Augustine Warner: The Headright Ancestor of George Washington

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)

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?

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

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

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 


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.

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

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.

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

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

Washington family
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.

custis lee mansion
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






  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


pied piper
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.

IMG_2975 a

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 )

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

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





  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

0005 flying witches public domain

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. 

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.

2335 c uk324 IMG_4016_edited-3
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 

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

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

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

wirch exam
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.

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.


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.

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

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.











  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.  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?


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.


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.


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)!

A “Big Bang” Marriage: How Sarah (Offley) met Adam (Thorowgood) in London 1627

0IFp2jSUN4dvpL4MjThis was my  puzzlement–the curiosity that started my research and blog.  How did a twenty-two-year-old young man raised in Norfolk, England, having just spent four years working as an indentured servant in Virginia, suddenly show up in London and, within a year, marry the daughter of a wealthy merchant who was also a granddaughter and great-granddaughter of  Lord Mayors of London?  In the Big Bang Theory of life, how did these two very different orbits ever come crashing into each other? The marriage of Adam Thorowgood to Sarah Offly was recorded in the parish register of St. Anne’s Blackfriars, London, on July 18, 1627.

Jamestown Brides

In the Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia exhibit at Jamestown, it is noted that there was a “poor marriage market” in London in the 1620s.  That may have influenced the decision of some proper maids to accept the Virginia Company’s initiative to provide brides to the settlers at a substantial cost.  Those daring young women retained their right to refuse proposals, but many must have accepted, for it turned out to have been one of the Company’s few lucrative ventures. 1  However, considering that fewer than 6,000 total men, women, and children migrated to Virginia over 17 years (1607-1624), that could not have been solely responsible for the decrease in marriageable men in England’s population of about 4 million. Certainly, the 1625 plague and disastrous military campaign at Breda would have affected the London “marriage market” the year Adam returned.2 So, how then did Sarah manage to find and catch Adam or was it the other way around? Some possibilities to consider include:

“They Were Childhood Friends”

Wrong.  As noted in prior posts, Adam grew up in Grimston, near Kings Lynn, in Norfolk. Having left for Virginia as an indentured servant in 1621 when only 17 years old, there is no evidence that he had spent any significant time in London or met the Offleys (or Offlys) before leaving.  Sarah would have only been 12 years old at that time, so even if they had a chance meeting before the sailing, it is unlikely either would have thought of courtship.

Survivor of the London Fire  Photo by Maren Mecham

Sarah Offley  grew up at her father’s home on Gracechurch Street in London.  At that time, Gracechurch Street connected to the south with Fish Street Hill which extended over the Old London Bridge where her grandparents once lived. To the north, the street headed through town to join Bishopgate Street.   Sarah’s neighborhood was later consumed by the Great Fire of 1666, but houses which survived near St. Bartholomew’s Church give a sense of  London streets of that era. With her family’s success as merchants, Sarah would have enjoyed a very comfortable life in London. 3

“Dad Made Me Do It”

Wrong again.  Since the 12th century, English parents could arrange and recommend marriages, but not legally force or disallow a marriage of children who were of age. For girls, that was age 12; for boys,  it was 14. Few married that young, and many in that time married in their 20s. Especially if there was property involved, parents worked to arrange advantageous marriages for their children, and,  if those children hoped for a dowry or an inheritance, they would have complied with parental preferences.  4  While both William Thorowgood and Robert Offley were distinguished in their own spheres and probably would have approved the union of their children, there is no evidence they ever encountered or had dealings with each other.

IMG_5558William Thorowgood was born around 1560 in Felsted, Essex, but moved to  Grimston, Norfolk around 1585 when he married Anne Edwards of Norwich, Norfolk, and accepted the post as the Vicar of St. Boltolph’s Church.  All of William’s nine  children were born in Grimston.  Reverend Thorowgood was honored by being appointed  as the commissary for the Bishop of Norwich.  William came from an armorial family. Although not needed for his position with the church, he received “a confirmation of this Armes and Crest” in March 1620. 5  While theirs was a legitimate claim, attempts to raise money without Parliament during the reigns of James I and Charles I included expected “loans” from gentry and the selling of knighthoods.6 The crest “confirmation” may have come with a fee, but was probably helpful to his son John who was beginning to move in courtly circles. William Thorowgood sent his son Adam to Virginia, but neither William nor his other sons contributed to or were involved with the Virginia Company or other merchant companies as far as is presently known.

