liverpool, England.

  • I also found records in Suffolk Deeds (see "Deed Records" section of "Research Notes" in complete report), mentioning vessels named Recovery, including the ketch owned by Bonner, and a brigantine of that name owned by an Albemarle County man who had dealings with Joshua Lamb of Roxbury:

  • On 31 Aug 1667, the ketch Recovery was sold by Edward Goodwin, shipwright, and William Hackett, mariner, both of Salisbury (Essex County, Massachusetts), to John Dixon and John Shephard of New England.

    Suffolk Deeds, Vol. 5 (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1890), Folios 339-340.

  • On 24 Aug 1670, Thomas Peck, shipwright, of Boston, sold the ketch Recovery to John Bonner, mariner, of Boston.

    Suffolk Deeds, Vol. 7 (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1894), Folio 34.

    : Bonner was mentioned with a Mr. Culpeper (see above) an undated account record from the Suffolk Files Collection, Vol 13, #1221, p42 about the ketch Recovery.

  • On 12 Oct 1672, George Durant of Albemarle County, "CoraLina," mariner, acknowledged debt of 56 pounds 14 shillings owed to merchants Nicholas Paige of Boston and Joshua Lamb of Roxbury. Durant pledged his brigantine Recovery to Paige and Lamb. If Durant paid them 6,870 pounds of pork, by the end of December, in Albemarle County, this obligation would be void.

    Suffolk Deeds, Vol. 7 (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1894), title, folio 340, folio 340a

    Note: Nicholas Paige was mentioned in 1680 records as a New York merchant with a ship, Edward and Ann, which accompanied Lord Thomas Culpeper’s ship back to England.

  • In 1678, a John Culpepper was identified as the "master" of the barque Recovery, in a case before the Massachusetts Court of Assistants (acting as a Court of Admiralty). Culpepper sued John Woodmansey for seizing the ship and cargo "on pretence of a debt due to him from Zechariah Gillam." Culpepper claimed that Woodmansey’s action prejudiced Culpepper "and his owners," and sought 100 pounds in damages. The court ruled in favor of Culpepper, ordering delivery to him of the ship and goods "in such condition as it was seized," plus 5 pounds damages, and costs of court.

    John F. Cronin and John Noble, eds., Records of the Court of Assistants of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, 1630-1692, 3 vols. (Boston: County of Suffolk, 1901-28), cover, p118 and p119

Ship Types: Brigatines, Ketches and Barques
From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 4, 2011


Originally the brigantine was a small ship carrying both oars and sails. It was a favorite of Mediterranean pirates and its name comes from the Italian word brigantino, meaning brigand, and applied by extension to his ship. By the 17th century the term meant a two-masted ship. In the late 17th century, the Royal Navy used the term brigantine to refer to small two-masted vessels designed to be rowed as well as sailed, rigged with square rigs on the front mast and fore-and-aft rigging on the main mast.

By the first half of the 18th century the word had evolved to refer not to a ship type name, but rather to a particular type of rigging: square rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigged on the mainmast. The word "brig" is an 18th century shortening of the word brigantine, which came to mean a vessel square-rigged on both masts. The early Oxford English Dictionary (with citations from 1720 to 1854) still defined brig as being either identical to a brigantine, or alternatively, a vessel of similar sail plan to a modern brig. By the middle of the 19th century modern meanings had more or less stabilised, although purists continue to debate the exact differences, or lack of them, between brig, brigantine and hermaphrodite brig in both English and American usage.

Wikipedia Source: Brigantine (Sep 14, 2011)


A ketch is a sailing craft with two masts: a main mast, and a shorter mizzen mast abaft (rearward) of the main mast, but forward of the rudder post. (When the mizzen mast is located aft of the rudder post, the vessel is called a yawl.) Both masts are rigged mainly fore-and-aft. From one to three jibs may be carried forward of the main mast when going to windward. If a ketch is not rigged for jibs it is called a cat ketch, sometimes called a periauger. On older, larger ketches the main mast may in addition carry one or more square rigged topsails. A ketch may also carry extra sails, see below.

The lowest fore-and-aft sail on the main mast is called the mainsail, while that on the mizzen is called the mizzen sail. These may be any type of fore-and-aft sail, in any combination. The Scots Zulu, for example, had a dipping lug main with a standing lug mizzen.

The ketch is popular among long distance cruisers as the additional sail allows for a better balance, and a smaller more easily handled mainsail for the same overall sail area. It also allows sailing on mizzen and jib only without introducing excessive lee helm, and in an emergency can be quite well steered without use of the rudder. The ketch is a popular rig in northern European waters where sudden increases in wind strength sometimes require a rapid reefing: the mainsail can be dropped, reducing sail and leaving a balanced sail-plan with jib and mizzen set.

Running before the wind or reaching across the wind, a ketch may carry extra sails such as a spinnaker on the main mast, and a spinnaker or (mizzen staysail) on the mizzen mast.

Wikipedia Source: Ketch (Feb 26, 2011).


In both Latin and Italian the term barca refers to a small boat, not a full-size ship. In Britain, by the mid-nineteenth century, the spelling had taken on the French form of barque. Francis Bacon used this form of the word as early as 1605...

