lonnie lee

Dr. Lonnie H. Lee visiting Cozes, France, the childhood hometown of John Bertrand and Charlotte Jolly Bertrand.

Dr. Lonnie H. Lee, a member of the Lancaster Virginia Historical Society (LVHS), recently announced the release of his new book, A Brief History of Belle Isle Plantation, Lancaster County, Virginia, 1650-1782. Published in March 2020 by Heritage Books, Lee’s work examines an extensive body of original records and archival sources about the early history and ownership of this Rappahannock River property that now comprises Belle Isle State Park. The 170-page book can be purchased from LVHS online at www.mkt.com/maryball or by contacting history@lancastervahistory.org or 804-462-7280 for mail order details. On-site store purchases are not available due to coronavirus closures.

“This book would never have happened,” says Lee, “without the LVHS Genealogy and Research Library.” On his first visit to the library in 2004, Lee learned of the Bertrand family connection to Belle Isle and of the site’s preservation as a state park. He says, “This sparked my curiosity about the family and inspired me to research them further in Virginia, England and France. While this project began out of genealogical curiosity, over time it was much more driven by my growing fascination with the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history of Lancaster.”

LVHS executive director Karen Hart says, “We are thrilled to see Dr. Lee’s work in print and we are quite proud to know that our historical society had a role in its origins.  A Brief History of Belle Isle is an important contribution to the study of Lancaster history. Thanks to his expansive research, Dr. Lee is able to share a wealth of primary source material that has never before been explored in depth or made available to the general public.”

According to Hart, the book features a chapter on each patent holder or owner of the property during the colonial era. These include Thomas Powell, who first patented the land in 1650; John Bertrand, a Huguenot-Anglican immigrant clergyman and later minister at St. Mary’s Whitechapel Church, who purchased the 500-acre plantation in 1692 and eventually enlarged it to 924 acres; and his widow, Charlotte Jolly Bertrand. 

Lee says, “One of the fascinating pieces for me is the relationship between the French archival records and the Lancaster records. Learning that John and Charlotte Bertrand both came from merchant families on the west coast of France helped me to better interpret some of their business records in Lancaster. The French records also confirmed one of the family legends about the Bertrands. Across ten generations in America the claim had been made, without documentation, that Charlotte Bertrand was the daughter of a French nobleman. In this case the legend turned out to be true.”

Some of the other Lancaster families that are treated in the book, according to Lee, include Powell, Kirby, Foushee, Ewell, Ball, Ballandine, Griffin, Burwell, Carter, White, and Montague. The publication also features copies of original documents and maps, a plantation timeline, eight family trees, and an annotated index of 434 names including 191 entries for free white persons, indentured servants, and enslaved African Virginians who lived on the plantation during the colonial period.

Dr. Lonnie H. Lee earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Kansas, a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry from Austin Theological Seminary. A native of Wichita, Kansas, Lee is now retired and living in Olathe, Kansas, after having served Presbyterian congregations in Oklahoma, Texas, and Illinois. He is working on his next book focusing on the migrations and contributions of Huguenots, like the Bertrands, to the Rappahannock region of Virginia after 1685.

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