IMG_5561 OffleyRobert Offley II and his wife, Anne Osbourne, were both born in London. Robert was a “Turkey merchant” with the Levant Company (traders with the Ottomans) whose first Governor was his father-in-law, Sir Edward Osborne.  Osborne had been knighted and had been a Lord Mayor of London (like his father-in -law William Hewitt). The Offleys were also an armorial family, and Robert II’s “step-uncle,”  Sir Thomas Offley, had been a Lord Mayor of London.  7 Robert II was a member of the Virginia Company of London and invested over L 100 there.   He was nominated by James I in 1622 as a Deputy to the General Court, but was not elected by the Company.  He  was also one of the Original Adventurers (investors) of the Somers Islands (Bermuda) in 1615 and supported Bermuda tobacco . 8

Both Robert Offley  and William Thorowgood died in 1625, the year before Adam returned from Virginia.  These two deceased dads did not arrange this marriage.

“It Was Big Brother”

Possibly.  Adam and Sarah both had several older brothers who could have been looking out for them.  If so, the contacts would probably have taken place in London.  There are no reports of related Offleys moving to County Norfolk until some of Sarah’s nephews moved there in the second half of the 17th century. 9

58b2394cb45344af09b1c0dee7574e0b--th-century-fashion-th-centuryIt has sometimes been assumed that Adam’s older brother, Sir John Thorowgood of Kensington, brought the families together based on his position in the court of King Charles I and the erroneous belief that he had been serving as the secretary to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, a significant member of the Virginia Company of London.  As previously noted, though, there were two Sir John Thorowgoods at this time. Pembroke helped his Sir John win a seat in Parliament in 1624, and  that Sir John later married the widow of Sir Henry Neville, III. 10 On the other hand, Adam’s brother Sir John Thorowgood of Kensington’s prior background is unclear, and he married Frances Meautys.  He likely came to the Court of Charles I around 1625 as a gentleman pensioner when Charles came to the throne.  However, as with others, he probably was not knighted until the king’s official coronation in Scotland in 1630.  11 The Levant Company of merchants held considerable influence during the reign of Charles I, so there might possibly have been some interaction between Sir John of Kensington and the Offleys, but it was more likely on business rather than personal matters. 12

At the time of Adam’s return to England, two of his older brothers, Thomas and Edmund, were preachers in Norfolk; Mourdant had died the previous year in the Siege of Breda; William had settled around Norfolk as had his sister Frances Thorowgood Griffith and his younger step-brother Robert.  Little is known of Edward, his eldest brother, although he might have resided in London.  If one of Adam’s brothers was not the match maker, there were other Thorowgoods in London, possibly cousins or uncles, who might have had dealings with the Offleys.  Thomas Thorowgood, a draper, who was noted to have rented a shop/residence outlined in Ralph Treswell’s survey of Pancras Lane, could have been a relative.13

Oldest House in London Photo by Maren Mecham

Sarah’s siblings might also have been likely players in this mutually advantageous match.  The Offley family had been interested in new settlements and trade and may have been anxious to have their own Virginia connection now that there would be no profits being returned from their father’s investment in the defunct Virginia Company. Adam Thorowgood could have been notable in the London “marriage market” because he had not only survived  disease and the Indian uprising in Virginia, but he also knew how to work tobacco, had just purchased 150 acres of good river land in Virginia, had an inheritance from his father, and was enthusiastically recruiting others to  join him in the Colony which would then grant him more land.  14 He was a healthy (hopefully handsome-enough) young man who was poised to progress. Adam also would have benefitted greatly from the match with Sarah, as that would have likely resulted in a substantial dowry as well as connections to the commercial contacts of the Offley/ Osborne family.

IMG_3775Sarah and her sisters might have been even more daring than her brothers. They likely had watched with interest as the Virginia Company had recruited “young, handsome, and honestly-educated Maids” to send to the Colony in 1620-21 on “bride ships” to establish families and bring greater stability and order to colonial society.  These women were as much “adventurers” as their male counterparts.  15 Just as Adam had chosen a life of adventure in Virginia when he was 17, so Sarah at age 17 was also drawn to that life.

