Katherine St. Leger – Culpepper Saga

Culpepper_1This is the third installment about the people and places in my upcoming series, The Culpepper Saga. You can read the first and second installments here and here.

Katherine St. Leger’s relationship to the Culpeppers is a little hard to explain, so bear with me. She was born in 1602 and was the daughter of Warham St. Leger who was a ship captain and sailed on expeditions with Sir Walter Raleigh. Since her father was absent most of the time, she lived with her grandmother, Mary St. Leger, and her step-grandpa, Alexander Culpepper.

Alexander Culpepper had no children and married the St. Leger widow when he was thirty-three years of age. She was quite a bit older than him and was probably already done birthing children by then. That being said, Alexander loved his step-granddaughter, Katherine, and raised her as if she was his own, actually naming her as his daughter in his will.

When Katherine was twenty-six years old, she married Thomas Culpepper, Alexander’s nephew. Thomas was the son of John Culpepper, whom we call Johannes in the book because there are way too many Johns. Johannes was Alexander’s brother. Johannes had two sons, John (our hero) and Thomas. Thomas married Katherine. Did you catch all that?

Katherine and Thomas grew up as cousins, but they really weren’t. Try explaining all that in a book. Go ahead. I dare ya. You’ll have to read the book and see how the heck I did it. 🙂

So, now that you have a slight grasp on who Katherine is, here’s a snippet from the first book, “I, John Culpepper.” Thomas and John are very close, but John has always felt Thomas was their father’s favorite. Maybe he’s right.


At the conclusion of the first family supper in their new home, Thomas tapped on the rim of his glass to get everyone’s attention.

“Katherine and I are so pleased that you all could join us in our new home. We trust you all had a pleasant journey getting here, and please know that you are welcome to stay for as long as you like. We invited everyone because we have some news.” He gestured for Katherine to stand by his side. “We would like to inform you that Katherine is with child and we are expecting the first Culpepper grandchild.” Thomas beamed like a ray of sunshine.

Johannes rose and patted him on the back. “Thomas, Katherine, we are overjoyed by this news, and let me be the first to wish you a healthy son.” Johannes raised his glass and the gathering followed his lead.

From across the table, John watched the interaction between his brother and his father, and wondered if he would have received the same hearty congratulations if it were him announcing the arrival of the first grandchild. He glanced at Mary and found her staring at him. He smiled faintly, but knew by the way she cocked her head that she recognized something was amiss.


“I, John Culpepper” will be released April 10, 2015.

Ursula Woodcock Culpepper – Culpepper Saga

Culpepper_1This post is in place of my usual “Saturday Snippets,” and is the second installment of the background of the people and places in my coming series, The Culpepper Saga. You can read the first installment here.

Ursula Woodcock Culpepper is one of the more sentimental characters in my coming series. She was our hero’s mother, and sadly, is only in the first book, “I, John Culpepper.” She was my 11th great grandmother.

astwoodUrsula was born to Ralph Woodcock, the Alderman of London, and his wife Good Bower in 1566. She was baptized at St. Lawrence Jewry in London on January 27, 1566. Her father’s will describes her as “my daughter Ursula, wife of Solomon Pordage.” Ursula and Solomon married in 1581, when Ursula was a child of fifteen.  Solomon Pordage died September 12, 1599 and his will commended his wife to his kinsman, William Stede of Harrietsham. Solomon’s sister, Joan Pordage, was married to a Culpepper and Ursula probably met her second husband, John Culpepper of Feckenham, at family gatherings long before she was widowed. Note: This is John Sr., not our hero John, and in the book I refer to him as Johannes, as that is what is written on his tombstone.

Ursula and Johannes had four children: Thomas, Cicely, John (our hero), and Frances. When the children were small, between the ages of four and ten, the family left their home in Kent and moved to Astwood Court in Feckenham (photo) so Johannes could retire and become a “country gentleman,” but they lived there for less than a year when Ursula took ill and died. She was buried at St. John the Baptist Church in Feckenham on June 2, 1612 as “Ursula, the wife of John Culpepper, Esquire.” She was forty-six years old.download

In the first book in the Culpepper Saga, “I, John Culpepper,” the following is what Johannes thought of his lovely wife. The book will be released April 10, 2015.


