Col. Joseph Cabell (1732-1798)

Like his brothers William, John, and Nicholas, Joseph Cabell earned his reputation in the service of his country during the American Revolution. Born at the family estate in Warminster in 1732, he established early in life patterns of political service that would continue during the “Decade of Decision.” At the age of nineteen, he gained the office of deputy sheriff of Albemarle County, a position which he still held when he married Mary Hopkins a year later. When Albemarle split into Albemarle, Buckingham, and Amherst Counties in 1761, he owned property in all three divisions. Before establishing a favorite residence in Amherst County in 1771, named “Winton,” Cabell held office in both Albemarle and Buckingham counties. He was a Justice of the Peace in Albemarle in 1760, and was elected Burgess from Buckingham in 1761.

While he built his political career, Joseph and Mary Cabell also built a family. Though their first child, Elizabeth, died at the age of eighteen in 1771, four others–Joseph Jr. (b. 1762), Mary (b. 1769), Ann (b. 1771), and Elizabeth (named for her sister, b. 1772)–lived to adulthood. Though there is little manuscript evidence to support the claim, family tradition indicates that at this time Joseph also established a medical practice, and that he practiced the healing arts with exceptional skill. Thus, by the time that Lord Dunmore dissolved the Burgesses in 1775, Joseph Cabell had a new home, a large and healthy family, extensive landholdings, and–possibly–a thriving medical practice to defend.

Cabell contributed both political and military leadership to the patriot cause. He attended all five conventions in which Virginia’s luminaries forged a Commonwealth from a Colony, served as delegate and senator in the new government, and–perhaps most importantly–helped to raise troops for the Continental Army. Early in the war, in 1776, Cabell acted as the Commonwealth’s agent and paid out salaries in pounds sterling to hundreds of militiamen. In fulfillment of his duties as Amherst County’s “County Lieutenant” (chief military officer) he administered a draft in 1778 and 1779 that sent scores of his neighbors to the front. He marched with the recruits and was present for the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Cabell remained active in politics following the war, although ill health kept him from Richmond on several occasions. On 29 November 1784, for example, he wrote to his brother Col. Nicholas Cabell of his inability to fulfill his duties as the senator for Buckingham, Albemarle, Amherst, and Fluvanna Counties. “I had some hopes of comming down on the Assembly,” he lamented, “But they are all Vanished, my Leg and Cough continues so bad I am afraid I shall never see Richmond again…” Cabell recovered well enough to attend several more sessions of the General Assembly and did not succumb to final sleep until 1798.

Additional Sources Consulted:
Cabell Family Papers (MSS 5804)