Ancestor of the Month
Dr. John & Sarah (LNU) Woodson
1586 d. 1644
b. 1590 d. 1660
article was originally entitled “Dr. John Woodson.” Had I been thinking
when I began the project, I would probably have chosen Sarah Woodson as the subject rather than her husband. Since the sketch is actually more about Sarah than about John, the least she deserves is equal billing.
John Woodson and his wife Sarah share two entirely different stories about their lives together. One story has been around for several hundred years; the other is of fairly recent vintage. (In a nutshell, Story One says the two were of the privileged classes; Story Two says they were poor and
unknown.) Whichever story is true—and you are free to determine which you
believe—the result is a tale of two admirable ancestors. Perhaps there
is a little truth in both versions.
In the Beginning
According to both stories John Woodson
was “The Immigrant” of the Woodson branch of our family tree. In
the older version, John was born in 1586 in Dorchester, Devonshire,
England, the fourth (or fifth)
son of John Woodson, Gentleman. In earlier times King Henry VIII had granted
one of John’s ancestors a coat of arms and the privilege or “right to bear arms.” As a young man John attended St. John’s College, a part of Oxford.
(Oxford University is made up of a number of colleges including Queen’s College, Christ Church College, Trinity
College, and others). He graduated from Oxford in 1604 when he was 18 years old. Had he continued with his expected path, he would have probably had a very comfortable
life and lifestyle. (Story Two says the facts may be true, but this John Woodson
[John Woodsonne according to college records] did not come to America.)
As fate would have it, however, Story
One says that John fell in love with a young woman named Sarah Winston (1590-1660), daughter of Isaac Winston (birth dates
vary:1570, 1564, 1584-d.?) and Unknown. (I was unable to find any specific information to back up the traditional tale
of this Winston family.) The Woodson family were members of the Church of England. The Winstons, on the other hand, were definitely Separatists and probably Quakers. Both families were unhappy with the romance.
The Woodsons declared that if the courtship continued and marriage ensued, John would be disinherited. Sarah’s family did not want her to marry outside her faith.
If she married John, she would lose her family. (Story 2 says our Sarah’s
last name is unknown; that her association with the Winstons came from a mistake in a magazine article about Isaac Winston
(1681-1760). This Isaac Winston did have a daughter named Sarah, but that
Sarah married a man named Syme and later married John Henry. She and John Henry
were the parents of Patrick Henry, American patriot. Story 2 further contends
that “Winston” was a typographical error in the aforementioned magazine that was corrected in the next edition
but ignored by eager genealogists determined to connect Sarah to the Winstons. And,
as if that weren’t enough, Story 2 backers say the idea that Isaac Winston who died in 1760 would have a married daughter
listed on a 1624 “muster” [see below] is stretching the imagination somewhat.
I wonder, couldn’t there be two Isaac Winstons? Or, on the other
hand, is it absolutely necessary that Sarah be a Winston?)
In Story One, the couple decided
to go ahead with their plans even though both would lose something. They married
sometime before 29 Jan 1619 and left England and their families for the new (12-year-old) colony of Jamestown. In so doing John lost any inheritance he might have received, and Sarah lost having her family nearby.
Story One, however, says that Sarah’s brother Anthony accompanied the couple on the voyage. (I could find no mention of Anthony Winston in the ship’s list, but some ships lists were “reconstructed”
years later. Of interest: Some say
Anthony was the father of the Isaac Winston who was the father of Sarah Winston who was the mother of Patrick Henry. Whew! For whatever it’s worth,
the Sarah in that family did have a brother named Anthony).
Because of the couple’s dire
circumstances after their marriage, one source says that “when Gov. Yeardley offered John Woodson a flattering gift
of land holdings in the new world, [the young man] accepted the task of ship's surgeon and physician and came on with the
new Governor.” The governor’s offer came at just the right time for
the newlyweds. (Because of laws of primogeniture, as a fourth/fifth son, John wouldn’t have had much if any inheritance. Early Virginia was populated with many sons of wealthy families who had not had enough
sense to be born as their parents’ first child and thus inherit everything. [See
discussion of Thomas Ligon, below.])
