17th Century Virginia

17th Century Virginia County Court Headright Certificates – Part 5


Part 5 of 5 part series by James W. Petty

The activities of land speculators is demonstrated in a series of headright certificates issued in Elizabeth City County in 1699, and the Headright Patent of Francis and John Talliaferro of Essex County in 1702. On Nov. 21st, 1699, four certificates were issued in Elizabeth City County Court to four different recipients, representing 29 headrights; and two additional certificates were issued in the next court, on Jan. 18, 1699/1700, to two other recipients for 7 more headrights. These names (with the exception of three on the last certificate) all appear, in order, on the headright list attached to the patent for Francis Talliaferro and John Talliaferro dated Oct. 28th, 1702. Their patent pertained to a grant in Essex County, Virginia. Since these certificates appear in the minutes of two consecutive courts in Elizabeth City County, it is apparent that Francis and John Talliaferro went to the court record in Hampton, to find recent issuings of certificates, and then went to those certificate holders and purchased their headrights from them, probably at a good discount, and then submitted those combined headrights along with 15 additional names to obtain 2360 acres in Essex County. Those other 15 headrights were likely obtained from certificates in other counties. This type of Aland-grabbing was perfectly legal.

Wesley Frank Craven, in his volume White, Red, and Black: The Seventeenth-Century Virginian, analyzed Nugent’s data to determine approximate population statistics in Colonial Virginia in the 17th Century. He was concerned about the disparity between the number of headrights listed in Nugent and other population records, which indicated many more headrights than were evident in existing tabulations of tithe returns. Morgan, in his review, offered the idea that during the third quarter of the 1600’s, headright claims grew faster than the population did. He proceeded to develop the theory that Aa large reservoir of unclaimed headrights may have accumulated during the first half of the Seventeenth Century. He defended his theory by suggesting the high mortality rate in colonial times reduced the population count, and that Amany fictitious headrights by both the county clerks and the Governor’s secretary, inflated the number of headrights named. Morgan had noted at the beginning of his review, that Wesley Frank Craven had based his figures and statistics on the information gathered and published by Nugent. From our study, we see instead, the possibility that half of the Headrights in 17th Century Virginia were never filed in the Land Office, and thus are not reflected in Nugent. This suggests Craven’s analysis and statistics could be off by as much as one third.

Harrison, Craven, and Morgan, as well as many others who have written about Headright Patents have fallen into a common trap; whereas public record stated in 1697 that there were abuses in the certificates issued by the Land Office and County Courts, these authors suggest that any irregularity of the patent process must represent abuse. The tract in1697 by Hartwell, Blair, and Chilton claimed that Headright Certificates were being fraudulently duplicated and added that liberties were taken in issuing certificates, with the Land Office selling the rights for a small sum, such as one to five shillings per right. The abuse described here was that the price for land was being undercut, and the value of property, including theirs, was taking a beating.

In 1699 a law was enacted permitting the Land Office to sell 50 acres of land (the equivalent of a headright) for 5 shillings:

A…whereby a person paying five shillings to the auditor gained >the same liberty to take up and patent fifty acres of lands which [he] would otherwise have had for the Importacon of any of his Majesties Subjects into this Dominion.’

Thus it makes it understandable that in 1697, Hartwell, Blair, and Chilton would be identifying the upper value of a headright as Afive shillings, and complaining because that price was being undercut on the open market. This new law also effectively brought about an end of the issuing of Headright Certificates. It was now less expensive to purchase Arights than to transport people to Virginia. Nevertheless, the trade in Headright Certificates continued, and patents were issued for headrights into the 1730’s and perhaps later. In 1699, out of 90 patents granted, 75 included headrights. In 1717, the records show 225 patents were granted, of which only 81 pertained to headrights. And in 1732, there were 252 patents granted in Virginia, of which only 5 mentioned headrights.

Uses and Limitations of the records for research purposes.

A number of incorrect traditions, concerning the nature and use headright documents, have developed over the years, especially since the publication of Cavaliers and Pioneers in 1934. Many researchers believe that a mention of the name of an ancestor, listed on a Headright Patent, was the earliest record of that ancestor in this country, or that a headright list attached to a patent, consisted of a company of passengers that came together to Virginia. Students have been told that to determine the origin of an ancestor they might have to search for the people that came to Virginia with them, or even search for the origins of the person who transported them. It is correct, that to locate the origins of an immigrant ancestor, one must also search for the origins of people with whom he associated . But the important point here is that it cannot be assumed that the record of a name on a headright patent will show the earliest mention of an ancestor, or even identify the people who immigrated with him. The statistical analysis of these records shows that up to eighty percent of headright certificates issued to individuals, were redeemed for land by different certificate holders, or were grouped with names from other lists of immigrants.

The use of County Court Headright Certificates in research is crucial to properly understand the information provided by the records of the Headright system. An example of such misunderstanding is found in Richard Slatten’s AInterpreting Headrights in Colonial-Virginia Patents: Uses and Abuses. He demonstrated the use of the Land Patent abstracts found in Cavaliers and Pioneers, to show what information can be found on a given family name. He used the name Cornix (and variations), citing 15 entries in Nugent from 1657 to 1711 that pertained to that name. Slatten proceeded to evaluate the findings and presented a detailed analysis based only on the various entries from the patent records. His abstracts began with a patent to a William Cornix in 1657, who was granted 500 acres in Lower Norfolk County, for importing ten headrights. He then identified a headright list attached to the Patent of William Basnett, dated May 28, 1658, in which Basnett received 800 acres in Lower Norfolk County, for the transport of sixteen persons, including AJone Cornix, Martha Cornix, William Cornix, & Tho. Cornix. Slatten also identified a patent in Lower Norfolk County in1673, derived from an earlier patent in 1648, that was sold A…to Mr. Symon Cornix, now deceased, then sold by Wm. Cornix, his son and heir… Of the first record, the analysis stated concerning William Cornix: AThis patent is strong evidence that he did not transport himself to the colony, since his rights did not include a personal one for himself; if the latter was to be considered, then he would have been considered for 550 acres instead of 500. Of the second example Slatten stated: Athere is no clear niche in which to fit >Jone Cornix, Martha Cornix, Wm. Cornix, and Tho. Cornix’ of the 1658 instrument. Who are they? Possibly the destroyed warrants and surveys provided an explanation that the patents pass over in silence. And of the last example he suggests the uncertain possibility that the William of 1657 was the son of Symon Cornix mentioned in the1673 entry, noting the Aprobable significance … that Simon Cornix bought the only land we know him to have owned, which would account for his being otherwise unnamed in this group of records.

