Volume 1 Issue 4
April 2001
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Part 3. Parish Records as a Means of Identifying Children

Willard Gentry

St. Peter's and St. Paul's Parish records provide virtually the only information concerning the composition of Nicholas Gentry's family. Baptismal records from St. Peter's Parish Register and vestry records from St. Paul's Parish provide identification for daughters Elizabeth and Mabel and son Nicholas, and evidence for the existence of sons Joseph, Samuel and James. Five grandchildren, sons of Joseph and James, are also proposed as well as a third daughter, Mary. The proposal by some that daughter Elizabeth married James Haggard is discussed and rejected.

In the two previous articles of this series, and in the article about Nicholas Gentry by Denny Ellerman, it has been obvious that specific references to the immigrant Nicholas in Colonial Virginia are extremely limited. The situation with his children ranges from virtually non-existent to comparatively plentiful. In this article, we shall summarize the process of identifying those children

St. Peter's Parish Register
Only three of Nicholas' children are documented as his, specifically in the baptismal record found in the Register of St. Peter's Parish, New Kent County, Virginia<1>. A daughter, Elizabeth, was baptized 29 Aug 1689, a son Nicholas was baptized 30 May 1697, and a daughter "Mabell" was baptized 13 Dec 1702. (There is some confusion concerning the baptismal date of Elizabeth, since in "The Gentry Family in America" (GFA, p.32)<2>, the year is given as 1687. This is a typographical error, as both the transcription of the Register by C. G. Chamberlayne, and an earlier transcription by the Colonial Dames of America<3> give the year as 1689.) As to the rest of Nicholas' children, we must use deductive reasoning based almost exclusively on evidence found in the Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish (successor parish to St. Peter's).

St. Paul's Parish Vestry Book Early Records
A total of three references to Nicholas Sr. are found in the St. Peter's Parish Vestry Book between 1689 and the year 1704 when the parish was divided in two. At that time, a new St. Paul's Parish was formed which encompassed the upriver (western) half of the original parish (see discussion and map in Part I of this series). Nicholas was living in the territory of the new St. Paul's Parish along Totopotomoy Creek. (Today this creek runs for a distance of some 15 to 20 miles in a rather pronounced valley from west to east through the outskirts of the city of Richmond). The succeeding parish records for the Gentry family are found in this parish<4>. Four more records concerning Nicholas are found in the St. Paul's records, all dated 1709. All of these records have been summarized in the article by Denny Ellerman (JGG, vol 1, issue 1), and will not be repeated here with the exception of two.

On March 14, 1708/9, Nicholas Gentry, and a Joseph Gentry are ordered to assist in repairing and maintaining a road, and on the same date "Nich'o Gentry" and "Jo Gentry" were identified as members of parish precinct #13. We then have no further mention of any Nicholas Gentry until 1719, when a processioning return to the vestry (see Part I of this series for a review of the practice of "processioning"), identified this Nicholas as occupying land which related evidence shows to be located in the vicinity of Stone Horse Creek. This was at the opposite end of the parish from the Totopotomoy Creek homestead of Nicholas the Immigrant. The logical supposition is that Nicholas Sr died sometime after 1709, and the other Nicholas was his son, Nicholas Jr (the same one listed in St. Peter's Parish Register).

The Joseph Gentry mentioned above, continued to be included in vestry records from 1709 until 1743 in which year he was identified as "Joseph Gentry Sr". A later reference to Joseph Gentry in 1751 is not specifically identified as Joseph Sr or Joseph Jr, and so could apply to either one. (Note. In that time and place, the term Senior and Junior did not necessarily imply father-son relationship, only that one was older than the other, although usually there was some relationship between them. Accordingly, from this evidence alone, one cannot conclude that because Joseph was referred to as "Senior", he necessarily had a son also named Joseph.)

These references to the senior Joseph include the two mentioned above when he was listed with Nicholas, and also four references between 1720 and 1743 in which Joseph was assigned vestry responsibilities. In addition, Joseph was included in processioning reports in 1712, 1716, 1720, 1731, 1735, 1739, and 1751, in all of which the precinct identification and names of neighbors appear to indicate that he never left the Totopotomoy Creek area. The initial reference in 1709 leads one to assume that Joseph was of age then, so must have been born by at least 1688.

We can conclude that Joseph was a son of Nicholas, and based upon the age of Nicholas' oldest daughter, and Joseph's own apparent age, he was the eldest of Nicholas' children. Since there were no further references to Nicholas in the following years in which Joseph appears in the record, namely 1712 and 1716, one can also conclude that Nicholas probably died some time in the interval between 1709 and 1712.

