Representation, Voting, and a 17th Century Virginia Commonwealth

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Historic Jamestowne Reenactment of 1st General Assembly in 1619
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Commemoration Program

Jamestown. October 16, 1629.  The General Assembly of the Colony of Virginia convened consisting of 46 elected representatives from 24 designated sites along with Governor John Pott and his  Councillors. It had been ten years since the House of Burgesses with its twenty-two representatives from 11 localities had met under the leadership of the newly appointed governor, Sir George Yeardley, becoming the first representative legislative assembly in the Americas.1 In the intervening years, the Colony had pulled through the devastation of the Powhatan Uprising and the dissolution of its founding commercial Virginia Company of London.  The Colony had not only survived, but prospered.  In 2019, the Commonwealth of Virginia celebrated the 400th anniversary of the beginning of representative government in America.  Did the Burgesses in 1629 happen to pause to acknowledge its tenth anniversary?

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King Charles I

The burgesses that year would have been aware that their situation was tenuous.  The election of representatives began while the Colony was under the private chartered Virginia Company of London.  After the Company was dissolved and Virginia was designated a Royal Colony in 1624, the House of Burgesses was neither sanctioned nor disallowed by King Charles I.  Virginians, though, had taken to the idea of elected representation, and, despite the uncertainty, the General Assembly still met. 2 Continuation of a representative assembly was not assured.  Ironically, while the Virginia representatives met in 1629, Charles I, weary of not getting the monies and approvals he wanted, dissolved England’s Parliament.  He did not call it back into session until 1640, a time in English history known as “The Eleven Year Tyranny.” 3  The citizens in England were denied their representative voice.

The Vision of a Commonwealth

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Gov. Yeardley Reenactor

The commission that was carried to the Colony in 1619 by Governor Yeardley changed the course of Virginia’s government  and ultimately that of the United States of America.  It reflected an important victory in the English philosophical debate about how nations and colonies should be governed.  In the 15th and 16th century, some judicial philosophers  put forward the idealized concept of a nation as a “common-weal” where a harmonious hierarchical balance would be maintained between the monarchy, the government, and the people in such a way that all would share in a common well-being. To achieve this would require an enlightened monarch, a responsive and responsible government, and a represented and diligent populace, all of them living in accordance with the righteous principles and laws of the Church.  4

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Seal of the Virginia Company of London

Although the basic components of a commonwealth existed in 17th century England (King, Parliament, Church, and the People), they were not harmoniously united, and the initial governments of Jamestown were chaotic and authoritarian.   The harsh implementation of the Company’s initial “Lawes Divine, Moral, and Martial” by its governors had not fostered shared prosperity or unity in Virginia.  With the Colony still struggling, the Virginia Company changed leadership, and Sir Edwin Sandys, a proponent of the commonwealth concept, was elected a director.

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Sir Edwin Sandys

Sir Edwin Sandys, A Founding Father

Sandys and his supporters desired for Virginia to become a New World commonwealth that would benefit all those living there and involve them in their own public affairs.  He believed in  strengthening the economy by diversification of crops and production, increasing emigration through land incentives, allowing free trade, providing representation in  government, and converting the native peoples to Anglican Protestantism after which they would  happily assume their place in this harmonious, supportive hierarchy.  He saw Virginia as the opportunity to create “a perfected English society.”  However, Virginia was not a blank slate.   The Powhatan Indians were not interested in becoming loyal subjects of James I.  Colonists already had a taste of wealth through tobacco and did not want to diversify.  The offer of land ownership and a voice in one’s governance, though, were attractive incentives to increase emigration. 5

Sir Edwin Sandys also had his difficulties with the Crown.  Considered the most influential member of the House of Commons at the time, he was in frequent conflict with King James I.  In 1621, he was even placed under house arrest related to his contrary opinion on the “Spanish marriage” being considered for Prince Charles.   Sandys never proposed a commonwealth without a monarch, but he supported a powerful Parliament.  Perceiving his democratic tendencies, Capt. John Bargrave attacked the Virginia commonwealth project saying, “the mouth of equal liberty must be stopped.”  6

Today,  while having all the rights and responsibilities of a state, Virginia is still officially named The Commonwealth of Virginia.  The noted Jamestown historian, Dr. James Horn, summarized Sandys’s contribution as an unrecognized early Founding Father thus: 7

Sandys’s dream of creating a commonwealth in the interests of settlers and Indians proved short-lived.  But the twin-pillars of democracy–the rule of law and representative government–survived and flourished.  It was his greatest legacy to America.

Challenges of Creating a General Assembly

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John Pory Reenactor

While the concept of an elected governmental body was exciting to the early colonists, there were challenges in its implementation.  It was easily decided that the Assembly would meet in the choir seats of the largest and finest  building in Jamestown, its new church built in 1617, but how to conduct the meeting was a greater challenge.  Only John Pory, the Secretary of the Colony, had ever had legislative experience as a member of the House of Commons in Parliament, so he was authorized as the Speaker of the House. Still, it was uncertain what a colonial legislative body of a private company could or should do.  Was it to be more of an advisory appendage to handle local matters for the Company or could it actually formulate laws for the Colony and become a type of “Little Parliament?”  8

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Church Choir Benches, Historic Jamestowne

Until 1643, the General Assembly was a unicameral body intended to convene annually with the Governor, his Councillors, and the elected Burgesses all meeting and working together.  According to the instructions, Sir George Yeardley was to establish ” a laudable form of Magistracy and just Laws…for the happy guiding and governing of the people.” With little direction from England, no experience in drafting laws, and a whole new set of circumstances to regulate, Virginians began to craft their own unique government, setting themselves on a twisting and rocky path that would ultimately lead to independence.9

17th Century Voting and Representation

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Adam Thorowgood Thoroughgood House, Va. Beach

Among those newly elected Burgesses in 1629 was Adam Thorowgood of Elizabeth City, whose life regular readers of this blog know I am tracking through the 17th Century.  It is rather remarkable that he was elected at that point, for it was only four years since he had finished his indentureship to Edward Waters, and Elizabeth City was a large and important settlement.  However, much had transpired in those years to boost his prominence.  Likely using the £100 inheritance from his father, Adam purchased 150 acres and was recognized as a “gentleman of  Kikotan. ” He then returned to England and married into the influential and wealthy merchant family of the Osbournes & Offleys.  Around that time, his older brother, John Thorowgood, was appointed a Gentleman of the Bed Chamber (like Ladies in Waiting for a Queen) for King Charles and was anticipating knighthood at the King’s official coronation in 1630.  Although only 24 years old when he returned to Virginia in 1628, Adam Thorowgood was a young man of which to take note. So, who would have been able to vote to elect him a Burgess? 10

As a tour guide for Jamestown and Williamsburg, I frequently hear interpreters talk about how many people were not represented in government in those days.  However, a person from the 17th or 18th century would likely have refuted that.  Today we equate representation with being able to cast a vote.  It was construed differently at that time.

In the beginning, to vote for a Burgess one had only to be a free man of age (21) who gave allegiance to England.  The first Africans were brought to Virginia a month after the Burgesses met, but their arrival was unanticipated. (future posts) The restriction on being free was not originally intended to exclude slaves, but to keep bound indentured servants from voting who might be unduly pressured by their temporary “owners.”   Masters were viewed as representing their bound and, later, enslaved servants.11

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Sarah Thorowgood,  Thoroughgood House

Most adult women were considered under the concept of “feme covert.”  If unmarried and living at home, she would be represented by her father.  If married, her husband would represent her and their children.  Only widowed or independent single women (“feme sole”) had no “representation” in this system.  With men outnumbering women in the Colony for its first century, women were usually not single for long.  Adam Thorowgood’s wife, Sarah, though,  became a formidable widow even without the vote.  12

Initially, it was easier for a man to qualify to vote in Virginia than in England.  Just as what was happening in England influenced Virginia, what Virginia did influenced the direction of events in England. There were efforts in the House of Commons during this same period to broaden England’s parliamentary franchise, but they were unsuccessful.  Unfortunately, with time, more restrictions were added to Virginia’s voting requirements.  In 1670, around the period the Assembly was passing  race-related laws, they added the requirement that one had to to own land or property to vote.13

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Anthony & Mary Johnson, Free Blacks in Virginia

Out of concern over the increasing number of free blacks within the Colony and fear they might join in a slave insurrection, the Assembly passed a law in 1723  “That no free negro, mulatto, or Indian whatsoever, hereafter have any vote at the election of burgesses, or any other election whatsoever.”  After Bacon’s rebellion in 1676, the King began to exert more control over Virginia, and the elected legislature also began to lose some of its freedoms and independence.14

The Legislative Agendas  1629-1632

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General Assembly Reenactment

During the years Adam Thorowgood participated as a Burgess, the Assembly dealt with some significant changes as well as rather provincial matters.  In his first session in 1629, the Burgesses considered the usual issues of  planting corn, going against the Indians, planting tobacco, penalties for not going to church, paying for tithables, and the refortification of Point Comfort.15

corn fieldDiscussions might have been a bit more interesting in the following session on March 24, 1629/30 (using the Julian calendar). Sir John Harvey had just been appointed governor to replace John Pott, who was accused of stealing cattle (he was convicted in July). The Assembly passed Acts prohibiting price gouging and defrauding by sea merchants and colonists, ordering farmers to grow at least 2 acres of corn per worker, forbidding the killing of female cows until they were post-breeding, and, as colonists had renewed attacks on the Indians, allowing “noe peace bee concluded with them.”  Act 5, though, was more unusual. After asking each household to preserve their wood ashes for the making of potash, the following was requested for the possible making of saltpeeter: 16

ACT V

…every master of a family shall have a special care…to preserve and keepe all their urine which shall be made…they shall receave directions the benefit whereof…shall redounde to those that shall make the experiment…

 

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17th c. Chamber Pot

How the urine was to be collected, stored, and used was not specified.  Nor was any means of enforcement explained. Indeed, there was much the Burgesses still needed to learn about the fine art of legislation.

burgesses print 486820fd2dfff444833b42e31dfe3dd8In contrast, the  sessions in 1631-32 were groundbreaking as the Assembly decided to review, consolidate, revise, void when needed, and reform the body of laws that had accumulated over the years.  This was their first attempt to develop and publish a consistent Code of Law for the Colony.  The first review appeared to have taken place by only a partial Assembly as it included  only 20 Burgesses representing 13 combined districts and started meeting on February 21, 1631/32.  They produced a document of 68 acts which included 15 related to Church matters.    Not surprisingly, the “urine collection” regulation did not survive the review. 17

While Adam Thorowgood was not in the February meetings, he was present a few months later on September 4, 1632 when the entire group of 37 Burgesses from all 25 sites met to consider the work that had been done.  With some changes to the earlier revision for clarity and convenience, the Assembly then issued 61 Acts.  The Preamble stated:  18

we doe therefore herby ordeyne and establish that these acts and orders… be published in this colony and to be accounted and adjudged in force.  And all other acts and orders of any assembly heretofore holden to be voyd and of none effect.