Mr. Slatten, like other writers before him, failed to recognize the importance of the County Court Headright Certificate as a document in the Headright Agroup of records. Had he extended his analysis to consider the County Court Headright Certificates, he would have found an entry in the County Court Orders for Lower Norfolk County, Virginia, dated May 16, 1653, showing the ACertificate for 650 acres to Simond Cornix… for transporting 13 headrights including Jane Cornix, Martha Cornix, William Cornix, and Thomas Cornix. This single certificate enlightens us on several of Slatten’s concerns. Simond or Symon Cornix claimed rights for transporting four other Cornix persons, most likely his family, including a William, who is likely his son as designated in the 1673 entry. And they were associated with Lower Norfolk County, prior to the record of William Cornix in 1657. The patents may have passed over this explanation in silence, but another document in this Agroup of records was there to provide answers.

As we see, it is insufficient to search Cavaliers and Pioneers, and assume that a name on a list might be the earliest mention of the name in this country. Any headright appearing in the records of the Land Office after 1634, might have originally been obtained from a previous county court certificate holder. The certificate might have been issued up to several years in advance of the patent. And as has been pointed out, many of the County Court Headright Certificates were never redeemed or recorded in the records of the Land Office, and so may be the only record for those headrights.

As a result of the loss of county court records for many of the colonial counties, it is virtually impossible, except in rare situations, to determine whether a headright list in the Land Office records was original or not. The exceptions are where individuals claimed rights based on their own personal transportation into the colony, or where external information is available that identifies individuals as the actual servants of the person who claimed the headright. In any other situation the researcher must consider the possibility that a name or names on a headright list attached to a land patent was purchased from a previous owner. Certificates were not restricted to a single county, but could be used anywhere within the Colony. Consequently, if the headright list on a York County Patent didn’t appear in the York County Court Headright Certificates, it doesn’t mean that the patent certificate was original with that patent holder; it only means that it might be, but that he might also have obtained it from a certificate holder in Warwick, or Lancaster, or some other county.

The realization that certificate lists may have been recorded years after individuals arrived in Virginia, or took years to be redeemed for land, or not redeemed at all, forces us to search county court, and other colony court records for earlier references to all individuals. For example, Col. William Clayborne of Northampton County, filed accounts of his holdings in Northampton County Court in 1637, listing the names of headrights that he had transported, even naming the ships they arrived on. Although recorded in the County Court, these headrights were not redeemed for land by Clayborne until 1653, sixteen years later, at which time he received 5,000 acres of land. Any of the people named as headrights on his list would have long since been freed from indentureship and could appear in county records prior to 1653 when the land patent was granted.

This understanding of the use of County Court Headright Certificates also serves as evidence that possibly hundreds of certificates, and therefore, possibly thousands of names, were in county records which no longer exist. This concept can have a major impact on statistics and census evaluations pertaining to colonial population.

To add to the difficulties pertaining to proper use of the County Court Headright Certificates is the matter of Chirography (handwriting) and the lack of standard spelling rules in colonial times. This issue has been addressed in many articles, by Nugent, Fleet, and other authors, pointing out the difficulty in determining the correct spelling of names in colonial records. Another Petty Axiom that I like to use states:

AIf we go back far enough, we find that all of our ancestors must have been related, because they spelled their names the same C With an AX!

While many inhabitants of Colonial Virginia may have been unable to read or write, the clerks, ships captains, clerics, and others with the education and ability to write, recorded names based on how they heard the names pronounced. In addition to which, clerks often made spelling mistakes. Names in a single document were often spelled differently due to how they were interpreted by the recorder at the time of writing. We add to this, the difficulty of transcribing names from one document to another. The original pre-court Headright certificates may have been created by a ship’s captain and written according to his hearing or ability to spell. These names were then transcribed in a Headright Certificate, again according to the knowledge and ability of the clerk reading the record and preparing the certificate. An additional copy of the certificate was recorded in the County Court Orders. When the certificate was redeemed at the Land Office, it was again transcribed into the patent record, again according to the ability of the person making the copy. This adds up to three or four separate transcriptions of names by the time the record is finally recorded in the permanent record of the Headright Patent Books in the Land Office.

But the problem becomes worse. Over the years since the original certificates and lists were recorded by the original clerks, transcripts of both the Court records, and of the Land Office Patent Books have taken place; some as early as the late 1600’s. What was familiar to a clerk reading and recording a document in the 1600’s, might not be readable to a transcriber in the Nineteen, Twentieth, and Twenty First centuries. Modern transcriptions from many of these earlier transcriptions have been published, and now are the source for most of the research that is done today. This means that a list of headrights created in 1645 might have undergone six or seven separate generations of transcriptions before being read by a modern scholar. We are lucky if any of the names appear in published form with the original spellings!