Samuel Gentry and Nicholas Gentry Jr
The next appearance of a Gentry other than Nicholas Sr. and Joseph in the vestry records was in 1716 in which

"... [Tithables from Golden Mine Creek, to Stony Run, ordered to] ... assist Sam'l Gentry in Clearing a road, from Stone Horse Creek to Stony Run".
At the same vestry meeting, another group of tithables was charged with clearing a road downriver from Stony Run (a creek running south into the Chickahominy River, but lying in St. Paul's Parish), We conclude that the job of clearing this new road was divided in half, and that the first group, upriver from Stony Run, were residents of that part of the parish (Stone Horse Creek was effectively the farthest west boundary of St. Paul's Parish). The accompanying map will help to identify the various areas of the parish.

Map of
Hanover County
St. Paul's Parish and Environs, Hanover County, Virginia (1704-1779)

In 1719, Samuel was included in a processioning report along with Nicholas Gentry, in a precinct that was separate from that for Joseph Gentry in the same year, and presumably was the same Stone Horse Creek precinct. Samuel was included in further processioning reports in 1731, 1739, and 1743, but in a third precinct, one different from both Joseph and Nicholas. In that same interval, Samuel received two grants of land in 1723 and 1724 along and south of the South Anna River in the vicinity of Beech Creek<5>. (Beech Creek is the next tributary of the South Anna River downriver from Stone Horse Creek).

Besides his appearance in 1719, Nicholas [Jr] was included in the next succeeding St. Paul's Parish processioning return of 1731 (as mentioned above, in a precinct separate from Samuel). He was also named in an order in 1735 to assist (along with others), in clearing a road for which Samuel was the "Surveyor" or responsible individual. Beginning in 1739, and continuing in 1743, 1755, 1763, and 1767, Nicholas was named in the processioning report for this same precinct, which can be clearly identified as lying between Stone Horse Creek and Beech Creek<6>. (There is a problem with these latter references which does not affect our present use of the parish records and which will be addressed at a future time.)

Samuel and Nicholas Gentry have both been documented rather extensively in other early Virginia references and genealogical compilations. Nicholas in particular is the primary focus of "The Gentry Family in America" which contains extensive descriptions of his line of descendants. At some time later, there will be separate articles in this journal devoted to each of them. But these present references in the St. Paul's Parish records certainly indicate strongly that Samuel, as well as Nicholas, were sons of Nicholas Sr. Moreover, the evidence clearly suggests that Samuel was the older of the two, with a date of birth undoubtedly between that of their sister Elizabeth, and that of Nicholas. With that, we will leave these two, and go on to discuss the other Gentrys included in the parish records.

William Gentry and James Gentry
In 1732, and again in 1735, there are brief references to a William Gentry who was ordered to assist in road maintenance. The reference in 1732, further, includes Joseph Gentry in the same order. This is the first Gentry to be mentioned after the earlier references to Joseph, Samuel, and Nicholas Jr. The timing of this reference suggests that William was a son of Joseph. William almost certainly must have been of age in 1732, which indicates that he was born in 1711 or earlier. William was not included with Joseph in the processioning report of 1731, but that shows nothing of his age, since he was apparently not occupying land separate from his father at the time. William has no further references in any Virginia records, and we have no positive clue as to what may have become of him.

[Editor's Note. The text and some of the conclusions in the following paragraph and related material later in the article have been revised from that included in the original publication of this article - June 2008.]

We know from other information that Nicholas Jr moved away from St. Paul's Parish by 1736, and Samuel had moved by 1742. Accordingly, the next appearance of a new Gentry name, that of James in 1751, at first glance suggests that here was another son of Joseph. There were processioning returns that included James in 1751, 1759 and 1763. In 1756, there was also a reference to a suit in Hanover County Court in which James testified in a processioning land dispute. (The original court record is missing but an account of the suit is reported in the St. Paul's Vestry Book records). Beginning in 1767, and again in 1771 and in 1779, processioning returns involving James refer to "James Gentry heirs" or "James Gentry dec'd". What can we conclude from James' relatively late appearance in processioning records (compared to references to William), and which appear only a dozen or so years before his death? In estimating the age of James, other evidence suggests he had several sons including James Gentry Jr., George Gentry, David Gentry and William Gentry. George Gentry had a Revolutionary War veteran son, also named James, who was reportedly born in 1757. With a grandson of this age, the elder James must have been born before 1710. His absence from vestry records before 1743 suggests that he left home at a relatively early age well before William is thought to have done the same. What may have happened to him is discussed in considerable detail in later articles in the Journal of Gentry Genealogy. For now, it will be sufficient to say that most evidence suggests that James was a younger son of Nicholas-I, rather than a son of Joseph.

[An editorial note: This James is undoubtedly the Gentry by that name listed as #184 in GFA (p.242) with a proposed date of birth of 1710.]

