We have strong circumstantial evidence that he was a son of John Witt the immigrant and solid proof that he was the brother of William Witt. The destroyed records of Charles City County prevent us from finding record of his early years. But on 14 September 1715, John and William Witt, both residents of Charles City County, jointly purchased 300 acres in Henrico County from Charles and Mary Hudson.1 The land was just north of the James River about 25 miles upriver from where the immigrant John Witt had earlier lived and was described as “lying and being in the county of Honaricho at a place called Tuckahoe”.
In 1728 Tuckahoe Creek became the border between Henrico and Goochland counties, and the Witt parcel, which lay a few miles west of the county line, fell into newly-formed Goochland County. More than thirty-five years later, when William Witt and his nephew John Witt III sold this land, it was then in Goochland County, and that deed identified the original purchasers, John and William Witt, as brothers.
The land that the brothers John and William Witt purchased in 1715 was part of a patent issued just a year earlier to Charles Hudson and John Bradley.2 They called it “Young Mens Adventure” and described it as being on the north side of the James River on a southern branch of Tuckahoe Creek “known by the name of Bever Pond Branch”. This branch was later called the western branch of the Tuckahoe, and was located just north of the “three notched road” and just south of the Hanover County line. Hudson and Bradley split the land between them3 and Hudson sold the eastern half of his parcel to the Witt brothers.
John Witt marries Ann Rogers
John Witt II seems to have married a woman named Ann Rogers, but it isn’t clear whether she was a first or second wife. The will of John Rogers of Westover Parish, Charles City County, recorded on 5 August 1730, left livestock and other items to his daughter Ann Whitt, wife of John Whitt.4 Since neither his son nor his nephew appear to have been married to an Ann, we assume she was the wife of John Witt II. But whether she was the mother of his children is in some doubt. Of the four daughters named in John Rogers’ will, two were evidently unmarried. While they could have been aged spinsters, it’s more likely they were still teenagers – the severe shortage of women at the time guaranteed that few women would remain unmarried much past their early twenties and most would be married before reaching 18. One therefore must wonder if Anne Rogers could have been old enough to have borne John Witt’s children. The probabilities seem to favor her being a second wife.5 It also suggests the possibility that John Witt II, who was probably born around 1675, could have still been fathering children by a young wife as late as 1725-30, and could perhaps the be father of our Charles Witt.
Unfortunately, Henrico County records are only partially preserved in this period and there are no records of Witts that help us. Both John and William Witt are mentioned in court records in 1720 but we know of no citations thereafter.6 In 1728 Goochland County was created from western Henrico, and part of Tuckahoe Creek became a portion of the border between the two.
Sorting out the three John Witts
While Goochland’s records are reasonably well preserved, by the time it was formed there were three John Witts living in the county. Both of the brothers John and William Witt had sons named John who were adults by Goochland’s formation in 1728. That presents us with some difficulty telling them apart. It helps that William Witt and his sons moved about 40 miles west, purchasing land in St. Anne’s Parish on the Rivanna River and Ballenger’s Creek in 1738, in what became Albemarle County in 1738 and Fluvanna County in 1777.7 William Witt described it as the land on which he lived in 1741 when he deeded this land to his son John Witt.8 John Witt kept it until 1772, in addition to acquiring other land nearby. It appears from these and other records that both William Witt and his son John remained in that area, being mentioned in several records that place them on the Rivanna River at Ballenger’s Creek. That means that after 1738, we can isolate William Witt’s son John in the records.
Meanwhile, a John Witt “Junr.”, undoubtedly the son of John Witt II, patented 400 acres in 1731 on the south side of the James a few miles south of the Tuckahoe Creek land, in the part of Goochland County that became Powhatan County in 1777.9 Although he and his wife Elizabeth sold this land in two parts on 28 April 1734, it continued to be referred to as his land in several patents of 1738 and in a will of 1740 and subsequent estate records.10 (This is likely due to the use of surveys that significantly predated the deeds and patents, not unusual at a time when a lag of a few years between survey and patent was more or less routine.)
Still, it is not clear whether some of the citations for John Witt refer to the father (John Witt II) or to the son (John Witt III). Both of them apparently appear together in the King William tithables for 1732-4, living on the land of John Witt III south of the James.11 A 1741 road order appointed a John Witt surveyor of a road from Jones Bridge to Fine Creek, which probably refers to John Witt III given the road’s location south of the James. In 1742, a John Witt (probably the father) was “levy free” perhaps exempted, as was the custom, for age or infirmity.12
The last record of John Witt II is his sale of land on 25 July 1747.13 He sold 150 acres to Henry Whitlow which, from its description, seems to be adjacent to the land purchased in 1715. I presume the seller is John Witt II mainly from the location of this land.
There are no records of John Witt’s death in Goochland County, but he was deceased by 1751. In 1751 William Witt and John Witt III sold half of the land purchased in 1715.14 The deed described this John Witt as the son of John Witt deceased, and nephew of William Witt. John Witt III’s wife Elizabeth also signed the deed. An unusually large number of persons witnessed the deed: John Witt and Jesse Witt (sons of John Witt III), Sylvanus Witt (son of John Witt II), and two men who may have been sons-in-law: John Farrar and David Barnett.15 William Witt sold the remaining half of the land the following year.
John Witt’s children are uncertain, though it is clear that he had sons named John and Sylvanus.