BeverlyFleet, in Virginia Colonial Abstracts, discussed the spelling of names as found in a County Court Headright Certificate for Thomas Vause in 1648. He pointed out that this list of ten headrights, recorded in the Land Patent Books in a patent to Lewis Burwell, shows significant differences in spellings between the two documents, for eight of the ten headrights. Fleet stated that after discussing the matter with Nell Nugent, that her interpretation of the spelling was probably more correct, because she had the greater expertise. Unfortunately, Fleet apparently didn’t realize that the certificate he was evaluating would have been an earlier document in the process of the land patent, and was more likely to be true to the original record than the transcription filed with the patent. What researchers have to remember is, that each and every spelling of a name is a valid spelling. If twelve different spellings of a name are found, all have to be considered as possibilities of the same name, just as they may also represent separate names for different individuals. Modern spellings of our own names are often derivations of earlier spellings, or they are spellings settled upon by family members. Researchers who use these early records and the subsequent transcriptions may have to employ considerable imagination to identify their ancestors.

The time separating certificates from the patents can also be a benefit, as life went on in the interim. For example, John Wilkins of AAcchawmacke County (later Northampton County), filed a statement in County Court, on August 8, 1636, listing himself and 25 servants. Although not called a ACertificate in the court record, this same list, in the same order, appears in a patent to John Wilkins, in the AUpper County of New Norfolk on May 18, 1637. At the end of the certificate appeared the name of AThamasine his mayde, but at the end of the patent list, her name was recorded as AThomasin his Wife. Evidently John Wilkins fell in love with the maid and married her between August 1636 and May 1637. This provides an important addition to the family record.

Headright Certificates were the earliest general source for names of people coming into Virginia, although some people might have appeared in court records between the date of their arrival, and the issuance of the certificate bearing their names. The Headright Patent abstracts in Cavaliers and Pioneers remains a primary source for research, because it shows headright lists for many patents where county records no longer exist. But where county records do exist, County Court Headright Certificates must be considered as a primary source for identifying the immigrants that came to Virginia.

YORK COUNTY, VIRGINIA – County Court Headright Certificates – 1633 to 1657.

The following is an abstract of County Court Headright Certificates found in York County, Virginia, Court Orders from 1633 to 1657, as published in Beverly Fleet’s Virginia Colonial Abstracts (Vol. 3, 1988 ed.). As previously noted, the records from 1633 to 1645 only show selected items from the court record, and no headright certificates are shown. Therefore this account effectively pertains to York County Court Orders from 1645 to 1657. I have not attempted to compare Fleet’s abstracts with the original documents, as that is not the purpose of this study. Doing such would only create another transcription. Each of the entries shown here are Headright Certificates that were issued in York County Court. Each has been compared with corresponding lists in Nugent’s , which entries are also shown here, when corresponding lists were found. These lists have been evaluated to show major differences that might pertain to content and historical significance. No effort will be made to evaluate spelling of names as both sources descend from different original documents, and the original documents are no longer available.

This study compares Alists from Headright Certificates with those of Land Patent entries abstracted in Nell M. Nugent’s Cavaliers and Pioneers. No particular effort was made to identify individuals. For example, if the name of Mary Richford appeared in a County Court Headright Certificate along with several other names, her name was searched for as it would appear as part of a corresponding list Cavaliers and Pioneers. In theory, her headright, and those of others on the same certificate, could have been sold as separate rights to different owners, and used to redeem property in connection with other lists, thereby forming a completely new list. However, in as much as many people in early Virginia traveled back and forth between Virginia and England, it is not uncommon to find multiple entries for individuals appearing in various different lists. While this Mary Richford from the County Court Headright Certificate might correctly appear as an individual on another person’s patent, there just isn’t any evidence in the patent that this entry doesn’t represent another transportation, or even another person altogether. Consequently this study considered only names as they appeared as part of lists or groups rather than as individuals.


1. Vol. 2, p.55: Date of Court: Dec. 20, 1645. (Fleet, III:19.)
Thomas Chapman having made sufficient proof in Court that there is due to him 1200 acres of land for transportation of persons hereunder named. The Court orders certificate be granted him for Vizt: Thomas Hinde, Wm Payne, Richard North, Henry Page, William James, Thomas Reynalds, James Hurleston, James Lewis, Isack Sanderson, Thomas Andrewes, Thomas Adkins, Eliz: Smith, Robert Smith, Richard Doyddn, John Pratt, Ralph Boyer, Phillipp More, Thomas Roahds, Mary Greene, Rich King, John Wallis, Francis Hide, Wm Longe, John Bridges.
* * * *
Cavaliers and Pioneers by Nell Marion Nugent (hereafter referred to as ANugent) Vol. 1: This list or entry not found.

2. Vol. 2, p. 75: Date of Court: Jan. 31, 1645/6. (Fleet, III:26.)
ACertificate to Robt Bouth, 300 land.
* * * *
(Nugent – Vol. 1) Not Found.

3. Vol. 2, p. 138: Date of Court: June 26, 1646. (Fleet, III: 44)
PATENT. Dated: Nov. 5, 1639. Sir John Harvey, knt., Governor, etc., to Samuel Watkins, 250 acres in Charles River Co., in the forest adj. Land of John Utje extending from the head of Kings Creek westerly to the Mayden Swamp and adj land formerly granted the sd Saml Watkins by patent due by assignment from Joseph Crowshaw, for transporting 5 persons. Signed John Harvey. (Transportees not named).
* * * *
(Nugent – Vol. 1, p. 117) Samuel Watkeyes, 250 acs., Chas River Co., Nov. 5, 1639, Patent Book 1, Part II, page 688. Adjoining John Utje. Westerly from the head of Kings Cr. To the Mayden Swamp, and adj. His own land. Due by assignment from Joseph Croshaw, and due said Crowshaw for transportation of 5 persons: Richard Quayles, Morgan Jones, Richard Redman, Edward Fox, & a maid servant.