While there would be many more revisions in the years to come, that year Virginians confidently took ownership of their legislative process.

Coming Post:  Return to England

Footnotes:

 


  1. Hening, William Waller, The Statutes at Large Being a Collection of  all the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, vol. I (New York: R.W. & G. Bartow, 1823), 132-33. Accessed online at books. google on May 15, 2020.  McIlwaine, H.R. and J.P. Kennedy, eds.,  Journal of the House of Burgesses of Virginia I: 1619-1658-59. (Virginia, General Assembly, 1915), 2-3; 52 137. Accessed online at books.google on May 15, 2020. 
  2. Billings, Warren M., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1607-1700 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 52. 
  3. Crofton, Ian, The Kings and Queens of England (London: Quercus, 2006), 162-163. 
  4. Horn, James, 1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2018), 121-123. 
  5. Ibid., 127-131, 153.  Rabb, Theodore K. “Sir Edwin Sandys (1561–1629).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 May. 2020
  6. Horn, 8. 
  7. Ibid., 217. 
  8. Ibid., 68-69. Billings, Warren M.,  A Little Parliament: The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 2004), xvi-xix, 160. 
  9. Billings, Little Parliament, 16-17.  Horn, 60, 67-68, 81, 160. 
  10. McCartney, Martha W., Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), 168.  Matthew, H. C. G.,  and Brian Harrison ed., “Thoroughgood, John” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 54 (London: Oxford University Press, 2004), 660-662. 
  11. Billings, Little Parliament, 18, 55, 160. 
  12. Billings, Old Dominion, 360-361. Parramore, Thomas C., Peter C. Stewart, and Tommy L. Bogger, Norfolk: The First Four Centuries (Charlottesville: Univeristy Press of Virginia, 1994), 26-28, 39-42. 
  13. Horn, 208. Bushman, Richard, “English Franchise Reform in the Seventeenth Century,” The Journal of British Studies, III (November 1963), 36-38.  Accessed online on May 10, 2020 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/175047.pdf.  Requirements for Voting in Virginia, 1670-1850 from Virginia Places.   Accessed online May 2, 2020 at  http://www.virginiaplaces.org/government/voteproperty.html    
  14. Wolfe, Brendan. “Free Blacks in Colonial Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 13 May. 2019. Web. 19 May. 2020
  15. Hening, 145. 
  16. Ibid., 149-152 
  17. Ibid., 153. 
  18.  Ibid., 178-180. Billings, Little Parliament, 193-194. 

17th Century Easter at “St. John’s” Church in Elizabeth Cittie Parish (Hampton), Virginia

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Sunday “Tarrying” at Second Kecoughtan Church, Elizabeth Cittie Parish

While it is known where Virginia settlers would have attended church in Elizabeth Cittie Parish on Easter Sunday in 1628, it is less certain how that Easter was celebrated.  When Adam Thorowgood returned from England that year with his new bride, Sarah Offley, they would have joined in services with the congregation that later became known as St. John’s.  In the period between the Powhatan Uprising and the division of Elizabeth Cittie into three counties in 1634 (Warwick–now Newport News; Norfolk–now Norfolk and Virginia Beach; and Elizabeth City County–now Hampton), it had become the largest settlement in Virginia. (see Life in Kecoughtan/ Elizabeth Cittie in the Early 17th Century)

Early English Easter Traditions

resurrected Christ b79a37d2350ed19Easter has long been regarded as the most important of the Holy Days for Christians. In medieval times, the faithful would prepare by consuming fish, but abstaining from all meat and dairy for 40 days in the observance of Lent. Holy Week started with Palm Sunday and proceeded through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally culminated in Resurrection Sunday with great feasting and festivity.  As with Christmas, some pagan aspects were adopted, especially symbols associated with new life and fertility, such as rabbits, eggs, and new chicks. 1

English-FeastAs eggs were also one of the forbidden foods in Lent, they were often in great abundance at the Easter Day feast.  There was also likely to be roast lamb, replacing the Passover lamb of the  Last Supper with the symbol of Christ as the unblemished Lamb of God. In 1407, the Bishop of Salisbury and his 80 guests consumed two lambs as well as venison, veal, beef, pigs and piglets, 20 capons, 48 chickens, and more than 500 eggs!  2

MaundyMaundy Thursday, named for the mandatum or commandment given by Christ at the Last Supper to love others, had been associated with humility and the washing of the feet of the poor since the fourth century.  King John started the English tradition of the monarch giving gifts in 1210 by him donating clothing, forks, food, and other gifts to the poor.  In 1213, he gave small silver coins.  By 1363, Edward III was both giving coins and washing the feet of selected poor. Nobles were also known to have held their own Maundy distributions, but not necessarily at Easter. 3

easter-egg-gold-golden-royalty-free-thumbnailThe decorating and gifting of eggs was an ancient tradition in many cultures. Eggs became a Christian symbol of the resurrection  with elaborate decoration particularly popular in the Germanic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Coloring eggs was also adopted in England. The household accounts for Edward I in 1307 included “18 pence for 450 eggs to be boiled and dyed or covered with gold leaf and distributed to the Royal household.” 4

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Maundy Money 1698

While much church pageantry was dropped when Henry VIII separated from the Catholic Church, many Lenten and Holy Week traditions continued in the reigns of Tudor and Stuart monarchs.  Both Queen Mary and Elizabeth I held elaborate Maundy celebrations. In years of plague, though, the monarch did not attend, but had the ceremony performed by court officials.  James II may have been the last monarch to wash feet.  Maundy Thursday in a modified form continues to the present day with Queen Elizabeth II giving away purses of Maundy coins to pensioners who have served their churches and community and with Anglican and Episcopal church services which may include the washing of feet and a focus on charity and Christ’s gift of peace.  The Royal Maundy was not held this year (2020) due to COVID 19 restrictions. Traditions such as blessing the greenery on Palm Sunday, Creeping to the Cross Ceremony, and preparing a symbolic closed Sepulcher on Friday were discontinued.5

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The Long Parliament of 1647

In the first half of the 17th century,  Puritans increased in power and influence in England, culminating in the beheading of King Charles I in 1649 and the establishment of the English Commonwealth.  Easter, like Christmas and all other religious festivals and holy days, was banned by Parliament in June 1647. There was no special Easter service, and it was not remarked on in sermons. A simplified Lord’s Supper (no longer called Communion) was offered on  first Sundays, but there was  no special communion for Easter.

Not all English, though, were willing to conform to the now accepted nonconformist Puritan changes.  In a study by the British historian John Morrill, it was noted that although the frequency of communion fell in the 1640s, up to half of the parishes in western England and East Anglia still held an Easter Communion during the Commonwealth era.  After Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Christmas celebrations rebounded quickly, but Easter remained a more solemn and sacred church commemoration, not regaining its festive nature until recent years. 6

Religion in 17th Century Virginia

Puritan preacher csm-webandcontentvol63-p157bAlthough most colonists did not come to Virginia seeking religious freedom or with intense religious zeal, there was greater diversity of religious beliefs  and practices in the early years than is often recognized. Archaeological evidence at the Jamestown fort has revealed that there were some secret Catholics in the fort.  The first Puritans in America settled in Virginia years before a group traveled together to Massachusetts in 1630.  Adam Thorowgood seemed to have had Puritan leanings himself, as his brother, Thomas, became a noted Puritan preacher in England, and Adam and his wife Sarah had married in a Puritan congregation in England.  Sarah’s second husband, John Gookin, was from a staunch early Puritan family. Later, even Quakers established themselves in Virginia.  Dissidents would later be forced to leave. 7 (see A “Big Bang” Marriage: How Sarah (Offley) met Adam (Thorowgood) in London 1627)

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1685 St. Luke’s Church Smithfield, VA

Still, the Anglican Church of England was clearly the established church, and Virginia continued to combine church and state through its royal governors who represented the monarch both in civic and religious matters up until the American Revolution.  Yet, if the church hierarchy in England wanted a vibrant commitment to the Anglican faith, they did little to promote it.  There were not enough church structures built within reasonable traveling distances for many colonists to attend.  Some “chapels of ease” were set up, but services were infrequent.  During the 17th c., there was never a sufficient number of clergy sent to the colony to serve the parishes, and, with no Bishop, one had to travel to England to be ordained. In the 1640s, there were only 5-10 ministers serving a spread out population of 8,000. While most settlers followed the rules and moral standards of the Church, those away from the population centers experienced an “unchurching.” 8

The Churches of Kecoughtan/ Elizabeth Cittie/ Hampton, Virginia

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St. John’s Episcopal Church Memorial to Early Ministers of Elizabeth Cittie

Elizabeth Cittie was fortunate.  From the time of its settlement in 1610, it consistently had both a church and clergy.    Reverend William Mays was assigned as the first minister for Kecoughtan (later called Elizabeth Cittie), and a church was built there shortly thereafter. Sadly, the actual location of that first church is unknown.  Rev. Mays served for 10 years, at which time he returned to England, having been replaced by George Keith. However, Rev. Keith transferred to the prosperous Martin’s Hundred and was replaced by Rev. Thomas White, “a man of good sufficiency for learning, and recommended for integrity and uprightness of life.” Unfortunately, Rev. Keith had chosen poorly and was killed in the massacre at Martin’s Hundred in 1622. 9

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Site of the Second Church Building

With an increased population in Elizabeth Cittie after the Uprising, the first church was abandoned and a second one built around 1624.  Rev. White died that year, so Rev. Jonas Stockton was appointed by Gov. Yeardley.  Edward Waters, for whom Adam Thorowgood worked as an indentured servant, was selected as one of the church wardens of this new church.  This was the church Adam would have attended as a servant and then again as a gentleman after he returned from England.

