It is most amazing to think that as far back as the 1600’s, many of our ancestral lines were well acquainted with each other, sometimes intermarrying, and it’s even more amazing that they remained connected for hundreds of years. As we trace one line, we will find threads from the other lines.

We look at deeds and wills as one of our main sources of information as to the locations of our ancestors, and the names of individuals on those deeds and wills give specifics not only of where a property is located, but give us the neighbors and friends and other details that make certain that we are following the right individual in our line, particularly as common names are duplicated in numerous cousins and offspring, there being countless “Johns” and “Marys” etc. to confuse us. Wills and deeds provide legal details and names and relationships.

 Library of Virginia, patent for Wren, James. grantee (April 5, 1773)

The spelling in these documents is wayward due to the standards of the time, and this too leads to confusion. We always have to be good detectives, and that is part of the fun and intrigue of the game of genealogical research. I advise anyone not to get too attached to any one theory, as it is often contradicted by another theory and even by conflicting legal “facts!”)

Almost all the early settlement in the Virginia colony was located along one of the many rivers and creeks that fed into the Chesapeake Bay. As John B. Robb has written, the settlements in the beginning were clustered  “…all hugging the coast or huddled around the inlets of several major tidewater rivers. Transportation, except what could be covered on foot or horseback via wretched roads and bridle trails, was by water. From north to south, these tidewater rivers were the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the York (which forked upstream into the Mattiponi and the Pamunkey Rivers), and the James with its north fork being the Chickahominy River. Elsewhere, settlement was sparse and scattered.”

Later, the Nottoway River, the Blackwater River, the Meherrin River, and others, with their many creeks and swamps crisscrossing the land in Southside Virginia, will be of similar importance.

So, in trying to piece together the lineage in the families, it is essential to follow them as they move and settle along the rivers and into the wilderness, long before and then after the young colony was, in 1634, divided into 8 shires, which later became counties.

As time passed, these shires/counties were subdivided again and again, so this too makes detective work of our attempts to locate and follow our ancestors. For example, someone living in Charles River County in 1635, say, might still be living in the same place in 1649, but now their same residence would be called Northumberland County, and when some researcher was in the county courthouse in present time, the county might be given the current designation.

To make matters even more confusing, inside each individual county there were often several parishes used to enumerate and identify locations of citizens. Makes for confusion now, as it did then!

So, research often involves ferreting out the locations of rivers, creeks, parishes, counties and the landholders within them in order to link together land patents, deeds, and wills. Identifying the neighbors who sign on to wills and deeds as witnesses, and seeing them show up a generation later, helps to seal the connections. Quite the adventure. But if you are a curious historian, as I am, it is a priceless endeavor.

It is important always to remember that most of the individuals coming to Virginia were “sponsored” or “transported” by other individuals already being in Virginia or being a member of the Virginia Company back in London. Some of those transported paid their own way, others were indentured for a few years and then acquired their own land. The “sponsor” (or the person “transporting” other individuals) received for each person brought over the right to claim 50 acres of land, called a headright. These claims weren’t always acted upon immediately; sometimes several years went by before they showed up in the records. Sometimes the claims were sold to other individuals.. Sometimes a person is claimed as a headright twice, or by two different individuals, etc. Keep all that in mind as we go forward.

“…As we know, merchants habitually acted as agents, partners, creditors, and brokers for one another, switching roles as circumstances required. They chartered ships together and used each other’s servants as factors in overseas trade, and much of their business abroad proceeded through fellow Bristolians resident in the principal foreign markets trading for commission on behalf of their brethren at home.[40] Even though Merchant Venturers had reason to concern themselves with the overseas trade of artificers and shopkeepers, the actual conditions of foreign commerce limited the danger, since the Society of Merchant Venturers could readily control that trade. Only the Society’s membership commanded the necessary capital and organization to conduct such commerce on a consistently large scale. They owned the shipping; they had the foreign contacts; and they enjoyed the services of fellow merchants to help them drive the trade. The high prices of the luxury goods in which they dealt, moreover, would have kept all but the wealthiest of retailers from competition with them. In 1618 and 1639, the Merchant Venturers had relied on these truths when framing their ordinances. Since others who would attempt to trade could be barred from the services of the factors, servants, and mariners traveling abroad for the Merchant Venturers, craftsmen and shopkeepers would need to acquire their own shipping, establish their own credit network, and build their own organization in foreign markets to conduct their trade. The Merchant Venturers counted on them being unable to do so.

“Across the Atlantic, however, a new commercial world was taking shape. The inhabitants of the colonies were Englishmen with family and business ties in their home country. The social composition of the colonial communities therefore provided commercial connections between planters and traders which elsewhere required specially established resident factors, commission agents, and brokers to achieve. In a sense, the settlement of a colony already contained within itself the seeds of a mercantile organization to cultivate commerce as it was needed. Moreover, many of the colonists came from the west of England, and even from Bristol itself, which gave the city some particular advantages in the trade.The settlements were close enough together and the population was so sparse at that time that there was naturally much interaction between various lines of our ancestors.

It is important to remember this as we look at some of the interwoven threads of our ancestry in the early 1600s. It is not necessary to remember all of these details, as they will be repeated elsewhere in context. Glenda Taylor