Joseph Gentry Jr.
We turn now to references to a younger Joseph. The reference to Joseph Gentry in 1751 is ambiguous, was this the Joseph Gentry Sr. of 1743, or was it a Joseph Jr. The next references to Joseph skip the processioning records of 1755 and 1756, and jump to 1759 and 1763 when a Joseph Gentry is included in a processioning precinct with James Gentry. Joseph is included further in returns of 1767, 1771, and 1779. The other people, besides James, named in the 1759 and 1763 returns, are generally the same as those included with James in 1751, and different from the separate precinct cited in that year for Joseph. My conclusion is that the earlier reference is to Joseph Sr., and the later ones are to Joseph Jr., leading to the conclusion that Joseph Sr. died between 1751 and 1755. If we estimate birth at about 1684, this would place Joseph's age at death at about 70 --a reasonable conclusion.

Despite two references in 1764 and 1765 to "Joseph Gentry Jun'r" in which he was awarded vestry funds for the care of a George Cawthon, this is probably just a continuation of an earlier custom and did not necessarily mean that there was still a Joseph Sr. alive. The need to identify a Joseph Sr. in 1743, suggests that Joseph Jr. was of age by that time and it was necessary or convenient to differentiate between the two Joseph's. This would indicate that Joseph Jr. was probably born at least by 1722, and perhaps two to four years earlier. We can conclude from this date of birth that this Joseph could not have been a son of either William or James, and we believe from other evidence that he was not a son of Samuel or Nicholas Jr. Consequently he must have been a younger son of Joseph Sr.

David Gentry, William Gentry (the Younger), and George Gentry
The only Gentrys included in the St. Paul's Parish records other than those already mentioned, appear late in the sequence of vestry records. In 1767, there is a processioning reference to "James Gentry heirs", "Jo. Gentry", and David Gentry in the same precinct. In 1771, there is a reference to "James Gentry's heirs", William Gentry, and Joseph Gentry in the same precinct as 1767, and to a George Gentry in the far western precinct adjoining Stone Horse Creek. The long interval of time between the mention of this William and the earlier records of 1732 and 1735 very strongly suggests that this was a different William, at least a generation younger than the previous one. Continuing with the processioning record, in 1775, David Gentry was appointed to oversee a different precinct. In 1779, "James Gentry's heirs", Wm. Gentry, and Jo's Gentry were in one precinct, David Gentry was in a different one and George was listed again at Stone Horse Creek. These three Gentrys deserve more consideration in detail, and will be deferred to later articles devoted to Joseph's and James' family.

We will see in future issues of this journal that not all of Nicholas' children appeared in St. Paul's Parish records. Two other Gentrys, David and John, undoubtedly descended from him and based upon an accumulation of other evidence, are thought to be sons who probably left the family home at the same time as James. Their only tie to Nicholas Sr. is the conviction that Nicholas and his family were the only Gentrys living in Virginia at that time. Thus, whatever their relationship, they also must have been part of the family.

Summary of Gentrys Listed in St. Paul's Parish Vestry Book
The vestry book references to Gentrys, limited though they may be, are sufficient to give us the names of families who were present in the parish and clues as to their geographical location in the parish. Based upon the dates of occurrence of these references, we can make informed judgments as to the possible relationships between the families and the order of birth of children. Furthermore they are the only known references to either Joseph Sr. or his son William. Briefly, the records show the presence of the following individuals, whose proposed relationship to each other is indicated.

1704-1709 Nicholas (Sr)

1709-1751    - - Joseph (Sr)           Son of Nicholas (born perhaps abt.1684)

     1732-1735    - - - - William        Son of Joseph (born perhaps abt.1710)

     1759-1779    - - - - Joseph (Jr)   Son of Joseph (born perhaps abt.1718)

1716-1743    - - Samuel                   Son of Nicholas (born abt.1691)

1719-1735    - - Nicholas (Jr)          Son of Nicholas (born 1697)
     (plus references 1739-1767 that are questionable)
     (This is the same Nicholas whose baptism was recorded in St. Peter's Parish Register)

1751-1763    - - - - James               Son of Nicholas (born perhaps abt.1705)
     (and 1767-1779, references to "James Gentry heirs" or "James Gentry decd")

     1767-1779, David, George, and William (the younger) listed and not discussed
    here, assumed to be children of James.