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Foundation Stones of Second Church

An archaeological excavation conducted in 1968 by the Archaeological Society of Virginia found the foundations of that church on the current grounds of Hampton University.  The building was  52′ by 23′ with an extended square entryway.   The floor in the chancel, west end, and center aisle were covered with square brick tiles. As with all buildings in Virginia at that time, it would have been built of a timber frame and finished either with wood planks or in the mud and stud manner that was used on the two churches built at Jamestown in 1608 and in 1617. 10

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Jamestowne Rediscovery Virtual Image of 1617 Jamestown Church

Last year (2019), the Jamestowne Rediscovery archaeology team completed investigation of the foundations and chancel burials of the 1617 Jamestown church.  They have “virtually rebuilt” what that church may have looked like.  As the Elizabeth Cittie Church had similar dimensions, these churches may have looked similar, although the Elizabeth Cittie one was probably not as tall, had no  belfry, and the entry way was at the end, not side, of the building. Even after a third church was built in Elizabeth Cittie in 1667, the second one continued to be used at times for marriages and burials.  At least 75 burials were found within the second church.11

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St. John’s Episcopal Church, Hampton

The third church in Elizabeth Cittie was built under the diligent Rev. Aylmer at what would later be known as Pembrook Plantation on the west side of the Hampton River. Unfortunately the subsequent minister, Rev. Jeremiah Taylor, was known for his bad temper, drunkenness, slander, and getting in trouble with the law.  The fourth church, which was built of brick closer to the river in 1728, survived both the American Revolution and the burning of Hampton by  Confederate troops in 1861.  Repaired, it continues as St. John’s Episcopal Church, and with a heritage going back to 1610, it is the oldest continuous Protestant congregation in the Americas. 12

Easter 1628

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2019 Easter Sunrise Service Jamestown Island Photo Credit Mike Suerdieck

What can be deduced about Easter in the early 17th century in Virginia?  While Virginians liked a good time, their seasonal celebrations were more muted than those in England. Religious pageantry and festivities did not seem to have had a hold among those who were still struggling to establish themselves and improve their lot in this new world.  Their churches were certainly less spacious and ornate. 13

IMG_3879Lent was probably observed, ending with an Easter feast, though not as elaborate as in England. As the Elizabeth Cittie Parish remained firmly Anglican, except unwittingly during the Commonwealth era, Easter Communion would have been offered and probably Palm Sunday celebrated.  I have found no references to other special services during Holy Week in this era in Virginia, although they may have been held. As on other Sundays, they would have likely followed their tradition of “tarrying” before and/or after church, as it was one of the few occasions when the settlers could gather casually with friends and distant neighbors.  At the second church site, the finding of numerous pipe stems of the period is evidence of leisure gatherings.  14

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1618 Communion Silver at St. John’s Episcopal Church

For Easter in 1628, there would have been at least one elegant reminder of England. In 1618, Mrs. Mary Robinson from England sent a gift of fine Communion silver to the church in Smith’s Hundred. The silver was preserved when Smith Hundred was destroyed in the Powhatan Uprising. In 1628, it was donated to the congregation in Elizabeth Cittie where it has continued to be used to the present day.  What would have been special about Easter Sunday on April 23, 1628? Adam and Sarah Thorowgood would likely  have been part of that first congregation to receive communion on this silver Communion service which has now been passed down through St. John’s Episcopal Church for 392 years. If the silver was not given to the church until after Easter, the Thorowgoods would have also been there to partake in 1629.  15

Special Thanks to the gracious Heritage Committee volunteers of St. John’s Church for their hospitality and tour.

Upcoming Post:  Adam Thorowgood, Elected Burgess of Elizabeth Cittie

Footnotes:

 

 

 


  1. “Medieval Easter Traditions,” A Medievalist Errant, accessed online on April 8, 2020 at medievalisterrant.wordpress.com (March 29, 2013). 
  2. Woolgar, Chris, Easter and Medieval Food,” in Yale University Press Official London Blog,  accessed online on April 10, 2020 at yalebooksblog.co.uk. 
  3. “Royal Maundy,” Wikipedia, accessed online April 10, 2020 at en.wikipedia.org  (edited April 9, 2020). 
  4. “The History of Easter Eggs,”  Preston, UK:  Fulwood Methodist Church Crossroads Centre; accessed online on April 10, 2020 at fulwoodmethodist.org.uk.Ridgway. 
  5. “Royal Maundy.”  Claire, “Easter in Tudor Times,” The Anne Boleyn Files, accessed online on April 13, 2020 at theanneboleynfiles.com (April 2, 2010). 
  6. Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote, “Easter: The Devil’s Holiday,” accessed online on April 10, 2020 at earlofmanchesters.co.uk/easter-the-devils-holiday.  Brown, Marc, “The Lord’s Supper: Foundations and Practice in Puritan Liturgy,” Mark 20:30 Worshipping with Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength, accessed online on April 13, 2020 at thinkingaboutworship.wordpress.com (December 17, 2018). 
  7. Bond, Edward Lawrence, Religion in Seventeenth-Century Anglican Virginia: Myth, Persuasion, and the Creation of an American Identity, doctoral dissertation (Louisiana State University:  LSU Digital Commons, 1995), 10-12;  accessed online at digitalcommons.lsu.edu on April 8, 2020.  Horn, James, Adapting to a New World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 385- 387, 400-410.  Kelso, William, Jamestown: The Truth Revealed (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017), 163, 176-80. 
  8. Horn, 385-387, 410-430.  E. L. “Church of England in Virginia.,” (2014, October 3). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Church_of_England_in_Virginia on April 13, 2020. 
  9. Tormey, James, How Firm a Foundation: The 400-Year History of Hampton Virginia’s St. John Episcopal Church, The Oldest Anglican Parish in the Americas (Richmond: The Dietz Press, 2009), 6, 11, 13-15. 
  10. Tormey, 18-19. 
  11. Tormey, 38. 
  12. Tormey, 37-41. Meade, William, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia, Article XVIII Hampton or Elizabeth City Parish (Philadelphia: xxxx, 1857), 230-231. 
  13. Dorion, Alexa, “Want to celebrate Easter like a colonist?” WYDaily (Tuesday, April 19, 2019), accessed online on April 3, 2020, at wydaily.com. 
  14. Tormey, 20-21. Billings, Warren M., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century, (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 364. 
  15. Brydon, George MacLaraen, Religious Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: The Faith of our Fathers (Williamsburg: Jamestown 350th Anniversary Historical Booklet, #10, 1957) accessed online through The Project Gutenberg EBook on April 11, 2020 at http://www.gutenberg.com. 

Life in Kecoughtan/ Elizabeth Cittie (Hampton), VA., in the Early 17th Century

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Hampton History Museum and Visitor Center

Most who recognize the name of Adam Thorowgood probably think of him as that early settler with a house/ land in Virginia Beach. ( see The Identity Crisis of the “Adam Thoroughgood” House)   While Adam was an early settler in Lower Norfolk,  he actually spent most of his time as a Virginian on the opposite side of the James River in an area that was once known as Kecoughtan or Kikotan.  So where was this and how does it fit into the story of early America? (It’s that hard to read spot in red near Poynt Comfort.)

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Dutch map 1671 Nova Virginae Tabula based on John Smith’s map

It was at Kecoughtan that the Jamestown settlers were first welcomed in 1607 as the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery entered the James River off the Chesapeake Bay and began the exploration that resulted in the selection of Jamestown for their  settlement.  George Percy reported that they  named that point of land Cape Comfort because “it put us in good comfort” and noted a nearby plat of land that was “full of fine and beautiful strawberries four times bigger and better than ours in England” that would later be called Strawberry Banks.  Several Kecoughtan Indians swam over with bows and arrows in their mouths to invite the English to their village “where we were entertained by them very kindly….”1

IMG_3154At the time the English arrived, the Indians at Kecoughtan were a small group  living in about 18 homes (yi-hakans) under the Powhatan chiefdom.  They had once been a larger tribe, but were conquered by Chief Powhatan in 1597/8 . At the time of the landing, Pochins, a son of Powhatan, was their leader.  Captain John Smith later traded with the Kecoughtans (forcibly) for corn and spent a pleasant and memorable Christmas season where “we were never more merry nor fed on more plentie of good oysters, fish, flesh, and wild fowle and good bread, nor never had better fires in England than in the dry smoky houses of Kecoughten.”2

IMG_3822The English quickly realized the importance of this Indian territory to control access to the James River.  By October 1609, George Percy, as leader of the colony, ordered Fort Algernourne built near Cape Comfort (today’s Fort Monroe).  With greater access to fresh water and food sources, those stationed there survived the 1609/10 Starving Time far better than those at Jamestown.  However, they made no attempt to rescue Jamestown, but, rather, some secretly planned to return to England. 3

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Hampton 400 year Anniversary Memorial

Not long after Governor De La Warr arrived and saved the Jamestown settlement, he ordered an attack on the Kecoughtans in reprisal for a prior attack by the nearby Nansemonds on English settlers.  Sadly, the kindly Kecoughtans were lured out of their town to see a tambourine dance at which time they were attacked.  Those who were able to flee abandoned their lands to the English.  By 1616, John Rolfe reported that there were 21 men living there, including the Rev. William Mease (Mays) and 11 farmers.  Two more forts, Fort Charles and Fort Henry, were built, named after the sons of James I, and the first House of Burgesses in 1619 accepted a petition to abandon the Indian name and rename the area Elizabeth Cittie, after the daughter of James I.

IMG_3833This “cittie” originally included much of the area south of Jamestown, but should not be confused with today’s Elizabeth City in North Carolina. For many years, part of the area was still called Kecoughtan, especially near Indian Thicket where their village once stood.  There are streets, a high school, and shopping places that continue to carry the name. Ironically, Cape “Comfort” became the site where the first “twenty or odd” Africans were brought to the colony on the privateer vessel The White Lion and traded for supplies in 1619.  In 1620, the English in Kecoughtan numbered 28 men, 12 women, and 14 children.  4

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When Adam Thorowgood first arrived in Virginia in 1621, he worked in Elizabeth Cittie as an indentured servant for Edward Waters at Waters Creek which was later turned into Lake Maury on the grounds of today’s Mariner Museum.   In 1634 that part was divided off into Warwick County and now is incorporated as Newport News.  The south side of Elizabeth Cittie across the James River later became Norfolk and Virginia Beach. The eastern area of the early settlement was ultimately called Hampton.  While Jamestown was still inhabited after its city dissolved, Hampton promotes its claim to early fame as “the oldest English-speaking city in continual existence in America.”

IMG_3816As early as 1617, the Virginia Company sent over some French colonists to try growing grape vines in a beach area they called Buckroe. In 1620 they tried the cultivation of silk worms which was not successful.  Still, there were 30 colonists living in Buckroe  in 1623.  Over the years, this Chesapeake Bay beach in Hampton became best known for its production of recreational fun.

