Volume 1 Issue 3
March 2001
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Willard (Bill) Gentry

An important discovery brought forward by Gary Young provides the earliest reference (1674) to the presence of a Gentry in Virginia. The consequences of this discovery are discussed. The assertions that Samuel and Nicholas Gentry were British "Redcoats"; that Samuel Gentry and Margaret Draper were their parents; and that Lucy Cornelius was the wife of Nicholas Gentry are discussed and arguments against them presented.

Important Discovery
Thanks to a discovery by Gary E. Young, of Centreville, MD, the original plan for this series of articles on Nicholas Gentry has been expanded to include Gary's very significant contribution to Gentry family history. This discovery pushes back the earliest references to the Gentry family in Virginia by six years and raises more questions than it answers. Specifically, Gary has pointed out a reference in Court Order Book One for Middlesex Co., Va, an entry dated 7 Sep 1674, as follows<1>:

"Certificate is graunted this day to Nicholas Cocke upon his Oath according to Act for transportation of Seven persons (Vizt) Richard Anderson, Samm Salmon, Daniell Allpool, Jane Ward, Robert Reppett, Clemcent de Loppo, SAML GENTRY [emphasis added]."

For new readers who may not be familiar with the history of Samuel Gentry and his brother Nicholas (progenitor of an overwhelmingly large fraction of the Gentrys in America), a very brief review is in order here (for more complete coverage and references, refer back to the first two issues of this Journal). The first known reference to Nicholas was in 1680 when he was due wages for serving as a militiaman in the Mattaponi Garrison as a designated volunteer on behalf of his immediate community of neighbors. In 1684, the previous first reference to Samuel, the latter was granted land along Totopotomoy Creek and the Pamunkey River in what was then New Kent County (later Hanover County). This land adjoined land occupied by Nicholas Gentry, this document then becoming the second reference to Nicholas. Nicholas remained on this land, presumably for the rest of his life, but Samuel sold his some fifteen months later, and after the birth of a son, Peter, in St. Peter's Parish in 1687, was never heard from again. The common assumption has been that Samuel and his family either all died, perhaps of sudden illness or accident, or they returned to England.

What is the significance of this new reference? Several points come to mind:

  1. The most obvious is the one of date. Previously, the earliest Gentry reference was one for Nicholas in 1680. This new reference clearly indicates that Samuel, at least, had arrived in Virginia six or more years earlier. As to whether or not Nicholas accompanied Samuel, or arrived at a different time, we cannot really say, but the fact that only Samuel's name is listed among those for whom Nicholas Cocke received a headright, certainly suggests that Nicholas and Samuel travelled at different times.
  2. The Middlesex County location suggests that Samuel arrived at that part of the eastern Virginia shoreland, although not necessarily so. It is known that Nicholas Cocke lived in Middlesex Co. for many years before and after this court citation<2>, but of course Samuel could have landed elsewhere. The movement of Samuel to New Kent County, where he was granted land in 1684, appears to have taken place some time later.
  3. When the earliest reference to Samuel was thought to be his land grant of 1684, four years after the earliest reference to Nicholas, it was not unreasonable to think that Samuel may have come to Virginia after Nicholas. His son Peter, born two and a half years later (baptized April 1787), was thought to probably be his first child. On the other hand, when we find that Samuel had been in Virginia for at least thirteen years before Peter's birth, we no longer have any reason to rule out additional children older than Peter, nor do we have any reason to speculate that Nicholas was the first one of the two to come to Virginia. On the contrary, it appears more likely that Samuel may have been the first to arrive.
  4. The presence of Samuel in Virginia in 1674, clearly casts great doubt on the story told by some early Gentry descendants to the effect that Samuel and Nicholas were "Redcoats" who were a part of the British Army forces sent to Virginia in 1677 for the purpose of quelling Nathaniel Bacon's Rebellion of 1676. This reinforcement of Governor Berkeley, was followed by the discharge of these troops from service on Virginia soil, followed by many of them settling permanently in Virginia. There has been much embroidery of this anecdotal tradition with various Gentry family histories inserting the date of landing and name of the specific ship in which they arrived, and the assignment of the British troops to the Mattaponi Garrison [which in fact was manned by colonial militia, not regular Army forces]. In previous issues of the Journal, this likelihood has been discounted for Nicholas, and if Samuel Gentry clearly was not a part of the Army transport, the possibility of either being involved is nil.

There are a number of troubling questions that are raised by Gary Young's discovery.

