Ancestral Possibilities for Peter Smith

Several stories have filtered through the ages regarding the identity of the parents of Peter Smth of Westmoreland. When our Peter signed dcuments he frequently fashioned himself as ‘Peter of Yeocomico’ in an effort to distinguish himself from others of the same name. In the past four centuries a whole lot of people have descended from Peter Smith. With the current trend in the marketplace there are more people looking for ancestors than a decent microbrew. So there are a large number of people interested in finding Peter’s link to Europe.

Some believe Peter was descended from Welsh parents. There are Smiths from Wales who came into the country at that time. I have made efforts to track down Welsh families who may have given birth to our guy. But Welsh history and geography blends together with British bloodlines in the Welsh Marches. The Border Lords and their families roamed the hills and vales of Wales and British West Country with abandon. The sheep were more likely to commit to a range and border than were their keepers.

I have found many desperate efforts to link our Peter Smith to Captain John Smith, the British explorer who made Jamestown famous and put the face of Pocahontas on a box of Wheaties. Others point the tree toward Captain Roger Smith at Jamestown who did leave descendants and a colorful history in terms of his relationship with James Rolfe, Pocohantas and Jane Pierce and other notables from the early Jamestown settlement. Several other notables with various ways of spelling Smith also surface in the search for a link to Europe. There is Sir Thomas Smythe (see chapter 3), Nicholas Smith, William Smith, Robert Smith (the last three found in the Westmoreland neighborhood) ….. the list grows.

Folks have expended an enormous amount of energy looking for an ancestor who was the first to bring the family name across the ocean to this new world. We tatoo that ancestor with the label “Immigrant Ancestor.” We then wonder if the immigrant descended from a royal blood line and look for possibilities. If we find our “Immigrant” had connections to royal lines in Europe we identify the person as a “Gateway Immigrant Ancestor.” Obadiah Bruehn (1606-1680) and Nathaniel Littleton were such immigrants in my wife’s Whittington family tree.

Let’s look at some of the various candidates that come into play in the search for the parents and/or grandparents of Peter Smith of Yeocomico. One premise that I am willing to accept is that Peter of Yeocomico is the son of a Peter Sr. found in transactions in Westmoreland. That does not rule out other algorhythms.

Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith

Captain John  Smith was certainly a legend and really did save Jamestown when it was heading rapidly down the tubes of famine, cannibalism, destitute poverty and annihilation. It would be great to plant this guy’s family crest on the mantle of our fireplace and claim him as Peter Smith’s father or grandfather. Imagine the campfire stories we could tell.

I have read Captain Smith’s journals, and the biographies written by others. He was every bit the tough nut the colony and Britain needed if they were going to avoid another tale of a “Lost Colony of Roanoke.” The bad news: Captain John Smith never married. The love of his life was ‘New World exploration and the sea’ and if he left any progeny it remains a best kept secret. Every once in a great while a person will claim they have found the Captain’s descendants among the tribes of Carolina, or along the Mediterranean Coast, the steppes of Russia or North Africa. Smith was well traveled. He did go to battle in all of those places, but left no evidence of scandalous affairs or concubines nurturing his offspring as he helped grow the British Empire.

We can rule the Captain out. Smith frequently published pamphets promoting himself, his travels and the need to Grow the Americas.  With regards to his progeny, the bachelor wrote, “I may call [the colonies] my children for they have bin my wife, my hawks, my hounds, my cards, my dice and in total my best content.”  Smith wanted the colonies to succeed for England and for his own good, as he had invested so much in the endeavor.

Captain Roger Smith

We will leave Captain John Smith in Jamestown in 1607 and hop across the James River to the plantation of Roger Smith. This guy operated with a bit of mojo for a man of his time. He was born in 1567 in England to a guy named John Smith and wife Thomasine Mannynge, aka Manning. Thomasine was from Devon, England and she descended from the family that includes the irrepressible porn star and author of naughty bits, Geoffrey Chaucer. It would be really cool if we could find a valid link to old Chaucer and his Canterbury tails, or should I keep this clean and say ‘Tales?’ But I am afraid we are, again, the victims of fruitless relationships.

What we know of Roger Smith in terms of his progeny slips into a dark hole. We know his plantation at James City, was overrun by the Native population at the time of the notorious massacre of Jamestown (1622). He survived and we assume he was single at the time and had no children, at least on this side of the ocean. We know he eventually did marry Jane Pierce. Jane was an original settler in the colony, along with her mom and dad, William Pierce and Joan Phippen.

