The Virginia Company sent more than 7,300 emigrants from England to Virginia between 1606 and 1624. The great majority died of starvation, disease, or Indian attack. By early 1624 fewer than 1,300 settlers remained alive in Virginia. One of them was William Rookins.
1619 Arrival in Jamestown
He arrived on the Bona Nova, a moderate-sized ship of 200 tons, in November 1619. Our only clue to his English background is that we know the Bona Nova sailed from London. It actually left London in June 1619 but was disabled and returned to port after offloading a few of its passengers, who were mainly from London or other parts of southeastern England.1 It left London again in August, sailing via the West Indies, and arrived in Jamestown on 4 November 1619. 2 Aboard were 97 men destined “to become tenants upon the Companies land” and three private adventurers, all of whom “came lusty and in good health” according to an official report.3 Because of the season, the Bona Nova also carried 600 bushels of English grains and other foodstuff designed to feed the 100 men for five months, after which it was assumed they could produce enough to feed themselves.
The Bona Nova remained in Virginia through the winter, returning to England with a cargo of tobacco in June 1620. 4 It set out again for Virginia with another load of colonists in mid-September 1620.5 It repeated the annual round trip again in 1621.6
Initially Settles in Elizabeth City
In the Virginia settlement’s muster of 16 February 1623/4, designed to identify those who survived the Indian attack of 1622, William Rookins was one of thirty persons listed at Bucke Row in the Elizabeth City settlement. 7 In the muster of 7 February 1624/5, which provided more detail, he was listed as “William Rookins, [age] 26 in the Bona Nova 1619″ as one of fifteen servants in the muster of Sergeant William Barry “beyond the Hampton River” on Company land in Elizabeth City, nine of whom, including Barry, had arrived in the Bona Nova in 1619.
In 1625 the Elizabeth City area was by far the largest settlement in Virginia — twice as large as Jamestown itself. Some 359 people, including 80 females and 4 negroes, lived there in 89 houses. About 4,000 acres had been patented there. 16 of the 54 Elizabeth City musters, including William Barry’s, were located beyond the Hampton River in the vicinity of what is today Hampton, Virginia.
Altogether, of the 100 persons who arrived in good health on the Bona Nova in November 1819, only 26 were still alive a bit more than five years later in February 1624/5. Of the 120 persons who arrived on the Bona Nova a year later in 1620, only 28 were still alive. The 75% mortality rate was not unusual — Indians had massacred a third of the colony in 1622 and disease and starvation had taken most of the rest. Those living in Elizabeth City were luckier than the rest.
At a court held at James City on 13 November 1626 Elias Longe testified to the nuncupative will of John Parsons who, he said, gave his bedding to Barbary, the wife of Ismael Hill, “to Mr. Rookins his shirt & a pair of garters”, and the rest of his estate he gave to his mate William Pilkinton (who would later be a neighbor of Rookins on Chippokes Creek).8
Patent for “Flying Point” identifies wife Jane Baxter
On 9 May 1636 William Rookings was issued a patent for 150 acres in James City County — 50 acres for the personal adventure of his wife Jane Baxter and 100 acres for transportation of Robert Risby and John Allen.9 The tract, which he called “Flying Point” (it is said, for the turkeys who flew across the river) was bordered westerly upon Upper Chippokes Creek, northerly upon the James River, easterly upon the land of Samuel Edmonds, and southerly into the Main Woods. A nearly identical version of the same patent was issued again on 5 May 163810
The reference to the “personal adventure” of his wife Jane Baxter indicates that she was either transported by the Company prior to its dissolution or paid her own way thereafter.11 She was not counted in the muster of 1625 (no one named Baxter was) so she must have arrived in or after 1625 when the Company dissolved and Virginia became a royal colony.
Few Records Have Survived
Chippokes Creek was the border between Charles City County and James City (later Surry) County. Flying Point, the Rookings plantation, was on the James City side of the Creek, which became Surry County in 1652. On the other side of the Creek was the Martins Brandon settlement of Charles City County.
James City County records are essentially nonexistent. The portion on the south side of the James River that became Surry County was formed in 1652 and its records begin in August of that year. Unfortunately, wills and virtually all probate records for the first two decades of Surry’s existence are conspicuously missing from its records, apparently having been probated and recorded in James City County and subsequently lost.
Charles City County, on the opposite bank of the creek, also suffered a catastrophic loss of records. Practically all of its colonial records were destroyed, though court order books for the period 1655-1665 and 1676-1679 and a few later records survive.
