He first appears in Surry County records on 1 March 1656/7 witnessing a deed by Thomas Strong.1 If we suppose he was of age, which was not a requirement to witness contracts, his birth year might plausibly be placed before 1637. The next record suggests that he may have reached maturity a few years earlier.
The earliest surviving mention of his name was actually 7 January 1653/4 when John Hacker of Limehouse, Stepney, Middlesex [part of East London] wrote a will bequeathing “unto William Rookeing of Virginia, planter, one heifer of three years old, with calf, or at least with a calf at her side, and one fowling piece and shot bag which was my father’s, to be delivered to him in Virginia within six months after my decease, at my plantation.”2 John Hacker had emigrated to Virginia in 1624 at the age of 17, and in 1636 he had a patent for 150 acres on the west side of Upper Chippokes Creek. Since William Rooking Sr. had been dead at least six years when Hacker wrote his will, he was surely referring to William Rooking Jr. John Hacker left his English estate to his wife Elizabeth and split his estate and plantation in Virginia between his wife Elizabeth and minor son John Hacker.
William Rookings does not otherwise appear in the first ten years of Surry County records. It is possible that he was elsewhere, perhaps living on the other side of the creek in Charles City County, whose records are mostly lost. His next appearance in Surry County was not until 20 April 1662 when he witnessed a release by Thomas Alsobrooke to Peter Harrison.3 Then on 3 January 1664/5 Francis Hogwood discharged William Rookings from all debts and obligations in exchange for Rookings dropping a lawsuit against him.4
He acquired 100 acres adjacent to the Flying Point patent, probably by virtue of the lost will of William Egbrough (which was surely recorded in James City County along with the other early wills of Curry County.) On 27 July 1669 William Rookings sold to James Elson 100 acres on Chippokes Creek bordered on the south “by land my father Agbrough took up” and on the east by “ye land I now live on” with metes and bounds matching the 100-acre parcel patented by William Egbrough.5 Henry Randolph was a witness. At the same time a man named Thomas Bilbrough sold the adjacent 100-acre portion of the Egbrough patent which he had inherited “by virtue of my Godfather Wm. Abbrough’s will wherein he made me heire of ye aforesd. hundred acres.”6 William Rookings signed his name to the deed and both Rookings and Bilbrough engaged Ralph Rachell to acknowledge their deeds in court. No dower release was recorded. (Thomas Bilbrough was apparently the same man who later lived in Charles City County.)
William Rookings appears in the earliest tithable lists of Surry County with 3 tithables, evidently himself and two slaves, in the years 1668, 1669, and 1670 when he was one of the relatively few men designated as a “Mr.” The tithables for 1671 and 1672 are missing but he appears again in 1673, 1674, and 1675 with 3 tithables each year. Later records suggest these were two tithable slaves.
He begins to appear in Surry records on a more frequent basis after 1670. On 20 September 1673 a court record identifies him as a churchwarden of Southwarke parish.7 However, two years later he was fined for not attending church.8 In September 1675 two records identify him as “surveyor of the highwaies”9
The Slave Maria
One controversy of interest was a dispute over ownership of a slave woman and her children. On 12 February 1674/5 William Rookings recorded in Surry County an undated deed of gift from Henry Randolph that transferred to William Rookings his interest in a slave woman in Rooking’s possession who had been jointly purchased by Henry Randolph and “Jane, the mother of William Rookings”.10 Randolph’s half interest had been intended for his son William Randolph, born in 1658 of his first marriage, who had since died. Henry Randolph, who had been the clerk of the House of Burgesses, had himself died in 1673 well before Rookings recorded the deed.
When Henry Randolph died he was indebted to Col. Thomas Swann, who obtained a judgement in Henrico County against Randolph’s estate. He successfully persuaded the Surry County court that half the value of the slave woman and her children belonged Randolph’s estate. On 5 May 1675 the Surry court ruled that half the value of the woman and her “severall children” belonged to the estate of Henry Randolph.11
William Rookins appealed to the General Court. His petition states [spelling modernized]: “Jane Rookins, mother to your petitioner, and one Mr. Henry Randolph jointly purchased a negro woman named Maria, with the condition that she and her children should be to the use of your petitioner and Mr. William Randolph son to the said Mr. Henry Randolph, or the survivor of them. The said Mr. William Randolph is deceased. And by deed of gift the said Mr. Henry Randolph hath given, granted, confirmed and ratified to your petitioner and his heirs, all his right and title to the said negro woman and her children.” William Rookings requested that the Council reverse the decision of the Surry County Court. The resolution of the case is lost, but the absence of any further record in the Surry Court orders suggests that William Rookins prevailed.
