We have relatively few records of John Witt, but we can tentatively conclude that he probably arrived about in Virginia about 1672 and settled in the western part of Charles City County near the border with Henrico County, possibly on the northern edges of Shirley Hundred. The headright for his importation into Virginia was claimed three times over in three different land patents issued in 1682, 1685, and 1699 — all for land in Henrico and Charles City counties. (This is sufficiently intriguing to warrant a separate document.) He does not appear to have been an indentured servant, more likely a middle class freeman.1
Unfortunately, practically all of the colonial records of Charles City County were destroyed, with only a few court orders and a handful of deeds and wills surviving. Likewise, records of neighboring Henrico County are entirely missing before 1677 and survive mainly in fragments thereafter. We are forced to make do with the few records that remain, in which we find John Witt mentioned often enough to draw a few conclusions about him.
His first appearance is as plaintiff in a lawsuit on 3 October 1673, by which time he was married to Ann Daux, the daughter of Walter Daux and his wife Mary. A brief digression is needed to explain this record.
John Witt’s mother-in-law
John Witt’s mother-in-law Mary (whose maiden name is unknown) was married three times. She was first the wife of Robert Plaine, by whom she had a son named John Plaine.2 After being widowed she married Walter Daux3 and had two daughters named Ann Daux and Susanna Daux before being widowed a second time.4 She married for a third time to John Flower or Flowers.5
This final marriage took place shortly before 24 May 1658 when John Flower “for and in consideration of marriage with Mary the relict of Walter Daux decd, and in consideration of my love and affection to the children of the said Mary Daux now my wife” to John Plaine “the son of the sd Mary by her former husband Robt. Plaine decd” a gift of two steers, a bed and other household goods and unto “Ann Daux” and “Susan Daux” cows and furniture.6 This deed of gift also tells us that Robert Plaine had owned land in Charles City County which fell to the son John Plaine, which land John Flower claimed in a 1668 patent, the son John Plaine having died in the intervening ten years.7
A few days later on 3 June 1658 John Flower was granted administration of the estate of Walter Daux “having married the relict of sd. Daux.”8 Walter Daux had perhaps lived on the property of the his wife’s first husband, as there are several later records of a dispute between John Flower and a ship’s captain regarding two hogsheads of tobacco shipped by Walter Daux to his father Richard Daux of London.9
In 1658 the Charles City court ordered an accounting of all orphans estates within the county, but Flower evidently failed to deliver. In early 1659 the court ordered the sheriff to seize the estate of Flower, or the estate of Walter Daux in Flower’s possession, until an accounting was rendered.10 Flower evidently never did so, as on 3 June 1659 the court appointed two persons to appraise the estate of Walter Daux “and divide the same to the relict and his two children”.11 A few months later, John Flower was allowed 1000 pounds of tobacco out of the estate “in consideration of his wife’s bedding.”12 The following year, in late 1660, Flower finally made a bond for the estate of Walter Daux for “carefull keeping and educating the orphanes of the sd Daux during their minority.”13
He marries Ann Daux about 1673
Other than court orders through 1664, in which no mention of the Daux girls is found, there is at this point a gap in the Charles City County court records until a fragmentary book for 1672-3, and then another gap followed by an order book for 1677-79. It appears that John Flower died in the interim, as there is no record of him after 1663. The two Daux children evidently married about 1672 or 1673. Richard Rawlins14, who married Susannah Daux, and John Witt, who married Ann Daux, petitioned the Charles City County court on 3 October 1673.15 The substance of the petition is not recorded, and the court records stop at that point, but from later records it is clear they were attempting to recover the estate of Walter Daux that should have been inherited by their wives. The petition must not have been satisfied, for a year later, on 1 October 1674, John Witt and Susannah Rawlins (Richard Rawlins having died in the interim) were suing the commissioners of Charles City County in the colonial General Court. (The county justices, who were called commissioners at this time, were personally responsible for preservation of orphans estates. The purpose of administrator’s and executor’s bonds was to protect the commissioners themselves against precisely these sorts of suits.)
The case was deferred and on 3 March 1674/5 the case of “Jno. Witt and Richard Rawlins who marryed the two orpts. of Walter Daux, dec’d” was deferred again.16 The case is not mentioned again, and was apparently not resolved. Three years later, on 14 February 1677/8 when the Charles City court records resume, John Witt and John Turberfield (or Turberville)17 who had married the widow Susannah Rawlins are found suing an individual justice of Charles City County for the value of the estate of Walter Daux. The suit claimed that “the estate was appraised and divided between the two Daux sisters. The court did not demand security of Flowers and he has wasted the estate. The plts. having married the sd. orphans now demand recompense by the court…The plts. ask the court to have the deft. pay Daux’s daughters according to the inventory as recorded.” The husbands were suing the justices who were sitting in 1658, whom they correctly identified as liable for the estate’s value. The court ordered the payment, but one of the justices at the time appealed the judgment.18 William Randolph (remember him?) was security for the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, there is no further mention of the case owing to the loss of county records, and so we are denied knowledge of its resolution.
