Monday, October 25, 2010

John and Richard Garner (emigrated to Virginia from England in 1600s)

John Garner (1633/34 - 1702)

Much has been written about our ancestor, John Garner, after he was listed as a headright on a land claim in Northumberland County, VA, which was patented to Lewis Burwell on 17 October 1650. However, his earlier years have remained a mystery. Burwell claimed 1600 acres of land based on his statement that he had "transported" thirty-two headrights to that area "upon the S. Side of Potomeck Riv. And E. Side of Machotick River alias Trent", abutting lands patented by William Gooch and Mr. Richard Lee.

John was then 17 years old. We know this because he gave an affidavit in 1663 in which he stated he was then thirty years old. Many of John's descendants have long questioned his whereabouts before his arrival in Northumberland county, VA. Where was he born? Who were his parents? When did he arrive in the Colonies?

It is believed that he came from England and some of his descendents have made numerous trips to England hoping to find the answers to their questions. Unfortunately, their findings only added more questions when it was found that several Garner families in England during the early 17th Century were found to have sons named John who were close in age to our John.

Now descendants were faced with the task of determining for themselves which researcher had found John's parents and most have narrowed the possibilities to two couples - Thomas Garner who married Mary Lacye on 21 Oct. 1631 at St. Dunston's, Canterbury, Kent Co., England, and Richard Garner of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, who married a woman known to us only as Kathryn. Richard and Kathryn had a son, John, who was baptized in St. Chad, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England on 2 Sept. 1633. Of interest is the fact that Shropshire is in west central England near Wales and Kathryn Garner was referred to, at the time of her death, as being "a Welshwoman". (A recent and thought provoking discussion about John Garner and his parents can be found on, 28 Jan. 2005 - 10 Feb. 2005, as other descendants continued their search for John's parents.)

I never considered searching for more information about our 7th Gr-grandfather, John Garner. I was content with learning about my ancestors from John and Susanna's youngest son, Thomas, leading down through the generations to my mother Ruth Garner Smith. However, that changed in January, 2005, when I received an email from another Garner descendant who had some interesting questions that she hoped I could answer. During my search for the answers to her questions, I soon found myself intrigued by the early history of Colonial Virginia and, specifically, in the history of those persons who had touch the lives of a Richard and John Garner who were listed as being "sponsored" by William Farrar at Farrar's Island, VA in 1637. The following information will be based on fact and, also, on some family legends. It is my theory of why John Garner of Farrar's Island could be the same John Garner who settled in Northumberland County (in that part which later became Westmoreland County). I hope this is an interesting story of some of the early settlers in Colonial Virginia and hope you will enjoy reading it.

Richard Garner was born about 1604 in Stanton Lacy, Shropshire, England. His father, John Garner (c1579 - 24 July 1628) had married Joan Underwood (c1582 - c1631) about 1598/99. One descendant wrote that four other children were also born to this couple: Thomas, who was born c1599 in Canterbury, Kent, England; Elizabeth, born c1600 in England; John Jr., born c 1601 in England; Anne Garner, born c1603 in England.

Richard married Kathryn (surname unknown) and their son, John, was baptized on 2 Sept. 1633 at St. Chad's Church, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. Richard was quite able to provide for his wife and young son, because, by 1636, he owned a mill and land on Wenlock Edge, a third interest in a carriage inn (The Lion) and a farm on Acton Scott which he had received out of his mother's dowry. We can only imagine that Richard, Kathryn, and John were a happy family.

This was about to change, however, when in 1636 Kathryn was accused of witchcraft. Some descendants have written that she was accused of heresy, but a posting on by a James Garner mentions that he (James) sent an inquiry to a reporter for the Shropshire, Shrewsbury local newspaper and the reporter "confirmed the story, saying he had written an article on the topic" of witchcraft.

During my search, I learned that a person could be accused of witchcraft for many reasons. Among them were a disfigurement of the body, being present where something unusual occurred or by owning what was called a "familiar" (a spirit or demon supposed to serve a particular person, such as a black cat). It is not known why Kathryn was accused, but she was "tried by ordeal by water" and died. If an accused person died during their punishment, they were then said to have been found innocent, believing that God had intervened to relieve their suffering and the family was then given money for a Christian burial. If the accused survived the trial by ordeal, it was believed that they had been helped by the Devil and they were subsequently put to death, often by burning at the stake. Since Kathryn died during the ordeal, she was listed as "Kathryn Garner, Welshwoman, found innocent of Witchcraft in Trial by Water, 2 pounds for burial in Christian ground", Shropshire, England, 1636.