(Notes): Spelling of the name Watkins / Watkeyes. Note that the headrights were originally claimed by Joseph Croshaw, until his claims to them were assigned to Samuel Watkins. Patents and grants like this entry were not recorded in the County Court record as original documents, but were recorded in connection with a subsequent transaction. None of these entries found show the names of the headrights as they appear in the original grant in the Land Office registers.

4. Vol. 2, p.146: Date of Court: June 26, 1646. (Fleet, III:46)
Order that Certificate be granted Mr Wm Pryor for 200 acres for transporting Aof fower Negroes, viz Peeter, John, Grace, and Kathren.
* * * *
(Nugent – Vol.1) Not found.

5. Vol. 2, p. 153: Date of Court: July 25, 1646. (Fleet, III: 53)
Certificate to Wm Hockaday for 50 acres for importing William Carter.
* * * *
(Nugent – Vol. 1, p. 167): William Hockaday, 500 acres, Yorke County, Aug. 6, 1646 (Patent Bk. 2, pg. 93). On the South side of Charles River near the Narrowes, N.W. by W. upon Warrany Creek N.E. by E. upon the river, and S. E. by E. towards Ware Creek. Transportation of 10 persons: Wm Carter, Rich. Parker, Jno. Sturrupp, Henry Mason, Ben. Haward, Morian Jones, Charles Brooke, Edmond Strechey, Henry Mason, Charles Engard.
(Notes): William Hockaday’s certificate only 12 days earlier, named only one transportee. Other names must have been certified at the office of the Governor and Council when application for the patent was made, or were purchased from other certificate holders, as these do not appear in county records. Also, if this patent had been applied for after 1658, it would have taken Hockaday at least six or seven months to obtain instead of 12 days.

6. Vol. 2, p. 153: Date of Court: July 25, 1646. (Fleet, III: 53)
Certificate to Mr Wm Pryor for 450 acres for transportation of 9 persons. (Their names do not appear in the record).
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol 1) Not found.

7. Vol. 2, p. 268: Date of Court: Feb. 5, 1646/7. (Fleet, III: 73)
Certificate for 250 acres of land to Robert Blackwell for importing: Robert Blackwell, Thomas Badridge (may be Baldridge), Richard Jones, Wm Sheckle, John Rich.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol 1) Not found.

8. Vol. 2, p. 269: Date of Court: Feb. 5, 1646/7. (Fleet, III: 73-74)
Certificate for 650 acres of land to John Holding for transportation of 13 persons, vizt: Dorithy Wisse (this may just as easily be read as Dorithy Wiffe), Miles Miles, Andrew Warnor, Eliz. Burrought, Rich Martin, Wm Clarke, Robt Lester, Geo Nettleton, Tho Lemons, Thomas Manfeld, John Bathrie (or Basque), John Daniell, and Morgan Jones.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol 1) Not found.

9. Vol. 2, p. 269: Date of Court: Feb. 5, 1646/7. (Fleet, III: 74)
Certificate for 200 acres to James Stone for importing: Tho. Greene, Hen. Smith, Paull Clifton, Rich Dickinson.
* * * *
(Nugent – Vol. 1, p. 169): James Stone, Merchant, & Nicolas Jernew, Planter, 564 acres, Yorke County, Nov. 4, 1647, page 106. Upon Charles River, between Queens and Savages Creeks. 500 acres formerly granted said Jernew & 164 acres for transportation of 4 persons (not named).

(Notes): The four transportees named in the certificate, are likely the four persons referred to in the patent.

10. Vol. 2, p. 272: Date of Court Feb. 5, 1646/7: (Fleet, III: 74)
Patent. Dated: 16 Aug. 1640. Sir Wm Berkeley, knt., Governor, etc., to Peeter Rygby, 450 acres in Milford Haven beginning at a point Acalled Rigbye’s Poynte running S.S.W. parallel to Lillyes Creek 400 poles, then S.E. 93 poles, thence N.E. 150 poles, thence 190 poles to Rigbyes Creek. And 100 acres beginning at the mouth of a small island called Peeters Garden and extended to his first dividend. And 50 acres butting against the N. side due to Rigby by assignment from Thomas Jolly and John Harp being due to them, Jolly and Harp, for transporting 9 persons. Signed William Berkeley. The above land Assigned to Edward Chisman by Peter Rigby and his wife 24th Sept. 1647.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 133): PETER RIGBY, 450 acres in Milford Haven, beg. At Ribgy Point, running S.S.W. parallel to Lilley’s Cr. Augu. 16, 1642. Patent Book 1, Pt. 2, page 811. Due by assignment from John Story & Thomas Jolly of their right of land for transportation of 9 persons: John Harper, Tho. & Christopher Adkinson, Robert Hopkins, James Winders, John Pollard, George Packman, John Batho, Eliz. Starr.

(Notes): The patent in Nugent is dated two years later than the copy in the county court orders. The record in the court orders was followed by reference to the document wherein Peter and Dorothy Rigby transferred title of their property to Edmund Chisman, and the grant must have been recorded as part of that transaction. The York County Court record of this patent did not list the names of the transportees of this headright, but the Land Office record did. The county record also claimed that these nine names had belonged to Thomas Jolly and John Harp, but the Land Office record showed Thomas Jolly and John Story as the owners. John Harper, the first name on the list, may have been the John Harp mentioned in the County record.

11. Vol. 2, pg. 329: Date of Court: Jan. 25, 1647/8. (Fleet, III: 87)
Certificate to Giles Tavernor for 100 acres for transporting Margrett Gaurd and Bat Curtis.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1): Not Found.