Alive in 1641
Among the few surviving records are some for Virginia’s Council and General Court. On 13 April 1641 the General Court, after hearing several depositions, ruled that Jane Rookins “hath abused and scandalized the wife of George Barker by calling her a witch”. ((“Virginia Council and General Court Records 1640-1641”, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 11 No. 3 (Jan. 1904), page 278. Also found at H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, (Richmond, 1979), page 476.)) Jane apologized and the court ordered William Rookins, “husband of the said Jane” to pay court costs to George Barker.
Deceased by 1647
William Rookins was deceased before 20 August 1647 when a patent was issued to William “Egberow” for 500 acres on Upper Chippokes Creek adjacent to the “land late of William Rookins decd”.12 The patent was reissued, this time to William “Egbrough”,on 6 August 1650. ((Virginia Patent Book 2, page 246.)) Examination of the patent reveals that it was for two adjacent parcels, one of 100 acres “lying next the land of William Rookins decd. above the Sound in the creek” being 50 by 320 poles in size and due to him for the transportation of William Egberow and Mathew Battle. The other 400 acres bordered the 100 acre parcel to the south and was a tract assigned to him by Barradine Mercer. The normal delay of a year or more between survey and patent suggests that Rookins had been dead at least a year by 1647.
William Egbrough, who married the widow Jane Rookings, had his name recorded as Agborowe, Agbrow, Agborough, and similar variants by the Surry County clerks but as Egbrough, Egbrow, and the like in Charles City County records. Though his name doesn’t appear often in the records, he may have held some sort of public office in Surry County, as two of Surry’s early records of the 1650s refer to payment of the “salary of Mr. Agborowe”
Jane Rookins Remarries William Egbrough
Jane Rookins remarried to William Egbrough at some point, probably when her children were still young. We have two pieces of evidence for this marriage. First, several years later in 1669 when William Rookings II sold 100 acres on the east bank of Upper Chippokes Creek to James Elson, he described it as adjacent to “ye land my father Agbrough took up” and the metes and bounds of the parcel’s 50 pole by 320 pole boundaries was repeated word-for-word from William Egbrough’s patent.13 Not only was Egbrough called “my father” but the parcel had perhaps been inherited from Egbrough.
We know that William Egbrough left a will, for it was referenced in a deed the same week by Thomas Bilbrough. (The will was apparently probated in James City County, as were nearly all of Surry County’s early wills, and is therefore lost.) A week before William Rookins sold his 100 acres to James Elson, Thomas Bilbough sold to Elson an adjacent parcel of 100 acres that he owned “by vertue of my Godfather Wm. Agbrough’s will wherein he made me heire of ye aforesaid hundred acres.”14 We might plausibly conjecture from this that William Egbrough had no children of his own and that he devised the land he patented in 1647 to his stepson William Rookins and his godson Thomas Bilbrough. The remaining 300 acres of his patent (appently the swampy part) was re-patented by William Rookings III in 1699, by virtue of a now-lost court order from the General Court, which patent claims that William “Agborrow” deserted the 300 acres.15
William Egbrough died sometime in 1659 or 1660. He was alive on 3 June 1659 when the Charles City County court ordered him to pay Denis Kigan for her 24 days work16 but was dead by 18 November 1660 when the court ordered the administrator of Charles Sparrow to pay Mrs. Jane Egbrough what was owed to her late husband’s estate.17
Other than her 1664 intervention in the matter of her Brayne grandchildren (see below) Jane appears in no further records of either Charles City County or Surry County. She is referred to indirectly in a 1674 dispute between the widow of Henry Randolph and William Rookings II (q.v.), by which time she was apparently dead.
- William Rookings (c1635 – January 1677) See the separate page.
Elizabeth Rookings. (c1635 – c1658) She is only mentioned once in Surry County records. In September 1652 a man named Michael Heiward took sick and died in Surry County. Two depositions were taken were taken by teh Surry court. Thomas Cutler, age 26, deposed that he had heard Heiward tell Elizabeth Rookings that he would “freely give her all that he had in this country and [if he dyed] she should be the heire of what he had heere.” Stephen Yates, a sailor age 46, testified that in conversation with Heiward a fortnight before he died, Yates told Heiward to “doe as I have done, give what thou hast to the little____, meaning Eliz. Rookings, he replied he would not give ____ but halfe wt.”18 No resolution to this case was recorded, probably because the estate was probated in James City County (as were all Surry estates at the time) but presumably at least some of Heiward’s possessions were awarded to Elizabeth Rookins.