  1. Where was Samuel, and what was he doing between 1674 and 1684? Like Nicholas, there is a strong probability that Samuel served as an indentured worker in exchange for his passage from England to Virginia. Was this in Middlesex County? Pehaps more careful searching for possible references to Samuel in this county might turn up further information. The fact, however, that Samuel remained on his plantation only from the fall of 1684 to January 1686, still suggests that plantation farming was not his kettle of fish and does nothing to change the thought that he preferred to return to England rather than stay in Virginia.
  2. Is the common assumption that Nicholas and Samuel Gentry were brothers in error? This writer feels that this is probably still a correct assumption. The fact that Samuel and Nicholas wound up on adjoining plots of land in New Kent County suggests a close relationship. While it is possible that the two could have been first cousins, a sibling relationship is much more likely. In addition the fact that both Nicholas and Samuel had children baptized in St. Peter's Parish at about the same time, indicates that the two fathers were probably of the same generation. Although that does not rule out the possibility that there were two Samuel's, the earlier one being the father of Nicholas, and a younger Samuel, it is not a likely possibility.
  3. What effect does this early date of appearance in Virginia have upon assumptions of parentage of Samuel and Nicholas? This is covered in more detail below, but briefly, there have been suggestions that the two brothers were children of a Samuel Gentry and Margaret (Draper) Gentry who were married in Thaxted, County Essex, England in 1655. A Samuel Gentry was recorded as being born to a Samuel Gentry and wife in nearby Great Easton parish in 1663. If this child was indeed the son of Samuel and Margaret, it would mean that he was only eleven years of age in 1674, creating much doubt that the two Samuels were the same individual.

Parentage of Samuel and Nicholas Gentry
As mentioned above, a common assertion by some Gentry family historians has been that Nicholas was the son of Samuel Gentry and Margaret Draper. While there has been absolutely no definite evidence to this effect so far as this writer has been able to ascertain, there likewise has been no evidence to the contrary. (The one part of this hypothesis that is particularly questionable is that despite family histories citing the marriage of Samuel Gentry and Margaret Draper as being in 1655, they turn around and give the date of birth of Nicholas as also 1655!).

In addressing this question of parentage, it will be helpful to briefly outline the evidence that has been collected concerning Gentrys in 17th century England. The data that follows has been taken from a contribution by Mrs. Herbert G. Gentry of Austin, TX, who engaged in extensive correspondence with a number of genealogy contacts in England. Mrs. Gentry published the results of this correspondence in the "Gentry Family Gazette & Genealogy Exchange" in 1987<3>.

The first point to be made is that no reference to a Nicholas Gentry in Southeast England, dated in the 1600's, was ever found by any of Mrs. Gentry's correspondents; neither baptism, nor marriage, nor burial, nor any probate or estate records. This quickly eliminates the prospects of any Gentry genealogists getting a copy of any birth or baptism record for Nicholas. As for references to other Gentrys, by far the greatest number were found within a relatively small area in Essex (see map).

Map of County Essex, England
Selected Parishs in County Essex, England (mostly with Gentry references)

These Gentrys were common folk, and included brick layers, brick makers, weavers, tavern keepers, bakers, yeomen (farmers), and the like. None of their sons were likely to have had much money to spend on paying for passage from England to the Colonies, lending support to the probability that Nicholas and Samuel both spent a period of indentured service in Virginia in exchange for their passage.

Gentry grooms whose marriages were recorded in the 1630's to 1650's include:

In Thaxted parish:
....22 Aug 1655     Samuel Gentry of Easton married Margaret Draper of the same.

In South Weald parish:
....1634     Thomas Gentry married Elizabeth Turner.
....1635     Richard Gentry married Sara Cole.

In Lindsell parish:
....1 May 1635     Roger Gentry married Rebecca Wallis.

In Great Dunmow parish:
....1655     Philip Gentry married "John" [Joan?] Philpot.
....1657     Samuel Gentry married Sara Eve.

In Little Wenham parish, County Suffolk:
...1636     Robert "Gentrie" married Anne Liveing.

In addition, while there is no marriage record available, Nathaniel Gentry and wife Mary were the parents of three children baptised in Kelvedon parish 1644 to 1655. Presumably Nathaniel and Mary were married about 1642 or 1643. An apparent second marriage is recorded for Nathaniel, to Susan Kendall in Kelvedon parish in 1669. (In addition to marriage and baptism records, there are multiple references to Nathaniel in the Essex Quarterly Court Records between 1651 and 1695, in connection with a tavern in Kelvedon of which he was the proprietor).

Baptisms of interest include:

In Great Easton parish:
....4 Aug 1657     "Susan, d. of Samuel Gentry and Elizabeth [erased] Margaret"
....9 Aug 1663     "'Sammuell', son of [no name] Gentry and [no name] his wife".
In Kelvedon parish:
....20 Sep 1644     Mary, d. of Nathaniel and Mary Gentry
....22 Jul 1649     Samuel, s. of Nathaniel and Mary Gentry
....14 Feb 1654/5 <4>     Simon, s. of Nathaniel and Mary Gentry.