Daughters of Nicholas Sr
For the sake of completeness of discussion of Nicholas' family, we will briefly touch on his daughters, although they do not appear in any records in this capacity other than Elizabeth and Mabel's baptisms in the St. Peter's Parish Register. One other daughter in addition to these two, has been suggested. This is Mary, who married John Spradling. Mary was appointed administrator of John's estate in 1733<6>, and both Nicholas and Samuel Gentry posted bond for Mary. Nicholas was a neighbor of the Spradling family at the time, so could have been serving as security simply as a neighbor. However, Samuel had moved from the immediate area before 1731, so would not necessarily have been expected to serve as security just for neighborly reasons. Mary and John are believed to have had children that included a John Jr. and Charles Spradling who were associated with a John Gentry in Amelia County in the 1740's. John and Charles are believed to have been born shortly after 1700. This would place Mary's date of birth as roughly 1680 to 1685. If indeed Mary was a daughter of Nicholas, she must have ranked just before or just after Joseph in the order of birth of Nicholas' children. Mary's name appears repeatedly in the St. Paul's Parish records, but of course as "Mary Spradling". She was paid by the vestry year after year from 1750 to 1765 to care for a Thomas Snead, probably an incompetent or incapacitated member of the parish who could not care for himself. On another occasion she was paid for caring 6 months for "Widow Cawthon with a cancer".

The two confirmed daughters of Nicholas figure in a controversy concerning whether or not either or both were married to a James Haggard. Members of both the Haggard family, and also Gentry family members, have suggested that Elizabeth was the wife of James Haggard, founder of the Haggard family in America. The sometimes fanciful tale of James is given in a book by David Haggard, one of his descendants,<7> with the story of his marriage to a student of his (he was a teacher at the time), but no name of this wife is given in the original book. Later members of the Haggard family added the identification of his wife being Elizabeth Gentry. Inasmuch as James was said to be living in Norfolk County then, on the coast far from New Kent County, the likelihood of Elizabeth ever coming into contact with him is very slight. What is more likely is a misplacement of Elizabeths. To make it easier to identify the different Elizabeths, I will number them according to their generation in the Gentry family, Nicholas' daughter being Elizabeth-II. This Elizabeth had a niece, Elizabeth-III (daughter of Nicholas Jr), who married Nathaniel Haggard, a descendant (son?) of James, after Nathaniel moved to what later became Louisa County. To complicate matters further, Nathaniel and Elizabeth's son, Rev. James Haggard married his first cousin, Elizabeth-IV (a daughter of Moses Gentry who was a son of Nicholas Jr, and brother of Elizabeth-III). WHEW! With such chances for confusion, it is no wonder that one or the other of these Elizabeths has been mistaken for the proposed wife of the immigrant James. Not only Elizabeth, but also Mabel has been suggested as a wife of James, with even less justification, and appears to be one of the many fabrications connected with family members trying to complete a family tree long after the fact.


  1. "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.
    [Previous edition: "The Parish Register of St. Peter's, New Kent County, VA from 1680 to 1787, transcribed by National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Virginia, 1904.]
  2. "The Gentry Family in America, 1676 to 1909", by Richard Gentry, The Grafton Press, New York, NY, 1909. [It will be standard practice in this journal to refer to this book as GFA.]
  3. "The Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish, Hanover County, VA, 1706-1786", transcribed and edited by C.G. Chamberlayne, published by The Library Board, Richmond, VA, 1940, reprinted 1973.
  4. "Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, Vol III (1695-1732), abstracted by Nell Marion Nugent, published by Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA, 1979
    p.260 (20 Feb 1723), Samuel Gentry, 400 acs Hanover Co., on N. side the South Anna (Riv);
    p.277 (22 Feb 1724), Samuel Gentry, 196 acs Hanover Co., on both sides of Beech Cr.
  5. St. Paul's Vestry Book, for 31 Mar 1756, [Continuation of report for Princinct 6] "In compliance with the within Order, we have procession'd all the Lands beginning at the Mouth of Beech Creek, and up the [South Anna] River to the mouth of Stonehorse Creek, and up the Creek to the main Road, and down the road to the head of Beech Creek, and down the Said Creek to the mouth".
  6. "Hanover County, Virginia, Court Records 1733-1735: Deeds, Wills, and Inventories", transcribed by Rosalie Edith Davis, (1 Mar 1733) "Nicholas and Samuel Gentry post £100 bond with Mary Spradlin [/Spradling], administrator of the estate of John Spradlin".
  7. "The History of the Haggard Family in England and America, 1433-1899", by David Dawson Haggard, published 1899. This book relates how James Haggard, claimed by David Haggard to be the son of an English lord, was tricked into indentured service which resulted in him becoming a school teacher in Norfolk County. "Among his pupils was a young lady of good appearance who pleased James and whom James pleased. They, knowing they could not marry in the Colonies, because James was not a free man, agreed and ran away together, going to North Carolina, where they were married. After a few years they went back to Virginia." (This marriage has been variously dated as 1703 or abt.1707.) The name of the wife is not included in David's book but later Haggard historians concluded it was Elizabeth Gentry.
Minor revisions June 2008, September 2013

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