IN THE BEGINNING: 1663
The first thing you need to know is that I did not begin this journey looking for Peter Smith at Round Hill, North Carolina living an aristocrat’s life on a plantation full of slaves. I was looking for Peter Smith, Posey, Indiana: a British soldier under the command of British General Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. I thought it would be cool to verify that this guy actually helped whip Napoleon at Waterloo before turning into a midwest farmer charged with raising a large family along the Ohio River. I was hoping maybe there would be a French chateau that had been given to Smith by Wellington; something we could reclaim for a family retreat along the coast of Brittany. No such luck. Every record I looked at led me from Grampa Leb in Southern Illinois, to James Monroe Smith and Peter in Posey Indiana and Peter’s father, George Rudolphus Smith and his father, Peter Smith at Round Hill in Caswell County, NC. I kept hoping I was on a wrong track. I kept going back to Posey, Indiana and searched every record that I could find, hoping to uncover a British Lieutenant or at least a drummer boy at Waterloo.
And then one day, still thinking I had missed a clue that would prove a Smith helped defeat Napolean, I got an email from a genealogist in the state of Virginia, validating my descent from Peter Smith of Round Hill. The Smith researcher in Virginia had found my early entries on Ancestry.com and was happy to have found someone, namely me, descended from Lebanon Smith. She could not believe anyone would name their child Lebanon. “Who would name a child Lebanon? Such an odd thing to do to a child?” She had Leb in her tree long before I ever posted my own tree. She had known of his time on earth for some time but did not know of his children or grandchildren. She even assumed the name might be a misprint or juvenile prank foisted by someone trolling in family trees. I assured her that Lebanon was real and quite a character and that he had a terrific family, all with what she would consider normal names. She was equally interested in my grandmother Mary Hughes and her Irish lineage. Leb and Mary were apparently as elusive to some, as the horde of Peter Smiths had been for me. She assured me that I evolved from folks in Westmoreland County, Virginia, whose lives in the new world began somewhere around 1651. And yes, Peter Smith of Round Hill and Peter of Yeocomico were great grandfathers to a whole lot of descendants, including me.
The Smith family story is lengthy and filled with documentation. I have been struggling with one question in particular: Where do I begin? That question along with an arthritic hip have been plaguing me for a few years. I have decided to set all logic aside. I have thrown out the manual on how to write an anthology and will ignore most writing conventions and do what any Irishman would do. I will tap into a Guinness, set a jar of whiskey to one side of the laptop and ramble on like my Grandfather through the forests and meadows of our father’s fathers. I will visit the sins of my fathers and their great moments as well. The history recorded is often just that: HIS Story. Women and children are less visible and often, notably absent from the record. I will include them at every turn. So grab your favorite elixir and curl up in a corner and I will ferret out the facts for you as best I can.
PETER SMITH c. 1663-1741
In July of 1657, a Peter Smith secured 500 acres of land in Virginia. The record reveals the purchase as follows:
“Peeter Smith, 500 acs. in Petomeck freshes, N. Ely. upon a creek above Col. Speakes land & S. Ely. upon land called Gosnells land. 15 July 1657, p. 117, (174). Trans, of 10 pers: Rob. Clerke, Rob. Holmes, Math. Wardle, Anne Hamond, Tho. Dorwood, Anne Forty, John Ayres, Francis Ayres, Richd. Hardman, Tho. Webster.”
After reading a number of deeds and with the help of online resources I have learned to translate the above paragraph as follows:
Peeter Smith secured a deed for 500 acres of land in the Potomac River marsh. The boundary runs Northeasterly from the marsh and along a creek that is found above (or inland) from Colonel Speake’s property and then South Easterly to the land owned by Gosnell. The deed is dated July 15, and is found in the deed book for Westmoreland County on page 117, and numbered 174. The recorder of the deed then identifies the manner in which Peter paid for the property.
Per the head right system established by Sir Edwin Sandys in 1617, the British government gave 50 acres of land to each person who paid their way to the new world colony of Virginia. The King also gifted another 50 acres of land for each person Peter Smith transported to Virginia. The recorder of this deed has noted the people Peter transported (trans) to Virginia. Note that Peter was not listed as one of the ten. This means that he was already present in the colony and not on board the ship. The ten people identified from Robert Clerke to Thomas Webster are not necessarily family members, cousins of any kind, neighbors or employees of Peter Smith. It is conceivable that some or all worked for Peter as indentured servants before earning their freedom. One thing is certain, Peter covered the ‘up front cost’ of getting here for them. They billed the journey to his credit card so to speak. And they were not necssarily all on board the same ship. One could check the ship’s manifests (passenger list) to see. Both Peter and the government kept their records as best they could.
