Issue B
June 2006
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The Origin of Nicholas and Samuel Gentry

Emigrants from England to Virginia

Willard Gentry
Last Revised January 2018

Note. This article was originally published with a Part B. Addendum to "Gentrys of Essex County, England". All of the material in that addendum has now been consolidated with its parent article (issue A, 2006), the re-publication of which coincided with the re-publication of this article in 2007. It is now being re-published a second time with revisions. These arise from the recent availability online of images of the original parish records for many churches in Essex. This has provided more information than previously available which has resulted in a number of changes in proposals for family relationships.

It is commonly believed that Nicholas Gentry, and an assumed brother, Samuel, were the first Gentrys to emigrate from England to the Virginia Colony. Searches of contemporary records in England have resulted in Essex and Suffolk Counties as being the only locations where there were any Gentrys living that may have been the parents of Nicholas and Samuel. No records have been found of a Nicholas Gentry, but there are multiple references to Samuel Gentrys. Interestingly these are found in only one family group – the descendants of John Gentry who died in Lindsell in 1570. In the immediately preceding article of the Journal of Gentry Genealogy, the author summarized the known data concerning this family.

Because a very high proportion of all the Gentrys living in the United States descend from Nicholas, it is of very great interest to Gentry genealogists to identify the source of the New World Gentrys. In a very early issue of this Journal (vol. 1, #2, March 2001) we discussed this problem in a cursory fashion. In this article we propose to examine the evidence in a more detailed fashion and present conclusions as to which family could have been and probably was in the ancestral line of Nicholas and Samuel, and which families could not have been.

Samuel Gentry in Virginia

There are very few known references to Nicholas and Samuel during their early years in Virginia, especially relating to their first coming to the New World. We will consider these two together, assuming from the outset that they were probably brothers. The earliest reference is to Samuel, so we will consider him first. In Court Order Book One of Middlesex County Court, we find an entry dated 7 Sep 1674, as follows:
"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, Sam'l Gentry [emphasis added]."<1>

At this point it will be helpful to the reader to review briefly the immigration and labor practices of the Virginia Colony in the late 1600's. The court document involved here is one awarding "headrights" to Nicholas Cocke for paying the cost of transportation of individuals to Virginia. These headrights could be bought, sold, inherited, bequeathed or otherwise transferred from person to person with the ultimate purpose of using them to obtain a grant of 50 acres of land per headright at a reduced rate. Sometimes the headrights were redeemed quite promptly. On other occasions they were accumulated over a long period of time if there was some reason to have a sufficient number for a specific purpose. We will see below, that Nicholas Gentry's transportation to Virginia generated a headright, similar to that for Samuel, that was not used for buying land until at least twenty years after he arrived in America.

It will also be helpful to review the process of indenture. This practice, and the use of headrights, are covered in more detail in an early article of the Journal of Gentry Genealogy (vol 1, #2, March 2001). In modern terms, this involved an individual, in return for free passage on a ship to Virginia, entering into a contract with the ship's master or with some other individual providing the wherewithal for this, to work for the person who held his contract for a period of time, generally seven years. The contract of indenture could be sold by one person to another, with the indentured servant (we would call them contract workers) being obligated to provide service to whomever held the contract. We must emphasize from the start that the contract owner did not own the worker—they were not slaves. There was only an obligation to provide whatever service the contract called for in return for the contract owner providing food, shelter and clothing for the duration of the contract. A very large fraction of the settlers arriving in Virginia during the seventeenth century came in this fashion, many of them going on later to wealthy and prominent positions in the colony.

In connection with the type of service provided by these indentured servants, by far the greatest number were hired as domestic servants or as plantation workers. Virginia, of all the American colonies, was in the rather unique position of having no towns, other than Yorktown, and no need for craftsmen or a merchant class during the 1600's. This was in stark contrast to New England where, during the height of immigration in the 1640's there were half a dozen entire new towns founded by incoming settlers every summer. The reason for this was that the existing Virginia settlers were all living on plantations (growing tobacco) along the banks of navigable rivers. Whatever needs there were for furniture, farm supplies, clothing, or other necessities, were supplied by ships coming directly from England. The supplies were paid for at the source by tobacco credits held by brokers in London, and the goods were unloaded directly at the river bank from the ship. Thus there was no need for a class of people such as tailors, cabinet makers, weavers, etc. Whatever was needed that could not be shipped in, was made locally on the plantation rather than by craftsmen in an established town.

