There seem to be two distinct sets of early Rountree immigrants to Virginia who produced descendants. Whether they were related in any way is unknown, but it is likely that both had immigrated from either Yorkshire, in the northeastern part of England, or the general area of London. Records suggest perhaps a third immigrant to Virginia and another to South Carolina, though whether either had offspring is uncertain.
Origins in England
The earliest occurrence of the name of which I am aware is the appearance of “Robert Rountrie” on the Yorkshire subsidy roll of 1301. Every subsequent citation for Rountree prior to about 1600 occurs in Yorkshire as well. A British genealogy mentions a suit against John Rowntree in 1521, the 1577 will of Lawrence Rowntree, a Henry Rountree of the late 1500s, and several dozen Rountree references in the early 1600s – all in Yorkshire.1 By the mid-1600s, several citations for Rountrees are found in the parish registers of parishes surrounding London as well.2
There are a number of family legends which identify the early immigrants as Irish, but this seems doubtful. The earliest reference I could find in Ireland is the appearance of a Thomas Rountrey and a Widow Rowntrey on the 1664 hearth tax lists of Kilmore parish. Though Irish records are scarce for the period, it seems plausible that a few Yorkshire Rountrees migrated into Ireland in the mid or late 1600s, either as part of the Cromwell settlements or in conjunction with the Quaker movement. In support of this, I note that four different Yorkshire Rountrees are cited as recusants between 1605 and 1615, and several are later identified as Quakers, so it is possible that the movement into Ireland coincided with the Cromwell and Quaker movements of the 1650s. Descendants of the Rountrees who had moved to Ireland were evidently among those who immigrated to America 100 or more years later, which may account for the “Irish” legend. The earliest immigrants, though, regardless of their point of origin, seem to have been of English stock.
Finally, a comment on the origin and spelling of the name. One authority, writing in 1901, calls it a “well-known North-English surname” spelled variously as Rowntree, Rowantree, Roantree, and Roun(d)tree.3 I think most genealogists would agree that whether the name is spelled Rountree, Roundtree, or Rowntree in early records is immaterial. Essentially all appearances of the name in American colonial records are third-party entries. That is, they represent the decision of a clerk, who chose whatever spelling they felt appropriate. Even recorded deeds and wills are rarely the originals, but rather were copied by clerks and therefore subject both to their own whims and to copying errors. Even signatures spelling the name one way or another have little genealogical value in distinguishing branches of the family.
New Kent County Rountrees
My Rountrees may spring from an immigrant to New Kent County. On 23 April 1681, Charles Turner received a patent for 2400 acres in New Kent [later Hanover] County, Virginia for the importation of 48 persons, among them a Tho. Roundtree and a Wm. Roundtree.4 Possibly the same William Roundtree appears on a militia roster in New Kent County on 4 July 1702.5 William Roundtree is on the New Kent quit rent list of 1704, with 100 acres.6
He may have been the father of our William Rountree, but we have no proof and are unlikely to find any. Owing to the near-total destruction of New Kent County records, these are the only citations ever found for William Rountree. However, the vestry book of Blisland Parish of New Kent County contains an entry dated 15 October 1741 of 160 pounds of tobacco due “Mr. William Rountree Junr.” for some unknown service to the parish.7 This record, which is probably for the later William Rountree, suggests that the earlier William Rountree (who may be his father) was still alive at the time.
The same Blisland Parish vestry book also mentions John Rountree as a delinquent tithable for 1725 and as a “teler” [tallyer] of tobacco in 1728 and 1729. Perhaps a brother of William Rountree Jr., though no further record of him was found.
The William Rountree who is recorded in St. Peter’s parish as the father of Dudley Rountree in 1729, and who was later “of Blisland Parish” is the progenitor of a large number of Rountree descendants, and the subject of a separate paper on these pages.
Nansemond County Rountrees
At about the same time as the Charles Turner patent, there were several Rountrees who emigrated to Nansemond County, Virginia but there is no evidence that they were related to those in New Kent. A Charles Rowntree received a patent for land in Nansemond County in 1685 for transportation of himself, Robert Rountree, and five others.8 The following year Robert and Francis Roundtree patented land in Nansemond for transportation of, among others, Thos. Roundtree and Elizabeth Roundtree.9 Robert and Francis Rountree patented additional land in 1698.10 Robert, Thomas, and John Roundtree all paid quit rents on land in Nansemond County in 1704. As with New Kent, the early records of Nansemond County are nonexistent, so we have no citations for Rountrees there for another fifty years. However, North Carolina records show that some or most of these Rountrees migrated due south into North Carolina. Thomas, Robert, and Francis Rountree, for example, owned land in Chowan Precinct as early as 1713, where several records establish that they had come from Nansemond County. A significant number of Rountrees of North Carolina in the mid-1700s were apparently children and grandchildren of these immigrants.