Note that the Daux sisters themselves apparently did not initiate any suits prior to their marriages. That suggests they were not of age when they married – indeed, most Virginia women in the 1670s had married by the age of 17 and the mean age at marriage was 18.19 Further, the timing suggests they had recently married.20 The first record of the suit is in September 1673 by Richard Rawlins alone, joined by John Witt a month later. Both John Flowers and his wife Mary apparently died before 1672. Neither is mentioned after the court records resume in 1672, and presumably Flowers was not available to be sued in 1673.
In addition to their intrinsic genealogical value, the records of the suit also tell us something about John Witt. First of all, the Plaine and Daux families, as well as John Flower, appear to have been solidly middle class. Given the relatively strict stratification of 17th century Virginia society, this suggests that John Witt probably belonged in that category and was unlikely to have been imported as an indentured worker. It also helps to confirm that this John Witt was probably the same person as the John Witt claimed as a headright several years later. A few references to John Turberville and Richard Rawlins in the court records suggest that they lived in or near Shirley Hundred in western Charles City County, a mile or two from the Henrico County line. John Flower’s patent of Robert Plaine’s land tells us he lived in the northern part of Shirley Hundred, on the river itself. Flower, in fact, had served as constable for Shirley Hundred district in 1659. This is also the same small area where all the patentees who claimed John Witt lived. Finally, we might reasonably conclude that John Witt probably arrived in Virginia about 1671 or 1672 as a free man; we know that by late 1673 he was married, a privilege rarely permitted of servants.
Guessing his age
We can also make a reasonable guess as to John Witt’s age. We know, for example, that John Flower was about 30 years old in 1658 when he married the widow Mary Daux, suggesting that Mary herself was either younger or, at worst, no more than a few years older. The Daux sisters, if they were typical of the time, would have married about the age of 17 or so, suggesting they were born in the mid 1650s and were probably infants at their father’s death. Men typically married in their late 20s at this time, and tended to be about ten years older than their wives. If John Witt married, as we’d suspect, in 1673 then he was probably in his late 20s. We also know that John Turberville was aged about 24 in 1673.
John Witt and his brother-in-law John Turberfield appear as a juror in Charles City County on 15 September 1677, in one of the few surviving records.21 Since jury service was a privilege reserved for freeholders, this indicates he owned at least 50 acres or had an equivalent personal estate. He evidently acquired his land by deed, as there are no records of a patent and the deed records no longer exist. Ten years later, in a February 1687 court order, Major John Stith was directed to lay out a road “from Chickahominy bridge down and up these parts of the county…” from the bridge “into ye road to or near Harman Bosman’s habitation as also from ye bridge into ye main road near John Whitt’s…” 22 The “main road” was the road that followed roughly the same path as today’s US Highway 5, from Jamestown up the north side of the James River toward Richmond. Where along this path John Whitt lived is unclear, but it appears to have been at the western end of the county, near the border with Henrico County.
Final Record in 1695
The last record of John Witt is a notation of his suit against Ralph Hudspeth in 1695 in Henrico County.23 (Suits were brought in the county where the defendant resided, thus this record tells us nothing of John Witt’s location.) Unfortunately, there are no further citations for John Witt or his wife owing to the nearly complete absence of further records in Charles City County. There are some existing court records for Henrico County, but no known Witt citations other than the suit above.
We don’t know when or where John Witt and his wife died, nor do we have any records to prove their children. It is assumed that he was dead by 1715 when two sons moved several miles away, but he could have died any time after the last record of him in 1695. It seems likely that he was dead by 1704, as the 1704 Quit Rents contain no Witt landowners in Charles City County, Henrico County, or anywhere else in Virginia.
John Witt evidently had four sons, though whether Ann Daux was the mother of all four is unknowable. As of this writing, such descendants of these second-generation Witts as have been tested share common Y-DNA, indicating that they all descended from the same common male ancestor. That John Witt was their common ancestor is likely from their proximity to John Witt’s last known location and the absence of other Witts in the area. He must have had daughters as well, but we have no clues to their identity.
I mention briefly three sons below, who have been thoroughly researched by others. My interest is in the son John Witt, who is treated in a separate document.