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Nansemond Festival

Elizabeth Cittie was spared the devastation of the Powhatan attacks of 1622.  In fact, only the dwelling of Edward Waters where Adam Thorowgood worked was impacted when Edward and his wife were kidnapped by Nansemonds, though they later escaped.  However, nearby Mulberry Island was brutally attacked.  Elizabeth Cittie was one of the designated places of safety where displaced colonists gathered.  By 1625, there were 359 people living there, making it the largest settlement in Virginia at that time. It had 89 houses, 34 of which were fortified. John and Anne Burras Laydon, the first English couple who married and the parents of the first child born in Jamestown, were among those who came. 5(see Virginia 1622: Make War, Not Peace)

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Hampton River

Settlers likely known by Waters and Thorowgood included Daniel Gookin residing in the Newport News area on his 1200 acres, and those who settled on the Hampton River, such as  Commander William Tucker, Captain Francis West, John Powell, Michael Wilcox, Thomas Purifoy, Ensign Thomas Willoughby, George Keith, Captain Martian, Francis Mason, Col. William Claiborne, Lt. Flint,  Lt. John Chisman, Capt. Francis Chamberlayne, and Rev. Jonas Stockton. Several of these colonists would continue to be Adam’s friends as they later moved to the south.  Not only was Daniel Gookin’s son, John, a neighbor to the Thorowgoods in Lower Norfolk, he became Sarah Thorowgood’s second husband after Adam died. 6

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Creek on Western Side

After completing his indentureship, Adam Thorowgood purchased his first 150 acres in Elizabeth Cittie on December 30, 1626 from John Gundry, an “ancient planter of Kiquotan, having with 2 other sufficient sureties entered into bond to pay sd. Gundy £100 of lawful money of England.”  As that was the amount Adam inherited after his father’s death the year before, he likely used his inheritance to make the purchase.  The lands were already rented to tenants whom Adam agreed not to displace, so the purchase would have given him some income, and he was referred to as a “Gent. of Kiquotan.” 7  This land was on the west side of Hampton River.  Adam had taken quite a step up from being a servant to Edward Waters the year before.  He then returned to England where he married well and recruited 35 headrights to return with him and his wife in 1628. ( see Pied Pipers to Virginia: The Recruitment of 17th Century Headrights)
Not all of Adam’s neighbors were impressed by his new found status.  On March 29, 1628, William Capps, a litigious ancient planter who was often in conflict with authorities, claimed Adam Thorowgood was a rogue and a thief and accused him of being in possession of stolen goods.  He wanted Adam’s flesh to be branded with a “T” as was done in that era.   Thomas Thorowgood, Adam’s “kinsman” also of Elizabeth Cittie, testified on his behalf in court.  It was determined that the accusation was unfounded, and Capps had to admit to slander and apologize before the court. Others thought better of the Thorowgoods for that year he was appointed a commissioner for the monthly courts in Elizabeth Cittie and elected to the House of Burgesses as one of their representatives. Unfortunately, there are no later references for this Thomas Thorowgood, but he was not the brother who was a rector in England at the time.8

IMG_3905Kecoughton/ Elizabeth Cittie quickly developed into a proper town.   An Anglican parish had been established in July 1610, making St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hampton “the oldest active, English-speaking congregation in the Americas.” The site of the initial church building is unknown, but the second church whose foundations have been found on the Hampton University grounds was built around 1624. Adam and Sarah Thorowgood and their neighbors would have worshipped there. Several of the upright (or uptight?)  men and women of this town were involved in bringing accusations in the first witchcraft trial in the English colonies against Joan Wright who had lived in Kecoughtan .9 (see Witches and the Thorowgoods in 17th Century Virginia)

17th century tavern Tavern_Scene-1658-David_Teniers_IIIn the early 1620s, Captain Thomas Neuce, the manager of the Virginia Company of London lands, built two guest houses for the reception of new immigrants when they first arrived.  William Capps offered to build one on the west side of the river in 1623 to help with the influx of persons.  However, hospitality took a step up when James Knott in 1632 leased land “desiring to keepe a house of entertainment…whereby strangers and others my bee well accommodated…the howse commonly called the great howse.” John Potts, the Virginia governor who was disgraced and discharged in 1630 for stealing cattle, was among those known to enjoy the entertainment (which was a respectable term) in Kecoughtan.10

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Blossoming Peach Tree

It was reported in 1628 that the settlement had “a great plenty of everything” and “peaches in abundance.” By 1630, Col. William Claiborne set up a storehouse for trading with the Indians on land which, of course, had once belonged to them.  In 1634, the area was designated as Elizabeth City County as one of the original eight shires of Virginia.  While it would in no way have provided as comfortable a life for Sarah Offley Thorowgood and the other planters’ wives as they would have known in England, the colony was starting to acquire some refinement.  Most of Sarah and Adam’s children, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth and Adam II, were likely born there. There were 859 English residents in 1634.11

Unique to this settlement was the establishment of a free school.  In 1634, Benjamin Symns bequeathed 200 hundred acres and the milk and increase of eight cows for the education and instruction of the children in the parishes of Elizabeth Cittie and Poquoson to “manteyne poor Children, or decayed or maimed persons of the said parish.”  Symns signed his will with a “X”, as he himself was illiterate.  The school, set up in what is now the NASA Langley area, was in operation by the 1640s and continued in some form until eventually becoming the public Hampton High School in the 1890s. 12

IMG_7642There are no actual buildings that remain in Hampton, or the rest of Virginia, from the second quarter of the 17th century when Adam and the others lived there.  Archaeological studies have found that homes both for the wealthy and  the common folk were built from the abundant timber in a post-in-ground earthfast manner which did not survive long in Virginia’s climate and soil. In 1986-87, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Department of Archaeological Research conducted follow-up investigations of an early 17th century site at Hampton University.  They found evidence of an early two-bay house of wood and mud possibly from the 1620s that was followed by other houses within 10-15 years “embellished with glass windows, possibly a tile roof, a passage, and a brick-lined cellar.”  The artifacts found at the site suggested a “relatively high-status colonial residence,” and they were comparable in the quality, quantity, and point of origin to those found at the capital Jamestown.  These findings seem to correlate with economic and societal progress of Elizabeth Cittie.13

IMG_3803Like most of the early landowners, Adam Thorowgood bought additional tracts of land.  While his purchases were never in dispute, there was extensive litigation over some land claims, particularly in the original areas designated as “company lands” by the Virginia Company. Some colonists had already settled in the areas of Strawberry Banks and Mill Creek, and there were muddled and contested claims after the Company was dissolved in 1624. 14

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Created by Hampton History Museum

In March 1634,  Adam purchased 200 acres on the Back River from Captain Stephens.  He had also obtained land in 1630 along the York River when the English colonized the territory that had belonged to the Chiskiack Indians.15  In none of those land purchases did Adam receive land based upon the importation of the many headrights he had brought to the colony.  He seemed to be saving them for something special which was just around the corner–or rather, across the river,  that would be named Norfolk.

Blackbeard_the_PirateDid I forget to mention that the head of Blackbeard, the Pirate, was placed on a spike on the James River in 1718 to adorn the entrance to Hampton and scare off the pirates?

IMG_3896Or that the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation was done under the Emancipation Oak in Hampton?

Or that the first NASA astronauts trained there?

Guess that’s another time and another story….

Next Post:  17th Century Easter and The Churches of St. John’s in Elizabeth Cittie, Virginia

Footnotes:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Haile, Edward Wright. ed., Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony (Champlain, VA: Round House, 1998), 85-86. 
  2. Roundtree, Helen C., Pochahontas’s People (Norman. OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 10.  Cobb, J. Michael and Wythe Holt on behalf of the Hampton History Museum, Images of America: Hampton (Charleston: Arcadia Press, 2008), 10. 
  3. McCartney, Martha, The Environs of the Hampton River: A Chronological Overview (reprinted with the permission of U.A. J. V.. 1983), 3-5, 7-8.  Tyler, Lyon G., History of Hampton and Elizabeth City County Virginia (Hampton, Virginia: The Board of Supervisors of Elizabeth City County, 1922), 13-15. 
  4. Tyler, 13. McCartney, Martha W., Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictionary (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 44. 
  5. Cobb, 9. McCarthney, Environs, 25. Starkey, Marion L., The First Plantation: A History of Hampton and Elizabeth City County, Virginia (Hampton: Marion L. Starkey, 1936), 9-11. Williamson, Gene, Of the Sea and Skies: Historic Hampton and its Times (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc, 1993), 76-78, 83-85. 
  6.   Tyler, 17-18. 
  7. Nugent, Nell Marion, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, vol. I (Richmond: Press of the Dietz Printing Co, 1934), 70.  Brayton, John Anderson, “The Ancestry of Mrs. Anne (Thoroughgood) Chandler-Fowke,” The Virginia Genealogist, 48:4 (October-December 2004), 247-248. 
  8. Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 326-327. McCarthney, Virginia Immigrants, 186-187; 691-692. 
  9. Tormey, James, How Firm A Foundation: The 400 Year History of Hampton Virginia’s St. John’s Episcopal Church (Richmond: The Dietz Press, 2009), 6, 18-19.  Hudson, Carson O., Jr., Witchcraft in Colonial Virginia (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2019), 75. 
  10. McCartney, Environs, 10-12, 28. Starkey, 12. 
  11. McCartney, Environs, 29. Tyler, 18. 
  12. Tyler, 22-23. Clancy, Paul, “Hampton Roads has claim to first free public education,” The Virginian Pilot, February 23, 2014, accessed online March 24, 2020.  Starkey, 9-10. 
  13. McCartney, Environs, 9-10, 27.  Tyler,  Lyon G.,”Old Kecoughtan,” William and Mary College Quarterly, vol IX (1900-1901), 87-121. 
  14. Edwards, Andrew C., William E. Pittman, Gregory J. Brown, et. al.,  Hampton University Archaeological Project: A Report on the Findings (Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, July 1989; reissued June 2001), 2-4; 113-114; 175-178. 
  15. Nugent, 21. 

Augustine Warner: The Headright Ancestor of George Washington

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George Washington by Jean-Antoine Houdon at Virginia State Capital, Richmond

Could His Excellency George Washington, the first President of the United States and Commander in Chief of the victorious Continental Army, have had an ancestor who came to Virginia as an immigrant headright?  Of course.  After all, is that not what the American story is all about?

