Author: J. A. Leo Lemay


Robert Bolling (1738–1775)

Robert Bolling was a poet, a member of the House of Burgesses (1761–1765), the sheriff of Buckingham County, and a member of the county court (1761–1775). Trained as a lawyer, he nearly fought a duel with William Byrd (1728–1777), a judge on the General Court, when Bolling accused the judges of bias in a murder case. Bolling was also involved in a suit brought by his youngest brother over an inheritance. The younger Bolling was represented by George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Robert Bolling by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s author. Bolling is best known as a poet, however. He published more poetry than any other colonial American between 1759 and 1775, including the grotesque “Neanthe” (ca. 1763), which reflected elements of Italian traditions, colonial Virginia folklore, and English poetry. In addition, during the failed courtship of his distant cousin, Bolling kept a journal, “A Circumstantial Account,” which provides a unique view of eighteenth-century Virginia gentry. Bolling died suddenly in 1775 while attending the Virginia Convention of July–August 1775.