In the eighteenth century, the British Royal Navy used the term bark for a nondescript vessel that did not fit any of its usual categories. Thus, when the British Admiralty purchased a collier for use by James Cook in his journey of exploration, she was registered as HM Bark Endeavour to distinguish her from another Endeavour, a sloop already in service at the time. She happened to be a ship-rigged sailing vessel with a plain bluff bow and a full stern with windows.

William Falconer's Dictionary of the Marine defined "bark", as "a general name given to small ships: it is however peculiarly appropriated by seamen to those which carry three masts without a mizen top-sail. Our northern mariners, who are trained in the coal-trade, apply this distinction to a broad-sterned ship, which carries no ornamental figure on the stem or prow."

Wikipedia Source: Barque (Oct 19, 2011)

The Culpeper (1653) and The Culpepper (1681-1689)

There were at least two different ships in the 17th century carrying the name Culpeper or Culpepper. While it is reasonable to assume that someone named Culpeper or Culpepper owned these ships, no specific connection has been found between anyone with these surnames and the ships with these names.

Culpeper (1653)

  • 2-3 June 1653. The ship Culpeper won battle honors with the English fleet against the Dutch in the Battle of Gabbard. (Source: HMS Tigers Website, Battle Honours Page.)

William A. 'Bill' Russell says, "The ship Culpeper was an armed merchantman, subject to call into the navy as a condition of carrying cannon. 1653 would have been during the Commonwealth. All hostilities with the royalists had ceased by then and all shipping was controlled by the Commonwealth."

"The Thomas and John was in service in 1650 and was also an armed merchantman.

Culpepper (1681-1689)
The typical 17th century ship had a lifetime of only 3-4 years, but there was a 30 year period between this ship and the one above. Also, the two ships had a different spelling of their names. Thus we assume that these were different ships.

William A. 'Bill' Russell says, "There are about a dozen references to the ship Culpeper in the letters of William Byrd the elder published in volumes 24 and 25 of Virginia Historical Magazine. They cover the period from 25 Feb 1683 through 1686, mentioning the various captains and the letters that Byrd was sending to England on the Culpeper. Byrd was transporting both tobacco and animal furs during this period (a very bad time for prices for both). Perry and Lane, Micajah Perry's firm, was Byrd London representative. Christopher Morgan is mentioned frequently as Captain coming from London. Bradly and Hall are mentioned in the Byrd letters as Captains during the same period, always in context of voyages from Virginia to London. This would indicate to me that the owners had more than one ship and changed captains to meet their needs."

  • 25 Aug 1681 to 5 Sep 1681.  Shippers by the Culpepper, Mr. John Conset, bound from London for Virginia: Thomas Parker, Elizabeth Dunch, Edward Carter, Arthur North, Joseph Pile. (PRO: E190/99/1).

  • 22 Sep 1682 to 22 Oct 1682.  Shippers by the Culpepper, Mr. Christopher Morgan, bound from London for Virginia: Micajah Perry, Mary Lucas. (PRO: E190/106/1, 132/1).

  • 17 March 1682/3. Thomas Arnold, belonging to the ship Culpepper, carpenter, appoints his friend B.? Perry, merchant, his attorney to sue for recovery from James Parrott and Mr. John Nichols, Exors. of the will of Ann Arnold and that the plantation was formerly my brother’s Edward Arnold, of Chickahominy in James City County, Virginia, and in his will of 14 August 1679, he left said plantation to her for life and at her death to me and my heirs.  My attorney to see after this. July 3, 1683. Wm. Chischester, Robert Ruffin, Will Evans, Thomas Arnold (Source: Elizabeth T. Davis, compiler, Surry County Records, Book II, March 1671 – Jul 5, 1684, Page 168. Page 329 of original record book)

  • 28 Aug 1683 to 7 Sep 1683.  Shippers by the Culpepper, Mr. Christopher Morgan, bound from London for Virginia: John Plover, James Harris, Micajah Perry. (PRO: E190/115/1).

  • 4 Aug1685 to 3 Oct 1685. Shippers by the Culpepper, Mr. Christopher Morgan, bound from London for Virginia: Francis Wheeler, Micajah Perry. (PRO: E190/126/5).

  • October 1685.  Probate of will of George Read of Whitechapel, Middlesex [England], who died on the ship Culpepper in Virginia. (AW).

  • 25 Aug 1686.  Shippers by the Culpepper, Mr. Christopher Morgan, bound from London for Virginia: Francis Wheeler, John Constantine. (PRO: E190/139/1).

    Source of all above
    : The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776, Section III, Chapters 22-27

  • 17 Dec 1689. Ship: Culpepper ...of London, Commander: John Wynn, Burden: 460 tons, Crew: 40, Chief mate: Robert Ransome, Gunner: Edward Cole, Boatswain: John Burton, Carpenter: Henry Laurence, Cook: Ezekiel Ellis, Armament: 20 guns. (Source: The National Archives, Kew,  Public Record(s), Folio 68, Covering 17 Dec 1689; provided by Bill Russell)

Last revised: 02 Jan 2015

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