The ship the Woodsons chose for their
voyage was the George. (Most sources list the ship as simply the George,
but one researcher claimed that the ship was really named the George Yeardley in honor of Sir George Yeardley, the
new governor of Jamestown) On board the George were the new Governor
and his wife Temperance Fleurdieu (Flowerdieu), Lady Yeardley. The governor was
going to the colony to replace the first deputy governor of Jamestown, Sir Thomas Dale (?-1619). Dale, who had served the colony well, returned to England in 1616 for other adventures and duties. He died of fever on an expedition to the East Indies in 1619.)
The Yeardleys were accompanied on
the George by about 100 other passengers. Among these passengers were
(1) our ancestors, Dr. John Woodson and his wife Sarah; (2) Sir John Harvey, who would later himself become a very unpopular
royal governor of VA; (3) a contingent of soldiers who had been sent to help protect the colonists from the Indians, and (4)
about 80 teenage “street” orphans from Bridewell Hospital who had been rounded up off the London streets and sent
to Jamestown to serve as a source of cheap labor. (If the George indeed
carried 100 passengers, the contingent of soldiers must have been fairly small. One
source claims that “a company of soldiers” was with the party. Doubts. [Story 2 says that John and Sarah were probably two of the teenage orphans from London,
and that they married sometime between their arrival in Jamestown in 1619 and the first “muster” or census that
was taken in Feb1624/25])
According to Story One, Temperance
Yeardley, the governor’s wife, was seasick for most of the journey. (One of the travelers said that it was “a
sore voyage.”) Sarah took care of her, and the two became fast friends. Temperance
encouraged Sarah and John to settle at the plantation given to the Yeardleys by King James.
It was named Flower Dew Hundred (many different spellings) and had been
named after Temperance Fleurdieu. (Hundred in a plantation’s name
indicated that the area was both large enough and populated enough to be capable of raising a hundred militiamen
in time of need [or that it housed 100 servants]) When the George landed in Jamestown in April of 1619, 33-year-old
John and 29-year-old Sarah traveled about 30 miles upstream with the Yeardleys where they made their home at Fleur de Hundred
on the south side of the James River. (Note:
The George arrived in Jamestown a year before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth.)
One bit of evidence that gives some
credence to Story One (that John and Sarah were wealthy) is the arrival of a “black looking vessel” in 1620. The
cargo of this ship consisted of 20 hostages that the Dutch captain of the ship had captured along the African coast and brought
to Jamestown to sell for profit to tobacco planters in the colonies. Records
show that John bought six of these slaves. (Originally the slaves were to be
considered indentured servants, but somehow that plan fell by the wayside.) If
John had indeed been one of the orphans brought to the colonies as a laborer, he had not had time to make enough money since
his arrival in Jamestown to be buying slaves. The slaves were registered as part
of John’s household in 1623 but were not listed by individual names. They
were designated simply as “Negars.” (These were not the first slaves
brought to the colony. In 1619, the same year the Woodsons arrived, another ship
captained by two English privateers brought “ twenty and odd” Angolans to sell.
However, major trafficking in slaves did not take place until many years later.)
Life in Jamestown
Governor Yeardley got swiftly to
work, establishing the House of Burgesses in 1619 right after his arrival and making major changes in how the colony was governed. For example, Yeardley was largely responsible for dividing the colony into four “citties”
[sic], and 11 boroughs based on the 11 major plantations along the James River—basis for representatives for the House
of Burgesses. He also established an iron works and had plans for a college for
the colony. The iron works progressed enough to actually produce iron, but the massacre of 1622 brought the production to
a halt. (The John Woodson who served as a member of the House of Burgesses for
several terms between1769-1775 for the county of Goochland was our Dr. John’s
great, great grandson [from Dr. John> to Robert> to John> to Josiah> to the Burgess John. ])
Life was not only difficult in Jamestown
colony; it was dangerous. In the beginning the settlers were primarily men; the
only women in the colonies were wives and children. However in 1619, the same
year John and Sarah arrived, the
Virginia Company sent 90 single women of good repute as potential wives for the male colonists to help populate the settlement. The women may have alarmed the already disgruntled Indians,
for their presence meant that the colonists were in Jamestown to stay. They would
continue to clear lands and encroach on Indian territory.