He pushed open the heavy door a few inches and peeked through the crack. The room was dim with all the heavy curtains drawn. It was quite different up here than the sunshine-filled bustle of the rest of the house. The room was quiet and warm, with the soft flickering light of candles dancing on the tapestries that covered the walls. He called out, “Ursula?”

“Johannes? Is that you? Please, please, come in.”

Her golden voice was as sweet as an angel’s, and that made him smile. He’d married her because of her cheerful voice—well, that and her family’s money. The Woodcock family had more manors and land than the Culpeppers, and the time-honored tradition of marrying heiresses and widows was generally the way the Culpepper men gained their fortunes. But Ursula had something else about her that Johannes loved. She was warm-hearted, with a gentle smile and soft manner. He had initially been attracted to her by the way she said, “Good morning,” and “Good evening,” and particularly the way she said, “Johannes.” Words floated from her lips as if they were lyrics she was singing just for him. Her voice had a happy lilt that filled his heart the way nothing else did. Today, it made him happy to be home.

He swung the door wide, entered the lavishly appointed room, and found Ursula sitting up in the four-poster bed, wearing a soft white gown that floated over her petite frame. A stack of pillows rested behind her back and her legs were covered with a brightly colored velvet quilt. Her hair was plaited on either side of her face, and Johannes was momentarily awed by how peaceful she looked. Childbirth agreed with her.

Her expression was one of excitement and anticipation as she held their newborn in her arms, and her smile grew more radiant as he approached the bed. “It’s a son,” she said.


Sir William Berkeley – Culpepper Saga

Culpepper_1For the next few Saturdays, in place of my usual “Saturday Snippets,” I’m going to give you some background into some of the people and places in my new series, The Culpepper Saga. The series consists of four books which will be released between April and September.

One of the main characters is Sir William Berkeley. I write stories of my ancestors, but Berkeley is not one of my ancestors. He was, however, a life-long friend of our hero and my 10th great grandpa John Culpepper.

In the 1st book, Berkeley and John are young law students in England. In the 2nd and 3rd books, Berkeley plays a daily role in John’s life and is the Governor of Virginia. In the final book, Berkeley is married to John’s niece and is at the center of a deadly rebellion.

SirWilliamBerkeley2William Berkeley, referred to as “Will” by his family and friends, was born in England in 1605. He was the colonial governor of Virginia from 1642 until his death in 1677. Upon his arrival in Virginia, he built a plantation called Green Spring House and planted corn, wheat, barley, rye, and tobacco, though he despised tobacco. In 1670, he wed thirty-six-year-old Frances Culpepper, the niece of our hero John. Historical records show him fleeing Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and taking refuge in Accomac, Virginia. Most people leave it at that, but in my writing world, I happen to know that John had a house in Accomac, so it is obvious he went to John’s. After all, they had been friends for many years, and they were family through marriage. I’ll let you read the rest of his story in the Culpepper Saga, but I’ll leave you with a tidbit from the day he and John met as young boys at law school–a place called Middle Temple.

Note: Wikipedia does not confirm that Berkeley attended Middle Temple, but in “The History of Middle Temple” by Hart Publishing, records of Middle Temple show Berkeley as a student. He also wrote and published a few plays in the 1630s, which was a large part of the curriculum at the school.

The following is an excerpt from “I, John Culpepper.”


John clapped along with the other boys as the headmaster strolled toward the center of the room. The man looked as stern as JC had warned. A pair of spectacles rested on the tip of his pointed nose, and his rather large ears stuck out from under his cap. He began stroking his goatee as if caressing the family pet. For a moment, John couldn’t put his finger on what was so amusing about the man’s appearance, then it struck him—the man looked like a goat. John tried unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle.

Barnaby’s brow wrinkled and the corners of this mouth turned down like a fish as he scanned the group of boys. He looked at each one as if viewing a repulsive heap of trash. He cleared his throat and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, a frizzy-headed boy ran into the room, allowing the door to slam behind him. The sound echoed loudly within the stone walls and the tardy boy’s face turned red with embarrassment. Barnaby followed the boy’s movement with his narrowed eyes as the boy took the only empty seat in the room—right next to John. John felt a trickle of sweat drip down his back as the headmaster slowly walked toward them.

