Cole Digges House
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Cole Digges and Son Dudley

Cole Digges was the son of Councilor Dudley Digges and the grandson of Edward Digges, who also served the Colony as councilor, as well as auditor-general, receiver-general, a Virginia agent in England, and governor for a two-year term, the latter during the period of the Cromwellian Commonwealth. [13] Edward had acquired the West family acres on the York River some five miles up river from the site of later Yorktown and developed the famous "E. D. [Edward Digges] Plantation" with its noted quality tobacco.

Governor Edward Digges' oldest son, William Digges, inherited the York River plantation and evidently lived here until he moved to Maryland, his wife's home colony, some time after 1679. He died in 1698 and his son rather quickly, in 1699, sold the "D. E. Plantation" to his father's brother, Dudley Digges, a younger son of Governor Edward Digges. It is not improbable that Dudley was, and had been for some time, in residence at, and in management of the home plantation. In this event his son Cole could have been born here in 1692. In any event, Cole's early youth would have been passed here with his father until the latter's death in 1710, Cole then being a young man of eighteen. [14]

Cole as the oldest surviving son inherited the "E. D. Plantation" as well as an established and going plantation, "Newport News," in Warwick County. The latter came to him through his mother, Susannah Cole. [15] It was early in his career when, in 1714, he bought the John Martin property in Yorktown, including the home on Lot 42 and the warehouse at the waterside. Even then, in the deed, he was designated as a merchant, indicating the direction his principal business interest was to follow. He would, however, continue the plantation operations and in due course before his death install his eldest son Edward on the "E. D. Plantation"[16] and likely son William, by due course of arrangements, on the Warwick operation, leaving at his death his town acquisitions in Williamsburg and more particularly those in Yorktown to his third son Dudley. [17] Both William and Dudley were "Infants under the age of 21" at the time of his death in 1744.

Cole evidently succeeded in business and in 1729 entered a period of expansion for his facilities in Yorktown. The Virginia Council minutes relate for June 12 of that year:

Cole Digges Esqr on his petition hath liberty granted him to survey and have a patent for eighty foot square of the Beach below the bank at York Town adjoining to the place where his warehouse now stands for his convenience in building a commodious warehouse thereon with leave to extend a Wharf of the same breadth into the River for the more convenient landing of merchandizes provided the same do not obstruct or encroach on the publick landing or Street leading to the River. [18]

Undoubtedly he, like Thomas Nelson, Philip Lightfoot, John Ballard, and other fellow merchants, wanted a larger share of the now expanding Yorktown trade. He knew the value of land as well, purchasing additional acres in York County in 1726 and other lots in Yorktown to the total of four. Even before, he had been interested in virgin acres, some 12,000 in the fork of the Rapidan River in Spotsylvania County, though he would fail to pursue this and let the patent lapse by "failure to cultivate or Improve the same." [19] Like most merchants of the time he also busied himself with estate settlements and the execution of powers of attorney sometimes granted from business associates in England. [20]

With public service already a family tradition, Cole found himself in the House of Burgesses representing Warwick in 1715 and again in 1718. Prior to his initial election, however, he and his fellow elector, William Cole, had promised to serve without salary. The House of Burgesses saw this as improper, being a form of bribery, and a conflict-of-interest matter. Digges and Cole were refused their seats and declared not duly elected, whereupon the Governor issued a new writ for a Warwick election. The voters again returned Digges and Cole, and in this new election no irregularities were noted and no promised made by the candidates. Then they were allowed to take their seats. It is said that both men were of the governor's small party in the House.

It can be reported that, when Governor Spotswood was challenged in the matter of the misapplication of some of the Colony's laws, Cole Digges was foreman of the twenty-one man grand jury "called to study acquisations and complaints" against the governor. The "Grand Jury of the Dominion" was ready to report on April 18, 1719, and did not agree "on any bills or presentments" and "will readily Acquit You [the Governor] both of Misconstruing or perverting our Laws, of which you are wrongfully accused."