While her brothers continued their work in England, at least one of her sisters and spouse later followed Sarah and Adam and settled in Lower Norfolk, Virginia. Robert Hayes and Anne Offley Workman Hayes were there before 1638 when he was elected to the Assembly. There must have been comfort in having a sister nearby to help face the challenges of the New World.   Adam’s brother-in-law, Edward Windham, whose sister Ann Windham had married Adam’s brother Thomas in 1623 in Norfolk, England, also came to Virginia giving them more family connections  

“They Met at Church”

St. Bartholomew, London Fire Survivor  Photo by Maren Mecham

Intriguing Idea.  What church were Sarah and Adam attending?  Already in England, there were divisions over congregations and preachers with Puritan leanings and those with traditional/conservative Anglican practices. Probably, Adam’s brother, Sir John, newly come to Charles I’s Court, would have been involved with a conservative congregation at that point.  Just the year before, Sarah’s family had buried their father, Robert, at their neighborhood church, St. Benet’s of Gracechurch Street with its new steeple. Sarah and her siblings had been christened there, Sarah on April 16, 1609. Her grandparents were buried there.  Gracechurch was their family church, and it appeared to be a traditional congregation. 16

Blackfriars (Ireland Yard) Photo by Maren Mecham

So why then did Adam and Sarah choose to marry in St. Anne’s of Blackfriars, a strongly Puritan church? The Blackfriars area was an exciting and eclectic part of 17th century London.  The Dominican (Black Friars) monastery had been dissolved by Henry VIII around 1541.  Tennis courts were set up at the site as well as the church known as St. Anne’s.  Shakespeare owned a place close to the private, covered Blackfriars Theater that had been built on monastery lands. It could hold up to 700 people and was frequented by the wealthy and well educated. Being a favorite theater of King James, the actors there became known as the King’s Men. In addition, many artists, such as Anthony Van Dyke,  lived in the quarter and attended St. Anne’s. Unfortunately, St. Anne’s and the neighborhood were also destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.  Only part of a wall remains. The church was never rebuilt, and the parish was incorporated into St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.

220px-William_GougeWilliam Gouge, a known Puritan, was a lecturer there by 1622.  For forty-six years, he would serve as the “laborious, the exemplary, the much-loved minister of St. Ann’s Blackfriars” who said his highest ambition was “to go from Blackfriars to Heaven.” 17  Later, in 1643, he would serve on the Westminster Assembly of Divines with Adam’s brother, Thomas Thorowgood, also a noted Puritan.  Might Thomas have heard about Reverend Gouge and recommended that congregation to Adam in 1626?  Norfolk was known for its Puritan leanings.  But as the wedding in London was probably planned by the bride and her family, what or who brought Sarah to Blackfriars?  Was it “in” to be married by Reverend Gouge? Were they both drawn to novelty and excitement in that lively part of town?  Was there a daring element of nonconformity and independence in them, a desire to be “on the cutting edge”?  Those kind of  traits would serve them well in the New World.

2222 Marriage2Sarah and Adam would certainly have been familiar with Reverend William Gouge’s famous sermon “Of Domestical Duties”  delivered there in 1622 which was considered a “text” on family life in that era.  In the hierarchical structure popular in that age, Reverend Gouge saw a wife as above her children, but below her husband who was to be  “as a Priest unto his wife…. He is as a king in his owne house.” 18  There are no records of Sarah ever being in conflict with the three spouses in her life.  However, she became a strong and forthright woman, not to be intimidated by other men she encountered.

“Cupid was the Culprit”  

Daniel Heinsius, Cupido, 1615

Surely.  Being the era of Shakespeare, when Cupid traveled with a full quiver of love’s arrows to send into the hearts of unsuspecting lovers, it is likely Cupid had some part in bringing Sarah and Adam together. Did their hearts flutter at a chance encounter at the market place, during a furtive glance in a church service, or at an introduction by family or friends?  Despite his restricted view on a woman’s place, even Reverend  William Gough encouraged “love matches.” Hopefully, that’s what Sarah and Adam had found. No matter how this match was made, the Thorowgood-Offley alliance turned out to be a good one.

Special Thanks again to Maren Mecham for the use of her London photographs.