Elizabeth Rookings married a neighbor named Richard Brayne, who had received a patent on the opposite bank of Upper Chippokes Creek, the Charles City County side, in 1653.19 She had two children by Brayne named Richard Brayne and Mary Brayne before her death. Richard Brayne remarried to a woman named Sarah and had two more children before dying himself in late 1662 or January 1663. Mrs. Jane Egbrough petitioned the Charles City County court on 3 February 1662/3 to delay administration of the Brayne estate because there were “certain chattells intermixed with the said estate belonging to the orphands of the said Brayne and Elizabeth his first wife, by bequest of Geo. Drew” which she would prove by copy of a record filed at the James City court.20 The widow Sarah Brayme was made administratrix of his estate two months later21 and the question of what portion of the “estate shall be sequestered for the orphans of Richard Brayne by his first wife” went to arbitration at the General Court.22
A record filed at the Charles City County court on 3 June 1664, which appears to be a summary of the General Court ruling, explains that Mrs. Jane Egbrough was “not only related but particularly interested to see the right of Richd and Mary Braine orphanes.”23 The record goes on to explain that Elizabeth, the mother of the orphans, was bequeathed an estate valued at 10,000 lb. of tobacco by the will of one George Drew, presumably prior to her marriage to Brayne. Jane Egbrough argued that this property should belong to Elizabeth’s children and not to Brayne’s other children and widow. In this she ran afoul of common law, which held that property brought into a marriage by a wife belonged unconditionally to her husband.24 The General Court ruled that the 10,000 lb. of value be divided into five equal portions for the four children and the widow. The identity of George Drew is unknown — his name does not otherwise appear in the records of either Charles City or Surry counties. It seems another indication that the young Elizabeth Rookins had several admirers willing to make her their heir.
The son Richard Brayne appears to have died as a youth, as there is no further record of him and it seems that Mary Brayne inherited some land from her father (see below).
Mary Brayne married William Short Jr. When William Rooking II made his will in 1676 he gave a slave to the children of his “cousin” Mary Short. (“Cousin” typically was used in the seventeenth century to mean niece or nephew.) She was the wife of William Short, another neighbor on Chippokes Creek. William Short was already dead, having left a will probated 28 March 1676 naming his widowed mother Elizabeth Short, his wife Mary Short, and two minor children named William and Eliza. ((Surry County Deed Book 2, page 106.)) To the daughter Eliza he left a plantation at Chippokes which he had by his wife Mary, apparently meaning a plantation that Mary had inherited.
Indeed, this was surely the land patented by Richard Brayne in Charles City County in 1653. A patent on Chippokes Creek to John Terry in 1686 by an undated survey describes one of its boundary lines as beginning at “a corner in Braine’s line, now in ye possession of Edward Green and belonging to an orphan of William Short’s, then by Short’s line…”25 There’s no telling how old the survey, from which the description was drawn, was but the parcel was also bordered by Capt. Wyatt, John Wilkerson, and Richard Clark. (I note that if Brayne’s other two children by Sarah were female then the three daughters would have inherited the land jointly.)
- Peter Wilson Coldham, English Adventurers and Emigrants, 1609-1660: Abstracts of Examinations in the High Court of Admiralty with Reference to Colonial America, (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984), page 6. [↩]
- Sara Myra Kingsbury, editor, Records of The Virginia Company, Vol. III, pages 115 and 245. [↩]
- Ibid., Vol. III, pages 226, 245, 254. [↩]
- Ibid., Vol. I, page 369. [↩]
- Ibid., Vol. III, 406. [↩]
- Ibid., Vol I, page 503 and Vol. II, page 156. [↩]
- In the various published versions of the muster Coldham read this as “Buck’s Row”, Chapman and Hotten both read it as “Bucke Row”, still others as “Bricke Row”. Today the name still exists as Buckroe in Hampton, Virginia between the Hampton River and the mouth of the James. [↩]
- “Minutes of the Council and General Court 1622-1629”, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 22 No. 4 (Oct. 1914), page 366. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 1, page 349. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 1, page 554. [↩]
- Company Immigrants after 1616 were to be given 50 acres for their own “personal adventure”. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 2, page 111. [↩]
- Surry County Court Records 1664-1671 Book II, page 341. Deed dated 27 July 1669. [↩]
- Surry County Court Records 1664-1671 Book II, page 341. Deed dated 20 July 1669. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 9, page 202. [↩]
- Beverley Fleet, Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Vol. III, page 216. [↩]
- Ibid., page 235. [↩]
- Surry County Record Book 1, pages 11, 12. Two words in the quoted passage are unreadable and are represented by underlines. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 3, page 227. Issued 3 November 1653. [↩]
- (Fleet, page 271. [↩]
- Fleet, page 279. [↩]
- Fleet, page 295 mentions security given for Sarah Brayne in the matter. [↩]
- Fleet, page 297. [↩]
- That is why one sees colonial-era wills and deeds of gift in which men give the lifetime use of property to their daughters and widows rather than outright ownership. This tactic gives the women the use of the property while keeping its eventual disposition out of the hands of their current or future husbands. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 7, page 512. [↩]