This head right system had several advantages for all involved. It was a win-win situation for everyone. The British needed to populate the countryside of Virginia if they hoped to keep the Spanish and Dutch out of the area. They needed to arm the civilians, fortify the harbors and look for gold and silver. The British needed to avoid the mistakes they made early on in Maine, Roanoke and Jamestown. They needed to develop food sources, profitable crops and an economic system that could benefit London investors and provide tax coinage for the King. For Peter Smith it added 500 acres to his growing plantation system. For guys like Robert Clerke it provided an escape from British persecution, poverty, jail or simply an adventure in a new land and an opportunity to pursue a dream. It wasn’t perfect, especially if an indentured servant was in an abusive relationship with a master. Servants did violate the terms of their contract and some times ran away, just as a slave might do. Newpapers and postings in villages would notify the public of the servants crime and rewards were paid by our ancestors for the return of the runaway servant. Courts would treat the servant as a criminal and mete out punishments that would add time to the servant’s obligation. We find both masters and servants in our family tree, and servants who became masters, and masters who were broken by war and became servants.
Another point needs to be made regarding spelling. The spelling of names varied wildly from Europe to America. French, Dutch, Gaelic, Italian and even English names were altered quickly by recorders who splashed letters on a page in a phonetic effort to gather the facts needed to fill in the blanks required by the monarch. Thus a Gosnold could become a Gosnell in a land deed office, and a Gosnold later on a wedding day. A Smith could be a Smyth in England and a Smith when arriving in Virginia. Even in their homelands, family spellings could vary from town to town and cousin to cousin. I have found brothers and sisters who each spelled their surname in a unique manner. Knowing the variations became important as I pursued a lost relative, a property that would help me find a homestead or a link that will help me close the door on an issue that needs to be resolved. I felt like Dog the Bounty Hunter at times, sniffing out a lead for an arrant in-law, outlaw or prodigal son.
So we know Peter Smith acquired 500 acres along the Potomoc River. He was somewhere in the ‘freshes’ and his land was near Colonel Speakes and ‘Gosnell.’ Where in the marsh (freshes) along the river? Colonel Speakes was building an early empire in Virginia. He held land in many locations along the river.
Have you noticed an additional issue? This deed is dated 1657. Our Peter Smith was born somewhere around 1663. Some think later than 1663. While there is a wealth of documentation that has survived the centuries, not all paperwork (documents and official records) survived. Courthouse fires destroyed some official records. During the civil war soldiers in blue and gray burned paper files to keep warm on a winter night. It was a matter of survival during life threatening times. The exact birth year of our Peter Smith has become subject to the usual estimation process required when records are not available.
In the book, Peter Smith of Westmoreland County, Virginia (died 1741) and Some Descendants, authors Richard Bender Abell and Wilmer Lane Smith present a thorough examination of records of Westmoreland County (primarily land records) in the period from the mid-1600s to the mid- 1700s which pertain to Immigrant Peeter Smith and Peter Smith of Yeocomico (d.1741). The authors point out that it is sometimes difficult to determine which records pertain to which Peter Smith since no designation such as Sr. or Jr. or younger or older is generally used. This one purchase of 500 acres ‘in the freshes’ and succeeding activity seems to link Immigrant Peeter and Peter of Yeocomico as father and son. There are over 20 documents cited by Abell and Smith pertaining to either of the two men. The authors conclude that “Consideration of all of the evidence suggests that the Peter Smith who immigrated to Northumberland (Westmoreland) County in 1651 and the Peeter Smith known to be living in that county in the years after 1651 are the same person.” They also believe the evidence strongly supports the notion that Peeter is father to Peter of Yeocomico.
We do know that the Peeter Smith found in the marsh “near Gosnell” is not the same man as our Peter Smith of Yeocomico (Westmoreland). A person acquiring legal deed to property in 1657 would have to have been of legal age: 21. This Peter Smith would have to have been born no later than 1636. Our Peter Smith died in 1741. That fact was established in his will which is recognized as true. As sturdy a man as he might have been, he was not 104 at his death. True, it is possible he was 104, but it does not jive with the growth of his family, his children and their lives. The average life span of a colonial man at the time was mid forties. It remains an unresolved question and a subject of great debate among those for whom it seems important to find a link back to Britain, Wales, Ireland or any port in Europe from which the immigrant ancestor may have sailed. We will return to our Peter Smith’s ancestors at a later point in this diatribe. For now, lets stick with what we know about Peter of Yeocomico. I want to be clear and not mix fact with fiction or truth with hypothetical.