  1.   Bruce, Philip Alexander, Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century. 2nd Edition.  (Lynchburg, Virginia: J.P. Bell Company, 1927), 233-4.  Potter, Jennifer, The Jamestown Brides: The Story of England’s Maids for Virginia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019). 
  2.  Population of Virginia. Accessed online 9/20/2019 at http://www/ 
  3. Bell, Walter George, The Great Fire of London in 1666 (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 377.  Tinniswood, Adrian, By Permission of Heaven (New York: Riverhead Books, 2004). 
  4.   Horn, James, Adapting to a New World:  English Society in the Seventeenth Century Chesapeake (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 206-207.   Walsh, Lorena S. “Till Death Us Do Part: Marriage and Family in Seventeenth Century Maryland,” in The Chesapeake in the Seventeenth Century, Thad W. Tate and David L. Ammerman, eds. (Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 1979) 126- 140. 
  5.   Harrison, William Welsh, Harrison, Waples, and Allied Families (Philadelphia: Edward Stein & Co published for private circulation only, 1910) 131-132. Facsimile.  “Rev. William Thorowgood 1560-19 May 1625” Family Search (online database).  Accessed online 9/5/2019. 
  6. ” Thirty-Pound Gentlemen and the Jacobean Inflation of Honours,” Map of Early Modern London (MoEML): Encyclopedia.  University of Victoria: MoEML v.6.3, svn rev. 12049 2018-06-19. Accessed online 9-18-2019. 
  7.   Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5,  2,(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 697-701.   Wood, Alfred C., A History of the Levant Company, New York:Barnes & Noble, Inc, 1935), 7-20.  Brenner, Robert, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders 1550-1653 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 18-19.  Harwood, “Pedigree of Offley,” The Genealogist: A Quarterly Magazine of Genealogical, Antiquarian, Topographical, and Heraldic Research, XIX, 1903, 217-231. 
  8.   Dorman., 697-8. Brenner, 18-19. Kingsley, Susan Myra (ed.), The Records of the Virginia Company of London, II (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1906), 28. Kingsley, Susan Myra (ed.), The Records of the Virginia Company of London, III (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1933), 86.  LeFroy, J. H., Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of the Bermudas or Somers Islands, vol. I (London: Bermuda Government Library, reprinted 1932), 100. 
  9.   “Norfolk Connections,”  The Offley Newsletter, Newsletter No. 11 (Cambridge, England: self published by The Offley Family Society, Spring 1989), 12-13. 
  10. Thrush, Andrew and John P. Ferris, ed.,  Thorowgood, John (1588-1657), of Brewer’s Lane, Charing Cross, Westminster; later of Billingbear, Berks. and Clerkenwell, Mdx.  accessed 7/7/2018 at   history of parliament online 
  11. Matthew, H. C. G.,  and Brian Harrison ed., “Thoroughgood, John” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 54 (London: Oxford University Press, 2004), 660-662. Will of Sir John Thorowgood of Kensington, 1675, Catalogue Reference Prob /11/349, Public Records Office:  The National Archives (UK). 
  12.   Brenner, 281-283. 
  13. Schofield, John, The London Surveys of Ralph Treswell  (Leeds, England:  W.S. Maney & Son, 1987), 106-107. 
  14. McCartney, Martha W.  Jamestown People to 1800: Landowners, Public Officials, Minorities, and Native Leaders, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012), 403. 
  15.   Potter, 7.  Horn, James, Mark Summers, and David Givens, 1619-2019 Democracy, Diversity, Discovery (Jamestown: The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and Preservation Virginia, 2019), 23. 
  16. Harwood, “Pedigree of Offley,” The Genealogist: A Quarterly Magazine of Genealogical, Antiquarian, Topographical, and Heraldic Research, XIX, 1903, 217-231. London, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1518-1812 (database online). Provo, UT, USA.  Accessed online 12/5/2017. 
  17.   White, James George, The Churches and Chapels of Old London: with a short account of those who have ministered in them, (London: C. E. Gray, Printer,  printed for private circulation, 1901), 33. Accessed online through andrea@archive. org  on 9/15/19. 
  18. Horn, 205. 

1625 England: Thorowgoods, Plague, War, Death, and the Defunct Virginia Company

Granger, Plague of London 1666

For those in the Virginia Colony, life seemed to be improving in 1625.  For many in England, it would be a year of death.  Would that change life for the Virginia immigrant, Adam Thorowgood, or his older brother, Mordaunt, in England?

The Death of the Virginia Company

Reenactment of the First General Assembly (House of Burgesses) of 1619 at  Historic Jamestowne

In 1624, The Virginia Company of London received its mortal wound.  Chartered in 1606 by King James I as a commercial venture of a joint stock company of “adventurers” (investors and settlers), the Company had attempted to establish a profitable colony in the Americas.  However, the anticipated wealth was not found, the native people were hostile, and the chosen location was unhealthy.  Yet, the Virginia Colony somehow survived and slowly grew stronger despite starvation, Indian attacks, and internal dissension.  In 1619, the positive changes of representative government through the House of Burgesses and private ownership of land made settlement more attractive.