Coming to Virginia

IMG_0669A headright to the British Colonies in the 17th Century was someone whose passage was paid for by another person who in turn received a land grant, typically of 50 acres, for each person brought as an effort to encourage sponsorship of emigrants.  The headright was then expected to repay his or her passage, usually through labor as an indentured servant for 4-7 years.  Augustine Warner was among the first 35 individuals recruited as headrights by the newly  wed Adam and Sarah Thorowgood in England.  Augustine accompanied them to Virginia in the Hopewell in 1628. 1 (See Pied Pipers to Virginia: The Recruitment of 17th Century Headrights)

Adam Thorowgood himself had first come to Virginia as an indentured servant, but within three years of completing his service, he was bringing his own immigrants.  Adam and Augustine Warner were among those who defied the common stereotype of poor, illiterate, and unsuccessful indentured servants.  They both became prominent landholders and government leaders in the Colony, were ancestors to important founders of this nation, and had descendants who continued to connect their stories.  (See Indentured: The Gamble of a Lifetime)

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Norwich Cathedral

Augustine Warner was born September 28, 1611 in Norwich in Norfolk County, England to Thomas Warner and Elizabeth Sotherton.   It is not known when or how he became interested in immigrating to Virginia, but he was likely influenced by the stories of Adam Thorowgood and the successes of earlier immigrants from Norfolk, including Henry Spelman, John Rolfe, and Lady Temperance Flowerdiew Yeardley.  (See To Go Or Not To Go: Early Immigrants from Norfolk, England)  It is possible that the Thorowgood and Warner families knew or knew of each other.  Although Adam Thorowgood was raised in Grimston, Norfolk, his mother was from Norwich, and his father had been a commissary to the Bishop of Norwich. 2

Augustine at age 17 and his family might well have been reassured by the fact that Adam, who also went to Virginia when he was 17, had not only survived, but had begun to prosper. Augustine seemed to have concurred with the outlook of Charles Alsop, a later literate indentured servant to Maryland:3

What’s a four years Servitude to advantage a man all the remainder of his dayes, making his predecessors happy in his sufficient abilities which he attained to partly by the restrainment of so small a time?

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Warner Coat of Arms

Spending his later teen years in servitude learning how to farm tobacco (Virginia’s gold), Augustine was then ready to start off on his own once he reached his majority at age 21.  As both Adam and Augustine were born into armorial families who could have paid their passage, they represent an often unacknowledged group of young emigrants who seem to have chosen temporary servitude as part of their “career path” in order to gain the knowledge and skills to become successful planters.  Having once been servants did not impede their upward mobility in Virginia in the middle of the 17th century.

A Fortune in Land

IMG_6279 - Version 2Adam Thorowgood brought more headrights than he would have needed to work his own land in 1628, so he would likely have followed the custom of selling indentured contracts to other planters.  It is not known where Augustine served his indentureship. However, in 1635, a few years after having finished his service, Augustine obtained his first 250 acres of land, based on sponsoring 12 headrights of his own to Virginia.  He purchased “one neck of ground called…Pynie Neck…lying at the new Poquoson.”  4

Like Adam Thorowgood,  Augustine Warner then returned to England  to find a wife and recruit more headrights.  In 1638, he expanded his holdings at Pynie Creek by 450 acres for  “his own personal adventure, the adventure of his wife Mary and transport of 7 persons.”  Augustine had married Mary Townley of  Stone Edge in Lancashire, England. 5

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Warner Hall on the Severn River

It was not until 1642 that Augustine Warner obtained 600 acres on the Severn River for his transport of 12 more individuals.   He built the first Warner Hall there on the site which still is known by his name.  He then added 80 more acres to that plot in 1653; 594 acres in 1654; and 348 acres in 1657, all by transporting headrights. 6

In addition, he acquired  2,500 acres in 1652 for transporting 50 persons, including four negroes.  This land was located along the Piankatank River which runs through the Middle Penninsula in Virginia between the Rappahannock and York Rivers.  Then in 1658, Augustine Warner was granted  3,000 more acres in Northumberland/ Lancaster Counties for bringing 60 more persons to Virginia.  Using this headright system which had given him his start in the Colony, he obtained over 7,500 acres by bringing 160+ people to Virginia. 7

Government Service

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1660 Jamestown Statehouse Foundations

Along with becoming  a wealthy planter, Augustine Warner became a significant leader of the fast growing colony of Virginia. In 1652 he was chosen as a Burgess to represent York County  at the capital of  Jamestown.8  His descendant George Washington would also be elected a member of the House of Burgesses, but 106 years later.  There was a tense political climate at the time, for this was the period of the English Commonwealth.  Charles I had been beheaded in 1649; Parliament ruled; Oliver Cromwell was rising in power.  In opposition, Virginia Governor Berkeley had maintained his support for the monarchy and offered asylum to fleeing Royalists.

The year that Augustine Warner became a Burgess, Parliament sent a fleet to Virginia to force Berkeley to resign. Though Warner, like many Virginians, had royalist leanings, the Assembly, with Parliament’s approval,  elected Governor Richard Bennett, a respected Virginia Puritan, as the next governor.   In 1659, Warner was serving as a Burgess from Gloucester County, but in 1660, he was selected for the powerful, lifetime position of Councilor on the Governor’s Council.  That year the English monarchy had been restored and the royalist Governor Berkeley reinstated. 9

IMG_6812Augustine Warner remained on the Council until his death on December 24, 1674 at the age of 63.  He and his wife Mary were buried in the family cemetery at Warner Hall  in Gloucester, Virginia.10

Warner Hall 

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IMG_6864Although no original structures remain of the first Warner Hall built on the Severn River and this plantation was sold out of the family in 1830,  the site has continued to be known by the Warner name. 11 The oldest structures are an 18th century colonial brick barn, a smaller 18th/19th century barn, and  two connected dependencies (an office and a kitchen) on either side of the main house.

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18th Century “Office”

The archaeological study at Warner Hall conducted in 2000-2001 estimated that the dependencies  may date from the 1740s.  Some earlier 17th century artifacts have been found in the vicinity of the kitchen, indicting it may have been the site of an earlier building.  The center part of the house burned in the mid nineteenth century and was reconstructed around 1905 in a Colonial Revival style.  12

IMG_7319IMG_6799Today The Inn at Warner Hall is an elegant Bed and Breakfast, filled with exquisite antiques and the fascinating history of those who have lived there and their descendants.  Recently, an Open House with costumed guided tours of the house and grounds  was offered as a charitable fund raiser for the Children’s Hospital of King’s Daughters in Norfolk.  “True to the legacy of the Warner, Lewis, and Clarke families, Warner Hall remains a great house of fellowship, entertainment, and hospitality.”13

Bacon’s Rebellion at Warner Hall

Augustine Warner II  was given the advantage of education in England before following in his father’s footsteps as a landowner and governmental leader.  He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1666, becoming its Speaker in 1676-77.  In a rare occurrence, he remained as Speaker even when he became  a Councillor to Governor Berkeley in 1677.  Warner worked with the Governor on the Indian policy which became a much disputed issue with colonists in the northern and western areas of Virginia.  In 1675-1676, Nathaniel Bacon, the opportunistic, newly arrived, rebel cousin to the elder Nathaniel Bacon on the Governor’s Council, rallied discontented colonists in Bacon’s Rebellion against the established government and wealthy land owners. The complex causes and consequences of the Rebellion will be dealt with in a future post. 14

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Historic Jamestown Reenactment

Augustine Warner II was the Speaker of the House when Nathaniel Bacon agreed to submit himself to the Assembly and ask forgiveness of the Governor on June 9, 1676 so that he could serve as the Henrico County Burgess.  However, not long after the Assembly, Bacon reignited the rebellion and on September 19, 1676, he led the burning of Jamestown, the Governor and Warner having already fled to the Eastern Shore.

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Bacon’s Rebellion

On October 26, 1676, Nathaniel Bacon died of bloody flux (dysentery), causing the movement to fall apart.  He was secretly buried in Gloucester County. However, a number of wealthy properties had been damaged by Bacon’s men. In September 1676, Nathaniel Bacon and Captain William Byrd I, a lieutenant and neighbor to Nathaniel Bacon, arrived at Warner Hall with 200 soldiers while attempting to raise supporters in Gloucester County.  They stole £845 worth of  possessions from Warner Hall. 15

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Augustine I or II?

Augustine Warner II unfortunately died at only 39 years of age.  This Warner portrait has been ascribed to both Augustine Warner I  and his son Augustine II.  There is some historical support that it is Augustine II in his Speaker robes, but the two were likely similar in appearance, as they were in life.   Augustine II’s three sons  died without leaving heirs to carry on the Warner name.  However, his three daughters married well and provided numerous descendants. His daughter Mildred Warner married Lawrence Washington becoming the grandmother of George Washington;  Elizabeth Warner married Councillor John Lewis, with descendants including the explorer  Meriwether Lewis and Confederate General Robert E. Lee; and marriages of Mary Warner’s descendants who returned to England made her an ancestor to the present Queen Elizabeth. 16

Descendants and Legacies

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The Washingtons and their Custis grandchildren

Adam Thorowgood died in 1640, so he never saw the great success of his fledgling immigrant.  However, like many of the early elite families, their families continued to intertwine.  Augustine Warner’s descendant George Washington’s step children, Jackie and Patsy Custis, were Thorowgood descendants.  While George Washington fought for liberty with the sword, his gout-ridden neighbor and friend George Mason, another Thorowgood descendant, fought with the pen.  Mason was the primary author of The Virginia Declaration of Rights  in 1776 which heavily influenced The Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson.

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Custis Lee Mansion

In 1831, their families joined again as Augustine’s descendant Robert E. Lee married Adam’s descendant Mary Anna Randolph Custis. Their home, the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington, Virginia, continues as a reminder of that union.   Together, Augustine Warner and Adam Thorowgood illustrate a similar early 17th century path to achieving the great “American Dream.”