Great Easton is located close to Thaxted where Samuel Gentry and Margaret Draper were married. There are also later records to what appears to be the same Samuel in Lindsell parish. The three communities, Thaxted, Great Easton, and Lindsell lie within a circle of only a few miles radius, so Samuel and Margaret could easily have moved from one to another parish. While the specific identification of the two children listed in the Great Easton parish records is uncertain, it is not unreasonable to assume that they were children of Samuel and Margaret. Given the date of marriage of the latter, Susan appears to have been their first child. We have already mentioned above, the fact that the Samuel who was born in Great Easton is unlikely to have been the Samuel who landed in Virginia in 1674. The timing of Samuel Jr's birth would allow one or more other children to have been born between Susan and Samuel, but for some reason the baptism not recorded. If Samuel and Margaret were the parents of the Samuel and Nicholas Gentry of Virginia, Nicholas could have been born in the period between 1657 and 1663, but it is not very likely he could have been born in 1664 or later, given his service in the Virginia militia in 1680.

The children of Nathaniel and Mary Gentry fit better with the possibility that this couple were the parents of a Nicholas as well as the Samuel recorded above. Since there is a lack of documentation for Nathaniel's marriage to Mary, it may not be unusual for a baptism of a son Nicholas to not be recorded. As to a date of birth for this hypothetical Nicholas, the period between 1649 and 1655, or the period after 1655 would both be possible alternatives.

In summary, concerning Samuel and Nicholas Gentry of Virginia:

  1. It is very doubtful that Samuel Gentry and Margaret (Draper) Gentry of Great Easton and Lindsell parishes were their parents.
  2. Nathaniel and Mary Gentry of Kelvedon parish could have been parents even though there is no reference to a Nicholas Gentry as a child. The evidence neither refutes this hypothesis, nor firmly supports it.
  3. Samuel and Nicholas' parents may have been other Gentrys, so far not identified, who may or may not have lived in Essex.

The Wife of Nicholas Gentry
Besides the unsupported contention that Samuel Gentry and Margaret Draper were the parents of Nicholas, an even less likely proposal was that he married a Lucy Cornelius. Where this proposal first surfaced, this writer has never been able to determine, but it appears to have come from patron records submitted for LDS church processing. Moreover, like the embroidery of the British "Redcoat" theory, Lucy's status has been extended to include a date and place of birth, a date of marriage and a place of death and approximate date of death, all listed as if they were gospel fact rather than pure assumptions. A common statement that Lucy died before 1749 at Fort Nashboro is a particularly egregious error inasmuch as Fort Nashboro was not built until 1780. I do not suggest that there never was a Lucy Cornelius, but just that the patron submitting the information connected her to the wrong individual as a spouse.

Another wife that has been suggested for Nicholas, either alone, or as one of two wives is Mabel Wood. Like Lucy, there is no historical justification for this. This name appears in the 1701 vestry records for St. Peter's Parish, but only in connection with the repayment of Nicholas by the church vestry for the expenses of clothes and a funeral for Mabel. This is obviously a community expense undertaken by Nicholas, quite common at that time, not a personal one. There is no reason to suspect any family relationship. So as far as this Journal is concerned, it will not support either proposal.

Who was the likely wife of Nicholas if not Lucy Cornelius and/or Mabel Wood? There is absolutely no reliable evidence that this writer is aware of concerning Nicholas' wife. Purely as a hypothesis, and I hesitate even to mention it for fear that someone might place too much reliance upon this, I have thought that his wife may have been a daughter of David Crawford Sr. of St. Peter's and St. Paul's Parish. David was listed among the residents of St. Peter's Parish in 1689, along with Nicholas, when the parish was divided into precincts for processioning<5>. David Sr. was of an age where he could have had a daughter of marriageable age for he also had a son David Jr. who appeared to be a contemporary of Nicholas and who was in a number of St. Paul's Parish records along with Nicholas. David Sr. was a vestryman for St. Peter's Parish, and for its successor, St. Paul's Parish. He was also the purchaser of Samuel Gentry's land-grant property when the latter sold it in 1686<6>, and consequently was a close neighbor of Nicholas. The only logic for this suggestion is that of David's given name. Nicholas Sr and two sons, Nicholas Jr and James (who would have been grandsons of David Crawford if this reasoning is correct), all named a son David. The succeeding very common use of David among descendants, of course, is understandable once the early generations had started the practice.

This writer's personal theory as to a date of marriage for Nicholas is based upon the fact that Nicholas was the occupant of plantation land in 1684 when Samuel received his land grant. It is unlikely that Nicholas would have established permanent residence on land unless he was married. He was presumably unmarried in 1680 when Nicholas served a tour of militia duty (see JGG issues 1 and 2). This gives a probable date of marriage of say 1683 to 1684.