IMG_4672However, in 1623, accusations of mismanagement fueled by the  report “Unmasked Face of our Colony in Virginia as it was in the Winter of the Year 1622” by Nathaniel Butler (a Governor of Bermuda who had only briefly visited Virginia), led to an investigation by the King’s Privy Council.  That had been a particularly difficult year for the Colony with the unanticipated Powhatan Uprising, and there were deep divisions in the Company. Sir Edwin Sandys who controlled the company at that time had been an outspoken critic of the King.  Despite lengthy protests and rebuttals by the Virginia Governor and Councilors, the Crown dissolved the Virginia Company and made Virginia a Royal Colony on May 24, 1624.  This was a hostile “take-over,” not a “buyout,” of the investors who had initially provided the capital and absorbed all the risk.  In the Company’s dying gasp in 1625, Governor Wyatt protested: “…the business of Virginia, so foiled and wronged by the party opposite and now reduced to extreme terms…wherein our former labors, cares, and expenses had received … the undeserved reward of rebuke and disgrace.”1

However, in May 1625, the new King Charles I wrote to reassure the colonists that it “…was not intended … to take away or impeach the particular interest of any private planter or adventurer….Our full resolution is that there may be one uniform course of government in and through the whole Monarchy….”2  Private property and representative government would stay.

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham

It may seem surprising that anyone thought the King’s men could manage the Colony better, for the royal coffers were nearly empty, and King James I was frequently at odds with Parliament over money.  That same year, the Lord Treasurer (Sir Lionel Cranfield) was impeached by Parliament.  The King’s powerful favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, was distrusted and disliked, and Prince Charles and Buckingham were more focused on raising money for their desired war with Spain than the  troubles of Virginia. 3

1836 h IMG_3249_edited-2
English Cheviot Sheep

The English economy was sick. Rather than Virginia being the cause, it was hoped revenues from the tobacco trade could help. Since the 16th century, much of England’s export wealth had come from selling woolen cloth, particularly heavy broadcloth, to the continent.   However, there was rising competition from German, Dutch, and even Spanish weavers who produced a less expensive cloth.  By 1624, England was dealing with an economic crisis over the falling demand for and price of their woolen cloth.  Some cloth merchants, like the Custis brothers, left for Rotterdam and the continent.  The Custis brothers will be part of a later story.4

The Death of a King

A Sickly King James I

King James I  was one of the early casualties of 1625.  For several years his health had been deteriorating.  At age fifty-eight, he had lost all his teeth, and he reportedly suffered from diarrhea, arthritis, nephritis, colic, and gout “which he tried vainly to cure by standing in the bellies of bucks freshly slaughtered in the hunting fields.”5 He was frequently scratching himself, hiccuping, and belching and had stones in his bladder, sores on his lips and disease in his liver.  “It was difficult not to be repelled by him in his illness, but impossible not to feel pity for him. “6 The King died on March 24, 1625.

King James Version

King James had been a king of contradictions.  Remembered for bringing together scholars to create the King James Bible and supporting the Protestant cause,  his court was also known for excesses and debauchery. 7 Despite success in uniting England and Scotland and establishing an uneasy peace with Spain, he waffled on foreign policy and did not give adequate support to other Protestant rulers.  However, James I had managed to maintain relative peace within the kingdom, avoiding the prior excesses of  religious purges. Despite James being  honored with a funeral “the greatest indeed that ever was known in England”  at the cost of L 50,000, the people quickly refocused on the newly energized King Charles I and the still powerful Duke of Buckingham.8 Within the next twenty-five years, however, the fickle public would rejoice when Buckingham was murdered, and the King, beheaded.

The Great Plague of 1625

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A Plague Doctor

 “The Great Plague” of London usually refers to 1665-66 when over 100,000 died.  However, not able to foresee this future calamity,  that was also the name of the horrific outbreak of the plague in 1625 that claimed 41,313 lives in London.   The plague (probably bubonic) had targeted London and its crowded, dirty streets since the “Great Pestilence” arrived on trading vessels from China and Asia in 1348.  

1572 c uk redo 003_edited-2There were around 40 major outbreaks of plague in London over the next three hundred years, occurring approximately every 20-30 years.  Although there were cases of the plague in intervening years,  it is still a mystery as to why an outbreak would suddenly stop and a new one not start up until years later. It was estimated that nearly a quarter of the London population died from the plague in 1563, whereas, with the increase in population a hundred years later, “The Great Plague” of 1666 killed about 20%. 9 

St. Batholomew’s, a Rare Survivor of the London Fire  Photo by Maren Mecham

The healthy fled London; the sickly were shut up in their homes to die; parliament was postponed; entertainments were closed; dead bodies were piled into plague mounds and ditches, such as one next to St Bartholomew’s Church. Compassion was in short supply.  Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary, “The plague (is) making us cruel as dogs to one another.” 10 While the London fire of 1666 destroyed all but a few corners of the old city, it also eliminated  lurking causes of  plague: flea-infested rats.  After the fire, there were no more serious outbreaks in London.