12. Vol. 2, p. 352: Date of Court: May 24, 1648. (Fleet, III: 91)
This is due Mr. Henry Lee 250 acres for transporting John Lee, Henry Lee, Eliz. Blashford, Ann Russell, and Tho. Jonson.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1): Not Found.

13. Vol. 2, p. 352: Date of Court: May 24, 1648. (Fleet, III: 92)
There is due Rd. Evens 250 acres for transporting Margerrett Regner, Henry Willis, Wm. Blease, Richd Smith, and Robt. Floreing.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1): Not Found.

14. Vol. 2, p. 359: Date of Court: May 25, 1648. (Fleet, III: 94)
300 acres due James Miller for transporting Ann Miller, John Chantler, John Evett (or Euett), Daniel Croney, Geo. Forth, and Sarah Smith.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1): Not Found.
15. Vol. 2, p. 360: Date of Court: May 25, 1648. (Fleet, III: 94)
Martin Westerlincke Ahath just proofe that there is due him 150 acres for transporting Ahis wife and child and Humph: Wms.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 243): RICHARD JACKSON, 400 acres upon Yorke Riv., in a bay next beyond land of Wm. Hockaday, bounded E. by S. upon Warrany Cr. & c. 5 Apr. 1653, Patent Book No. 3, p. 31. Due by purchase of a survey & rights for transportation of 8 persons: Martin Westerlinckes, his wife & child, Hum. Wms. (Williams), Alex. Gregory twice, the said Alexander again, and Timothy Turton.

(Notes): The Westerlinckes Headright Certificate was not redeemed for property until nearly five years after it was issued. During that time it was transferred to Richard Jackson in an unspecified manner. That Jackson held the original certificate is evidenced by the exact wording of Ahis wife and child, and the abbreviation of AWms for Williams. Jackson had also obtained rights for Alexander Gregory (three times) and Timothy Turton, but there is no Headright Certificate for those names.


16. Vol. 2, p. 390: Date of Court: July 25, 1648. (Fleet, III: 105)
Thomas Vause proves he has 500 acres of land due him for importing: Tho. Vause, Robert Thorndell, Mary Wood, Humphrey Vause, Susan Byard, Wm. Webb, Jarrott Hawthorne, Henry Hubart, Tho. Mace, William Cro’pe.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, pg. 154): LEWIS BURWELL, Gent., 2350 acres, 12 June 1648, Patent Book 2, pg. 181. Lying upon the N. side of York River up Rosewell Creek on the Seaward side thereof, at Bacon point, bounded for length up the creek to the head or maine swamp & c., & for breadth beginning at sd. point running S.S.E. down the river along the land of Georg Menefy, Esq., until it meets the land of William Smoot. 900 acres formerly surveyed by Nicholas Jernew; 400 acres by Francis Cartar; & 1050 acres by Symon Bosman. Due for transport of 47 persons: Francis Burwell, Allis Atkinson, Eliza Clap, Anthony Rock, Thomas Vand, Hump. Vand, Gerrard Hancorne, Robert Throndon, Susan Bayard, Henry Hubberd, William Cromp, Mary Wood, William Webb, Thomas Mase, William Pidd, John Axton, Kath. Key, Edward Croppage, Thomas Lane, Richard Howard, Thomas Reves, John Smith, William Lase, James Hume (or Hane) , Robert Deby, Peter Lobbins, Eidith Taylor, Adam Finly (or Finby), Eliza. Clapp, Alice Adkinson, George Coudell, Gri. Condry, Dow. Cozens, Fra. Burwell, Henry Brake, Wm. Andrewes, Nicho. Conell (or Covell), James Tyrill, Michall Aldrop, Alex. Grey, John Loppham, Mary Frisser, John Cordy, Edward Owley, Ferd. Foster, Ma. Hamilton, And. Adkinson (or Adkison).

(Notes): The list of people transported in the Vaus certificate is in the same grouping as the portion appearing in the grant (in italics), but not in exact order. The name Vaus is transcribed as such in the Court minutes, but appears as Vand in Nugent. This could be either a misreading on either part or it might actually have been spelled differently in the two documents. This grant was issued June 12, 1648, but the certificate to Thomas Vaus was issued a month and a half later on July 25, 1648. It doesn’t make sense that Vaus would even have the list that the certificate was based upon after it was redeemed for land by Burwell. It would seem that Thomas Vaus had transported himself, a relative named Humphrey Vaus, and other people, and claimed his own rights to land. He may have transferred it to Burwell, and retained his own copy of the list, which was then presented in a different court at a different time.

17. Vol. 2, p. 396: Date of Court: July 25, 1648. (Fleet, III:106)
Grant. 5 June 1645. Richard Kemp, Esqr., Governor and Capt. Generall of Virginia, to John Sheppard. 179 acres in York County, Alying betwixe the land now in the possession of Thomas Hudson on the esterward side and on the Westward bounded with the land of Henry Bullard, abutting southerly on the Dames and Runes due north into the woods parralel to the said Hudson twoe hundred and forty pole. Signed: Rich. Kempe.
* * * *

(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 156): JOHN SHEPARD, 179 acres York County, June 5, 1645; Patent Book 2, p. 23. Betwixt land now in possession of Tho. Hudson on the E. & on W. bounded with land of Henry Bullard. Due said Shepard for transport of 7 persons: Richard Haines, George Haynes, Hugh Aden, and Charles Hill.

(Notes): The grant was recorded in County Court as part of a deed from John Sheppard to Thomas Hudson. The County Court didn’t record any transportees that the property was based upon, and the grant mentioned 7 persons, but only listed four. It is also interesting to note that on May 6, 1652, Mr. John Shepperd, now of Northumberland County, received a grant in that county for transporting 20 persons, including (in the same order as the list of June 5, 1645): Richard Haines, George _____ (Haynes), Hugh Aden, and Charles Hill.