“You’re tardy for my class,” the man scoffed, his eyes filled with hostility. When he said the word class, he drew out the a for an inappropriate amount of time, and John was again reminded of a goat, but with the man standing directly in front of him, he didn’t dare giggle.

“My apologies. I just arrived, sir.”

“What is your name, boy?” Barnaby growled.

“William Berkeley, sir.”

“William Berkeley.” He stared at Berkeley for a long time, as if attempting to memorize every feature of the boy’s face. He then repeated the name. After what seemed like an hour of uncomfortable silence, with the tension in the room growing by the second, Barnaby said, “William Berkeley, I will speak with you in private following this evening’s supper.”

“Yes, sir.” William lowered his eyes to the floor.

As Barnaby turned his back on Berkeley and returned to the center of the room, Berkeley glanced around the room at the other boys. John wondered if Berkeley’s humility was in respect for the headmaster or due to his embarrassment for being late, or both.

Berkeley leaned over to John and whispered, “Who’s that old goat?”

John almost laughed out loud and his hands flew up to his mouth.

Berkeley winked at him and grinned.


The first book in the Culpepper Saga, “I, John Culpepper,” will be released April 10, 2015.

Cover Reveal “I, John Culpepper”

I’m pleased to reveal the cover for my coming book, “I, John Culpepper.” Release date April 10, 2015.

Culpepper_1Amazon Blurb

John Culpepper was born into a privileged childhood, surrounded by abundant wealth, vast land holdings, and stately English manors. As he grew, he was expected to follow family tradition—attend law school and serve in Parliament, following which he would retire to a quiet life as a country gentleman. 

John, however, had different desires. He longed to captain a mighty ship, to hear the snap of the sails, to taste the salty spray on his lips. To follow his dreams, John would have to risk being disinherited by his unyielding father. He would have to defy family convention. He would ultimately be forced to choose between the woman he loved and his mistress—the sea. 

“I, John Culpepper” is a work of historical fiction based on the life of the 17th-century man historians refer to as John Culpepper the Merchant. He is believed to be the progenitor of the modern-day American Culpeppers. He was my 10th great-grandfather.

“I, John Culpepper” will be released April 10, 2015. It is the first of four books in the Culpepper Saga. Stay tuned to this page to learn about some of the characters over the next four weeks.

Saturday Snippet – I, John Culpepper

Here’s a bit of my work-in-progress, “I, John Culpepper.” For you ancestry/genealogy readers, John Culpepper is my 10th great grandpa. Release date will be April 10, 2015.


Culpepper_1Fall 1626, England

“No! For the hundredth time, no!”

John looked down at the intricate grain of the walnut desk beneath his fingertips and shifted his weight to his other foot. He sighed, feeling his dreams disintegrate before his very eyes. The snap of the white sails, the taste of the salty spray on his lips, the smell of the tar that sealed the decks—the visions were quickly vanishing behind the thick fog of his father’s adamant disapproval. He pictured his mighty ship sinking into the black waters of condemnation, bubbling like a cauldron as it disappeared from sight. There was nothing he could do to change his father’s mind, and he wondered whatever possessed him to come to this man for assistance. He should have known better.

His father glared at John from behind the desk. He propped his elbow on the scrolled arm of the chair as his large hand methodically stroked his pointed beard. “Is there anything else?” he snapped.

John didn’t look up. He shook his head and mumbled, “No.” He turned and padded across the thick rug toward the door, listening to the man’s heavy breathing behind him. He reached for the brass doorknob, paused, and turned back. “You know I’ve always done everything you’ve asked of me. I went to school. I studied to be a lawyer. I did it all for you. I never wanted to practice law. I’d never be happy on the bench.”

“Happy? What makes you think life has anything to do with being happy? You are a Culpepper, and as such, you have an obligation to serve your family and your king in a manner befitting your station. This childish notion of owning a ship is nothing but rubbish.”

John released the doorknob and walked back toward his father’s desk. The intimidating man dwarfed the desk, his size exaggerated by the broad shoulders of his leather jerkin, yet he sat up taller in his chair in preparation for the quarrel to continue. It was a wasted gesture, as his opponent already knew the battle was lost.