Richard must have been distraught with grief and anger towards those who had accused his wife of being a witch and this might have been the reason he decided to leave England with his young son, John. He sold his property, the mill and the farm he had inherited from his mother to his older brother Thomas. His third interest in the Inn he freely gave to his brother. He then booked passage for himself and his young son on a ship sailing to the Virginia Colony. I have been unable to locate a passenger list which would indicate when the two arrived in the Virginia Colony, but a Richard and John Garner were listed as being two of 40 persons "transported at his (William Farrar I) own cost to Farrar's Island, Virginia.

The listed 40 headrights entitled William Farrar I to claim 2000 acres of land. William died before the the patent to the land was granted so it was left to his eldest son, William Farrar II, by entail (inheritance of property to a specified heir so that it could not be left to anyone else). The patent to the land was recorded 11 June 1637 to "William Farrar sonne and heire to William Farrar, late of Henrico County". One should not assume that Richard and John Garner arrived in Virginia on that date. It indicates only that they were there at that time.Also, the word "transported" does not mean that they were taken directly from a ship from England, although some headrights were, but merely that they were moved from one area to another.

Richard and John Garner must have remained on or near the plantation because, when Richard died in 1643, his ten year old son was left in the care of William Farrar II (b. 1626) and I suppose, due to William's young age, also in the care of William's mother, Cicely Farrar. After Richard died, John's uncle, Thomas Garner, sent to John in care of William Farrar II "the sum of 500 pounds to pay for the education and to be the inheritance of my Cousin John Garner, orphan, ward of William Farrar, Gent. 400 pounds being the balance owed my brother, Richard Garner, for the mill and land on Wenlock Edge, and the farm in Acton Scott, which was our mother's dowry. The third interest in the Lion ( A Carriage Inn in Shrewsbury) was given me freely by my brother when he departed the Realm of England. Even so, for love I bear my brother and Cousin, I include 100 pounds to quit title to same." (My note: I have spent many hours in an unsuccessful attempt to verify this record. I have included emails of some of my searches. One should note that the term "cousin" is not necessarily the meaning we give it today but was commonly used in the early 17th Century to denote a close relative.

Why would John Garner decide to leave Farrar's Island? By 1650 he had not reached the "age of majority" to own land, which was 21 years. So far as we know, he had no relatives in Virginia. The area around Farrar's Island was fairly well settled and there was probably little opportunity or incentive to settle near there. A young lad of seventeen might also like the adventure of moving to a new area where he might later acquire his own land. Perhaps he had, after living at Farrar's Island since 1637, received his certificate for fulfilling the terms of the headright system. Perhaps Burwell, knowing of John's desire to travel with the group to the Northern Neck of Virginia, had purchased John's certificate from Farrar. This writer had been unable to solve that mystery.

However Lewis Burwell chose his headrights or whatever reason John had for leaving Farrar's Island, it is this writer's belief in the theory that the John Garner of Farrar's Island is the same John Garner transported to Northumberland County in that part which later became Westmoreland County. And it was there that he settled, married and raised the children who became our ancestors.

While my research is not absolute proof that John Garner of Farrar's Island was the John Garner transported by Lewis Burwell to Northumberland County, it seems more plausible than the theories of other descendants who feel that young John Garner left Farrar's island, traveling back to England c 1643 for an education due to the descendants' perceived lack of education in the Virginia Colony. According to those same descendants, John then returned to Northumberland County in 1650, left again for England and returned in 1654 as a headright of Thomas Hobkins. I noted that listed in Hobkins' claim for land by the headright system were Thomas Broughton (who later married Susanna Keene's widowed mother), Ann Williams, Edward Dawson and Robert Burwell. What are the chances that these persons who had lived (and some owned land) in the James River area would have traveled to England and then returned, along with 21 year old John Garner, to became headrights for Hobkins?

I doubt that my theory will convince Garner descendants who think otherwise, but it might make them want to search for credible proof to support their own theory.

(other documents cast doubt on whether Kathryn was actually tried as a witch)...


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