I have made no effort to trace this family, other than to look for clues of some relationship with the Rountrees of New Kent County. However, it is clear that this line of Rountrees produced numerous descendants. And, despite the speculations of some researchers, there is no evidence whatsoever that any of these Rountrees were related to the William Rountree of New Kent.
A manuscript entitled “Rowntree and Rountree Family History 1521 – 1953”, by Joseph Gustave Rountree II (Privately published, 1959), mentioned elsewhere in these pages, contains an anecdotal history of the Nansemond immigrants supposedly passed down through the family, which is (to say the least) somewhat fanciful and can be proven to be untrue. The legend of a single group of brothers immigrating separately to Nansemond and New Kent appears to be of modern origin, and is obviously an attempt to connect the two sets of immigrants.
William Rountree of Gloucester County
There seems to have been one more early immigrant who produced a child named William Rountree. This William Rountree was born c1722 in Virginia and was living in Gloucester County in 1756-7 when he served in the French and Indian War. The published papers of George Washington contain two documents mentioning him. The first is his appearance on a militia roll of Captain Charles Lewis’s company dated 13 July 1756, which identifies him as a 6’3” schoolteacher who enlisted in Gloucester County in May 1756 at the age of 34.11 The composition of the unit was unusual in that the company consisted of just 39 soldiers drawn from 16 different counties. That William Rountree was actually living in Gloucester County is proven by the second document dated a year later, a “List of the men brought by John Wiatt from Gloucester, July-August 1757.”12 This list identifies “William Rowntree” in the same way (34 years old, born in Virginia, 6’3” in height) except that his occupation was “planter.”
It is possible that he had earlier been in Middlesex County, for there is a single record in Christ Church parish of the birth of a daughter to William and Margaret Rountree on 26 April 1752.13 Unfortunately, Gloucester’s records before the mid-1800s are non-existent. There is, though, a record of a William Rountree in Gloucester County 24 years after the militia record. A “Will. Rowntree” signed a petition dated 23 May 1780 to establish a ferry across the York River in Gloucester County.14 If this was the same person as the soldier, he clearly could not have been William Rountree Jr. of Hanover and Goochland. A quick check of tax records shows no William Rountree in Gloucester in 1789, though a Samuel Rountree appears there in 1799.
His identification as a native of Virginia implies a father living in Virginia circa 1722. Does this represent a third Rountree immigration? It seems likely. There does not seem to be an unaccounted-for William Rountree among the Nansemond County families. Perhaps significantly, the 39 members of Lewis’s company in 1756 came from 16 different counties, but not a single one was from Nansemond or any of the other counties along the James River.
Thomas Rowntree of South Carolina
On 30 October 1674, a South Carolina surveyor’s warrant for 100 acres was issued to Thomas Rowntree “for himself arriving in May 1674”, apparently a headright grant.15 Whether there are any further records for him, I do not know.
- The Rowntrees of Riseborough, C. Brightwen Rowntree, with additions by E. Margaret Sessions (Ebor Press., reprint 1989). [↩]
- ills, burials, or probate records can be found for Thomas Rountrees in Canterbury (1656) and Middlesex (1671), John Rountree in Middlesex (1671), and a court record for a Timothy Rountree in Kent (1612). [↩]
- Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, Charles Warren Bradley (1901), pp18, 655, 657. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 7, p80. [↩]
- Virginia Colonial Soldiers, Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck, p218. The roster of a “lower company of foot under command of Col. John Lightfoot.” [↩]
- Several sources reproduce the quit rent list. [↩]
- The Vestry Book of Blisland Parish, New Kent and James City Counties, Virginia, 1721-1786, G. C. Chamberlayne, (1935), p 77 [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 7, p487 [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 7, p527 [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 9, p142 [↩]
- Virginia’s Colonial Soldiers, Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck (1988), pp73-74. [↩]
- Ibid., p97. [↩]
- The Parish Register of Christ Church Parish, Middlesex County, Virginia 1653-1812, (Clearfield Co., reprint 1990), p288. [↩]
- irginia Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 4, p260. [↩]
- Warrants for Lands in South Carolina 1672-1679, A. S. Selley, Jr. (1910), p108. [↩]