JOHN THOMAS: A STARTING POINT IN VIRGINIA (PT. 7)

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Virginia Gazette advertisement, 9 March 1769 [Rind]: 3.

It was 1688 and Edward Thomas in a display of difference of faith was accused of slandering Bruton Parish minister James Sclater. Edward did not live much longer as his will is probated in 1693. Soon after his death, Edward’s home on Queen’s Creek (now belonging to his son named Edward) was visited by prominent Quaker leader Thomas Story. It’s from Thomas Story’s journal that Edward Thomas’ home is identified as “Bangor House.”

The 1700’s witnessed a transition of the Queen’s Creek property away from the hands of the Thomas family as the History of Porto Bello Plantation indicates that by the mid 1700’s the family was no longer in the area. Please note that I do not have ready access to records for the period and will need assistance if we are to have a chance at determining this Thomas family’s next move.

The History of Porto Bello Plantation further indicates that by 1750 a home on what was once the Thomas property is at that point known as “Porto Bello.” Courtesy of the James River Archeology Institute, the following two paragraphs tell of the transition including the change in name for the old home place on Queen’s. Further gleaned from the report, I’ll conclude this series of posts with a few highlights marking the significant history of what was once John Thomas’ Queen’s Creek land from 1750 to present. 

John Thomas [son of Edward II] lived only a short time after inheriting his father’s house and land: in September 1718, his widow Ann informed the court that he had died intestate. Under the terms of Edward Thomas’ will, if his sons died prematurely, his son-in-law Giles Moody was to have the use of the plantation until his grandson John Thomas came of age [Giles Moody was married to Mary Thomas, the daughter of Edward Thomas II].  It appears that Moody—who operated a ferry and tavern at the nearby Capitol Landing on Queens Creek—took advantage of this provision after John Thomas died. In March 1725, the court was informed that Giles Moody had “committed waste” on the lands of John Thomas’ orphans, i.e. failed to adequately maintain the property. Nothing appears to have come of this charge, however, and for the next 25 years it is unclear what happened to the estate. The York County records provide no indication as to who was living there, or when the property was sold. All that is known with certainty is that it had left the Thomas family by 1750, as it was then in the hands of John James Hullett and known as “Porto Bello” (YCDOW 15: 313, 342; York County Orders and Wills 16: 326).

It is likely that the property was named after 1740, the year in which British forces—including a Virginia contingent—attacked the Spanish town of Cartagena in what is now Colombia, whose harbor was known as “Porto Bello.” In fact, the leader of this expedition, Admiral Edward Vernon, lent his name to another well-known Washington family seat: Mount Vernon. Although it is not yet clear who may have named the estate on the north bank of Queens Creek, the first known reference to the plantation dates to 1758, when Alexander Finnie purchased it from John James Hullette, a questionable character who had earlier been sued for “excessive or deceitful gambling.” Finnie himself appears to have suffered perennial financial problems. In June 1764, he mortgaged four slaves (Tom, Will, Juba, and Mars), along with his cattle, harness, household goods, and kitchen furniture at Porto Bello, pledging the entire estate as collateral. Finnie’s debts continued to mount, and in December 1767 he advertised for rent a three-story house, “pleasantly situated on a rising hill, in the middle of a fine peach orchard, facing the south, and Queen’s creek before the door, where there is plenty of the best fish and oysters.” Finnie added that this property was “but a small distance from my house at Porto Bello, and has a garden, smokehouse, dairy, and all other necessary out-houses belonging to it” (Campbell 1961: 460-63; Virginia Gazette [Purdy], 12 December 1767: 3).

 Courtesy of James River Archeology Institute, here is a remaining timeline of brief highlights from the History of Porto Bello:

  • Porto Bello went to public auction in December 1769, and was purchased by the Williamsburg mercantile firm of John Prentis and Company.
  • In November 1770, William and Rachel Drummond bought Porto Bello, which included 319 acres and nine slaves: Jenny and her three children, Sam, Mary, and Isabella; Lucy and her children Aggy and Hannah; George; and Cato. [William Drummond married Rachel Tyler and may be the grandson of William Drummond who, in 1664 was appointed to be governor of the Albemarle County colony (which would eventually became North Carolina.]
  • William Drummond died in 1772, leaving the estate to his widow Rachel Drummond who in September 1773 advertised Porto Bello for sale.Virginia Gazette advertisement, 4 November 1773 [Rind]: 3.dunmore
  • SetWidth300-lorddunm0282bLord Dunmore [John Murray, Lord Dunmore] purchased Porto Bello on 18 November 1773. For the next year and a half he used the property, located only six miles from his official residence in Williamsburg, as a rural retreat or hunting lodge. And to facilitate his passage, he personally financed the construction of a stone bridge across Queen’s Creek at Capitol Landing. But his days at Porto Bello—and indeed in Virginia—were now numbered. As revolutionary tensions mounted in the colonial capital in the late spring of 1775, Dunmore thought it advisable to leave Williamsburg, and in June he installed himself and his family aboard ship in Yorktown harbor. By July, the Virginia Gazette reported that “all his Lordship’s domesticks had now left the palace, and are gone, bag and baggage to his farm at Porto Bello.” Around that time, Dunmore decided that he would return to his York County estate to survey the situation. Captain Montagu, commanding the frigate Fowey on which the governor was living, accompanied him with a number of crewmen and carpenters who planned to cut one of Dunmore’s trees to serve as a mast on the ship’s boat. The party rowed up the York River in a barge, and then up Queens Creek to Porto Bello. Montagu and Dunmore sat down to a leisurely dinner while the men scouted the woods for a suitable tree. Before long, however, a servant burst in and announced that the enemy was rapidly approaching. “We had just time to get into our boat and escape,” Dunmore recalled. It would be the last time he set foot at Porto Bello (Campbell 1961: 465; Noël Hume 1966: 226-29, 257, 259-60).
  • In June 1776, the Convention seized Dunmore’s Virginia landholdings and appointed commissioners to lease his lands and sell his slaves and personal property at auction. In November 1779, York County escheator James Shields advertised the property for sale. No record of the subsequent transaction has survived, but it appears that Porto Bello soon came into the hands of Francis Bright, whose family would occupy the property for several generations (Campbell 1961: 466).

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