The Brent Family

Brent Point, at southern tip of Widewater Peninsula in Stafford County
Brent Point, at southern tip of Widewater Peninsula in Stafford County
Source: US Geological Survey, Widewater 7.5 topo map (2011)

Four members of the Brent family chose to leave England and settle in Maryland in the 1630's. The family were Catholics, and as England headed towards its Civil War it was clear that economic opportunity and personal safety would be enhanced by crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Fluke Brent returned to England, but his brother Giles and sisters Mary and Margaret became key members of the Maryland and then Virginia gentry. The sisters chose to stay single, a rare decision when men outnumbred women by 6:1. Staying single enabled them to manage their wealth independently. Had they married, their husbands would have automatically taken control of all business affairs for the family.

The political conflicts within Maryland were intense, with religious differences overlayed on economic and class rivalries. The colony had its own small-scale civil wars.

In 1645, Protestant ship captain Richard Ingle raided St. Mary's City and robbed the houses of Catholic leaders. He put Giles Brent and Jesuit priests in chains and transported them back to England:1 Lois Green Carr, "Margaret Brent - A Brief History," Maryland State Archives, (last checked February 29, 2024)

Governor Calvert fled to Virginia, and the Calverts came close to losing the colony entirely. Most of the Protestants left to become the first settlers in Virginia's Northern Neck, just across the Potomac river. The population of Maryland, perhaps 500-600 people at Ingle's raid, probably dropped to under 100, fewer than had come on Ark and Dove eleven years before.

Governor Leonard Calvert, brother of Lord Baltimore, recaptured the colony at the end of 1646. When he died on June 9, 1647, he designated Margaret Brent as the executor of his estate. Her challenge was to pay the army which had helped Governor Leonard Calvert recapture the colony before the soldiers mutinied. The estate was land rich and cash poor, and under traditional legal practices the executor could not sell the land quickly. To solve the problem, Margaret Brent got the Provincial Court to authorize her to sell assets and pay the soldiers. She asked for the right to vote. The male leaders rejected her request, but she is often mentioned as the first suffragist and first female lawyer in America.

The Calverts in England did not appreciate the decision to sell cattle and other assets in order to avoid a mutiny by the soldiers. In response, the Brents moved to Virginia.

Margaret Brent obtained a land grant and was the first English owner of what today is Alexandria. She and her brother Giles were the first English settlers in Northern Virginia. She built a plantation called "Retirement" and he built "Peace" near Brents Point on Aquia Creek, in what was Northumberland County but is now Stafford County.

Giles had married Kittamaquad (also spelled as Chitamachen), the daughter of the Piscataway Tayac or chief. That marriage offered the same possibilities as the marriage of John Rolfe to Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan. Giles Brent's marriage provided him and his son Giles Jr. a potential claim to the lands of the tribe.

Though the Brents moved across the Potomac River, Maryland did not accept that they had moved across the border to the Virginia colony. Lord Baltimore's officials claimed that Potomac Creek marked the Maryland-Virginia boundary, and Giles Brent plantation was upstream on what is now called Marlborough Point. If Calvert's interpretation of the boundary was true, his plantation was still in Maryland.

Maryland officials claimed Aquia Creek marked the Maryland-Virginia boundary and the Brents still lived in Maryland
Maryland officials claimed Aquia Creek marked the Maryland-Virginia boundary and the Brents still lived in Maryland
Source: Library of Congress, Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670 (by Augustine Herrman)

Giles Brent had to get the Governor's Council of Virginia to affirm that his claim to the land on Aquia Creek was based on a grant from the Virginia colonial government. Lord Baltimore tried to claim that *he* was entitled to issue a grant to someone else for the land where Brent had settled.1

Giles' nephew, George Brent, later built "Woodstock" on Aquia Creek. George Brent was the only Catholic elected to the colonial Virginia House of Burgesses. The Arlington Diocese of the Catholic Church now owns the property of George Brent and has excavated at the site of his colonial home.2

George Brent married the step-daughter of the third Lord Baltimore, maintaining the close ties with the Catholic proprietor across the Potomac River. George Brent had a different relationship with the Native Americans than his uncle Giles, however.