18. Vol. 2, p. 403: Date of Court: Aug. 24, 1648. (Fleet, III:108) (Mutilated and Faded)
Abraham Moone to have certificate for 600 acres for transporting: James Neale, Edward Nash, Wm. Jones, Thomas Harding, Richard Smith, William ____, _____Williams, Nicholas Candler, Henry Conell, Jeffery Williamson, Grace Thompson, and ____ Graves.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, pp. 256-7, 277, 279): This list of transportees is found divided among three different grants, but in the respective orders that they appeared in the certificate.
Pg. 256-7: EVAN DAVIS & HENRY NICHOLLS, 542 acres, Lancaster Co., 19 Oct. 1653; Patent Book No. 3, p. 86. Upon S. side of Rappahannock River & upon the S.E. side of a S. W. branch of Sunderland Creek, beg. Near the said branch, extending S.E. to land of Richard White & John Welsh, assignees of John Pedro & Evan Davis, assignee of Edward Boswell, from thence S.W. & c. 300 acres granted unto Dennis Conniers & Evan Davis 12 Feb 1651, which said Conniers assigned to said Davis & Nicholls his right thereof, reserving for himself 100 acres & 242 acres due for the transport of 5 persons: Nicho. Chandler, Jeffry Williamson, Grace Tompson, and Alexander Graves.
Pg. 277: HENRY NICHOLLS, 200 acres, Lancaster County, 29 July 1652; Patent Book No. 3, p. 200. Upon N. W. side of the S. W. branch of Sunderland Creek, opposite land of Dennis Conniers & Evan Davis, & on S. side of Rappahannock River. Transport of 4 persons: Henry Covell, Edward Nash, Thomas Hardinge, and William Wright. Assigned by Mr. Moone.
Pg. 279: ENOCH HAWKER & ANTHONY DONEY, 1,000 acres, Lancaster County, 29 July 1652; Patent Book No. 3, p. 208. Upon N. W. branch of Corotoman River & S. E. along land of John Nicholls. Transport of 20 persons: William Powell, Mathia a Negro, Lancett Cocker, Tony a Negro, Maria a Negro, Mary Morgan, William Smith, Tytus Beckett, Anne Crew, Katherine Winne, Robt. Raynes, Geo. Reinolds, Phill. Stowther, Eliza Lee, Symon Singlewood, Robert Cooper, James Neale, William Jones, Richard Smith, and Thomas Williams.

(Notes): Abraham Moone, to whom this certificate was issued in 1648, was a resident of Lancaster County after its formation in 1651. We can see how a portion of the certificate list might have been assigned to Henry Nicholls, but we have no explanation for a portion of the certificate being transferred to Enoch Hawker and Anthony Doney. It is interesting to note that Beverly Fleet in VIRGINIA COLONIAL ABSTRACTS – VOL. 3 (1988 edition), York County Court Records 1648-1657, comments on this entry, noting that he was unable to identify this Headright list in Nugent. He was attempting to fill-in the incomplete names in the York County record. We find from these three grants that include Moone’s certificate list that the missing names were: William Wright, Thomas Williams, and Alexander Graves.

19. Vol. 2, p. 412: Date of Court: Sept. 25, 1648. (Fleet, III: 110)
Certificate for 300 acres to Wm. Barber for transporting: Wm. Davis, John Brannington, James Buck, Samuell Hart, David Harde, Jane Blacke.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1): Not Found.

20. Vol. 2, p. 412: Date of Court: Sept. 25, 1648. (Fleet, III: 110)
Certificate for 400 acres to Mr. Rowland Burnham for transporting: Katherine Burnham, Aron Elcocke, Mary Richford, and 5 negroes.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 185): ROWLAND BURNEHAM, Gent., 500 acres, 16 Oct 1649; Patent Book No. 2, p. 184. About 15 miles up the S. side of Rappahannock River, bounded S. upon land of Capt. Wormeley & N. upon Abraham English. Transportation of 10 persons: Katherine Burneham, Mary Richford (or Ricardford), Aron Elcock, Richard White, Owin Davis, 5 Negroes.

(Notes): This is the same list as the Headright Certificate, with the addition of two names.

21. Vol. 2, p. 413: Date of Court: Sept. 26, 1648. (Fleet, III: 110)
Certificate for 250 acres to Henry Peaseley for transporting: Richard Tilstone, John Coates, Rich Rash, John Christmas, Wm. Brummall.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 203): HEN. PEASELEY, 700 acres, lyeing upon a swamp which runs down Cow Creek in Ware River in Mockjack, beginning at marked beech of Joseph Grigories on E. side of a branch, extending to Northermost tree of Richd. Duning. 2 Oct. 1650; Patent Book No. 2, p. 267. Transportation of 14 persons: Richard Tilson, Richard Rash, John Coates, John Chrismass, Wm. Bruneall, Michael Peasly, Henry Peasly, Peter Jemons, Susan Peaseley, Michael Peaseley (twice), Henry Shoute, James Wonell (or Wovell), Stephen Jones, Thomas Savidge.

(Notes): This is the same list as the Headright Certificate plus 9 additional persons.

22. Vol. 2, p. 415: Date of Court: Sept. 26, 1648. (Fleet, III: 111)
Certificate for 500 acres to Elias Richardson for transporting: Edmund Peeters, John Hubbard (or Stubbard), John Hamon, Tho. Burbidge, Tho. Placenett, Percy Hamon, Modlen Burford, Wm. Wood, Wm. Finch, and Susan Collins.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 228): WILLIAM WALKER, 639 acres, Northumberland County, 19 Oct 1653; Patent Book No. 3, p. 4. Abutting S.E. upon Yeocomico River & S.W. upon land of Robert Smith, etc. Transportation of 13 persons: Edmd. Peters, Jon. Stubberd, Jon. Haman, Tho. Burbadge, Tho. Placenett, Peircey Hamon, Modlin Burford, Wm. Wood, Wm. Finch, Susan Collins, Eliz. Smith, and George Court. (Note: A36 acres the overplus is in Jernew’s Pat.