Indian Problems—Massacre of 1622
Relations between the Indians and
the colonists had been strained but relatively peaceful under Chief Powhatan (Pocahantas’ father). However, this truce would change when Powhatan’s younger brother, Chief Opechancanough took over. Opechancanough was known as a
ferocious warrior who hated the settlers. He had hated them since the time of
John Smith when he felt that Smith had insulted or demeaned him. Opechancanough’s
plan was to eradicate the whites totally. In a well-planned and coordinated strategic
mission on 22 March 1622 (a Good Friday), the Indians attacked the settlements without warning. They hit both sides of the river and covered a large area both up- and downstream. In all, they massacred around 400 people and took many captives.
About a third of the colonists were killed.
The raid would have been worse except
for the actions of a young Indian boy named Chanco. Chanco had been ordered to
murder his employer, Richard Pace. Instead of following orders, Chanco told Pace
about Opechancanough’s plan the night before the proposed attack. Pace
secured his own plantation then rowed across the James River to warn the colonists at Jamestown in time for them to make a
little preparation. Unfortunately there was not time to warn everyone in all
the farms, plantations, and towns. Some colonists were killed or captured at
every settlement. Some places were totally wiped out. For example, of the 29 people at the iron works, 27 were killed—including 3 women and two children. The ironworks itself was destroyed. The
settlers retaliated against the attackers and eventually drove them deeper into the forest.
The fighting continued sporadically for about a year, then a shaky peace treaty was signed.
Treaty of 1623
The Indians were not the only ones
to behave treacherously. When the Indians met with the colonists in Jamestown
a year after the 1622 massacre to sign a peace treaty, Dr. John Potts and some of the other Jamestown leaders poisoned the
Indians’ share of the liquor. The result was that 200 Indians died from
the poison, and then Potts and others killed 50 more Indians by hand. No wonder
Opechancanough did not think highly of the settlers. A very shaky peace lasted
until about 1644.
The 1624 “Muster”
In 1624 a muster (or census) ”of
the living and dead” was held. This muster was the first time in America
that we have John and Sarah listed as man and wife. Also In 1624 the Yeardley’s
sold Flower Dew Plantation to Abraham Piersey and the name was changed to Piersey’s Hundred. The1624 muster was held at Piersey’s Hundred. (Piersey’s/Flower
Dew Plantation is still in existence and is owned and maintained as a public trust by the Flowerdew Hundred Foundation. It
is today called Flower Dew Plantation.)
The Woodson Family Grows
hard and hostile environment, John and Sarah began their family. We know of three
surviving children. There may have been others who did not survive.
1. John Woodson, Jr. (1632-1684) m. Sarah Browne (1632-1692)
in c1677. Like his mother, John, Jr. may have been a Quaker. The couple had two
sons, John, III, and Robert. John owned a good deal of land and operated a ferry
across the James River.
2. Colonel Robert Woodson (1634-after 1707) m Elizabeth Ferris/Farris
(1638-1689) in 1656. She was the daughter of Richard (1596-?) and Sarah Hambleton
Ferris. The couple lived in Varina Parish.
(Varina is the name of our ancestor William Hatcher’s Virginia plantation on the James River.) Robert and Elizabeth had 9 children: John, Robert, Richard,
Elizabeth, Joseph Richard, Sarah, Benjamin, Judith, and Mary. Robert became a
large landowner in the region.
3. Deborah Woodson (c1636/44-?)
The only tangible evidence of Elizabeth’s existence is found in her mother’s will when she bequeathed a cow, a
feather bed, and “tobackoes” to her daughter.