Next Post:  Kecoughtan/ Hampton:  Living in the Second Settlement

Footnotes:

 

 

 

 


  1.   Brown, David and Thane Harpole, Warner Hall: Story of a Great Plantation (Gloucester, Virginia: DATA Investigations, LLc, 2004), 1.  Nugent, Nell Marion, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, vol. I (Richmond: Press of the Dietz Printing Co, 1934), 22. 
  2. McCurdy, Mary Burton Derrickson, “The Townleys and Warners of Virginia and Their English Connections,” in Genealogies of Virginia Families, vol 5, indexed by Thomas L. Hollowak (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, Inc., 1982), 542-543. 
  3. Morgan, Kenneth, Slavery and Servitude in Colonial North American: A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 16. 
  4.    Nugent, 32. 
  5. Nugent, 92.  McCurdy, Mary Burton Derrickson, “A Discovery Concerning the Townley and Warner Families of Virginia,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 77:4 (October 1969), 475-476. 
  6. Brown, 4-6.  Nugent, 227, 301, 365.  McCurdy, “The Townleys and Warners,” 543. 
  7. Nugent, 264, 385. 
  8. Neill, Edward D., Virginia Carolorum: The Colony under the Rule of  Charles the First and Second (Albany: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1886; Scholar Select: reprinted facsimile) 226. McCartney, Martha W., Jamestown People to 1800 (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012), 424. 
  9. Neill, 266-270; 352-353. 
  10. McCartney, 424.  Branch, Joseph Bryan, Epitaphs of Gloucester and Matthews Counties in Tidewater Virginia Through 1865 (Richmond: The Virginia State Library, 1959), 98, 100. 
  11. Brown, 18-19.  McCartney, Martha W., With Reverence for the Past: Gloucester County, Virginia (Richmond: The Dietz Press, 2001), 114-115.  Sorley, Merrow Egerton, Lewis of Warner Hall: The History of a Family (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1935), 45. 
  12. Brown, 32-44. 
  13. Brown, 31. 
  14.   Sorley, 48-51. 
  15. Brown, 6-8. McCartney, With Reverence,  58-61. Billings, Warren M., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 330, 338-346. Rice, James D., Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 98-99. 
  16. Brown, 8.  Sorley, 51-53; 836-839. Spencer, Albert H., Genealogy of the Spencer Family (River Edge, New Jersey: A. H. Spencer, 1956), v. 

Pied Pipers to Virginia: The Recruitment of 17th Century Headrights

 

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Kate Greenaway, Pied Piper of Hamlin

When King James I withdrew the charter for the private Virginia Company of London and made Virginia a Royal Colony in 1624, that did not solve all its problems.  (See 1625 England: Thorowgoods, Plague, War, Death, and the Defunct Virginia Company) With all its faults, the Company had consistently recruited volunteers to go to Virginia with promises of riches, land, status, salvation, and even husbands.  Now that the Crown was in charge, who and what was going to interest enough settlers to risk everything in order to finally make a profitable and sustainable colony?  No longer a Company initiative, it was up to enterprising individuals to swell the ranks of emigrants.1 Unlike the Pied Piper of Hamlin, the intent was not to bring colonists to their deaths (though that was a real possibility).  Still, the tune needed to be sweetly played to gather a following.

1698 North America map Louis Hennepin
Louis Hennepin, 1698 Map of North America

Land was the melody of choice.  There was certainly plenty of it.  The English Crown had claimed  all the way from New France in Canada to Spanish Florida and west to the next ocean, wherever it might be.  There was little concern about pushing the indigenous people already living on the land out of their way, especially after the Powhatan uprising in 1622.  Nor did the piper’s tune happen to mention that not all land was equally desirable or that the most desirable was being claimed by those already established.

Headrights and the Trade in Servants

Adam Thorowgood became an effective “piper.”  After having just completed his own Virginia indentureship in 1626, then returning to London and marrying the wealthy Sarah Offley in 1627,  he and Sarah sailed to Virginia in 1628 along with 35 headrights they had recruited.   In addition, they paid for 11 others in 1628-29.   Over a span of ten years, Adam paid the passage for more than 105 immigrants. Was that a wise investment?

tobacco cultivationComing to Virginia as a servant prior to 1626, Adam had received 50 acres of land at the end of his indentureship.  Bond servants arriving after that date were promised only “the custom of the country” at the end of their time, which often consisted only of a bushel of corn and a new suit of clothes.  Other items could be included if the master agreed. 2 If those servants could survive the “seasoning” and learn to cultivate tobacco, they were able to work as hired hands or tenant farmers at the end of the indentureship until they could hopefully buy their own land.

While indentured servants were working the  4-7 years to pay off  their passage, those who had sponsored them were getting 50 acres for each immigrant for whom they had paid.  This headright system proved advantageous to sponsors and enabled ship captains, recruitment agents (sometimes called Spirits), speculators, and landowners to increase their wealth with minimal investment. 3  It cost around £5-6 for passage and a few pounds more if you were outfitting the servant.  As the contract for a servant could be sold to a planter for about £6 to £15  depending on skills and the price of tobacco, a sponsor would usually make a cash profit as well as earn land to develop or sell.  There were risks, though, as servants died or ran away. For ship captains, using servants as cargo was more profitable than simply filling ships with supplies and ballast on the way  to pick up colonial tobacco and exports.  In addition, more workers would ultimately lead to more crops and increased shipping. 4

us-history-clipart-jamestown-9The system also worked relatively well for a number of the white English servants during the second quarter of the 17th century when Adam Thorowgood was bringing them over.  The threat of death from disease and Indian attacks had decreased in Virginia, and  there were still opportunities to find good land, import their own servants, and move up in Virginia society as had Adam.  In this period, those who chose to come as servants appear to have been more skilled and better off than many who came either at the beginning or in the last quarter of the 17th century. However, much depended on their masters, as they were considered as “chattel” and could be sold, inherited, or traded while under bondage. Unlike the enslaved, though, their servitude was only for a specified term–if they survived.5 (See Indentured: The Gamble of a Lifetime for a discussion of the characteristics and hardships of indentured servants)

Recruiting (and Kidnapping) Emigrants

IMG_0083Broadsides and pamphlets praising Virginia had been circulated since the beginning. However, many of the desired recruits were illiterate.  Thus, much recruitment took place by word of mouth and by setting up recruitment stations at ports, taverns, fairs, and popular gathering places.  Letters or testimonials from settlers living in the colonies were read as powerful inducements.  There were even ballads sung promoting life in the colonies.

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At times, recruitment agents brought pipers and drummers to fairs or through towns to literally “drum up business” and secure servants. In 1636, the master of the ship Abraham, stopped in Ireland to recruit and reported, ” …upon the feast days of market…we caused the drum to be beaten and gave warning to all those that disposed to go servants to Virginia should repair to Kinsale….”6

In the middle of the 17th century, there seemed to be an adequate number of people, particularly young men, who saw the possibility for a better and/or more exciting life abroad.  However, as the century progressed, there were more opportunities for work at home and encouragement for workers to stay in England.  Recruitment of foreign workers increased, especially among the Scots, Irish, Swiss and Germans.7

beggar family main-imageIn the early years of colonization,  laws had been enacted to allow courts to send orphaned children, vagrants, and convicts to the colonies, even against their will.  While this was promoted as a win-win solution to the overpopulation of English cities, these unfortunates were among the most vulnerable to disease and death and often were not productive in the new world.  With an unquenchable need for servants in the colonies and a lessening urgency to leave England, some agents resorted to questionable or illegal means to secure them.  Kidnapping became a serious concern, leading ports to begin to keep records of  those going onboard. 8

kidnappedIn the last half of the 17th century, over 4,500 children (under age 21) arrived in Virginia and Maryland without indentureships and were assigned by the courts to involuntary servitude, sometimes to those very justices. In 1660, the Privy Council addressed the problem of “diverse children from their parents and servants from their masters are daily enticed away, taken up, and kept from said Parents and Masters, against their wills, by Merchants, Planters, Commanders of Ships, and Seamen trading to Virginia, Barbados….”9 Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped had real and deep roots.  Parents taught their children to be wary of the “Spirits” (agents).  One of my own ancestors was a student at Dublin College who was lured onto a ship and “spirited away” to America.

Adam Thorowgood was one of the small number of  Virginia planters who selected and transported indentured servants, rather than depending on captains and agents. Some colonists wrote to solicit family or friends to come or at least to assist them in recruitment.10   Likely using some of Adam’s recently inherited £100 (yes, a seventh son got an inheritance!) and his wealthy wife’s dowry, Adam and Sarah had the £240+ needed to pay for 48 passengers (including themselves) in 1628-9.11  Possibly, the Offley and/or Thorowgood brothers also contributed to this venture. (See A “Big Bang” Marriage: How Sarah (Offley) met Adam (Thorowgood) in London 1627 )

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Jamestown Wharf  by Sydney King

As a survivor and a success in Virginia, Adam would have been a powerful recruiter speaking from his personal experience.  Limited information is available on those he brought with him, but at least some came from Adam’s home of County Norfolk.  This first group consisted of  7 women and 41 men.  In addition to his 50 acres for his indentureship, Adam had purchased 100 acres before returning to England in 1626. He  would not have needed all of these headrights to work his 150 acres, so he probably made a profit selling indentured contracts to other planters.   While it can be risky to infer personality traits from actions, it appears Adam was likely enterprising, enthusiastic, methodically patient, and a good businessman.  He did not “cash in” his headrights for land right away, but rather held on six more years until he could make an even larger claim. 12  (See To Go Or Not To Go: Early Immigrants from Norfolk, England)

Voyages of the Hopewell

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Susan Constant, Jamestown Settlement

Adam and Sarah Thorowgood and their first headrights came to Virginia on the ship Hopewell which had been transporting passengers and cargo since 1616 to ports in Virginia, New England, Bermuda, and Barbados.  The Hopewell was a 60 ton ship, a moderate size for those days. (For reference, the Jamestown Susan Constant was 80 ton; the Godspeed was 40 ton.While details are not available on their specific 1628 voyage, records indicate that the Hopewell left England for Virginia in 1627 and 1629 in July and sailed back to England in December those years under her Master Richard Russell, age 39, of Ratcliffe, Middlesex.13  If it had followed a similar schedule in 1628, the ship would have arrived at Jamestown in the fall.

On later trips to New England and Barbados, the Hopewell was reported to carry between 54 to 149 passengers (the large number probably included crew).   In 1621, it may have brought the first hives of honeybees to Virginia (they were not native to America). 14  The Hopewell was run aground in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1635 by a pilot who had come onboard to guide it into the harbor, so the ship had to return to England for repair rather than continuing on to Virginia to deliver passengers.  Those passengers probably did not mind transferring to another ship, as  the Hopewell had developed leaks and “none of the passengers had been able to keep dry in their cabins”  on the way over. 15

101_2555In December 1657, the Hopewell,  which had earlier carried so many English to their adventures and indentureships, was transporting enslaved Africans from Angola to Virginia when it was seized off the coast of Africa. 16 Sadly, it was another indication that Virginia planters were increasingly turning to slavery to meet their labor needs. (a future post)

In addition to his Hopewell passengers, Adam paid passage for individuals on the True Love, Ark, Africa, and one designated as the French ship between 1628 and 1629.

