Tag Archives: Yock County Virginia

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).

JOHN THOMAS: A STARTING POINT IN VIRGINIA (PT. 1)

There’s a HUGE amount of research pertaining to the lands of John Thomas 1649 which now can be seen as not true. Ancestry , Geni, and other genealogy sites  are nothing more than thoughtless compilations of  what’s been wrongly said from the past. Furthermore, you may even see reference to following 8 pages of my research notes which in truth counters must of what’s been written.

Before using any of the following 8 pages of my working notes, please set aside time to read all sections in entirety.  If you have questions or concerns, feel free to contact me personally at geothos@bellsouth.net

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We could start writing about John Thomas and his arrival in Virginia from any of many perspectives. But, as good fortune would have it, my first venture into this cause was initiated by David Queen whose knowledge and determination enabled a visit with Mark Kostro, Project Archaeologist for Colonial Williamsburg. Mark is likely the best qualified person in the region to address one of the top Thomas family mysteries.

But before moving forward, it should be pointed out that many questions can be asked about John Thomas ….when was he born, when did he arrive in the new world, and on board what ship did he sail? Was he one person, two different people, a father and son, man and cousin or nephew? And when did he marry and what was his life like following his sail to the new world? Did he make the trip once or many times? There is also question of his land holdings. Where did he first live and what later transactions are related to our ancestor versus the possibility of being confused with others of same name. And ultimately, what was the route of our ancestor out of Virginia into North Carolina where more modern records are increasingly available to search. Despite what anyone may say, the records on John Thomas do not collectively paint a clear picture. Much of what we know will be revisited in years to come and with that said, let’s now look at what’s traditionally believed to be the starting point for John Thomas in America.

Arriving sometime in the early years of the 17th century, it wasn’t until 1649 that a person by name of John Thomas is recorded as being granted land. A general location for the tract has been suggested for years by various family historians. Seeking clarity, and wanting to lay our eyes and hands on something tangible, arrangements were made for David and myself to meet with Mark who was well prepared. You’ll hear from Mark in a bit, but first look at the grant and transcription:

MicroFiche

To all & c. whereas & c. Now know ye that I, the said Sir William Berkely do with the consent of the council of State – accordingly give and grant unto John Thomas three hundred and fifty acres of land lying on the north side of Queen’s Creek and in the County of Yorke bounded vizt: north by west upon the land of Joseph Croshaw south by east upon Queen’s creek, west by south upon a little creek and swamp leading to the Indian cabin and east upon the by north land of M. Jernew, three hundred acres of the said land being granted formerly unto John Broach and by the said Broach assigned to Anthony Barckhurst and purchased of the said Barkurst by the said John Thomas and fifty acres the residue being deed unto ye sd John Thomas by and for the transportation of one person into the Colony whose name is in records mentioned under this patent to have and to hold & c yielding of which payment is to be made seven years after ye first ex. grant or sealing of the same & dated ye 4th 8ber 1649                                                    Dorothy Wife

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I cannot begin to write in detail about methodology and of how the above land was physically located. But, Edison H Thomas himself offers the following rationale and photo in his book “The Thomas and Bridges Story 1540-1840”:

“John Thomas and wife Dorothy settled on his 350 acres of land which was located near what is now the city of Williamsburg, Virginia. Today, it is a part of a military reservation and not accessible to the public. However, the general area can be plainly seen from a concrete bridge that carries State Road No. 132 across Queen’s Creek. The area lies on the east or right side of the creek as one looks upstream.”Thomas-Bridges story-59

This site is easily located on today’s landscape using an updated photo, a Google based map and Google interactive street view. And one note, of all the places on Queen’s creek to take a photo, the bridge crossing Hwy 132 offers the most representative view with the least amount of modern visual obstruction. As pointed out by David Queen, from any other vantage point, the appearance of a bridge upstream or down would detract from the image’s background.

Did Edison Thomas choose the photo location because he wanted readers to imagine the creek in John Thomas’ day and time …in the 1600’s? Was it a simple mistake or was there some other reason he located land in the secretive governmental base as being north of Hwy. 132?

Williamsburg archaeologist Mark Kostro, offered the following that both confirms and yet diverges from Edison Thomas’ take on the land. His assistance was very helpful in providing both historical context along with specific information pointing to another physical location. The impromptu presentation is in two parts, Make sure to see both!

So, as Mark Kostro clearly points out, archaeological research supported by historic record locates an early poor house on the land in question north and east of the Hwy 132 bridge. As Mark put it, John Thomas’ land is highly likely to not be the location previously portrayed. However, it does lie somewhere along the north side of the short run of Queen’s Creek. And from a previous study aimed at connecting original land holdings, it’s highly likely that John Thomas’s 350 acres does indeed lie on the grounds of the secretive base known as “The Farm” or officially, Camp Peary.

As offered in the presentation, and as based upon independent research from the past, John Thomas’ ca. 1649 grant of 350 acres is located within or near the green shaded area on the image below. Following the meeting at the Colonial Williamsburg Department of Archaeological Research, David Queen did not waste time and drove us to a public marina on W. Queen’s Drive. That location offered the best view north across Queen’s Creek towards Camp Peary and the lands once owned by John Thomas.

camp peary

 

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(top) Google image locating the John Thomas lands (in green) on Camp Peary along with location of marina and direction of viewpoint of the (bottom) photo looking across Queen’s Creek towards Camp Peary and the John Thomas lands.

 

In closing, I’d like to again express admiration and a sincere thanks to the efforts of both David Queen and Mark Kostro. I’d also like to express admiration for researchers such as Edison Thomas who made so much happen in a time when records were much more difficult to access. The takeaway for me is to tell the whole story. The background of how a story comes together is often as valuable and appreciated as much as the story itself. And with the same critical eye, we’ll need to move from this point to ask more questions. And for each one, we’ll need to base the answers from a large circle of possibilities, making sure to tell it all.

As for John Thomas’ land, was this the starting point for our many generations in America? Or, was this but a point along his journey south. Was this the land of our John Thomas or could it be the makings of history for someone else’s family? Our goal was to establish a clear starting point which we now have. It’s time to move forward and know that these are the challenges we will face. And please realize that new information will likely change your perspective of what you’ve just read.   Stay tuned!