4. Richard Woodson (?-?)
Other than his name, I could find no information about a child named Richard.
Move to Curles
Sometime around 1644 the Woodsons
moved to Curles Plantation which was owned by Robert Ferris (n.d.). Curles was
north of Flowerdew on the James River and was named after the land formation made by the river.
Massacre of 1644
On 18 April 1644 the smoldering Indian
resentment against the colonists broke out again when Chief Opechankano
led a massive attack against the settlers, slaughtering around 300 settlers before the colonists were able to drive the attackers
away. Casualties at Fleur de Hundred (Piersey’s Hundred) were not high,
probably because it was a palisaded settlement. (A palisade is a fence of long,
strong stakes, pointed at the top and set close together as a defense.) John
and Sarah might still have been living at Piersey’s Hundred on 18 April 1644, but they had probably already moved to
Curles. In any event, both John and Sarah survived. The next day, however, the Indians struck again.
The account of John and Sarah’s
fate during the Massacre of 1644 can be found in almost every discussion of the Woodson family. The details vary somewhat from story to story, but in each case Sarah’s heroism, quick thinking,
and bravery are paramount.
On 19 April 1644, the day after
the 1644 massacre, Dr. John Woodson had gone to check on the welfare of some of his patients.
While he was gone, the Indians attacked again. Sarah was in their home
with her sons, John, Jr., and Robert, who were at the time 12 and 10 respectively. (Daughter
Deborah is not mentioned in any of the accounts of the attack. Perhaps Sarah
was pregnant with her; perhaps the girl was easier to hide than the boys; in any event, she survived. In addition, if her date of birth is correct, Sarah was 54 years old in 1644. That also means she had borne children at 42-44 years of age.)
visitor named Thomas or Robert Ligon was also in the Woodson’s home. (Most
accounts do not mention his first name and simply call him Ligon.) Ligon
may have come to warn the Woodsons, for they did have a little time to prepare.
Sarah gave Ligon her husband’s gun, an old, 8-foot-long, muzzle loading rifle.
He quickly found a notched tree branch in the yard to use to brace the gun. In
the meantime, Sarah hid John, Jr., under a washtub and had Robert get into a hole in the floor that the family used for storing
potatoes. She hoped that the boys would be safely hidden if the attackers managed
to get inside the house.
Sarah also put a large pot of water
on the fire to boil so that it could be used as a possible weapon. (See story
of our Ancestor Timothy Ragan's son, Reason Ragan, in the Archives. He and his
family were involved in the Wood River Massacre. Go to top of this page and click
link to previously published articles.) Sarah and Ligon worked as a team
to use the large gun: Sarah loaded it, and Ligon fired it. When the Indians attacked the cabin, Ligon killed three Indians with his first shot. With the second shot he killed two more. Suddenly
Sarah realized two Indians were on the roof, trying to come down the chimney. She
took her bedding off the bed and threw it into the fireplace. The resulting smoke
overcame the Indians who fell down the chimney. One fell into the boiling water
and was scalded. (Some versions say Sarah threw the water on him.) Next, Sarah grabbed the roasting spit from the fireplace and brained the other. Both Indians were killed.
once more to the threat of howling Indians outside, Sarah and Ligon put the gun to work again, killing two more attackers. In all, they had fired 3 shots. With
9 Indians dead, the remainder fled. As soon as the Indians were gone, Sarah called
her two sons from their hiding places. Tradition has it that for several years afterward the boys bore the nicknames “Tub”
and “Potato Hole.” In addition, Woodson researchers often ask the
question, “Are you a Tub Woodson or Potato Hole Woodson?” (We are
Potato Hole Woodsons.)
When the Indian attack began, Dr.
Woodson was on his way home. We do not know whether or not he knew that a new
attack was underway. When he came to an open area in sight of his house, the
Indians set upon him and killed him. Ligon and Sarah found John Woodson’s
body when they went outside after driving the Indians away. He was probably killed
before the Indians attacked the house. He was 58 years old.