The Pierce family saga is interwoven with the lives of several other of our ancestors. William Pierce came to the colony on board the Sea Venture, along with our great grandfather (ggf7), Stephen Hopkins, later of Pilgrim/Plymouth Colony fame. The Sea Venture and other ships included our own sea captain James Davis and his brother, Robert. Shakespeare wrote an entire play, The Tempest, about the tragic voyage of the Sea Venture dashing up on the rocks of Bermuda in hurricane force winds. Not only Hopkins, but the Davis family as well was party to this tragic misadventure.

Add to this excitement the presence of Pocahontas and you have quite a saga. Imagine the status one could claim! It would create awe and wonder at the water cooler on a dull Wednesday afternoon if I could announce “I found Pocahontas in my bloodline last night!”  Any way, I digress. I share my workplace with my puppy and the water cooler is a kitchen sink. The only bloodline of interest to Murphy (my dog) is road or winterkill found in the forest.

John Rolfe, the guy who made tobacco famous in Virginia and England, married Pocahontas and dragged her over to Britain to show her off to the royal family. She was baptized a Christian, given the name Rebecca and died shortly after her conversion. Her genetic make up failed to tolerate the common British germs for which she had no immune system. Her plight, a faulty immune system, was the death knell of tens of millions of New World natives. John Rolfe came back to Jamestown, rolled cigarettes for a living and married Jane Pierce. Rolfe died and Jane married Roger Smith on the rebound. Unfortunately, we can only find one offspring from that relationship, a youngster named John. He disappears from history either in England or Virginia. So, this lead runs out of steam faster than you can say ‘Jack Rabbit.’ It is tempting to take this John Smith and plug him into a family tree and jerryrig connections to Peter and call the search complete. Documentation is insufficient and other candidates are out there with equally compelling resumes and life stories.

But don’t worry. Pocahontas is already found in our family tree, via the Fleming family into which Peter’s children intermarried three times. We can claim Pokey as a distant cousin many times removed and once by death. Save that for another day. I am still looking for Peter Smith’s father or grandfather. If Roger Smith’s son John surfaces with offspring in Virginia we might have something to go on. Who knows? His DNA may explode from the cheek swab of a 63 year old man who works a bowling alley and dines at a hot dog truck on the south side of Spartanburg, SC. Stranger things have happened when people subject their spittle to a DNA test.

Sir Thomas Smythe (1558-1625)

Sir Thomas Smyth

Sir Thomas Smythe

This guy had money. He was your prima ballerina dancing the two step in the markets of London. Talk about a cash cow! This guy had golden teats. He was the treasurer (CFO) of the Virginia Company, the investors who sent everyone off to Jamestown and disastrous conditions. He had a brother John Smythe (1556-1608) who served as the High Sheriff of Kent and was the father of a Thomas Smythe, 1st Viscount of Strangford. Thomas was the auditor for the city of London and treasurer of the St Bartholomew Hospital. He was a bean counter extraordinaire. He was the first CEO of the East India Company (1600) and a member of Parliament. He shifted his attention to the Muscovy Company and began scoring contracts for big bucks with the Tsar of Russia. The East India Company tugged at him to return to their corporate office and the guy couldn’t say ‘no’. He was the Stephen Jobs of the 17th century. They couldn’t live with him and couldn’t profit without him.

Smythe had the kind of profile that sort of fits into the generations of our ancestors at that time. As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist he was funding the British exploration of the New World. The attempts by Whittington ancestors: Drake, Grenville, Gilbert and Raleigh were part of the strategic planning that was hatched in Smythe’s office. They were key players in the exploration of the American coastline and spread of the British empire. The one explorer credited with really spearheading the British settlement of the east coast of our nation was Bartholomew Gosnold. Gosnold settled into Jamestown in the very first year and was drown soon thereafter in the James River. Decades later Gosnold descendants shared a property line with Peter Smith.

Before his death, Thomas Smythe faced a large scale investigation into the manner in which he acquired his wealth. He was accused of theft, embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, shady deals and various forms of extortion. This guy would be fun to claim if we wanted to develop a Wall Street shark profile for our family.

So where does this tale go in terms of offspring? Thomas Smythe was married three times. History indicates the first two wives probably died young and without children. His third wife, Sarah Blount, gave birth to at least four children: a daughter who died unmarried in 1627 and three sons: Sir John and two others, the details on whom I am still seeking. Before I start tracking these two lost souls down I have to ask myself: With such great wealth stored away in London vaults, why would any of these children or future generations leave the comfort and prominence they held in England? There are answers to that question.

They may have been ardent protestants who had been shorted in their father’s will and possessed of a frantic need to run away from the Darth Vader of the Church of England  (Archbishop Laud). Such brooding upstarts were looking for a chance to build their own fortunes in Virginia. At a later date we also find numerous wealthy aristocrats (Cavaliers), members of the Church of England, fleeing the wrath of the Puritanical Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell turned the tables on Laud and did so with an equal vengeance and sense of malice. So, circumstances in the chaotic life of Britain did give families pause and reason to give up everything for a new venture and greater freedom.