On June 15, 1684, a James Smith sold 100 acres of land to his brother Peter Smith. Here is how the actual transaction was written at the time and I quote:
“15 June 1684, James Smith of Westmoreland to my brother Peter Smith of Yeocomico, for valuable consideration—100 a. Nominy Forest bought of and adjacent to William Well. Witnessed; Rch. Bruckes, Rch. Belleman.” Recorded May 1706.
It is, thus far, the first mention of a ‘Smith’ that we know belongs in our family line in American history. There are other surnames found in our family tree that arrived in the new world before the Smith family. For example: the Davis family was trodding on New World soil in the 1500’s and the Stille and Van Couwenhovens were firmly entrenched on Long Island in the 1630’s. Montgomery and Swafford families may have been well established before Peter ever settled into the forests of the Nominy River. Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth and we count them among our grandparents as well.
From the 1684 real estate transaction we know that Peter Smith had a brother James and that they lived in the Nominy Forest. We know he was found in the area called “Yeocomico”. You can Google the Nominy River and the village of Yeocomico and find a fairly exact location for this Peter’s early digs. His neighbors included William Well and (witnesses) Richard Bruckes (Brooks) Richard Belleman (Berryman). It is through our acquisition of the names of neighbors and the record of deeds, and an understanding of geography that we have been able to pinpoint the homesteads of many of our ancestors.
There was another Peter Smith in the area and decades of effort has been made by many sorting through Smith families of Westmoreland County and beyond. One gentleman commented that you “have to be insane to research the Smith’s of Westmoreland.” I have found that to be true.
A second land transaction took place on February 21, 1691, when Peter Smith bought a
“parsel of land containing about 60 acres lying on the branches of the Nominy conveyed by… (George Searles) to Peter Smith by indenture 21 February 1691 (1692).”
So Peter was on his way to building a small plantation with scattered properties. At this point he has at least 160 acres to his name and waterfront property on the beautiful Nominy River. George Searles was in the neighborhood or was before selling to Peter. Like Colonel Speakes in 1657, George Searles in 1691 owned property in various locations. It was not unusual, in fact very normal, for family properties to be scattered across the countryside from Richmond, Virginia to Jamestown. I will share historical plat maps that show various landholdings in Westmoreland and counties that were carved out of Westmoreland.
Peter’s property holdings increase when his brother James dies. The following record, found in Westmoreland County Deeds and Wills, Book No. 3, 1701-7, page 402, states that Peter Smith had a brother James. The record reads as follows:
“May 1706. Hannah Breel spouse to Henry Breel of Northumberland County, only daughter and child of the deceased James Smith of Westmoreland County, with the consent of Henry Breel, to Peter Smith. –Our interest in the land. Witnesses: John Davidson, Margrett Smith.”
New characters are added to the developing story line. From this transaction we learn that Hannah is the name of the only living child of a James Smith in 1706. Hannah is married to Henry Breel and Henry is from neighboring Northumberland County. Westmoreland County was carved out of Northumberland County in 1653. We learn that Hannah is surrendering her interest in her father’s land so that her Uncle Peter might own it. The witnesses include a ‘Margrett Smith.’ Who is she? Is she the wife of the deceased James? Is she Hannah’s mother, step mother? Is she the wife of Peter Smith? It is one of many pieces in a jig saw puzzle that tugs at my synapses like a level 5 Sodoku puzzle crafted by a math crazed Hungarian in a Budapest hotel.
In 1712, Peter Smith of Westmoreland County, Virginia received
“1160 acres of land granted by the proprietors of the Northern Neck of Virginia by deed …bearing the date of 30th day of June 1712…”
The ’Northern Neck’ is a location name provided for that peninsula of land upon which we find the present day counties of Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland, Virginia. The land is bounded by the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River on the south. The grant for the Northern Neck included 5 million acres that extended well inland from the Chesapeake Bay. Peter secured 1160 acres of that property. With this deed of 1160 acres, Peter’s plantation system expanded north and west into lands along Bull Run. This is the same Bull Run that would be trampled by Union soldiers retreating from Rebel forces at the onset of the Civil War.
Peter Smith appears often in the early records of Westmoreland County, witnessing wills, appraising estates, buying land. But the place and year of his birth and the names of his parents remain a well kept secret. Speculation runs rampant among descendants, each hoping to discover the Higgs Boson particle in the family tree. Most efforts to identify his mom and dad point to Peter’s birth in the vicinity of 1663, certainly no later than 1663. It is also believed that he grew up in the vicinity of the Yeocomico Church, near Kinsale, Virginia, specifically in the area of Cople Parish at some point.