In 1675, George Brent led a militia response to the presumed murder of a frontier herdsman by a Doeg Indian. That response to "outrages" on the frontier, a prelude to Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, ended up including a raid across the Potomac River and an attack on settlements in Maryland that resulted in the death of numerous innocent Susquehannock Indians:3

Capt. Brent went to the Doegs' cabin (as it proved to be) who speaking the Indian tongue called to have a "matchacomicha, weewhio," i.e. a councill called presently such being the usuall manner with Indians) the king came trembling forth, and wou'd have fled, when Capt. Brent, catching hold of his twisted lock (which was all the hair he wore) told him he was come for the murderer of Robert Hen, the king pleaded ignorance and slipt loos, whom Brent shot dead with his pistoll, th' Indians shot two or three guns out of the cabin, th' English shot into it, th' Indians throng'd out at the door and fled, the English shot as many as they cou'd, so that they killed ten, as Capt. Brent told me, and brought away the king's son of about 8 years old, concerning whom is an observable passage, at the end of this expedition; the noise of this shooting awaken'd the Indians in the cabin, which Coll. Mason had encompassed, who likewise rush'd out and fled, of whom his company (supposing from that noise of shooting Brent's party to be engaged) shott (as the Coll. informed me) ffourteen before an Indian came, who with both hands shook him (friendly) by one arm saying Susquehanoughs netoughs i.e. Susquehanough friends and fled, whereupon he ran amongst his men, crying out "ffor the Lords sake shoot no more, these are our friends the Susquehanoughs.

On January 10, 1686/1687, a decade after Bacon's Rebellion, all was quiet on the northern front. George Brent and three partners, Richard Foote, Robert Bristow, and Nicholas Hayward purchased 30,000 acres from the Culpeper family that claimed to all the land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. The Culpeper proprietary claim to most of Northern Virginia became known later as the Fairfax Grant, after Lord Culpeper's son-in-law inherited all the various claims.4

The Brent grant included modern-day Brentsville in what is now Prince William and Fauquier counties, but was part of Stafford County until 1731.

George Brent and his partners received a special dispensation from James II so settlers would have freedom to worship in their own manner. The land speculators were planning to recruit Huguenots, French Protestants. The Huguenots who came to Virginia settled elsewhere, so the four real estate speculators sought to recruit Catholics to move to their inland parcel. That too was unsuccessful.

Today there is a large crucifix on Route 1 north of Fredericksburg, honoring the Brent family role in establishing "religious liberty" in Virginia. Like so many other Virginia traditions, the facts may not support the claims completely. The Brents deserve acknowledgement as pioneers, and they clearly were Catholic, but the Brent Town project was a real estate venture motivated by a hope of profit and targeted initially towards Protestants, rather than a pioneering initiative to establish religious freedom for Catholics in Virginia.

Catholics in Virginia

The First Catholic Church in Virginia

Margaret Brent

Parson Waugh's Tumult

Religious Toleration/Intolerance in Colonial Virginia

Virginia-Maryland Boundary

crucifix erected on Route 1, commemorating the Brent family in Stafford County
crucifix erected on Route 1, commemorating the Brent family in Stafford County



1. Prince William: The Story of Its People and Places, Bethlehem Good Housekeeping Club, Manassas, Virginia, 1961, p. 16-17
2. Pamela Gould, "Digging Stafford history," Free Lance Star (Fredericksburg, VA) (last checked March 24, 2002)
3. "The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, In the Years 1675 and 1676," from The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress, (last checked March 24, 2002)
4. Christopher E. Hendricks, The Backcountry Towns of Colonial Virginia, University of Tennessee Press, 2006, p.23, (last checked December 16, 2017)

Religion in Virginia
Virginia Places