- John Witt II (c1680? – by 1751) is treated in a separate document.
William Witt (c1675-80 – 1754) On 14 September 1715, John and William Witt, both of Charles City County, jointly purchased 300 acres in Henrico County “at a place called Tuckahoe” about 25 miles up the James River from where the immigrant John Witt had lived.24 More than thirty-five years later, when William Witt and John Witt III sold this land (which was by then in Goochland County) the deed identified the original purchasers John and William as brothers. William Witt evidently shared the land with his brother for twenty or more years, but by 1738 William Witt had moved about 40 miles west into what later became Albemarle County where he remained until his death.25 His will is dated 25 April 1754 and proved in Albemarle County less than two months later on 13 June 1754.26 The will names two sons and two daughters and implies at least two more.27 The Huguenot Society claimed in 1924 that there were five additional sons, using as evidence the appearance of these names among records of the other children.28 Although that claim has been repeated almost endlessly since, it is clear that these persons were actually grandsons of William Witt. Certainly there is no evidence in Albemarle County records of more than the two sons listed below.
The identity of William Witt’s wife is unknown, for her name is not mentioned in any record. One published speculation, appearing in a publication of the Huguenot Society, was that his wife was “Elizabeth Daux”, a very unlikely proposition given that Walter Daux had no male children and no other Dauxes are evident in the records. A conflicting report, also published by the Huguenot Society, stated that her name was “Mildred Daux (daughter of Walter Daux b1630, d1674 Charles City County).” This is clearly erroneous, as we can prove that Walter Daux had no such daughter. (Not to mention that Walter Daux was dead by 1658, some eighteen years earlier than this indicates.)
William Witt’s birth year is estimated from his father’s apparent marriage date and the apparent ages of his own children, who seem to have been born beginning about 1710. His sons are mentioned here to help differentiate them from the children of his brother John Witt II.
His will mentions the following two sons, and two daughters: Agnes Key and Sarah Canidey (Cannady), wife of John Cannady. The will implies at least one or two additional children, as it specifies that a slave be divided “among my Children except my (son) Benjamin Witt, Sarah Canidey, and Agness Key”. A fifth child, Mildred (Chastain), has been proposed but is unproven.
2.1. John Witt (c1710? – 1782) He was in Albemarle County by 1741, probably earlier, and seems to have remained there for several years. His will, dated 1781 and proved in 1782 in Amherst County, named sons Abner, John, Littleberry, George, Elisha, and William, and daughter Lucy.29 His widow and mother of “my seven first sons” according to the will, was named Lucy. She is thought to have been a Littleberry. A David Witt witnessed the will, presumably one of the two unnamed sons.
2.2. Benjamin Witt (c1710? – c1775) The first record of him is the notation in the King William parish register of the birth of a daughter Mariane on 19 March 1732/3 to Benjamin Witt and his wife Mariane.30 She is believed to be the daughter of Jean Chastain and his wife Charlotte, who were the child’s godparents. His other children’s births are not recorded there, and it is uncertain where he was living at the time. By 1740 he had moved about 20 miles south of his father into the part of Goochland that would shortly become Buckingham County and he patented land there in 1744.31 In 1756, as a resident of Buckingham County, he purchased land in Prince Edward County with his children Lewis and Charles as witnesses.32 He and his sons Lewis and Charles were all on the 1755 tithables list of Prince Edward, though Charles appealed the tax (probably because he was still a resident of Buckingham). His sons Lewis and Charles both appeared as witness to deeds in the next few years, but Benjamin himself seems to have gone back to Buckingham County where he appears in its records. He was alive in mid-1774 when he and Benjamin Jr. appear as tithables, but was dead by late 1775 when his widow and son Benjamin Jr. sold the remainder of the land in Prince Edward County which Benjamin had purchased in 1756.33 His children included Lewis, Marianne, Benjamin, Charles, John and perhaps other daughters.
It seems likely that the legend of Huguenot ancestors first arose among the descendants of Benjamin Witt, whose wife is thought to have been a granddaughter of the Huguenot Pierre Chastain. Descendants may have confused the background of the Witts and the Chastains. The earliest reference I’ve found is a statement by Benjamin Witt’s great-grandson Rev. Daniel Witt, who wrote in 1860 about his brother Rev. Jesse Witt: “On the side of his father he was a descendant of a Huguenot family which settled at Manakin Town ferry in the early history of this country.” Meaning, it seems clear, the Chastain family.