Death at the Siege of Breda

IMG_0957Unfortunately, it was not just church bells in London that tolled in mourning that year.  Without adequate finances, planning, preparation, provisions, or training of its troops, England agreed to join the fight with the Dutch (Protestant) Republic to lift the siege of the City of Breda by the (Catholic)  Army of Flanders/ Hapsburg.  When the lengthy siege finally ended and the Dutch were forced to sign articles of capitulation on June 2, 1625, fewer than 600 of the 7,000 (less than 9%) of the English troops had survived.  Rather than blaming the commander Mansfield, most put the blame on the Duke of Buckingham “whose military enthusiasm did not include  attention to the details of policy or planning.” 11

1617 image1
Entrance to Cambridge  Photo by Maren Mecham

Among the thousands of  young English recruits who died at Breda was Mordaunt Thorowgood.  He had been baptized July 27, 1601 as  “Mordautus” by his father, William Thorowgood, who was the Vicar of St. Botolph’s Church in Grimston, Norfolk.  Mordaunt was the sixth of seven sons born to William Thorowgood and his wife, Anne Edwards, of Norwich:  Edward, (Sir) John, Thomas, Edmond, William, Mordaunt, and Adam.  They also had one daughter Frances, and William had another son, Robert, by his second wife, Mary Dodge.  Mordaunt must have been a promising young man with a bright future ahead as he had enrolled at the  Gonville and Caius College of Cambridge University in 1617.  His untimely death at age 24 during the siege of Breda was noted in the history of the college.  12

Death in the Family

1998 Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Not all deaths that year were untimely or unanticipated.  Robert Offley, having lived an abundant life for about 60 years, passed away and was buried at St. Benet’s Church in London on May 16, 1625.   His widow, Anne Osborne, was the daughter of Sir Edward Osborne, a Lord Mayor of London, the first Governor of the Levant Company, and, yes, the one who had notably jumped into the River Thames as a young apprentice to rescue an infant daughter (Ann Hewitt) who later became his wife.  (More on that famous story in later posts).  Robert Offley  not only was a Levant Company “Turkey Merchant” (one of few able to trade with the Ottomans), he was also an investor in both the Virginia Company of London and the Bermuda Company as well as a merchant with the East India Company.  His family was well cared for, but his younger daughters were still unmarried at his death.  As fathers often arranged marriages for their daughters, perhaps, in spite of sadness,  Elizabeth (age 18) and Sarah (age 16) wondered what the future would hold for them. 13

Adam Thorowgood, who was completing his indentureship in Elizabeth Cittie, Virginia, must have been saddened when he received news both of his father’s and his brother’s deaths that year. Being only a few years apart, Mourdant and Adam likely would have done much together. Perhaps Adam reflected  on how fortunate he was to have evaded death and disease in Virginia when he had seen so much around him.  With over 46,000 dead of disease and warfare in England that year, it was evident that Virginia was not the only risky place to live.   Nonetheless, after Adam finished his indentureship to Edward Waters, purchased 150 acres of land in Virginia,  and become recognized as a Gentleman of Kecoughtan,  he decided in 1626 to take the chance and return to England to see family, receive his inheritance, recruit other settlers, and find himself a suitable wife.14

Next post: How Sarah Met Adam or Finding a Spouse in 17th Century London

Special Thanks to Maren Mecham for permission to use her English photos and for going out of her way to take them.









  1. Kingsbury, Susan Myra, The Records of the Virginia Company of London, vol. IV (Washington , DC: Government Printing Office, 1935), 519-523. Wolfe, Brendan, “Virginia Company of London.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 10 Nov. 2016. Web. Accessed online 8 Aug. 2019
  2. Neill, Edward D., Virginia Carolorum: The Colony Under the Rule of Charles the First and Second, originally published as part of Neill’s Series of Virginia History (Albany, New York: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1886), 9-12.  Reproduced from original in public domain by Scholar Select. 
  3. Ackroyd, Peter,  Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014)  85-88.  Hibbert, Christopher, Charles I: A Life of Religion, War and Treason (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014),  63-64.    Willson, David Harris, King James VI and I (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1956), 442-444. 
  4. Lynch, James B.,Jr., The Custis Chronicles: The Years of Migration (Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1992), 36-37. 
  5. Hibbert, 81-82. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Ackroyd, 18. Willson, 446-447.  Underdown, David, Revel, Riot and Rebellion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 84, 120. 
  8. Ackroyd, 92. Willson, 447. 
  9. ” London plagues 1348-1665,”  Pocket Histories from Museum of .  2011.  Accessed online 8/11/19.  Ackroyd, 110.  Lynch, 36. 
  10. Ibid. 
  11. Ackroyd, 91. Swart, Erik, ” The siege of Breda, 1624-1625:  The last great victory of the Army of Flanders in the Eighty Year’s War,”, 1-8.  Accessed online 8/12/19.  “Siege of Breda 1624” Wikipedia.  Accessed online 8/12/19. 
  12. Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5, vol 3 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 326.   Venn, John, Biographical History of  Gonville and Caius College 1349-1897, vol 1 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1897.  Accessed online through Internet Archive  on 8/18/2019. Baptismal record of Mordautus Thorowgood at 
  13. Dorman, John Frederick, Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5, vol 2  (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004), 697.  Bower, G.C. and  H.W.F. Harwood, “Pedigree of Offley,” The Genealogist: A Quarterly Magazine of Genealogical, Antiquarian, Topographical, and Heraldic Research, XIX, 1903, 217-231. Garner-Biggs Bulletin, 30:1, self published. 
  14. Dorman, vol. 3, 326. 