Colonel Thomas Ligon
identity of the mysterious “Ligon” became a crusade with me. Every
story I read gave a different version of who he was. Some said he was an old
schoolteacher; others that he was an itinerant shoe maker; one that he was a militia man.
Only two sources gave a first name: One Thomas, one Robert. Rather than continue with Woodson accounts of the attack, I started searching for Ligon family versions. There I found that Colonel Thomas Ligon (1586/1625-1675) had arrived in VA in 1641
with his cousin Sir William Berkeley, the Royal Governor of Virginia. Ligon was
from a titled family, but when he did not inherit lands or money, he came to Virginia .
arrival date of 1641 is fairly certain. His date of birth, however, is not. Some sources say he was born in 1586 and some say 1625. That is a big difference. He would either be 55 or 16 when
he arrived and 58 or 19 during the massacre. (Some say the 1586 date may be the
birth date of his father. On the other hand, most versions of the story seem
to indicate that the man helping Sarah defend her home was old. In addition,
a 16-year-old would be less likely to have already married in England and become a widower before traveling to VA, which was
true for Ligon. For the other side, 1586 also makes Ligon fathering children
from ages 66-77, for he married a second time in VA in 1648-1650 at age 62-64 to a woman who was born in 1625 and was 23-25
years old at the time.) It’s a toss-up.
Ligon had only been in Jamestown Colony 2 or 3 years when the 1644 massacre occurred, but that became part of his initiation
into public service. He was already a member of the VA militia, and by 1669 attained
the rank of Lt. Col.. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1644-1645 right after the massacre; was a Justice
for Charles City Co. in 1657; a Burgess for Henrico Co. in 1656, and a surveyor in 1667. I believe who this man was may be more evidence for Story One. Whatever his age, Col. Thomas Ligon was a man of public stature.
Whether this man was a visitor as some accounts say, or whether he set out to warn the Woodsons, John and Sarah seem
to have had some fairly influential friends and acquaintances.
Several weeks after the massacre,
Opechancano was captured and executed. (Some versions say he was murdered in
his jail cell by one [or several] of his guards )
The 8-foot-long gun is still in existence,
though now a bit shorter. At some point the name Ligon was carved into
the gunstock. For a long time the weapon was kept by descendants of the Woodsons
in Prince George County, VA. By 1915 the gun was owned by a Lynchburg,
VA attorney, William V. Wilson. At some point Mrs. C. W. Venable, a Woodson descendant,
came into possession of the gun. Her husband examined the weapon and wrote about
it: “The gun is, by exact measurement, seven feet six inches in length,
and the bore is so large that I can easily put my whole thumb into it. When first made it was 8 feet long, but on account
of some injury it was sent to England to be repaired and the gunsmith cut off 6 inches of the barrell. [sic]” In 1927
Mrs. Venable gave the gun to The Virginia Historical Society, and it is today on permanent exhibit in the Virginia
Museum in Richmond. Examinations have shown the gun to predate1625.
Life after 1644
The Woodsons were probably already living at Curles in 1644. (I
found one source that said John was listed as head of household at Curles in 1629, but could find no other proof to verify
this nor even the name of the list he was on.) At Curles the boys grew to adulthood and prospered. Robert married Elizabeth Farris, daughter of the owner of Curles plantation. (Elizabeth’s parents
had spelled their surname Ferris, but for some reason, Elizabeth used Farris.)
Sons John and Robert were listed among the “Tythables” at Curles in 1679 so they were still there at that
Eventually both John and Robert became large landowners (holding
almost 2,000 acres), but the land holdings dwindled as they parceled land out one way or another among their children. Several of John and Sarah’s children and descendants became Quakers, and
Quaker meetings were held at Curles Plantation. John, Jr., married twice. He and his second wife, Sarah Browne, operated a ferry across the James River. After his death, his wife asked for and received from the county 2,000 pounds of tobacco
a year for running the ferry. Apparently they were doing very well, for when
Sarah Browne Woodson died, she left all of her personal possessions to the children of her first marriage.