How Jane Rookins and Henry Randolph came to their arrangement is an intriguing mystery. The arrangement certainly suggests a connection between William Rookins and William Randolph. We know that Jane was widowed by her second husband sometime in late 1659 or 1660. We also know that William Randolph was born on 12 September 1658. 12 The purchase of Maria must have been made about 1660 or later, as only an unmarried woman could enter into such a contract. But Henry Randolph lived in Henrico County in 1656 and became clerk of the House of Burgesses about 1660. Was he related to Jane, or to William Rookins, in some way? Or was his wife Elizabeth the relative? William Rookins and William Randolph were surely more than twenty years apart in age, so the relationship seems almost certainly to have been one of kinship.
This was among the last acts of William Rookings. His final appearance in Surry records was on 2 May 1676 when the court ordered John King and William Rookings to appraise the estate of John Collier.13 He did not complete the task and John King alone filed the appraisal later that year.
The story of Bacon’s Rebellion has been exhaustively told and retold. A number of Surry and Charles City county planters — perhaps even a majority — were sympathetic to Bacon’s cause and many of them joined his militia. William Rookings was one of them. It isn’t clear what role, if any, he played in Bacon’s early 1676 forays against the Indians, but the fact that he wrote his will on 13 July 1676 suggests that he may have joined Bacon’s forces that month. After the Assembly of June 1676 authorized him, Bacon gave commissions to four officers to command the Surry forces: Major William Rookings, Captain Arthur Long, Lt. Robert Burgess, and Ensign William Simmons.
In September when Bacon’s forces returned from his expedition against the Pamunkey Indians they laid siege to Jamestown, which Governor Berkeley’s loyalists had retaken a few days earlier. Reentering Jamestown on or about September 19th, Bacon’s forces burned it to the ground. At about this time his supporters seized strategic locations in the counties and took over local governments. Exactly what happened in Surry County is somewhat mysterious, owing to the fact that there is not a single entry in the Order Book during that period.
However, depositions taken afterwards, mainly in 1677, give a hint of William Rookings’ activities between September and December. Arthur Allen, a supporter of Governor Berkeley, had built a huge brick mansion on Lower Chippokes Creek which was surely the grandest structure in the County. The day before Bacon burned Jamestown, Major William Rookings and about 70 other rebels seized Allen’s mansion while Allen was defending Jamestown. When Arthur Allen later sued the surviving rebels for damages, a number of depositions were taken. Walter Taylor said that he went to Allen’s house on 21 September 1676 to find it occupied by “a considerable number of the rebells undr. the command of Wm. Rookeings.”14 Other depositions called “Mr. William Rookeings their chief commander.”15
William Rookings and his forces were among the last of Bacon’s supporters to surrender, finally being driven out of Allen’s mansion on December 28th or 29th more than two months after Bacon’s death. (Rookings may have been wounded, which could account for his death thirty days later.) The majority of the Surry County rebels were later pardoned and the three officers who served under Rookings lived. Captain Arthur Long was humiliated and fined, but lived. Lt. Robert Burgess, and Ensign William Simmons were pardoned. Major Rookings, however, was sentenced to hang.
In October 1676 the King had commissioned Governor Berkeley to try the rebels. On 26 January 1676/7 a trial was held at Berkeley’s plantation, called Green Spring, of seven ringleaders. Six rebels were sentenced to hang, including “Wm. Rookings” and one was banished from the Colonies.16 The hangings were supposed to take place on the following Friday, 29 January 1676/7, but William Rookins died before the sentence could be carried out. A proclamation dated 20 February 1676/7 includes the statement that “…William Rookins, who was taken in open rebellion, and accordingly tryed by a councell of warre and adjudged to death, but before execution dyed in prison…”17 Further in the same proclamation is found this:
“And whereas William Rookins, a very notorious actor and confederate with the said Nathaniell Bacon in the said rebellions and treasons, and endeavouring to continue the same after his death, was taken in open rebellion against his most sacred majestie, and for such his treasons and rebellions before the right honourable the governour and a councell of warr, was tryed, found guilty and deservedly adjudged to suffer death, but before justice was executed upon him, he the said William Rookins dyed in prison; Bee it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the said William Rookins shall by vertue of this act be adjudged to be convicted and attainted of high treason to all intents and purposes.”18
The estates of those convicted of treason were to be forfeited to King Charles II.