John made sure he didn’t raise his voice. “Father, you have financed merchant ships for as long as I can remember. What difference does it make if I’m the one who owns the ship?”

“Culpeppers don’t own ships. I funded those expeditions as an investment—a losing investment, I might add.” He rose from his chair and his voice grew louder, echoing off the oak panels that lined the walls. “There has never been a Culpepper placed in a position to experience hunger and savages and shipwrecks, and there won’t be one now, not with my blood written on the purchase. I will not fund a ship for you, John, not now, not ever.” He pointed his finger in John’s face. “And if you somehow find a way to procure a ship, mark my words—I will disinherit and disown you. No son of mine will become a common sailor. I am finished with this conversation once and for all. Have I made myself clear?”

John exhaled, beaten. His shoulders slumped as he broke his father’s glare and dropped his eyes to the floor.

“John? Have I made myself clear?”


Saturday Snippet – Culpepper Saga Preview

I usually post blogs about books that are already finished, but I’m having such a good time with my work in progress, I’d like to share a piece of it with you. The Culpepper Saga will be four books about one of my ancestors named John Culpepper.

Culpepper_1John was born in England in 1606. As a young lad he was trained as a lawyer, but he decided to be a merchant instead. He bought a ship and sailed back and forth between the colony of Virginia and England, delivering immigrants to the colonies and bringing back cotton and tobacco. His life wasn’t spectacular, but the cast of characters surrounding him were pretty intriguing, the political and religious climate of his homeland was so volatile, one could lose a head if one wasn’t careful, and the vast expansion of the new world set the stage for quite an amazing adventure. The first installment will be about his childhood, the second about the English Civil War where King Charles I was executed and the royalist Culpepper family scattered like rats, the third about his adventures in Virginia and rise to family patriarch, and the final story will be in his later years during Bacon’s Rebellion and his son causing the Culpepper Rebellion in North Carolina and being charged with treason (good thing daddy was a lawyer!).

culpepper book 2 cover ideaI’ve decided on the title “I, John Culpepper” for the first book.

All that being said, here’s a bit of the scene from the day John was born….


1606, Blackwall, London

“Master Culpepper! Master Culpepper!” the servant boy shouted over the bells clanging from the church steeple. He pulled the scratchy scarf tightly around his neck to ward off the chill as he pushed his way through the masses gathered on the foggy banks of the Thames.

The crowd had been gathering on the wharf for nearly two days to witness the departure of the ships, and they were prepared for a spectacle unlike any they had seen before. When the tide came in, the three ships carrying one hundred forty passengers and sailors would depart England on an exciting adventure. The air smelled of salt and tar and sweat. This was a remarkable place, a magical place, where the preparations were as exciting at the coming voyage. The anticipation in the air was nearly as thick as the fog.

The boy stopped for a moment as a wooden cask was rolled across the cobblestone in front of him. He watched as workers carefully rolled the barrel up the tilted gangplank. He remained frozen in the middle of the bustling crowd, staring at the ship. He had never seen anything so majestic in all his twelve years, and his jaw dropped at her sheer size. She was an enormous castle-like structure, at least eighty feet in length, her belly bulging at the side where the last of the cargo was being loaded in. Crates and boxes were continually being carried up the gangplank, where they disappeared into the ship’s dark interior. The deck above the cargo area was much narrower and the boy imagined that’s where the sailors would remain during the voyage, climbing masts and hoisting sails. Circling the spiderweb of hemp ropes and yardarms, seagulls cawed as if singing along with the rhythmical clanging of a nearby metal object. The boy scanned the scene for the source of the sound and noticed a blind beggar sitting on the cobblestone near the bow of the ship, tapping a stick on a metal bowl.

Behind the ship floated a second ship, nearly as large as the first, and behind that loomed a third. Each hosted its own cast of sailors, supplies, vagrants, and gangplanks. As wavelets gently raised and lowered the vessels, moans of protest arose from the taut ropes, and the weathered wood creaked with each stomp of a sailor’s boot. Nearby, two mangy hounds barked and growled over some fish scraps, bringing the boy’s attention back to his task at hand. Remembering why he had come, he yelled, “Master Culpepper!” He spun around and around looking for the man, weaving between horses, carts, trunks, and sailors shouting commands. He darted in and out of the crowd, making sure he didn’t bump into any wealthy gentlemen, recognizable by their long cloaks adorned with colorful silk threads.