(Notes): The same list as the Headright Certificate plus 2 additional persons. The patent claims A13″ persons were headrights, but only 12 were listed.

23. Vol. 1, p. 262: Date of Court: Aug. 24, 1655. (Fleet, III: 124)
Patent. Richard Bennett, Esqr., Governor, etc. grants Mr. Robert Vaus 550 acres in the County of York on Queens Creek. Bounded vizt: 400 acres part thereof along Hartwells Creek S. S. W., thence W. upon the land formerly Mr. Bouth’s, divided from this land by Maiden Swamp Creek and running S. into the woods. The residue, 150 acres on S. side of Queens Creek adjoining other land of said Vaus and along the land of Capt. Taylor, Esqr., S. by W. leading along the Vaine Spring on the E. side thereof upon the land of Richard Jones and thence W. by N. to the Mayden Swamp and down the swamp to the first mentioned land of Vaus. The said land formerly granted to the Robert Vause in 2 patents, the 400 acres first mentioned on 17th Sept. 1647. And the 150 acres by Patent dated 10 July 1651. This patent dated 9 June 1654. Signed: Richard Bennet, Wm. Clayborne, Secr. Rec. 24 Aug. 1655.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 166, 216): ROBERT VAUSE, 400 acres, Yorke County, Sept. 17, 1647; Patent Book No. 2, p. 86. Upon Queens Creek, bounding along Hartwells Creek & Maiden Swamp Creek. Part of grant of 650 acres to John Hartwell, assigned to Vause and Tobias Freere & by Nicholas Jernew, Attorney of sd. Freer, wholly assigned to sd. Vause.
ROBERT VAUS, Gent., 150 acres York County, 10 July 1651, Patent Book 2, p. 323. Upon S. side of Queens Creek, adjoining another tract of said Vaus, along the land of Capt. Taylor, S.& by W. leading along the Ewd. Side of the Labor in Vain Spring upon the land of Richard Jones, thence W. & by N. to the Maiden Swamp. Transportation of 3 persons: Mary Chubb, Ann Chamby (or Chambly), and William North.

(Notes): These patents were combined, repatented, and recorded in the county record because Robert Vaus was assigning the property to Jerom Ham, Gent.

24. Vol. 3, p. 2: Date of Court: Oct. 26, 1657. (Fleet, III:138)
Certificated to Capt. Ralph Langley for 900 acres for the transportation of 18 persons into the colony, vizt: Ralph Langley, his first and second wife, Ralph Langley Junior, George Jones, Joseph Langley, Anne Browne, Jane Langley, George Perry, ____ Dicke, Ellinor Ward, William Walker, Judeth Turner, Humphrey Williams, Grace Hughes, James Sherriffe, Agnes Langley, Sarah Langley.
* * * *
(Nugent, Vol. 1, p. 510): JAMES TURNER & RICHARD LITTLEPAGE, 1143 acres, New Kent County, 24 Mar 1663; Patent Book 5, p. 357. Upon S. side of the freshes of Pamonkey River, between an ancient devident of said Turner & Capt. Anth. Langstones path, Whiteings Swamp & Matterdam Creek; beginning by said Swamp on the S.W. of said path, running up the swamp W. by S. &c. Transportation of 23 persons: Jno. Bradly, Jno. Harelin, Arth. Crompton, Luke Harper, Jane Langly, Sarah Langly, Agnes Langly, Ralph Langly Jr., Joseph Langley, Jane Langley, Jno. Dicke, Wm. Walker, Humph. Williams, James Sheriffe, Geo. Jones, Ann Browne, Geo. Perry, Wm. Ward, Mary Jones, Robt. Harris, Thomas Hutchinson, Richard Littlepage (5 times), and Ralph Ranley (this, no doubt, should be Langley).

(Notes): At some point, Capt. Ralph Langley assigned his headrights to either James Turner or Richard Littlepage, and these latter two redeemed the certificate plus five additional personal headrights claimed by Littlepage. The patent identified the incomplete headright name of Jno. Dicke. Also we note that the Headright Certificate issued in York County, was redeemed in New Kent County. This is also an excellent example of a certificate obtained years after the actual arrivals, because it shows Langley claiming rights for his two wives, whom we suppose were consecutive rather than current.

James W. Petty – Biographical Sketch

James Winter Petty, A.G.,and former C.A.L.S. (1984-1989), is a professional genealogist, and president of Heirlines Family History and Genealogy. He may be addressed at: P.O. Box 893, Salt Lake City, UT 84110, or contacted by E-Mail at jimheirlines.com. Mr. Petty supervised microfilming in the eastern United States for the Genealogical Society of Utah from 1973 to 1977, and served as Senior Consultant in the U.S. Reference Department of the Family History Library from 1977 to 1980. He authors a column called Cluesline which can be found on the Internet at http://heirlines.com/clues_line.htm .

17th Century Virginia County Court Headright Certificates – Part 4


Part 4 of 5 part series by James W. Petty

Abuses of the Headright system

Headright Certificates were originally intended as warrants to obtain property. But as shown, the Headright Certificates were a commodity, which became a currency in Colonial Virginia. The Land Office and County Courts became the Colonial Mint. As the Headright Land Patent system developed, abuses set in. As mentioned, previous writers on the Headright system have declared the concept that using Headright Certificates as a currency was an abuse of the patent system. This author disagrees, proposing instead that the use of certificates as a currency, like Tobacco, was popular and well accepted throughout the 17th Century in Virginia. The abuses pertained to how these documents were administered. It is not our role to evaluate the ethics of colonial businessmen, but understanding the abuses of the Headright system, the records, and the courts, help us to better understand these people.