- Richard Witt (c1690 – 1764?) He was likely another son of John Witt. His first appearance is as a witness to a deed in Henrico County on 11 April 1730 for land about ten miles east of John and William Witt.34 An Elizabeth Witt, apparently his wife, was named as a daughter in the 1734 will of Edmund Liptrot of Henrico County.35 Edmund Liptrot and his wife Rachel had lived near Four Mile Creek in Henrico, about a mile or so from the Charles City county line and quite near John Witt the immigrant.36 From Liptrot’s apparent age, we may assume his daughter was mature at the time of the will and thus the wife of a second-generation Witt.37 Richard Witt seems the most likely candidate, particularly since he named one of his sons “Edmund”. Richard Witt eventually settled near the border of present-day Amelia and Prince Edward counties. He appears in the tithables lists of Amelia County from 1745-1749 and in a 1747 road order in Prince Edward County. I haven’t determined for myself which of the next-generation Witts are his children, but the Richard Witt who later appears in Lunenburg County is probably either this Richard or his son.
- Edward Witt ? (c1700? – c1755?) He was perhaps another son of John Witt. He and his descendants generally used the spelling “Whitt”. The Bristol Parish register contains a record of the birth of Anne Whit on 11 December to Edward and Elizabeth “Whit” and the birth of a son John Whitt on 10 July 1734 to Edward “Whitt” and his (second?) wife Mary.38 It also contains a record of the birth of a son William on 12 August 1742 to Edward and Mary “Wheat”, perhaps the same persons.39 Although it’s not clear exactly where he was living, Bristol Parish covered the parts of Henrico County and Charles City County that lay south of the James River. On 12 March 1739 Edward “Whitt” patented 189 acres in what had by then become Prince George County.40 The land, which is now in Dinwiddie County, was only about twenty miles from the area where the immigrant John Witt lived. It was apparently the same Edward Witt surveyed land in newly-formed Lunenburg County in 1746 and appeared in Lunenburg court records in 1747 and 1749.41 Edward Witt appears on the Lunenburg tithables lists from 1748 through 1752, appearing with his son John in 1751 and 1752. (Note that the son John would not have been taxable until 1751, having been born in July of 1734.) The tithables lists from 1752 to 1772 are missing, save for 1764 and 1769, suggesting that Edward Whitt may have died or moved in the interim. Lunenburg road orders in 1749 and 1752 appear to place him in the southeastern corner of modern Lunenburg County just above the Mecklenburg County line.42 The son John Whitt was in Halifax County by 1773, where he left a will dated in 1788 and probated the following year.43 The son William (born perhaps c1742) may also be the one mentioned in early Pittsylvania County records.
- See an explanation for this statement in the separate document, “John Witt, Headright.” The crux of the argument is that he appears to have immigrated to Virginia about 1672, but was married by 1673. Since servants were not permitted to marry, it is likely he did not arrive indentured. [↩]
- A Robert Plaine was claimed as a headright by Thomas Burbage on 10 March 1638/9 and by William Walthall on 4 Oct 1657. [↩]
- A “Walt. Daux” was claimed as a headright by John Stith and Samuel Eale in a patent issued 15 February 1663. [↩]
- He may have been the son of “Captain John Flower, mariner” who bought 200 acres in Charles City County in 1640, and patented an additional 300 acres in 1645 [Patent Book 2, p39]. Although Charles City County records are lost, Captain John Flower appears in a number of records across the James River in Surry County as early as 1643. He died in 1657. A family book states that he had a son named John Flower who was christened in London in 1629 abut whom little else is known. [↩]
- Charles City County Court Orders 1655-58, p146 abstracted in Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Volume III, Beverley Fleet (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988), p203. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 6, p205. To John Flowre (sic) 750 acres between Shirley Hundred and Turkey Island Creek “formerly possest by Robt. Playne dec’d, granted to Eliza Grayne (Graves?), widow and by her (by the name of Heyman) transferred to sd Playne and lately found to escheat [in 1667]…and now granted [to Flower].” This is proof that the son John Plaine had died without heirs (that’s the meaning of “escheated” land). The land had been patented by Elizabeth Grayne in 1638 (VPB 2, p580), described as bordered on the west by the river. [↩]
- Fleet, p148. [↩]
- Fleet, p156 and p209, both references in 1658, and p243 in 1661. [↩]
