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
A 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)
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?
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
Adam 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
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
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
Augustine 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
Although 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.
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
Today 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Morgan, Kenneth, Slavery and Servitude in Colonial North American: A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 16. ↩
- Nugent, 32. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Brown, 4-6. Nugent, 227, 301, 365. McCurdy, “The Townleys and Warners,” 543. ↩
- Nugent, 264, 385. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Neill, 266-270; 352-353. ↩
- McCartney, 424. Branch, Joseph Bryan, Epitaphs of Gloucester and Matthews Counties in Tidewater Virginia Through 1865 (Richmond: The Virginia State Library, 1959), 98, 100. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Brown, 32-44. ↩
- Brown, 31. ↩
- Sorley, 48-51. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Brown, 8. Sorley, 51-53; 836-839. Spencer, Albert H., Genealogy of the Spencer Family (River Edge, New Jersey: A. H. Spencer, 1956), v. ↩