In 1697 Henry Hartwell, James Blair, and Edward Chilton published a tract pertaining to the state of governmental affairs in the colony. They present the following description concerning headright abuses:

A…all Courts were very lavish in allowing certificates for rights: for if a master of a ship came into any Court and swore that he had imported himself and so many seamen and passengers at divers times into the country, and that he never elsewhere made use of these rights, he presently obtained an order for so many rights (i.e., so many times 50 acres of land) and these rights he would sell for a small matter. Perhaps the same seamen at another Court swore that they had adventured themselves so many times into the country and had not obtained an order for so many rights.

Likewise the masters who bought the servants thus imported would at another Court make oath that they had brought so many persons who had adventured themselves into the country and obtained so many rights. Thus the land still went away and the adventurers who remained in the country had the least share of it.

Again great liberties were used in issuing certificates for rights by the County Clerks, and especially by those of the Secretary’s office, which was and still is, a constant mint of those rights, where they may be purchased at from one shilling to five shillings per right… (My emphasis)

One must bear in mind that Henry Hartwell, James Blair, and Edward Chilton were concerned that large numbers of acres of land were being granted to just a few individuals as a result of the fraudulent duplication of headright certificates. They also complained about the improper sale of headrights, especially through the Land Office, which undercut the value of land through the inflation of the certificates.

Fairfax Harrison in his volume Virginia Land Grants – A Study of Conveyancing in Relation to Colonial Politics (The Old Dominion Press, Richmond, 1925), stated his opinion of the problem with the certificates was A…to point out that, to the serious injury of the colony, head rights had become a colonial currency. Harrison may have understood statements like the one given above by Hartwell, Blair and Chilton, as a condemnation of the use of certificates as currency. But, unlike the improper use, of surveys, resulting in legislation to resolve the abuse, Headright Certificates used as currency, had existed for nearly 80 years with no sign of discouragement from the government. Actually, their condemnation was directed at those who were justified in acquiring land, and those who were not; as well as the fraudulent methods being used to administer the system.

An example of possible duplication appears in the patent for Lewis Burwell on June 12, 1648, at which time Burwell was granted 2,350 acres for transporting 47 headrights. His list included Thomas Vand, Hump. Vand, Gerrard Hancorne, Robert Throndon, Susan Bayard, Henry Hubberd, William Cromp, Mary Wood, William Webb, Thomas Mase. There is no record of a Headright Certificate in York County issued to Lewis Burwell prior to this patent, but six weeks after the patent was recorded, on July 25, 1648, Thomas Vause appeared in York County Court and declared his personal right, and nine others, namely, Robert Thorndell, Mary Wood, Humphrey Vause, Susan Byard, Wm. Webb, Jarrott Hawthorne, Henry Hubart, Tho. Mace, and William Cro’pe. Vause was issued a Headright Certificate for 500 acres of land.

This list of ten names are the same ten noted above in Burwell’s patent, which raises some interesting possibilities. First, the name AVand, in the patent list, became AVause in the Court Order. The patent list would have been transcribed from a previously written certificate, whereas Thomas Vause actually appeared in County Court and gave his name. Therefore the Court Order record should be the most accurate. Second, Vause appears to be the original owner of his list of headrights, but he apparently sold it, along with his personal right, to Burwell, sometime prior to June 12, 1648, then after Burwell used this list to obtain a patent, Vause walked into a different court, and declared his right to his own personal adventure, and nine other headrights. Having no means to refute this claim, Vause was issued a Headright Certificate entitling him to 500 acres. Third, Vause’s list, given by himself in court, gave the same names as that part of Burwell’s list, but in a different order. Vause apparently wasn’t reading the list off of another certificate, suggesting the possibility that he was drawing upon his memory as to who he transported. This suggests that Vause may actually have transported and traveled with these nine people.

Edmund S. Morgan, like Harrison, also expressed a disparaging view about headright certificates used as currency. In a review article of the volume White, Red, and Black: The Seventeenth-Century Virginian, by Wesley Frank Craven (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1975), he noted the example of one Howard Pryse, clerk of the Charles City County Court, Morgan showed that Pryse, between 1655 and 1657 took out 13 certificates in his name, pertaining to 672 headright names. Of those, only 20 headright names were used by Pryse to redeem for land. 446 headrights appear in the land patents of 19 different persons, and the remaining 226 names do not appear in the land patents at all. Professor Morgan went on to say: These were hardly typical cases. So far as I can tell from other samples, a majority, though a small majority, of the certificates were used by the persons who initially obtained them. Nevertheless, the existence of a trade in certificates makes one wonder about the number which may have floated in the market for some time before finding their way into patents.

Remember Petty’s paradigm…? Morgan is clearly mistaken here. He cannot know if a majority of certificate owners used their own certificates to obtain land, because all of the certificates submitted at the Land Office were destroyed at the end of the patent process. Therefore, one cannot state in whose name the certificates were originally given. As for the county certificates, it has been shown that perhaps 54% or more of those issued, never completed the patent process. And 80% of the county certificates were not redeemed for land by the people who originally received them. His own example showed an individual who redeemed only 3% of the headrights he obtained certificates for, and who apparently sold the remainder on the open market, which was an accepted practice in that day.

Morgan further cited as abuse, the high use of headright certificates in the mid 1660’s as: A…clearly signify land grabbing…but given the wide and varying gaps between arrivals and certificates, and between certificates and patents, it seems more plausible that the speculators were drawing on headrights earned by earlier immigrants. Morgan is correct that speculators were drawing on headrights earned by earlier immigrants! But if certificates were a salable commodity, which they were for over eighty years, what makes this Abuse?

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