Verdict in the SeaVenture Murder Mystery


Shipwrecks, murder, storms, greed, and mistaken identities:  these are common elements of a good play by Shakespeare.  They are also all found in the true tale of the SeaVenture shipwreck on Bermuda in 1609 (which Shakespeare incorporated into The Tempest) and the life of Edward Waters.  In my last post, I put the evidence on trial as to whether Edward Waters, to whom Adam Thoroughgood was indentured in 1621, was a killer and/or a pirate.  Here, I will post my verdict and the basis for my conclusions.  I encourage you to refer to Edward Waters and a Trial of the SeaVenture Murder: Bermuda 1609 if you have not already read it or this may not make much sense.

mesmerizing-translucent-waves-19th-century-painting-ivan-konstantinovich-aivazovsky-6Shakespeare, himself, had his heroine Juliette pose the question, “What is in a name?”  (Romeo and Juliette)  In this case, the name seems to be the issue on which the verdict hangs.  Everyone basically agreed that the sailor Edward Samuel was killed with a shovel by another sailor with the last name of Waters in a dispute shortly after the shipwreck on Bermuda.  He then hid on the island and refused to join the other passengers when they finally sailed to Virginia in 1610. 1 But was it Edward Waters, who later became a settler in Virginia, or a Robert Waters, who was not again mentioned?  As I pointed out before, this matter has divided authors and scholars since the seventeenth century who have either rallied behind William Strachey’s “Robert” or John Smith’s “Edward.”

As I delved into the records and accounts of the SeaVenture and the life of Edward Waters, there was one item which I found compelling in my verdict that he was not the person who killed Edward Samuel on Bermuda.  I was not convinced by the much-touted reference to Alexander Brown’s finding of a confession of a diseased and distraught sailor on his way to the East Indies.  In the quote that Mr. Brown provided in defense of Edward Waters in 1890, the sailor’s name was not directly quoted nor was there any solid connection provided to the incident in Bermuda.2 There could be more supporting evidence in that record, but someone would need to find it.

King James I
King James I

In 1624 King James I revoked the charter of the financially-strapped Virginia Company of London and made Virginia a Royal Colony.  At that time, he ordered a muster (census) to be taken in a house to house survey that included information about where the settlers  were living, their ages, and the dates and ships of their arrival to Virginia.  Information was also collected about the households’ food, arms, livestock, and buildings and boats; however, apparently, women, children, and servants were not significant enough to include.

img_0184In the Muster, Edward Waters was living in Elizabeth Cittie and listed as the head of the household.  He was reported to have 37 barrels of corn and  1500 dry fish (far more than his neighbors); no livestock (very few had any);  1 boat, 4 houses/buildings, and 1 palisade; 10 pounds of powder, 100 pounds of lead, 11″pieces” (muskets?), 1 pistol, 6 swords, and 4 “armors and coates.”  Edward Waters gave his age as 40 and stated he had arrived in Virginia on the Patience, having left England in 1608.  He had actually embarked on the SeaVenture in 1609, but with the Julian calendar still in use in England, it would have been only a few months into that new year. 3

Image 6-30-19 at 12.24 AM
400th Anniversary Memorial, Bermuda             Permission by R. Suerdieck

However, the name Edward Waters listed for his ship is  the critical information. The Patience was one of the two ships built in Bermuda to take the shipwreck survivors to Virginia in 1610.  It only made one voyage bringing passengers there.  If Edward Waters went to Virginia on the Patience, he could not have been the sailor who everyone agreed hid out and refused to leave Bermuda. No one in Virginia later disputed his claim to have been on the Patience, and there were still several, including Sir George Yeardley, who had been shipwrecked with him that could have challenged a false claim.   Edward Waters was awarded 100 acres as an Ancient Planter based on the report that he had arrived in Virginia prior to 1616. 4