If you take all those place names and drop a pin at each location on Google Maps you get a pretty good idea of the area he may have cruised at night as a teenager looking to impress the young ladies and carve out a name for himself. The peninsula was already populated with the great names of American colonial life. In his seminal work, History of Truro Parish, the Reverend Phillip Slaughter (1909) explains that
“…Space between the rivers was called ‘Necks.’ Among the most historic of these was the Northern Neck, which included …… the princely plantation of Lord Fairfax. Within this territory were the seats of the Fairfaxes, Washingtons, Masons, Smiths and other leading families too many to mention, who dispensed an elegant hospitality.”
Those ‘too many’ to mention included Marshalls, Jeffersons, Monroes, Madisons, Custes, Randolphs, Lees, Lewis and Clark…. It was a veritable hodge podge of the trendy Founding Fathers.
A recent find on the internet has been of great importance to my effort to locate the very land upon which Peter Smith lived and died. Over the centuries many residents of Westmoreland and beyond have taken great efforts to preserve the heritage of a land referred to as the Athens of the New World. There are maps online that lay out the properties and owners in the 1650’s. There are also maps that reveal the deeds along Bull Run. I have found the exact location of the Smith family homestead at Clifton, on Bull Run, seven miles from the heart of the Battles of Bull Run. I could actually get in our family Humvee and drive south out of Clifton onto Kincheloe Road and find Peter’s Bull Run Estate right where the present day soccer fields are found. Oh! I was just reminded we don’t own a Humvee. Okay. I could drive the old Dodge Caliber up the road. Kincheloe Road and the Davis Ford (river crossing) are named after members of our family tree.
Many of the families identified as property owners in this plat map are familiar names, not only in terms of the history of Virginia but in the life of Peter Smith. His grandson, Peter Smith of Round Hill, will marry into the Simpson family. The Turleys were neighbors on Doegs Neck (Potomoc marsh) in the 1650 and 60’s. The Lee family lived right down the road in Westmoreland. One of the Thomas men, Hugh, had married Peter’s daughter and he and his brother Daniel, held property to the north of the Smith estate. Another of the Thomas brothers (James) established the entire survey for all properties within this patent. The Carters were going to rise to the status as the wealthiest family in America via the tobacco industry. Robert Carter, grandson of King Carter, would release 500 of his slaves on September 5, 1791. He not only freed his slaves in the single largest act of manumission in American history, he also provided land and housing for each of the newly created freedmen.
Peter and his immediate family vacated the plantation on Bull Run long before the pastures and fields became a battle field in 1861. Peter left the earth in 1741 and left a fairly extensive will outlining his property, his children and desire to be with God in Heaven. He identified his sons and daughters and some grandchildren by name. He provided insight as to who had already passed away, where some lived and who some had married. The will is very helpful and found online in a variety of websites. A good will can resolve a lot of issues when tackling the questions of lineage. Wills can also introduce a few issues and raise a few eyebrows along the way.
Peter Smith knew in 1738 that his days were numbered. While it was dated ’10 January 1738’; it was probated in April 28, 1741; and recorded for posterity on May 12, 1741. Historians agree: Peter died in 1741. I have chosen to include the entire will as an attachment to this article so you can capture the moment for yourself. I will summarize it for you. I have read through it countless times looking for clues that may have slipped past previous research efforts.
First of all, his wife was not mentioned in the will. When that happens genealogists assume the wife has already died, predeceased the spouse, dead, met her maker. Gone from the Earth. And that is too bad, because the will is one place where a person can usually lock down the identity of a spouse. Unfortunately, when a wife’s name does appear in a will it often appears only as a first name, with no mention of her maiden name. The folks in the court house usually knew the family by name and so a husband often referred to “my wife”, assuming the clerk knew her name. There is a touch of chauvinism apparent in this process. Perhaps more than just a touch lof cavalier manliness. Often times the wife comes off as the loser in the testament of her husband. The property frequently goes to the children and the wife may get her bed and a calf named Bennie, perhaps a slave or two referred to as ‘negro man’ or ‘negro woman.’ Peter at least knew the names of his captives and used them in his will. The oldest son gets the main plantation and a large number of slaves. The next several sons get lesser allotments of land and the daughters were considered covered by the dowry dad laid out at the time of their marriage. Minor children are frequently placed in the care of loving uncles around the area or reverent members of the local church congregation.