It was common practice for ship's captains to carry a shipload of would-be settlers from England to Virginia in exchange for an indenture contract. On arriving in port he would then sell these contracts to whomever needed workers. In this particular case Samuel may have left London under such circumstances and then been hired by Nicholas Cocke on arrival in Virginia, or Nicholas may have gone to London and recruited workers there directly. Nicholas Cocke was a prominent member of Christ Church Parish of Middlesex County, Virginia<2>. Today we would think of him as perhaps a general contractor, for he was paid by the parish to construct church buildings and other structures. This required labor to accomplish and for most efficient use of the labor, workers who would be free to work full time and not be needed for farming or other tasks. (Some parish responsibilities, especially for example road maintenance, were handled by requiring landowners to provide part time labor from their families or plantation workers.) We can imagine that Samuel Gentry was specifically recruited to do some of this full time construction work. He wound up under contract of indenture to Cocke beginning in 1674, and presumably continued in this status until about 1681. During this period of time, there are no references to him and we can assume he spent the entire time in Christ Church Parish.

The next reference to Samuel was in 1683 when he filed for a land grant in St. Peter's Parish in what was then New Kent County, Virginia. He would have completed his indenture by that time, and apparently had accumulated a sufficient amount of money during and after the indenture, so that he in turn could pay for the headrights for six individuals to come to Virginia. He used these headrights to pay for a grant of 300 acres on the banks of Totopotomoy Creek:

"Samuell Gentrey, 300 acs., New Kent Co.; S. side of York River; Betw. brs. of same and brs. of Tottapottamoys Cr., 21 Oct 1684, p. 405 (of Patent Book 7). Adj. Col. John Page, Esqr.; Edward Houchin and Nicholas Gentrey. Trans. of 6 pers; John Morris, Francis Middleton, Hen. Tully, Elizabeth Ody, Mor. Gardner, 2." <3a>

He must have found that plantation farming was not to his liking for within a year and a half, he sold this land:

"David Holt, 300 acs. New Kent Co., S. side of York River, bet. brs. of Sd. River and brs. of Totopotomoys Creek, 2 May 1706, p. 728 (of Patent Book 9). Adj. Col John Page, Esqr., land of Edward Hawkins and Nicho, Gentry. Granted Samuell Gentry, 21 Oct. 1684, who deeded same to David Crawford, Grandfather of said David Holt, 5 Jan. 1685 [1686 by our calendar], who by deed of gift, dated 28 May 1686, conveyed to said David Holt, then and still a minor, the land is granted by order, etc."<3b>

One final reference to Samuel is all of what remains of his presence in Virginia. The vestry book of St. Peter's Parish, New Kent County, Virginia, which was transcribed by C. G. Chamberlayne, contains the following record of baptism:

"Peter, son of Samuel Gentry on April 10, 1687"<4a>
Thereafter, no trace of Samuel has been found and we must conclude that either he decided to return to England or he died.

Nicholas Gentry in Virginia

We will now turn to Nicholas Gentry's arrival in Virginia. The earliest reference to him is in the Nov 1680 session of the York County Court whereby it was ordered:
"Nicholas Sabrell due wages for Nicholas Gentry from the forty for whom Gentry served as a soldier at Mattaponi Garrison till June 1680."<5>

This reference takes a little explanation to understand fully. Nicholas was representing his "forty" in response to a requirement that "every forty tythables within this country be assessed and fitt and sett forth one able and suffitient man and horse, with furniture well and compleatly armed" ("Hening's Statutes", vol 2, p.433-440 in "An Act for the Defense of The Country Against the incursion of the Indian Enemy"). We can assume that Nicholas Gentry was an available worker that could be spared for this purpose. The county was being billed to recompense Nicholas Sabrell, as the assumed holder of his indenture, for the loss of Gentry's service during this time. When Nicholas first arrived in the county we do not know but it was probably a year or two earlier than 1680.

The author has assumed above that Nicholas was present in Virginia at that time in an indentured worker status. What evidence is there to justify this? Primarily the evidence depends upon the fact that Nicholas, on coming to Virginia, had generated a headright that was owned by someone other than himself. Accordingly, the owner of that headright must have paid for Nicholas' passage, and in consequence held the indenture contract resulting from that payment. In the case of Nicholas' headright, it was not redeemed until at least twenty years later when in April 1700, George Alves used it along with twenty others to obtain a grant of some one thousand acres of land in St. Peter's Parish<3c >. Whether George Alves made the original payment for Nicholas' passage and then passed on his indentured contract to Nicholas Sabrell, or Nicholas made the payment and later sold the headright to Alves is unknown and immaterial.