The Immigrants

In Adam Thorowgood’s request for a land grant in 1635, he claimed he had paid passage to Virginia for the following 48 persons in 1628-29 .  The other 57 headrights he claimed for that grant will be named in future posts, and there will be discussions of what is known regarding the lives of some of these.   As was common in the 17th century,  there were variations in the spelling of the names.17

On the Hopewell, 1628:  Jno Barnards; Stephen Bernard; Margaret Bilbie; Thomas Boulton; Jon Bradston; Thomas Brooks; Thomas Chandler; Andrew Chant; Susan Colson; William Edwards; Robert Heasell; Richard Jego (Iego); Richard Jenerie; Thomas Johnson; Richard Johnson; Thomas Keeling; Rachel Lane; James Leading; Jos Leake; Thomas Melton; Jon Moyse (Moise); Jon Newarke; Francis Newton; Ed Parish; John Penton; Jno Percie; Edward Pitts; Jane Prosser; Dennis Russell; Ann Spark; Adam Thorowgood; Sarah Thorowgood; Thomas Thorowgood; Edmund Wallis; Augustine Warner; John Waters; Jane Westerfield

On the True Love, 1628:  Andrew Boyer; Thomas Boyer; Jon Lock

On the Ark, 1628:  Francis Bramly

On the Africa, 1628: Merciful Halley

On the “French ship,” 1629:  John Dyer; Francis Ford; William Hines; Edward Jones; Edward Palmer; Edward Reynolds

There has been much speculation about which Thomas Thorowgood accompanied them.  As Adam and Sarah had married in July 1627, it was possible it was a very young infant, but if so, he must have died young for there is no further mention of a child named Thomas.  It was not Adam’s brother who was serving as a vicar in Norfolk.  For other possibilities, see Untangling 17th Century Genealogies: Thoroughly Confusing Thorowgoods

Coming Post:  Augustine Warner–George Washington’s Headright Ancestor

Footnotes:

 

 

 


  1. Smith, Abbot Emerson, Colonists in Bondage: White Servitude and Convict Labor in America 1607-1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1947), 5, 60. 
  2. Billings, Warren M., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1607-1700 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 145. 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Smith, 35-38.  Morgan, Kenneth, Slavery and Servitude in Colonial North America: A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 11-17. 
  5. Horn, James, Adapting to a New World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 272-274. Horn, James, “Servant Emigration” in Tate and Ammerman, eds., The Chesapeake in the Seventeenth Century  (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 57-60. Menard, Russell R., “British Migration to the Chesapeake Colonies in the Seventeenth Century,” Lois Green Catt, Philip D. Morgan and Jean B. Russo, eds., Colonial Chesapeake Society (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 114-116. 
  6. Smith, 54, 61-64. 
  7. Smith, 54-62. Menard, 111-112 
  8. Smith, 67-73. 
  9. Smith, 86.  Phillips, Richard Hayes, Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records Maryland and Virginia (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2013), xii-xiii, xvi.  Morgan, 15-16. 
  10. Billings, 146. Smith, 53. 
  11. Brayton, John Anderson, “The Ancestry of Mrs. Anne (Thoroughgood) Chandler-Fowke,” The Virginia Genealogist, 48:4 (October-December 2004), 247-248. 
  12. Nugent, Nell Marion, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, vol. I (Richmond: Press of the Dietz Printing Co, 1934), 22.  Grant, W.L. and James Munro (eds.), Acts of the Privy council of England: Colonial Series vol I 1613-1680, (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1908; Reprinted in Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, LTD, 1966), 204-205. 
  13. Coldham, Peter Wilson, English Adventurers and Emigrants, 1609-1660: Abstracts of Examinations in the High Court of Admiralty with Reference to Colonial America (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1984), 23.  Hillier, Susan, A List of Ships Traveling Between England and Virginia: 1607-1630 (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series, 1970), under Hopewell (no page numbers). Kingsley, Susan Myra (ed.), The Records of the Virginia Company of London, III (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1933), 639. 
  14. Crane, Eva, World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (New York: Routledge, 1999), 359. 
  15. Coldham, 63-64. 
  16. Coldham, 171. 
  17. Nugent, 22. 

Witches and the Thorowgoods in 17th Century Virginia

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Sorry, New Englanders, Virginia was not only founded first (13 years before Plymouth); had the first publicly proclaimed Thanksgiving (1 year before the Pilgrims arrived); held the first elected representative Assembly (again 1 year before the Pilgrims arrived); but Virginia can also claim the first known colonial trial of a suspected witch (four years before the Puritans under Governor John Winthrop even arrived in 1630).  Massachusetts does get the award, though, for the most dramatic presentations:  inviting the indigenous people to their Thanksgiving feast and  hanging their witches.  So how then was witchcraft handled in Virginia?  Did Adam Thorowgood or his family have any dealings with suspected witches?

Witches in England and Scotland

witches 6 34427876715_0e59110873_bSince Biblical times, good Christians had been taught to fear the Devil and his evil spirits, but around the 14th century, suspicions developed that the odd ones living in their communities might have sold their souls to the Devil and contracted to do his biding.1 When inexplicable misfortune hit, it seemed reasonable that one’s disagreeable neighbor, the town’s social misfit, or the eccentric widow who collected herbs by night might be responsible through a witch’s spell. 

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Folger’s Shakespeare Library  Washington, D.C.

Witches seemed very real to most of the English and Scots in the 16th and 17th century.  Even Shakespeare conjured up three Scottish witches to poison Macbeth’s mind  with ambitious prophecies. The problem, though, was how to recognize and catch them.

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The Witches’ Well Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

King James VI of Scotland (who also became King James I of England) was very concerned about witches and, in fact, literally wrote the book on what to do about them. Relying heavily on a 1584 English translation of a popular treatise published by two Dominican friars, Malleus Maleficarum, the King composed his  Daemonologie in 1597 with a Protestant twist.   When he took the English crown in 1603, he had his book published in England and had witchcraft again made a felony punishable by death under The Witchcraft Statute of James I. That was the law that the colonists brought to Jamestown. 2

The First Colonial Witch Trial: Joan Wright 

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Gov. Yeardley  Historic Jamestowne

Sir George Yeardley, twice the Governor of Virginia, had many firsts.  In 1619, he convened the first House of Burgesses and purchased some of the first Africans to arrive.  When he was later reappointed, he presided in 1626 over the first known trial of a suspected witch in the colonies .  The early colonists had been  quick to condemn the native Powhatans as Devil worshippers and children of the Devil, but were a bit slower at pointing the finger at each other.

Elizabeth Cittie Parish (formerly called Kecoughtan; now known as Hampton) was one of the early shires in Virginia.  Its population increased when it was designated as an area of safety for the settlers after the Powhatan Uprising of 1622.  According to the census of Virginia conducted in 1624/5, there were  258 settlers living in that area.  Among those were Edward Waters and his servant Adam Thorowgood.   Also living there were Robert and Joan (or Jane) Wright, servants to Anthony Bonall, a French silk maker and wine grape cultivator. In 1626, the Wrights moved to Pace’s Paines across from Jamestown (now Surry County), but suspicions followed that Joan had practiced witchcraft in Kecoughtan.  Soon thereafter she was formally charged and tried. 3

IMG_0145As the trial was in September, it is unknown whether Adam had returned to England before the trial started.  However, having lived in Kecoughtan the previous years as part of Edward Waters’ household, he may well have known the Wrights or at least heard talk of  Joan’s suspicious activities.  According to the surviving transcript of the trial, charges against Goodwife Wright included causing hens in Kecoughton to die, healthy plants to be drowned, and people to become sick; foretelling  deaths; cursing a hunter so that he “for a long time could never kill anything;” and causing an infant to die. 4

IMG_0195Joan Wright had been asked by Lt. Allington, to attend to his pregnant wife as the midwife, but when the wife discovered that Joan was left-handed and heard the rumors about her, she refused her and had another midwife brought.  When Goodwife Wright found out,  she was upset.  The Allingtons believed she therefore cursed them, and consequently, each sequentially became ill (although of different disorders).  Even though they all recovered,  the infant succumbed after a second illness more than a  month after its birth.   

In the trial, Mrs. Isabel Perry testified that Mrs Gates said that “she (Wright) was a very bad woman and was accompted a witch amongst all them at Kickotan” and that Dorothy Behethlem had said that Wright had even practiced witchcraft back in Hull, England.  Also according to Mrs Perry, when Mrs. Gates confronted Wright, she did not deny being a witch, but rather “replied, god forgive them, and so made light of it.” 5

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Governor’s House at Jamestown Settlement

There obviously was much hearsay testimony and circumstantial evidence brought against Joan Wright.  Clearly, she had troubled relationships with her neighbors and may have even enjoyed making them fearful of her.  However, illness and death were so common in Virginia that it would have been difficult to prove she caused them, particularly over an extended period of time.  Although the transcript of the trial survived, the verdict of Gov. Yeardley did not. It is likely, though, that he took a more reasoned approach to the accusations. If she had been put to death for witchcraft, that certainly would have been remembered or survived in some record.  This fall, Jamestown Settlement presented an excellent re-enactment of the trial of Jane/Joan Wright in “ Season of the Witch.”

The Thorowgoods and Virginia Witch Trials 

There were at least 22 witch trials in Virginia from 1626 to 1730.  Of those, 8 were held in Lower Norfolk County (later Princess Anne County), 3 of which involved the same accused witch, Grace Sherwood. 6  While it may appear that the citizens of this county were particularly superstitious or accursed, the seemingly high proportion of cases is partly because those court records survived, while records of many other counties were destroyed.  Lower Norfolk was the county settled by Adam Thorowgood; its first county court was held in his home; and he often presided as a justice at the court until his death in 1640.  Although he never tried the case of a witch, his grandsons did.

mesmerizing-translucent-waves-19th-century-painting-ivan-konstantinovich-aivazovsky-6The Virginia justices found most of the accusations of witchcraft unsubstantiated.  The only guilty verdict that remains is for William Harding of the Northern Neck in Virginia, who was accused by his Scottish preacher of witchcraft and sorcery in 1656.  The accusations must not have been too serious, for his punishment was only ten lashes and banishment from the county.  Nor were the citizens overly concerned, as he was given two months to leave.  Katherine Grady was the only suspected witch to be hung, but it was done before she even reached Virginia in 1654 and under the direction of the ship’s captain, not court justices.  When the ship encountered a severe storm near the end of  its journey, the passengers were convinced that Katherine had caused it through witchcraft.  Upon reaching Jamestown, the Captain had to appear before the admiralty court, but its findings have been lost.7

The justices were concerned, however, that reputations and lives were being damaged by casual accusations of witchcraft. In 1655, the Lower Norfolk justices ordered that persons who  raised “any such scandal concerning any party whatsoever and shall not be able to prove the same, both upon oath and by sufficient witness” would have to pay 1,000 pounds of tobacco and be censured by the court. 8