In just a few months Cole would be elevated to the Virginia Council. It was on December 9, 1719, that "A Copy of his Majesty's order in Council appointing Cole Digges, Esqr to be of his Majesty's Council of this Colony" was produced in Council. He remained a member and was in regular attendance for the next twenty-four years. [21]

Cole Digges married Elizabeth Power of York County; she was the daughter of Dr. Henry Power. [22] In addition to the three sons (Edward, William and Dudley), Cole and Elizabeth also had two daughters, Mary and Susannah. No doubt Cole found a good deal of satisfaction as he saw his children developing. Edward became a justice of the York County court in 1734. He also was made a militia officer in York County, and in 1736 began a sixteen-year sojourn in the House of Burgesses. William, too, after his father's death would sit for twenty years in the House and Dudley for even a longer time. Dudley would go on to become a leading patriot in the revolutionary cause in Virginia. [23]

Cole's sons and daughters would marry well. In August 1739 his oldest son Colonel Edward married Anne Harrison, "a Daughter of the late Honourable Nathaniel Harrison, Esq., deceas'd, who was one of his Majesty's Council, and Auditor, of this Colony. The announcement also noted that Anne was "an agreeable young Lady of Merit, and Fortune." Two weeks later Harrison's son, Maj. Benjamin Harrison, "was married to Miss Susanna Digges, Daughter of the Honourable Cole Digges, Esq." Like her new sister-in-law, she was "a very agreeable, deserving young Lady, with a Handsome Fortune." [24] Thus brother and sister married sister and brother.

When quite a young man, "Cole Diggs Gent" was "chosen a visitor and Governor of the College" of William and Mary and on June 13, 1716, "took the usuall oath for the due discharge of that trust." [25] A strong loyalty to the College remained in the next several generations of the family, and a number of Digges boys and young men enrolled here for their education, perhaps most of them finishing satisfactorily. [26] Even before his William and Mary appointment, there is record of Cole's interest in education, since he was one of the seventeen "Benefactors" named in 1711 "for a public scoule to educate children" in "York Hampton parish in York County." [27]

Though often operating on a wider scene, Cole Digges from all indications remained home-based locally on Lot 42. Certainly he spent most of his time in Yorktown, since in March 1737, "In obedience to these [the Governor's] Orders there was . . . a General Muster of the Militia of York County, under the Command of the Hon. Cole Digges, Esq: Lieutenant Colonel of that County." [28]

Col. Cole Digges died in 1744, and his family buried him in the family plot at the "E. D. Plantation" (now Bellfield). His son Edward erected a memorial over the grave "to ye Memory of a most indulgent Father." Edward said his father "Derived Dignity on every Scene, or tempted or betrayed to Nothing mean." [29]

Dudley Digges, Cole's youngest son, evidently came into possession of Lot 42 and other town properties with his father's passing in 1744 and his mother's death in 1750. It is not clear whether or not he lived at this location after his marriage in 1748, though in all probability he spent some of his early years here at the intersection of Main and the "cross street" that leads to the waterfront. In any case he did not remain here, as he built his own house up Main Street on Lot 77 adjacent to the "Great Valley," where there was another principal street connection to the waterfront. He erected his home in 1755, or in the next several years. [30] The records seem to be silent as to the use to which he put the Lot 42 development. It very likely became a rental property, perhaps the home even leased as a store. Dudley was not a business man following the mercantile line, though he may have built the two little shops on the Main Street in the west corner of Lot 42 that were on the property when he sold it in 1784. Significantly, by this date the old Thomas Pate residence had become known as the old brick storehouse. The deed to David Jameson, who bought the property for £175, reads in part: "the lot on which the old brick Store house and the two Shops stand one of which Shops is now occupied by John Moss a Tailor and the other by James Tyrie." [31] Clearly Lot 42 was now altogether a business property and had been bought for business purposes by a local business man and merchant.

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Last Updated: 19-Jan-2005