Lancaster’s 17th-century business woman: Charlotte Jolly Bertrand

by Dr. Lonnie H. Lee, researcher

 Charlotte Jolly Bertrand (1659-1721) was the daughter of a French nobleman who married a Huguenot-Anglican minister named John Bertrand (c.1651-1701) and immigrated to Virginia in 1687.

When her husband died, his will named Charlotte the executor and administrator of his estate. Over the next 20 years, Charlotte used the legal status provided by her deceased husband’s will to manage the Bertrand plantation [later called Belle Isle] in Lancaster County and to build a mercantile business centered there. This was a role that planters’ widows rarely assumed for any length of time in 17th-century Virginia. Widows in colonial Virginia were subject to strong social and legal pressures to remarry and transfer the management of their plantations to their new husbands.

 But Charlotte, who was 41 years old at the time of John’s death, did not remarry. We can only speculate on her reasons for remaining single, but it is reasonable to assume she…

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