In April, King James had created the Virginia Company, which would finance sailings to Virginia and Plymouth with the aim of settling colonies and profiting from the land’s abundant natural resources. The aristocracy funded the expeditions with the expectation of making an exorbitant profit. The three ships embarking from Blackwall on this day would sail to Virginia and bring back riches. There were rumors of gold, silver, and gems merely washing up on the shore for the taking. If nothing else, there was surely timber to be harvested. The trees in England had long been felled and the rising price of timber would certainly bring the investors a hefty return.

After they finished loading supplies and the morning fog had dissipated, the ships would raise their sails and ride the tide down the Thames. They would enter the English Channel and cross the great ocean and return by summertime.

The boy bobbed in and out of the crowd, searching for his master.

“Who are you searching for, lad?” a man in a ruffled collar asked.

“Master Culpepper,” the boy replied, removing his hat and revealing his dirty blond hair, which was sticking this way and that like a wheat field in a mighty windstorm. He twisted the wool hat in his hands.

“Johannes or Tom?”

“Johannes Culpepper, sir.”

“I saw him down by the front ship—the Discovery—only moments ago. He was standing right on the dock.”

“Thank you.”

The boy nodded, replaced his cap, and shoved through the workers and onlookers toward the front ship. As he passed the first ship, he looked at the name written on her side and sounded out the letters. He couldn’t make any sense of the words Susan Constant, but when he reached the second ship, he could read God…speed. He wondered if the Godspeed was true to her name. If he were to sail, he would rather sail on the Godspeed and get there faster. From what he understood, it was a two-month voyage if the weather was bonny, maybe four months if the ship ran into rough seas.

He had once spent a morning in a small fishing boat and instantly became green with sickness that lasted for days. He didn’t think he would be able to survive the time it would take to sail to Virginia. He gawked at the bow of the Godspeed as he ran past, witnessing a young lad about his age. The sailor dripped with sweat, even in the chill of the damp morning air, as he coiled ropes and folded sails. What a great adventure it would be to sail to Virginia, but alas, the boy would never get to do such amazing things. He was a servant, a gift from His Majesty King James I to Johannes Culpepper. He would always be a servant, but perhaps someday he would be fortunate enough to serve the king. Even though Master Culpepper was good to him, he wished to someday live at court and be somebody. At least he had the slimmest of chances. His sister had been placed in the kitchen of some castle in Wales. She would never be anything more than a scullery maid. Women would never hold a place in society. They were not welcomed on this voyage, either.

He hopped up and down, unsuccessfully trying to look over the crowd. “Master Culpepper!” he called.

A man turned and pointed. “Culpepper is right over there, son.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The boy sprinted in the general direction, and when he pushed through a couple workers conversing on the dock, he saw him.

“Master Culpepper!”

The boy ran up behind Johannes Culpepper and patted the back of his master’s arm, hopping up and down. “Master Culpepper!”

Johannes turned and looked down at the boy, his square jaw set and his blue-gray eyes burrowing into the lad. “What is it, boy? Why are you making such a commotion?”

The boy panted, out of breath from running. “Master Culpepper, m’lady is havin’ the baby, sir!”

Johannes’s face turned red as he glanced around the crowd to see if anyone was eavesdropping. When he saw no one was, he folded his arms across his chest and stroked his beard. “You came all this way to tell me that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good, boy. You run along home now.”

The boy didn’t move. How could his master not be excited about this news? Did he not want to return home and see his wife and child? Was there anything the boy could say to convince the man to accompany him back to the house?

“Go on. Run along.” Johannes waved the boy off with a flip of his ringed fingers and abruptly turned his back.

“Yes, sir.” The lad backed up, keeping his eyes on his master, wondering what he would tell the governess when he returned home without his master in tow. He had ridden nearly four hours to get to Blackwall this morning, most of it in the dark as the sun had not even risen when he left. He would have a four-hour return trip to think of something. He turned and walked back in the direction from which he had come.