If looking into this Smyth family for ancestral ties, I would explore the sons of the father of Sir Thomas, otherwise known as Thomas ‘Customer’ Smyth and his six sons. Perhaps one of them is the “John” who fathered Peeter Smith. I didn’t mean ‘John’ in the street sense of the word. Peeter Smith did have a father named ‘John’ whose name shows up in those infamous LDS files stashed in the mountains of Utah.

Nicholas Smith

Behind door number four we have Nicholas Smith, a Cavalier. Nicholas established his successful plantation in Westmoreland County and documents link him directly to a Peter Smith. In fact, some folks have dubbed him ‘grampa’ and added him to their family tree as our Peter Smith’s father. These folks completely ignore efforts by many to give Peter of Yeocomico a father named “Peter” or “Peeter” with two ‘e’s’ in the middle. It is okay to think outside the nebulous parameters being established by our cousin’s attempts to find a great grandparent in our line of descent.  But the research efforts of several veteran cousins provide food for thought.

Nicholas Smith died circa 1730 and leaves a will on the table for posterity that identifies three sons: Nicholas Jr, Peter and James. Right away we do have a problem. The James Smith in the Nicholas Smith will was alive and well in 1730. Our Peter Smith of Yeocomico did have a brother named James whom we met briefly in a previous chapter. Our brother James died circa 1706 and his daughter Hanna Breel surrendered her interest in her father’s land to Peter of Yeocomico. The Peter Smith identified in the will of Nicholas was a very young man in 1730 and our Peter was a grandfather in the latter years of his life. This is a strike against the possibility of posting Nicholas as Peter’s father. It would be premature however, to dump Nick’s resume into a circular file. He was a wealthy, large plantation owner in the Yeocomico/Cople Parish neighborhood. With that surname of Smith, and several sons he may offer some insight into the development of a wider family tree replete with our Peter’s brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. We may be able to use his family lineage to learn more about our own tree.

There are a number of other Smiths living in the Great Neck of Westmoreland in the 1640’s and through the end of that century.  Many of these guys could have been a father or grandfather to our Peter of Yeocomico. Upon close examination guys like Robert, Richard and William fail as prospects when their wills fail to mention a Peter as a son.  The authors of these Smith family wills line out their children for us in thoughtful manner and legalese as they bequeath silverware, curtains, cattle and slaves.

Children, in laws, cousins, uncles and aunts are frequently identified in wills.  If a name we are searching for is not found in a will we can conclude 1) no relation, 2) disinherited or 3) dead before the will went probate.  I will pursue several of these suspects further as I take you, the reader, into the Westmoreland neighborhoods these crazy guys and gals called home. We have four different neighborhoods to explore along the coast of the Potomoc River as it makes its way out to sea:

  1. Kinsale and the Yeocomico headwater at the east end of Westmoreland, adjacent to Northumberland
  2. Colonial Beach and Pope’s Head
  3. Doeg’s Head, also called Mason’s Neck
  4. Bull Run

As Peter of Yeocomico established properties in all of these areas we are talking about a wide range for the time period of 75 miles in length. This includes lands found at present day Kinsale to the south, through Mount Vernon, the Quantico Marine Base (Alexandria,Va) and up the Occoquan River to Manassas. It was not unusual for the British aristocracy to possess far flung properties. In fact, it was an ordained practice established by William the Conqueror at the time of his Norman invasion of the British Isles in 1066.

One of our ancestors, a 32 times great grandfather, Sir Roger de Montgomery, was assigned properties all over Normandy, England and Wales by the Conqueror. Roger became the fifth wealthiest man on the island. His kids squandered it away. I have nothing to show for it, other than these photographs of castles that could have, with the right attorneys, been mine. In William’s devious mind it made sense to put his most loyal warriors in possession, as landlords, of his vast lands. But William scattered their landholdings about the countryside so that they could never be in one place too long, consolidating their power, their base and alliances for the purposes of overthrowing his own position.

If you want to claim Roger de Montgomery as an ancestor you can do so. It helps if you can trace your Smith line as descended from Peter Smith (1803-1870) and Matilda Montgomery (1808-1874).

Remember, I don’t make any of this up.  One of our relations, the Neales owned the land upon which the White House stands.  We will come back to this irrepressible Irish family and the exploits of their hot, 15 year old daughter Margaret whose seductions serve notice in Washington D.C. that the British aren’t the only ones who can burn the town down. But first, it’s off to Doeg’s Neck and our first in depth meeting with our friends and relations.


Chapter 6: Peter Smith on Doegs Neck