- Fleet, p213 (at a court held 25 February 1658/9). [↩]
- Fleet, p217. [↩]
- Fleet, p221. [↩]
- Fleet, p234 (at a court held 3 October 1660). [↩]
- “Richd. Rawlings” was claimed as a headright by George Pace of Charles City County in 1650. Virginia Patent Book 2, p252. [↩]
- Fleet, p549 (this section is court orders 1672-3). [↩]
- Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, 1622-1632, 1670-1676, H. R. McIlwaine, (The Colonial Press, Everett Waddy Co., 1924), p403. [↩]
- The name appears as both Turberfield and Turberville in the records. He deposed he was aged 24 in 1673. [↩]
- Charles City County Order Book 1676-1679, Margaret Mitchell Ayres (1968), p42 (and see page 4 of addendum for correction of spelling to “Whitt”). [↩]
- Two studies are quoted by Kulikoff in Tobacco and Slaves. Young women, who were exceedingly scarce in the colonies circa 1670, married at far younger ages than they would a century later. [↩]
- There is a reference in Fleet (p236) to “Rawlins wife” in a deposition concerning events around Christmas 1672. [↩]
- Ayres, p20. [↩]
- Charles City County, Virginia Court Orders 1685-1695, Benjamin B. Weisiger III (Iberian Publishing Co., 1980), p23. [↩]
- Henrico County Order Book 3. [↩]
- Henrico County Deeds 1706-1737, Benjamin B. Weisiger (from Deeds 1714-1718, p46.) In 1728 Tuckahoe Creek became the border between Henrico and Goochland counties, and this land fell a few miles west of the county line. See the write-up on his brother John Witt II for a more complete description of this parcel’s location. [↩]
- Goochland County Deed Book 3, p125. [↩]
- Albemarle County Will Book 2, p20. [↩]
- The will divides a slave “among my children” except Benjamin, Sarah, and Agnes. It also distributes the residue of the estate “equally divided among my children” except the same three. That implies more than two additional children. [↩]
- Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia, Year Book No. 1, (W. T. Lyon, 1924). This information was evidently provided to Frederick Adams Virkus for his Volume IV of The Compendium of American Genealogy, (The Virkus Co., Chicago, Volume IV in 1930). Virkus cannot be considered an independent researcher; he merely published information provided to him by others, without any attempt to verify it. [↩]
- Amherst County Will Book 2, p34. [↩]
- Vestry Book of King William Parish, Virginia 1707-1770, (Manakin Huguenot Society, reprint 1966), p.? [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 22, p111. A patent in Book 19, p188 dated 1 Dec 1740 mentions Benjamin Witt’s line in the same area. [↩]
- Prince Edward County Order Book, p86. Both witnesses proved the will in court. [↩]
- Prince Edward County Deed Book 5, p433. [↩]
- Henrico County, Virginia Wills and Deeds 1706-1737, Benjamin B. Weisiger III (1985), p 210. Deed from Robert Green to Joseph Mayo. [↩]
- Fleet, p408. Edmund Liptrot’s death is recorded as 12 December 1735 in the Henrico Parish Register. [↩]
- There is also some association with persons whose names appear in conjunction with John Witt. For instance, Edmund and Rachel Liptrot witnessed the will of their neighbor Philemon Childers in 1716. [↩]
- Edmund Liptrot himself was buying land in Henrico County as early as 1694, and his son Amos Liptrot witnessed a neighbor’s deed there in 1718. If he had a mature son by 1718 then a daughter could have been middle-aged by the time of his will. [↩]
- The Vestry Book and Register of Bristol Parish Virginia 1720-1789, Churchill G. Chamberlayne, ed., (Heritage Books, reprint 1998), p388 (Anne, d. of Edward Whit and Elizabeth born 11 December 1730) and p390 (John, son of Edward and Mary Whitt 10 July 1734). [↩]
- Chamberlayne, p392. There is no other mention of a “Wheat” in these records. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 18, page 563. [↩]
- Lunenburg County Order Book 1, p33 (Edward Whitt sued by Anthony Walker, 8 December 1749) and Order Book 2, p254 (2 January 1749) and p385 2 April 1751. [↩]
- Lunenburg County Road Orders 1746-1764, Nathaniel Mason Pawlett & Tyler Jefferson Boyd (1993), p27 refers to survey and maintenance of the “…road leading from Rays Bridge to Flat Rock Road…” and includes “Edward Whitt” as one of the crew. On p33 is a similar order to lay a road from Cherry Stone Road over the Meherrin River at the mouth of Little Beaver Pond to Crooked Creek Bridge. It is clear from these locations that Edward Witt was living in the southeastern corner of modern Lunenburg county. [↩]
- Halifax County Will Book 2, p339. The will names wife Anne [probably Pettypool], sons William, Peter, and Pool Witt, and daughters Mary, Amey, and Elizabeth Witt, Martha Green and “Ursula Whitt alias Pool”. IT is dated 15 May 1788 and proved 25 May 1789. [↩]