The Rookings Estate
William Rookings “of Flying Point” had written his will during the rebellion on 13 July 1676.19 His wife had evidently predeceased him but he had three minor children named William, Elizabeth, and Jane. He left his Flying Point plantation to his son William and directed that the rest of the estate be divided equally among the three children, but if any of the children should die before reaching 21 their share would revert to Nicholas Wyatt’s children. He left a negro slave to the children of his “cousin” Mary Short and requested that William Badger of Martin’s Brandon come to live at his plantation and keep his slaves together to raise enough tobacco to support his children. He asked that Nicholas Wyatt, or his wife Frances, and William Simons and John King be overseers and guardians of the children, that William be well educated and the daughters be given what education might be fitting for them.
The 1676 tithables were apparently not taken owing to Bacon’s Rebellion and in 1677 we find listed only “At Rookings plantason (sic) 2 Negroes”. In 1678 was listed “At Rookeings plantation a Negro man & woman”. In 1679 and thereafter no Rookings at all were listed.
His estate was condemned to be forfeited to the Crown, but in April 1677 Nicholas Wyatt petitioned the Governor to preserve the estate for the two surviving young children, William and Elizabeth, and its creditors.20 A dozen creditors came forward to file claims against the estate.21 The appeal must have been successful, for on 1 July 1679 Nicholas Wyatt was granted probate on the will after it was proved in court by witnesses John King and William Simons. John King, aged 33 years, testified that he heard William Rookings say he would carry his will to his brother, Wyatt’s, and there subscribe it.22
An appraisal was ordered in July and produced in September23 after which judgements were immediately awarded by the court to more than a dozen creditors including William Simons, Anthony Wyatt, Ralph Ratchell, and ten others.24
Nicholas Wyatt’s final accounting of the estate was accepted by the Surry court on 7 July 1683 and he posted bond the same day for the orphans estates.25
The orphans apparently lived with or near Nicholas Wyatt in Charles City County, for no Rookings was among the Surry County tithables through 1703 (the last surviving tax list). Among the modest surviving records of Charles City County is a reference to “Jno Epes, son of Tho Epes, to be summoned to next court with orphan of Wm. Rookins to answer Complaint of Capt. Nicho. Wyatt.” 26
On the Identity of William Rooking’s Wife
His wife’s name is unknown. There was no dower release for the only deed he executed, in 1669, suggesting the possibility that he was not yet married. We know that he was a brother-in-law of Nicholas Wyatt but in what manner is unknown. There is no evidence that William Rookins had a sister other than Elizabeth, so it seems either that he married a sister of Nicholas Wyatt or that the two men married sisters of some other surname. Some descendants have proposed that Rookings and Wyatt married sisters named Ann Egbrough and Frances Egbrough — presumably children of William Egbrough by a marriage prior to Jane Rookins — but I am unable to find evidence that such women ever existed. It seems especially significant in this regard that there is no evidence that Nicholas Wyatt inherited land in from William Egbrough’s will.
- William Rookings III (c1673 – 1715) See separate page.
- Elizabeth Rookings (? – ?) Nothing further.
- Jane Rookings (? – 1676/7) She was alive when her father wrote his will in 1676 but was dead by the time Nicholas Wyatt petitioned the Governor in April 1677.
- Surry County Deed Book 1, page 101. Note that the abstract in Eliza Timberlake Davis’s book for some reason assigns this to the date it was recorded, 5 May1657, rather than the date of the instrument itself. [↩]
- Henry Fitz-Gilbert Waters, Genealogical Gleanings in England, Vol. 2, Page 878. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 1, page 195. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 1, page 246. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 1, page 341. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 1, page 342. [↩]
- Surry County Order Book 1671-1691, page 30. [↩]
- Surry County Order Book 1671-1691, page 102. [↩]
- Surry County Order Book 1671-1691, pages 102 and 109. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 2, page 73. The deed also provided that if William Rookings and his children died with heirs, the slave would revert to the heirs of Henry Randolph. [↩]
- Surry County Order Book 1671-1791, page 94. [↩]
- The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Oct., 1895), page 125. [↩]
- Surry County Order Book 1671-1691, page 124. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 2, page 135. See also John B. Boddie, Colonial Surry (Southern Book Company, reprint 1959), page 130. [↩]
- Boddie, page 131. [↩]
- William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large, Vol. 2, page 547. [↩]
- Hening, page 370. [↩]
- Hening, page 347. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 2, page 213. [↩]
- The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Jan., 1914), page 49. [↩]
- Surry County Order Book 1671-1671, various pages. [↩]
- Surry County Deed Book 2, page 214, as abstracted by Eliza Timberlake Davis. [↩]
- Ibid., pages 261 and 261 respectively. [↩]
- Ibid., mainly on pages 262 and 263, some later. [↩]
- Ibid., page 407. [↩]
- Benjamin B. Weisiger, Charles City County, Virginia Court Orders1687-1695 (Iberian Publishing Co., reprint 1992), page 34. [↩]