- John Witt III (c1700? – aft1778) He was apparently the eldest son, and is treated in a separate paper.
Sylvanus Witt (by1718 – aft1774) He first appears on 26 March 1739/40 receiving a grant of 400 acres in the part of Goochland County that became Cumberland County in 1749, located about 10 miles south of William Witt’s residence at the time. He had actually relocated there by 1745 when he became “reader” at Worley’s Church and later clerk of South Chappel in Southam Parish.16 He apparently lived there in 1751, yet traveled many miles to witness the 1751 deed selling John Witt’s land. Within a few months, on 5 September 1754, as a resident of Cumberland County, he bought land in Chesterfield County on the border of Powhatan.17 He evidently moved into Chesterfield County by 22 December 1764 when the vestry of Southam Parish appointed his replacement as clerk, noting that Sylvanus “he hath removed out of this Parrish”.18 He subsequently appears in several Chesterfield County records, including his 1765 witness to the will of Benjamin Cheatham.19 On 23 April 1771, as Sylvanus Witt of Chesterfield County, he arranged to buy land in the part of Pittsylvania County which became Henry County.20
Just a few months later, on 5 September 1771, Sylvanus Witt made a deed of gift of all his property after his decease to “my nephew Jesse Witt” of Cumberland County, thus establishing that he was a brother of John Witt II.21 Both Jesse Witt and Sylvanus Witt appeared together in the 1773 and 1774 tax lists of Pittsylvania County. Sylvanus apparently died soon thereafter, as in 1783 Jesse Witt exercised the deed of gift to recover the bond against the seller of the 1771 land who had failed to deliver title.22 Sylvanus evidently had no children of his own.
Charles Witt: A Possible Son?
It is possible that Charles Witt was a son, rather than a grandson, of John Witt. (See separate paper.)
A Daughter Sarah Harbour?
Practically all descendants of Thomas Harbour claim that his wife Sarah was a daughter of John Witt II. We examine this claim in a separate document. Though a widely accepted theory, this hypothesis is not supported by any persuasive evidence.
Other Possible Daughters?
It has also been proposed that David Barnett and John Farrar, who witnessed the 1751 deed, were sons-in-law of John Witt. There is no particular reason to believe this beyond the fact that the deed had an unusually large number of witnesses and it could well be that they were all related in some way. In the absence of any supporting evidence that Barnett and Farrar were anything other than friends or neighbors, this must be considered merely an unsupported hypothesis. John Farrar, in particular, owned land adjacent to the 1747 sale by John Witt but by 1751 seems to have been living considerably west in Albemarle County. (It’s intriguing that David Witt and a William Barnett jointly patented land in Halifax County five years later in 1756. Whether that is coincidence or not is unknown.)
- Henrico County Deeds 1714-1718, p46, abstracted in Henrico County Deeds 1706-1737, Benjamin B. Weisiger. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 10, p132 dated 16 June 1714. [↩]
- Henrico County Deeds 1706-1737, Benjamin B. Weisiger, abstracting Henrico Deeds 1714-1718, p46, same date as deed. [↩]
- Charles City County Wills and Deeds 1725-1731, Benjamin B. Weisiger, p40. (From Book D, p298). [↩]
- The unmarried sisters could have been elderly spinsters, thus Ann Rogers might have been old enough to have children c1695. It’s more probable that Anne Rogers and her sisters were relatively young in 1730, thus she is unlikely to be the mother of John III. The only of her brothers we can trace is John Rogers, who seems to be the one who died in 1788, which supports the case for Ann being born around 1700. [↩]
- Henrico County Minute Book 8, p34. At the July court 1720, John & William Witt presented a petition concerning bounds of their land. On p37, same court, a suit of William Witt vs. Boothe Napier was dismissed. Courtesy of Carlton Wood. [↩]
- Goochland County Deed Book 3, p125. [↩]
- Goochland County Deed Book 3, p464. Dated 10 August 1741. Described as bounded by the James and Rivanna Rivers, and Ballenger’s Creek. From Goochland County, Virginia Wills And Deeds 1736-1742, Benjamin Weisiger (Southern Historical Press, 1984), p64. [↩]
- Virginia Patent Book 14, p333, issued 17 September 1731. [↩]
- Goochland County, Virginia Wills and Deeds, 1728-1736, Benjamin Weisiger (Southern Historical Press, 1983), pp. 51-52. [↩]
- Vestry Book of King William Parish, Virginia 1707-1770, (Manakin Huguenot Society, reprint 1966), pp70, 76, 78. [↩]
- Goochland Order Book 5, p60. From Witt Newsletter. [↩]
- Goochland County Deed Book 5, p303. [↩]
- Wayne Witt Bates kindly emailed an abstract some years ago, but did not provide a citation. I have not followed up. [↩]
- The witness John Witt signed his name, while the John Witt who was a son of William Witt used a “J” mark. That indicates the witness was John Witt IV. [↩]
- The Vestry Book of Southam Parish, Cumberland County, Virginia 1745-1792, Anne K. Blomquist, p5, p19, etc. [↩]
- Chesterfield County Deed Book 2, p187. [↩]
- Blomquist, p151. [↩]
- Chesterfield County Will Book 1, p550. [↩]
- Henry County Deed Book 3, p15. [↩]
- Chesterfield County Deed Book 6, p350. [↩]
- Henry County Deed Book 2, p363. [↩]