Image 6-30-19 at 12.27 AM
Somer’s Garden, Bermuda Permission by R. Suerdieck

I also found the record that has been ascribed to Governor Butler, an early governor of Bermuda, to be supportive.  While the Governor never met Edward Waters, he would have known of him through Christopher Carter who was the only man who knew the full story, having never left Bermuda after the shipwreck.  Following Christopher Carter’s  attempt to lead a mutiny among the SeaVenture survivors, he escaped and joined the sailor who had killed Edward Samuel.  Based on The Historye of the Bermudaes or Summer Islands, the man who stayed on Bermuda with Carter when the others went to Virginia was a “Robert Walters.”  Then, after Sir George Somers returned to Bermuda and died, it was reported that only one of the two original men stayed on the island when the ship left to take the body of Sir George to England. The two new sailors who chose to stay with Christopher Carter were  Edward Waters and Edward Chard. 5 The information passed on by Carter is in line with what William Strachey, who was also on the shipwreck, had written.

The other “evidence” which reinforces my belief that Edward Waters  was not the killer is that society at the time did not take murder lightly.  Even if pardoned by Governor Gates, the stigma would have remained.  Yet, Edward Waters became a justice in the local Virginia Court and was even elected as a Burgess. If the man who killed Edward Samuel was too afraid to go to Virginia with the others in 1610, why would he later risk coming as a colonist?  Would a man known to have killed another be elected and appointed to leadership positions in the Colony at that time?

Woodcut_from_Charles_Johnson_39_s_A_General_HistorThat does not mean that  Edward Waters’ conduct was spotless.  He was ready to resort to violence with Edward Chard over disputes regarding the ambergris.  He also  chose to join the shady voyage to the West Indies for “supplies” which Richard Norwood refused to be part of.  That group of 32 from Bermuda were never designated as pirates or privateers, although they did attack and capture a Portuguese vessel while they were “off-course” in the Canary Islands, had an encounter with  a French pirate, and later were rescued after another shipwreck on a deserted isle by an unnamed English pirate.6  Many questions can be raised, but few answered, about what really occurred during those five years between when he left Bermuda and returned to Virginia.  I would conclude that Edward Waters might have been capable of killing someone in a fit of anger, but I believe his arrival in Virginia on the Patience indicates that he did not.

Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare

There are a lot of Edwards in this story: Edward Samuel, Edward Chard, and Edward Waters.  Could the sources that Captain John Smith consulted when he wrote his history of Bermuda have confused the names? 7 By the time Smith published his history, Edward Waters was a known name as a finder of the ambergris on Bermuda, a participant in an ill-advised venture to the West Indies, and a Virginia settler who had escaped the Nansemond Indians during the Massacre.  Perhaps the coincidence of having two unrelated Waters on the same ship, both choosing to stay on the uninhabited island one after the other, seemed to Smith, as it does to me, to be improbable, and he merged their stories.  However, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.

Special thanks again to Rebecca Suerdieck for the use of photos from her journey to Bermuda in search of the SeaVenture story.  Check out her website at

Next post: Adam Thorowgood and Sarah Offley: Finding a 17th Century Spouse


  1.   Wright, Louis B., A Voyage to Virginia in 1609: Two Narratives (Charlottesville VA: University of Virginia Press, 1964), 5-16, 105-109. 
  2.   Brown, Alexander, The Genesis of the United States, vol. II (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, facsimile reprint 1994; original copyright 1890), 1042. 
  3. Shifflett, Crandall,Search the Jamestown 1624/5 Muster Records,”  Viritual Jamestown, (1999, 2000) accessed online on 6/29/2019 at 
  4.   Hotten, John Camden, ed., “Musters of the Inhabitants of Virginia 1624,” The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, (Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1980), 253. 
  5.   Lefroy, J. Henry, ed., The Historye of the Bermudaes or Summer Islands, transcribed from Manuscript in the Sloane Collection, British Museum (London: Hakluyt Society, 1882), 15.  Lefroy, J. H., Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of the Bermudas or Somers Islands 1515-1685, vol. I (London: Bermuda Government Library, reprinted 1932), 14. 
  6.   Kennedy, Jean, Isle of Devils: Bermuda under the Somers Island Company 1609-1685 (Glasgow: Collins, 1971), 84-85. 
  7.   Smith, John, ” The Fifth Book: The General Historie of the Bermudas,” The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631), edited by Philip L. Barbour, vol. II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 350.