In Which My Family Founds Virginia and Maryland


In which we begin to talk in earnest about my dad’s side of the family, which I am shocked to learn largely possesses a footprint in America as old as my mom’s.  The profile is quite different, though. Whereas my mom’s ancestors converge at Woodstock, Connecticut, my dad’s meet in Lincoln County, Tennessee. The vast majority of trails that lead there start in the Tidewater region of Virginia and Maryland.


The typical narrative of Southern origin is not as pretty as the Northern version in any sense of the word. Religious idealism drives the whole engine in the New England story whether we are talking about important theologians, clergy, or the rank and file citizenry who had come along as members of dissenting flocks. There’s something inspirational to it, which is why Americans tend to think of it as our Founding narrative even though Virginia and environs had been settled quite a bit earlier. It is simply NOT inspiring, although one can easily make the case for THIS story to be the true Founding Narrative: a story of greed and exploitation and all in the service of nothing nobler than the cultivation and distribution of TOBACCO. (Cotton came later).

We have the story of Capt. John Smith and Pocohontas, but what does that myth say? Does it symbolize the great permanent bonding of our two great peoples? Because that’s not what actually occurred. It’s safe to say Americans love the Indians NOW, now that they’re conveniently wiped out. Before that, not so much.

No, there’s nothing to mythologize or sentimentalize about the foundations of the South. Early money men said: these resources are here, how do we squeeze a profit out of it? I seem to have had ancestors among every faction, from wealthy planters and traders to indentured servants who were little better than slaves (I wrote a bit about that topic here). As with the northern branch, we know of far too many to ever write about — these are just a few of the significant ones.


Of the so-called “First Families of Virginia” I am descended from the Allerton, Burwell, Cary, Fitzhugh, Mathews, Nelson, Spencer and Warner families.

Risible Calumny

Risible Calumny

I am an (11th) great grandson (via two different lines) of John Ratcliffe (1549-1609) Captain of the ship Discovery, and the 2nd President of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. He is often depicted in a villainous light as in the Disney film Pocohontas, although there is no particular reason to do that. In fact, Ratcliffe died a horrible death at the hands of the Powhatan Indians (his face was burned and then scraped off the skull with mussel shells).

A (10th) great grandfather William Spencer came to Jamestown as an indentured servant in 1607 and had worked off his contract by 1614. He was among the first set free to go off and farm for himself. Within ten years he had started a family, owned two houses, and a boat, and was well provisioned. By the time of his death he had amassed a couple of thousand acres.


Depiction of Mathews Manor

I am also directly descended from Samuel Mathews, both pere et fils. The elder Mathews (my 10th great grandfather) arrived in Jamestown prior to 1618. He founded the plantation Mathews Manor, later known as Denbeigh. He was the third husband of Frances Grevill (my 10th great grandmother), whose previous husbands were Nathaniel West (brother of Virginia Colonial Governor Thomas West, 3rd Lord Delaware) and Abraham Piersey, owner of the Flowerdew Hundred Plantation). Mathews was a member of the Governor’s Council, who spent much time in London representing the Colony in matters regarding Indian relations and border negotiations with Maryland. His influence was due to the fact that his second wife was a sister of William Hinton, a member of the King’s Privy Council.

His son, Samuel Mathews, Jr. was a Lt. Colonel in the Virginia Militia, a member of the House of Burgesses and the Governor’s Council, and finally Governor of the Colony in the years 1656-1660, during the Cromwellian period.


Governor William Stone (1603-1660) – –3rd governor of Colonial Maryland and another (11th) great grandfather. He came to Virginia as an indentured servant, worked it off, and climbed his way up the political ladder.  Stone was a Puritan, but was in conflict in Virginia (which was officially Church of England) so he brought his people to Maryland, which was founded with the ideal of religious freedom (although it didn’t always maintain it). Stone founded the town of Providence, which later became known as Annapolis.


Stone married the daughter of Captain Thomas Graves (1580-1635), one of the original stockholders of Virginia, a planter, and member of the first House of Burgesses.

Stone’s daughter married William Tucker, the son of Captain William Tucker (1585-1645), who is notable for two things:


One, the first person of African ancestry born in America was named after him. The namesake William Tucker (b. 1624), though “owned” by my ancestor, was not technically a slave — the legality of that designation had not been worked out yet. Technically, he and both his parents were indentured servants, a condition very much like slavery, whether you were black or white. At any rate, learning this about William Tucker made me queasy enough — until I also learned this:


This incident happened in 1623. To be completely fair –the Indians had wiped out a quarter of the English in massacres the year before. But this manner of retaliation, while efficient, is also treacherous and sick, with an aftermath that must have resembled Jonestown. Capt William Tucker was in charge of this evil “peace talk “.