5000 flying witchesThis was put to the test in 1698 when John and Ann Byrd sued Charles Kinsey and John Potts for having “falsely and scandalously” defamed them by claiming they were witches and “in league with the Devil.”  Kinsey finally admitted to the court that he might have only dreamed that they “had rid him along the Seaside and home” through witchcraft .  John Thorowgood, a son of Adam Thorowgood II, was one of the justices on that court which surprisingly did not give a cash award to the Byrds, but rather found for the defendants. However, they chose not to pursue witchcraft charges against the Byrds. 9

The Trials of Grace Sherwood

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Grace Sherwood Memorial  Virginia Beach

The hysteria of Salem’s witch trials in 1692-3 might have encouraged Virginians  to take a closer look at their neighbors, as there was a modest increase in witch trials from 1694-1706.  Lt. Col. Adam Thorowgood III,  John’s brother, also served as a justice in the Lower Norfolk County Court. He was part of the famous and complicated 1705/1706 witch trials  of  Grace Sherwood, “The Virginia Witch” or “The Witch of  Pungo.”   Like Joan Wright, Grace had a history of contentious relations with her neighbors.  It started when a neighbor, Richard Capps, called Grace a witch, and the Sherwoods brought suit against him for defamation. 10

Although that was settled out of court, a few months later several other neighbors began to make accusations that she had bewitched pigs to death, destroyed cotton, and taken Mrs. Barnes on a ride through the keyhole.  In 1698, the Sherwoods again brought a defamation suit against those neighbors. Grace Sherwood presented eight witnesses in her behalf, but again the justices decided in favor of the defendants who had made the accusations of witchcraft. Grace Sherwood had to pay the court costs and for the defendant’s nine witnesses.  Even so, the court did not pursue charges of witchcraft.

witches 3 34385864146_c55d0419ee_cIn 1705, Elizabeth Hill, another neighbor, called Grace a witch, and  a brawl between them ensued.  Grace filed a complaint of trespassing and assault and battery against Elizabeth.  Although Grace prevailed, she received little in monetary damages.  Elizabeth Hill’s husband then made a formal charge of witchcraft against her.  Accusations included that no grass would grow where she had danced in the moonlight, that she had soured the cow’s milk, and that she had made herself small enough to fly in an eggshell to England and back in one night to get rosemary seeds for her garden. However, rosemary was abundant locally and, ironically, often used to protect against witches. 11

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Examination of a Witch by T.H. Matheson

The justices, which included Adam Thorowgood III, warned the Hills against making false claims, but agreed to have Grace examined by a jury of women to see if she had any “devil’s marks” (unusual growths or discolorations) on her.  The foreman for the women was Mrs. Barnes, one of those Grace had previously tried to sue.  They came back with the finding that she did have some unusual marks.  Unlike the photo, the exam would have only been conducted by a group of women; nonetheless, it would have been very humiliating.

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Colonial Williamsburg Capitol

The Princess Anne justices then passed  the case to the General Court in the new Virginia capital of Williamsburg, but that court remanded it back to the county justices for clearer charges.  In Princess Anne, the justices ordered another group of women to examine her to confirm the prior findings, but the women refused to come.  Another group was asked, and they also refused.  It seemed no one wanted to tangle with a possible real witch.

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The justices then decided to try the method of “ducking” the accused in a body of water as King James had advocated.  As water was considered a pure medium, an innocent person would sink, whereas the water would reject a witch and she would float.  A rope was tied around Grace’s waist to pull her up so she would not drown if innocent, and they even postponed the test to a sunny day to not endanger her health.  Grace was dressed in a shift, so whether the ropes were tied so air was trapped in her shift or she held her breath or, as some claimed, she untied her ropes and swam around the cove laughing at the observers, Grace did not sink. The results of the physical examination and ducking were taken to indicate she was a witch, but which accusations were considered credible is unknown.

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Grace Sherwood in Colonial Williamsburg

The case was probably sent back to the General Court, but those records burned in 1865, and  we do not know the final disposition of the case.  Her trial is dramatized in Colonial Williamsburg’s program “Cry Witch.” Grace Sherwood spent some time in jail, but was ultimately released and lived until around 1740. 12

walk2 Virginia Beach has erected a kindly statue in honor of this misunderstood woman, and the Governor of Virginia recently pardoned her, even though there is no record of her conviction.  Grace seems not to have had the sweet disposition portrayed in the statue, but still she serves as a symbol of those innocent “cunning women” who suffered when their skills with herbal potions and their independent and defiant spirits were  misconstrued as evil.  The last known witch trial in Virginia was in 1730.

The Witch’s Bottle

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Thoroughgood House Education Center

It appears that not all the Lower  Norfolk/Princess Anne County residents were confident that the justices could keep them safe from witches.  In 1979, near the Thorowgood property, a still-sealed witch’s bottle was found buried upside down, as would be expected, possibly dating from the era of the Sherwood trials. 13 Inside one can still see the straight pins intended to harm the witch and a yellowish liquid stain, which might have been urine, to keep the witches away.  Someone was worried.

A Modern Dilemma

6000 burning witchesWitchcraft and the occult are still practiced by some today.  While there are those who try to connect with the spirit of the earth and be “good witches,” there are others who have carried out horrific acts.  Unfortunately, over the ages, many innocents were sent to their deaths because of the superstitions and suspicions of others.  It has been estimated that 85% of those killed in European witch hunts were women.  A Puritan preacher of the time, William Perkins, was unapologetic in his explanation: 14

The woman, being the weaker sex, is sooner entangled by the devil’s illusions, with the damnable act, than the man.  And in all ages it is found true by experience, that the devil hath more easily and oftener prevailed with women than with men.

Although we may recoil from or laugh at the beliefs and practices of the past, today we also struggle with what to do with individuals who desire to inflict harm.  How can we humanely identify and deal with potential terrorists and mass murderers without sweeping up “strange,” but innocent, victims?  How can we better prevent and respond to acts of evil and hatred?  These challenges are with us still.

Footnotes:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Hudson, Carson O., Jr., Witchcraft in Colonial Virginia (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2019), 16. 
  2. Hudson, 55-60. “King James VI and I’s Demonology, 1597,” published online in The British Library: Discovering Literature: Shakespeare and Renaissance collection items. http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/king-james-vi-and-is-demonology-1597.  Accessed online 10/22/2019. 
  3. Hudson, 75.  Hotten, John Camden, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality (Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1980), 253. 
  4.   Hudson, 75-79.  “Transcription from the Original: General Court Hears Case on Witchcraft, 1626,” Encyclopedia of Virginia, accessed online 10/15/2019. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Hudson, 127-129. 
  7. Hudson, 81. “Witchcraft in Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 1:3 (January 1893), 127-128. 
  8. Hudson, 89. Turner, Florence Kimberly, Gateway to the New World: A History of Princess Anne County, Virginia, 1607-1824 (Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1984), 79. 
  9.   Hudson, 89.  “Witchcraft in Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 2:1 (July 1893), 60. McCartney, Martha W.,  Jamestown People to 1800 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012), 403. 
  10. Hudson, 90.  “Transcription from the Original: The Case of Grace Sherwood (1706),” Enclyclopedia of Virginia, accessed online 10/5/2019.  Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5, 4th ed., vol 3  (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 335. 
  11. Hudson, 90-92.  Tucker, 79-80. “Transcription from the Original: The Case of Grace Sherwood (1706),” online access. 
  12. Hudson, 92-98.  Tucker, 80-81.  “Witchcraft in Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 1:3 (January 1893), 127-128.  “Transcription from the Original: The Case of Grace Sherwood (1706),” online access. 
  13. Tucker, 82. 
  14. Hudson, 74. 

Update: Hauntings at the Thoroughgood House?

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A year ago, I posted stories of  Hauntings at the Thoroughgood House?  At that time, the house and museum in Virginia Beach had only been reopened with its new interpretation for a few months, so I queried at the end of my post:

If there have been restless spirits on Thorowgood land, will they finally be appeased and  able to rest in peace now that historians have figured out who really lived in the house and have discovered its importance as a Native American site?  Perhaps.

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Recently, I decided to return to the Thoroughgood House to investigate whether everyone is now at peace.  One event that seemed likely to stir up the spirits was Descendants’ Day which was held at the site on October 5, 2019.

IMG_5650The Virginia Beach History Museum staff had thoughtfully invited not only the descendants of Adam Thorowgood, but also those with Native or African ancestors who might have lived or worked at the site.  Generously, they also offered free admission and birthday cake to anyone else who showed up.  I thought surely some of the departed ancestors would come for cake and a chance to see how their descendants turned out.  However, if they did, they were most discreet, and any missing cake was attributable to hungry guests.

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IMG_5646The party celebrated the 300th birthday of the construction of the house.  As noted in my prior posts, some thought the 300th birthday had already happened in 1936 based upon the now- disproven theory that the house was originally built by Adam Thorowgood, the immigrant,  in 1636.  Historical records, architectural analysis, archaeological finds, and dendrochronology now place the construction in 1719.  The Education Center at the Thoroughgood House and my posts give more detailed explanations for the change in dates.

IMG_5708To celebrate, there was dancing on the lawn and children’s activities as well as informative presentations by historian Matthew Laird on “Adam and Sarah Thorowgood–Virginia Beach’s First Power Couple”  and on “Finding Your 17th Century Ancestor,” by Donald Moore, a professional genealogist.  Although I made contact with some friendly, living Adam Thorowgood descendants and experts, I did not meet any of the haunting kind.

IMG_5854Therefore, I decided to take a more direct approach and returned the next week for an evening tour, “Haunted Encounters of the Thoroughgood Kind.”  The staff had set the stage for our adventure by serving the guests either witches’ brew or dragon’s blood and cookies while showing the silent movie version of Phantom of the Opera in the waiting area.

IMG_5861As we headed across the grounds, our guide became enveloped in fog before we found our way to the gardens. There we were instructed in the proper techniques and herbs to use to protect our houses from evil spirits.  Though the house was quiet that evening, the tales of inexplicable encounters and occurrences experienced by reputable staff and guests gave credence to the earlier stories.

IMG_5879There continue to be accounts of the openings of a door bolted from the inside; of noises and shadowy figures; of the man in the brown suit and the woman in the window.  In the dim interiors, the 17th century crackled looking glass (mirror) gave back eerie reflections.

IMG_5891As I left that evening, a full moon was rising over the darkened house.   Was there something hidden in those obscure corners, waiting to come out after the noisy intruders left?  I didn’t stay to find out.

Coming very soon: Witches and Thorowgoods in 17th Century Virginia

Special thanks to Ann Miller and the staff of the Virginia Beach History Museums for these great events (and the cake)!