Putting the land in the hands of the eldest son was a system long used in England. It was a reason many young men left England in search of their own domain after the oldest brother had taken over dad’s estate in Kent or Cornwall. But there were good reasons for putting the land in the hands of the oldest son and other children. It insured that the property would stay in the family and with the family name. If left to a wife, the land and accompanying wealth could easily fall into the hands of her next mate. Widows were quickly snapped up by the next available male and there were a good share of unscrupulous men eager to marry into wealth. Our tree contains several such marriages. Rare was the woman who remained single after losing her husband. A woman who was widowed was soon dependent on her sons for survival and would, within a year, frequently flee that circumstance and take her chances on the next prospective mate. We will find some incredible hookups as we go, descending into famous names, financial scandals, dynasty formation, prostitution, mysterious deaths and kidnapping.
To his sons James, Thomas and William, Peter Smith of Westmoreland County gave each child (in his will) 325 acres of land in Prince William County, Virginia. This is the property at Bull Run, near present day Clifton VA. In 1742 Fairfax County was carved out of Prince William and Loudoun Counties. The Prince William County land Peter Smith had left these three sons was then considered to be in Fairfax County, in Truro Parish. Such political boundary changes were a necessary part of establishing property rights and resolving governance issues in an expanding colony. One of our ancestors, William Bailey Smith played a large role in surveying and establishing boundaries in the new frontier beyond the Blue Ridge. He established the state line between North Carolina and Virginia. More about his work with Daniel Boone and the Henderson empire later.
The Children of Peter of Yeocomico
While the name of Peter’s wife is not mentioned, we know he was the father of ten children: 1) Peter, Jr. married Sarah Baker, 2) Ann married Hugh Thomas, 3) William married Letitia Hancock, 4) John may have married a Mary Adkins, 5) Mary Elizabeth married John Fleming, 6) Hannah married George Lamkin III and a John Ware, 7) Our ancestor, James (1708-1749), married Elizabeth Presley Taylor (1700-1771), 8) Thomas married Elizabeth Fleming, 9)Martha married William McClanahan, and 10) Abigail married William Fleming. We descend from James and Elizabeth. They are the parents of Peter Smith of Round Hill Plantation, Caswell County, North Carolina. The house pictured here is one of several plantation homes owned by the very wealthy, Taylor (aka Tayloe) family. We will come back to these fat cats too.
The search for Peter Smith’s parents and the identity of his wife has been important to me. I have invested a lot of time and energy in trying to make sense out of the records, the online discussions, emails and the variety of data available. Those whose work suffers from anal retentiveness and an attention to detail, integrity and honesty are adamant in saying, “We don’t know the name of Peter of Yeocomico’s wife.” I agree. We don’t know for sure. Others have had no problem plunking Peter of Yeocomico into a relationship with Mary Bayley, Anne Bayley, Elizabeth Little, or the Margrett mentioned in the will of Uncle James Smith (1706). Several more have tried to attach that name ‘Margrett’ to the Martine (Martiau) family, direct ancestors of George Washington. Several different volumes, written in the past fifty years have analyzed this topic to death.
Prior to the internet, people had to pack up their car, rent lodging in the vicinity of a courthouse and comb through reams of paperwork. The internet and the efforts of many clerks who have been uploading data has brought much information to the fingertips of guys like me. I can save myself a trip to Virginia and sprawl across the carpet with my laptop and let my fingers do the walking. Quite honestly, some of us are too eager to complete a tree to be trusted. I have resigned myself to the fact that I may not be able to pinpoint certain people, like Peter’s wife or his parents, before I leave Earth for the big Irish Pub in the Sky. And that’s okay. What I will do is introduce a variety of possibilities, characters who may be our direct ancestors in Virginia and England before coming back to reveal our known relations in Westmoreland, Bull Run and beyond. And what we know about our ‘Known Ancestors’ is enough intrigue for me.
SO! Grab your favorite bottle of wine, beer or whisk(e)y and have at it. We are going clubbing in Great Britain!
1. Peter Smith of Westmoreland County, Virginia (died 1741) and Some Descendants, Richard Bender Abell and Wilmer Lane Smith, Alexandria, VA (8209 Chancery Ct., Alexandria 22308): R.B. Abell, 1996.
2. Early Virginia Immigrants (1623-1666), p. 303 by George Cabell Greer,W. C. Hill Printing Co., 1912 376 p. Reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1978. Repr. 1982.
3. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1666 by Nell Marion Nugent, Vol. 1, Richmond, Dietz Printing Co., 1934. Reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1983.
4. The Complete Book of Emigrants, Peter Wilson Coldham, Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1987-1993.
( All references 1-4 are in the genealogy section of the Central Library of the Dallas Public Library System, Dallas, TX.)