On the other hand, I am also descended from Thomas Cardwell (1660-1717), who married Mary Ann “Little Flower” Basket, my (7th) great grandmother. She is the Powhatan I mentioned above. Make love, not war! It’s not John Smith and Pocohontas, but it’s close enough.


Another notable Tidewater founder I am descended from is Maryland Deputy Governor and Anne Arundel County Founder Col. William Burgess (1622-1686), a (12th) great grandfather. Burgess was a seafaring man who arrived in Virginia prior to 1646. Finding it not to his liking, in 1650 he led a group of 150 settlers into Maryland on the South Side of the South River (in what is now Londontowne) where they were granted land by Lord Baltimore. Burgess operated a fleet of small trading vessels which made runs between Maryland and Bristol, England. He became a prosperous merchant, and one of Maryland’s largest landholders. The various public offices he held included High Sheriff, Commander in Chief of the Militias, delegate to the Lower and Upper Houses of the Maryland legislature and Deputy Governor.

Other folks I am descended from on my dad’s side:

William Powell (ca. 1585-1623) — one of the earliest Virginia colonists (he arrived on the third resupply in 1609), a landowner, member of the House of Burgesses, Lt. Governor of the colony and Captain of the militia. He was killed in an Indian massacre in 1623. He was my (15th) great grandfather.

Dr. John Woodson (1586-1644) — by rights a baron, he abandoned his inheritance to marry the Quaker girl Sarah Winston. The two came to Jamestown with Gov. Yeardley in 1619, and became his friends and supporters. Woodson was made a member of the House of Burgesses, and given a parcel of land in the Fleur de Hundred. John was killed by Indians in 1644. Sarah and a schoolmaster managed to survive by fighting the attackers off, however. As two of them tried to enter the house, according to the account at the link “Sarah scalded one and brained the other with a hot spit.”

Bacon's Castle

Bacon’s Castle

Arthur Allen (1602-1669), a Virginia founder and owner of a huge plantation, but nowadays best known for his house, which was occupied by rebels during Bacon’s Rebellion (1675), and was henceforth known as Bacon’s Castle. He is my (10th great grandfather).

William Swann (1585-1638), founder of Swann’s Point Plantation on the James River.  Later, under other owners, it was renamed Mount Pleasant Plantation.  Negotiations and deliberations in the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion were held at Swann’s Point. He is my (13th) great grandfather. I am descended from him and his son Thomas through two different lines.


Captain Thomas Warren (1624-1670, [14th] great grandfather), served in the House of Burgesses. Perhaps more interestingly, he built the house pictured above, which is the oldest original house in Virginia. It is built on land he bought from Thomas Rolfe, son of John Rolfe and Pocahantas. 

William Travers (1630-1679), Speaker of the House of Burgesses, and captain in the military, serving with Colonel John Washington, another of George Washington’s great grandfathers. I am also descended from his brother Raleigh Travers (1622-1670) through a different line.

Col. Joseph Bridger, major land dealer, member of the House of Burgesses, and served in Bacon’s Rebellion. The History Channel exhumed his bones! Watch here.  

Miles Carey (1623-1667), planter and trader, military leader, member of Virginia House of Burgesses and the Governor’s Council

Sir Richard Williamson (1593-1659), a signer of the second Virginia Charter; and his son Dr. Robert Williamson (1628-1670), a member of the House of Burgesses

Major Robert Shepard (1604-1654), member of House of Burgesses and holder of other offices in Jamestown.

Colonel William Ball (1615-1680), great grandfather of George Washington, is my (13th) great grandfather

John Mottrom (1610-1655) — An (11th) great grandfather. A merchant, possibly the first European to settle the Northern Neck of Virginia, i.e. the west side of the Potomac, ca. 1636-1640. He traded with the people of Maryland, and his frontier estate became a place of refuge for Protestants fleeing Catholic persecution in the neighboring state. Mottrom was the first burgess from the area that would become Northumberland County. His manner was the county seat.

Col. Nicholas Spencer (1633-1689) — My (10th) great grandfather, son-in-law to Mottrom (above), he was Secretary to the House of Burgesses, and at one point (1683-1684, acting Governor. Spencer was a cousin to the Culpepers, and used the connection to help Col. John Washington acquire the land that became Mt. Vernon.


Rousby Hall

John Rousby (ca. 1650-1685), early Maryland settler and liaison to Charles I, according to this Baltimore Sun article from earlier this year. His home Rousby Hall (presumably with much alteration) is still in use as a private residence.

Follow the links above to learn much more about these people!

By 1800 the descendants of these people and others would make their way into the interior and help found Tennessee. There will a separate post on that, as well as one on the American Revolution, slavery and the Civil War, and (most likely) The Trail of Tears. And more.

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