The next references to Nicholas Gentry in the records were those pertaining to being a holder of land adjacent to Samuel Gentry's land grant as we have seen above. From these references we can infer that Nicholas had completed his indenture service by 1684 (which would suggest that he had started in or before 1677) and was now free to marry and to farm a plantation on his own account. There is no record of any deed, either before this time or after, that would indicate he owned this land, but it was common practice for individuals who did not have land of their own to farm a part of someone else's land, particularly if they were related in some way. Nicholas may have married at about this time, once he was free from the restrictions of indenture, and it is quite possible that he was occupying part of a father-in-law's land.

The next significant reference to Nicholas was in the vestry book records of St. Peter's Parish in which he resided, when he was listed in 1689 among the parish landholders who were divided into precincts for the purposes of processioning.<4b> [For a refresher or explanation of the practice of processioning, see Journal of Gentry Genealogy, vol 1, #2, (March 2001).] The only reference to the amount of land he may have owned was in 1704 when he was taxed for 250 acres. Other references followed from time to time, including a record of the baptism of three of his children, but these references have no bearing on the timing or circumstances of his immigrating to Virginia from England.

The English Connection

It is time now for us to go back to the Gentrys of Essex County in England to determine whether or not we can identify a family from whom Samuel and Nicholas Gentry may have sprung. We can say from the outset that despite many attempts, no one has yet found any reference in seventeenth century England to a Nicholas Gentry. Attempts to link these two brothers to an English family must thus depend upon identifying a family to whom Samuel may have belonged. We can say further that both Samuel and Nicholas must have been about sixteen years of age or older when the first references to them were recorded. For Samuel, this means that he must have been born in 1658 or before, probably in the range of 1648 to 1658. For Nicholas, he must have been born in 1661 or before, probably in the range of 1650 to 1660. We also need to consider the possibility that they might have been first cousins rather than brothers.

As a prelude to this discussion, we will list below a skeleton outline of the known Samuel Gentrys that were included in the previous issue of the Gentry Journal.

--1 John Gentry of Lindsell
 --2 Simon Gentry the Elder
 --3 Simon Gentry the Younger
 --4 Roger Gentry
 --5 Samuel Gentry, baptized 1635, Lindsell; married 1657, Sara Eve.
 --3 Samuel Gentry of Great Dunmow, born about 1585, Lindsell; married 1616, Great Dunmow, to Elizabeth Wade.
 --4 Nathaniel Gentry of Kelvedon, baptized 1617, Lindsell; married (1) about 1643 to Sara [--?--], married (2) about 1647 to Mary Raven, married (3) 1669, to Susanna Kendall.
 --5 Samuel Gentry of Kelvedon, baptized 1649, Kelvedon (son of Mary).
 --5 Samuel (2nd) Gentry, (speculation) , born after 1680 (son of Susanna).
  --4 Samuel Gentry of Lindsell, baptized 1627, Great Dunmow; buried 1695, Lindsell; married (1) 1655, Thaxted, to Margaret Draper; married (2) 1682, Lindsell, to Elizabeth Wilson.
  --5 Samuel Gentry, baptized 1663, Great Easton son of Margaret.
  --5 Samuel (2nd) Gentry, baptized Jan1683/4, buried Jan 1683/4, Lindsell (son of Elizabeth).

We see that only one of these Samuels meets the age criterion that we set above and that is Samuel, the son of Nathaniel, whom we can identify as Samuel of Kelvedon. He was 25 in the year that Samuel the Emigrant landed in Virginia. He was single and part of a family that had been moving from one location to a new one for three generations. His grandfather, Samuel the Elder, moved from Lindsell to Great Dunmow. His father, Nathaniel, had moved from Great Dunmow to Kelvedon. Nathaniel's son, Nathaniel Jr., moved from Kelvedon to Witham, and two sons, Simon and John, moved from Kelvedon to London. There is certainly ample precedent for Samuel of Kelvedon to move also.

Are there any clues respecting the identity of Nicholas the Emigrant in terms of possible families to which he might have belonged? Let us begin with Nathaniel Gentry's family and assume Nicholas was a brother of Samuel of Kelvedon.

Let us consider the possibility that Nicholas was part of the family of Samuel the Younger. This Samuel had a son also named Samuel, but we can reject this son by reason of age. He was baptized in 1663 which puts him in the position of being too young to be Samuel the Immigrant even if he had been baptized several years after his birth. But could Nicholas have been part of this family and been a first cousin of the Samuel of Kelvedon. We know that Samuel the Younger was married to Margaret Draper in 1655 and his first child, Susan, was baptized in 1657. There was a gap of six years before the next known child was born, namely, Samuel Jr. There is no bar to the possibility that Nicholas was born in this interval and his birth or baptism record being missing. This would have meant he was born somewhere in the interval from say 1659 to 1661 which matches the requirement for his age. Although such a relationship between the emigrant Gentrys is possible, we believe it to be very unlikely, especially since they would have lived in rather widely separated communities in England and had no particular reason to join in any venture as cousins. We conclude that neither Samuel nor Nicholas were a part of the family of Samuel the Younger.