One further question arises as to Nicholas' early life, and that is why there is no reference to a formal grant for the land he was occupying in 1684. In a number of other cases, there are references to individuals as occupying land adjacent to some parcel that was the subject of a land grant or deed, where there is no surviving record of ownership by the individual for that property. It is probable in each one of these cases that the occupant was living on and working the property but did not own it. This appears to have been a common practice among different members of a family such as father and son, two or more brothers, or father-in-law and son-in-law. In the case of Nicholas it is very plausible that he was living on land owned by his father-in-law, which is further argument for the proposal that he had married some time before 1684.

In this issue we have reported the discovery of an early Gentry reference by Gary Young. Based partly on this and partly on other evidence, we have also attempted to debunk three proposals, accepted as fact by some Gentry family members.

  1. Samuel and Nicholas Gentry were not British "Redcoats" who came to Virginia in 1677 in connection with the "Bacon Rebellion".
  2. It is highly unlikely that Samuel Gentry and Margaret Draper were the parents of Samuel and Nicholas Gentry. Other possibilities lack factual evidence but on the other hand do not have evidence to the contrary against them. Further, there appears to be no evidence at the present time for a Nicholas Gentry being in any English records in the mid-1600's.
  3. Almost certainly, Lucy Cornelius was not the wife of Nicholas Gentry. This suggestion possibly may be due to some previous misunderstanding of a Lucy Cornelius and a Gentry relationship of a different generation and/or a different place of residence.

After the interjection of this article into the planned series of information about Nicholas Gentry and his descendants, the next issue will continue with a discussion of the evidence for the order and identification of his immediate children.

1. "Order Book Abstracts of Middlesex County, Virginia, 1673-1680" "Part I of Middlesex County Order Book No. 1, 1673-1677", edited and published by Ruth and Samuel Sparacio, McLean, VA 1989, page 16.

2. "The Vestry Book of Christ Church Parish, Middlesex County, Virginia, 1663-1767", transcribed by C. G. Chamberlayne, Old Dominion Press, Richmond, VA, 1927.
Nicholas Cocke was a vestryman in Christ Church Parish from the time of its earliest records in 1663. As an indication of his prominence and wealth, an entry for 25 Nov 1673 (p.20-21), acknowledges he was "due 3200lb of Tobacco for Shingling ye Uper Chappell and payling in ye Yard and for Nailes towards ye Worke". Carpentry of this type may well have been the type of work that Samuel Gentry might have performed as an indentured servant. The parish register shows Nicholas Cocke died 25 Oct 1687.

3. "The Hunt for the Missing Link: Research in England", by Mrs. Herbert G. Gentry, Austin, TX, "Gentry Family Gazette and Genealogy Exchange", vol 6, 135-152 (May 1987)

4. For those not familiar with the accepted method of citing date references according to the Old-Style calendar in England or the Colonies (prior to 1752), the fact that the new year began on March 25th adds a complication in addition to the loss of days compared to the Gregorian or New-Style calendar. Any date between 1 January and 25 March was recorded at the time as being in the year that included the preceding months of April through December. A date record would show a year corresponding to what we would consider to be the new year, only for dates after 25 March. The conventional way of distinguishing for certain between the year that was recorded at the time, and the year that we would consider to be proper today is by recording a double date. The date 14 Feb 1654/5 indicates that the original document showed a date of Feb 1654, being a part of the year 1654 which included the preceding months of April through December, then January, then finally February. According to today's calendar, however, the event actually took place during February of the year we would now identify as 1655. By using a double date, one removes the possibility of confusion of dating.

5. "The Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter's Parish, New Kent and James City Counties, 1684-1786", transcribed and edited by C. G. Chamberlayne, published by The Library Board, Richmond, VA, 1937, Vol I p.19-21 [10-11 in original]:

1689 May 4 "At a vestry held at St. Peters Parish Church... The several p'sons names ... were ordered to Prosession and Remark ye bounds of each mans Land Viz: ... ['Nic Gentry' and David Crawford among many others]."

6. "Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants", "Vol II (1666-1695)", abstracted by Nell Marion Nugent, published by Virginia State Library, Richmond, 1977;

1706 May 2 Vol III p.107 (Patent Bk 9, p.728):
"[Grant to] David Holt, 300 acs. New Kent Co. S. side of York River, bet brs of sd river & brs of Totopotomoys Cr. Adj. Col John Page, Esqr; land of Edward Hawkins & Nicho Gentry. Granted Samuell Gentry, 21 Oct 1684 who deeded same to David Crawford ... 5 Jan 1685 [=1686]."

Minor revisions, October 2013

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