For the convenience of the reader, we will repeat here from the previous Journal article a map of Essex and the structure of Nathaniel Gentry's family, inserting Nicholas into the family in the proposed location.

Map of Essex County,
Parishs in Essex, England, having Gentry connections

5. Nathaniel Gentry the Elder
–   baptized 14 Dec 1617, Great Dunmow, innholder, Kelvedon.
–   married (1) about 1643, probably in Kelvedon, to "Sary" [Sarah?] [--?--];
–   married (2) about 1647, probably in Kelvedon, to Mary Raven (buried 17 Jun 1669, Kelvedon);
–   married (3) (widower) 2 Nov 1669, Kelvedon, to Susanna Kendall(widow).
  Children of Nathaniel and Sary:
  i. Mary Gentry, baptized 20 Sep 1644, Kelvedon; married [John?] Webb.
  ii. Nathaniel Gentry the Younger, born about 1646 (spec), moved to Witham. Married (1) Unknown, married (2) Frances [--?--].
    Children of Nathaniel and Mary:
iii. Samuel Gentry, baptized 22 Jul 1649, Kelvedon, emigrated to Virginia?
iv. Nicholas Gentry (Speculation), born about 1652, emigrated to Virginia?
v. Simon Gentry, baptized 14 Feb 1654/5, Kelvedon, died 16 Dec 1697, London, bachelor, left a will dated 15 Dec 1697.
vi. John Gentry, born about 1657 (spec), married 15 Apr 1679, London, to Levine Smith.
vii. William Gentry, born abt 1669?; baptized 23 Jan 1672/3, Kelvedon.
 Children of Nathaniel and Susanna:
viii. Elizabeth Gentry, baptized 24 Jun 1679, Kelvedon.
ix. Richard Gentry, (Speculation), born after 1680.
x. Samuel Gentry, (Speculation), born after 1680.

Summary of Conclusions
When we consider the Essex County families with known Samuels, we see that the only easy and logical explanation of the identity of Samuel Gentry the Emigrant is as a part of the family of Nathaniel Gentry of Kelvedon. His brother, Nicholas the Emigrant, can also logically be explained as a part of this family. This writer concludes then that:

  1. Samuel Gentry of Middlesex County and New Kent County, Virginia was the same Samuel as the son of Nathaniel Gentry of Kelvedon, whose baptism was recorded on 22 Jul 1649.
  2. Nicholas Gentry of New Kent County, Virginia was an undocumented son of Nathaniel Gentry and Mary Raven, born probably about 1652 in Kelvedon.
  3. We conclude further that Samuel and Nicholas were brothers and that Samuel probably moved from Kelvedon to London, was the first to sail to Virginia, and then was followed in a few years by Nicholas.
The reverse consequence of these conclusions is that the statement found in many Gentry family trees posted on the internet that the Samuel Gentry who married Margaret Draper, was the father of Samuel and Nicholas is false.


1.   Ruth and Samuel Sparacio, editors and publishers of "Order Book Abstracts of Middlesex County, Virginia, 1673-1677" "Part I of Middlesex County Order Book No. 1, 1673-1680", McLean VA 1989.

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. The parish register shows Nicholas Cocke died 25 Oct 1687. 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 paying in ye Yard and for Nailes towards ye Worke". (Carpentry of this type may have been the kind of work that Samuel Gentry would be called up to perform as an indentured servant.)

3.  Nell Marion Nugent, "Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants", Virginia State Library, Richmond, 1977.
(a) Vol. II (1666-1695)", page 282.
(b) Vol. III, p.107 (Patent Bk 9, p.728) dated 2 May 1706]
(c)Vol. III, p.37(Patent Bk 9, p.268)
 Headright for Nicholas Gentry [and 20 others] used by George Alves to obtain grant for 1014 ac on both sides of Totopotomoy Cr.. New Kent Co., St. Peter's Parish.

4.  "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.
(a) Vol. I, p.357
(b) Vestry Book, p.19-21, 4 May 1689
 "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' among many others]."

5.  "York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills, 1677-1685", vol 6, p.268

Revised January 2007, December 2014, January 2018

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