Sarah (Winston? LNU?) Woodson’s life after John’s death is not clearly defined. She outlived her husband by 16 years, and some say that during this time she used her medical knowledge
(gleaned from her husband) to care for the sick and injured. She did remarry,
but not much is known about her spouse(s). Some say she first married a man named
Dunwell. With him she had a daughter named Elizabeth (based on the daughter Elizabeth
mentioned in her will). Sarah died c1660 at about 70 years of age and is buried
in Henrico Co., VA. She was a brave woman who dealt with the times as best she
could and managed to do what was necessary to survive.
Sometime before 17 Jan 1660 when they were recorded, Sarah Woodson Johnson made a combination inventory
and nuncupative (oral) will. (Oral or not, somebody evidently wrote Sarah’s wishes down.) Today this will is interesting for several reasons: the people she mentioned, the items considered of value, and the spelling of the time. The inventory of her estate included: “2 cows, feather bed, chest, 2 hifer, 1 spitt, 1 pott, 1 pewter, 1 pewter dish, 1 wooden dish, a Taylos..Iron
and shayres, (just a guess: the Taylos iron and shayres” may have been sewing implements: a tailor’s iron and shears).” Also
included were: “1 wascott with a sarge peticote.” Of this inventory, daughter Deborah Woodson received “a cow, [the feather] bed and tobackoes” (Actually these items were to be used by Robert Woodson for Deborah’s maintenance. She may have still been single at this time.
She would have been between 16-24) Son John Woodson, Jr., received a cow. Daughter Elizabeth Dunwell received a “cow and calf, hifer and waiscott and
peticott.” Nothing is mentioned about maintenance for Elizabeth, even though
she at 16 years or less would have been younger than Deborah. However, after
Robert Woodson received “tobackoes and pitt and pott,” the remainder was to go to “Elz Dunwell.” Perhaps Elz was Elizabeth, and this remainder was part of her inheritance or
the White House to the Wild West
John and Sarah Woodson left many
descendants—some famous, some not. Two of interest are Dolly Todd Madison,
wife of President James Madison, and Frank and Jesse James, the famous outlaws. (Jesse’s
middle name was Woodson.)
Now it’s time to decide which
story is correct. Were John and Sarah rich or poor? Does it really matter? If they were indeed from the privileged
classes, we can admire their bravery in coming to the colonies. If they were
two of the orphans on board the George, we can admire the courage, pluck, and tenacity required to make something of
themselves after their arrival. In either case we’re lucky to have
them as ancestors.
Dr. John Woodson and Sarah LNU
Woodson are Mamaw’s 8-great grandparents. If you are Mary Elizabeth Hatcher’s
great great grandchild, Dr. John and Sarah are your 12-great grandparents.
Line of Descent from Dr.
John and Sarah LNU Woodson to Mary Elizabeth Hatcher
Dr. John Woodson (1586-1644) + Sarah
(Winston?) LNU (1590-1660)
Col. Robert Woodson (1634-aft.1707) + Elizabeth Ferris (1638-1689)
Sarah Woodson (1668-1710) + Edward
Hezekiah or Jacob Mosby + Elizabeth
or Susannah Cox (more on this later)
Agnes Mosby (?-1798) + Edward Davidson
Elizabeth Davidson (1727-1830) +
Merry Webb IV (1737-1816)
Merry Webb V (1786-1864) + Mary Nancy
Elizabeth Webb (1808-1881) + Israel
McInturff, II (1805-1845)
Mary Elizabeth McInturff (1837-1915)
+ James H. Hatcher (1839-1911)
Elder Israel Alexander Hatcher (1860-1950)
+ Susan Sutton (1862-1903)
Mary Elizabeth Hatcher (1889-1969)
+ Rev. Eli McCarter (1886-1955)
Ken L. The Bishop and Related Family History. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22Sarah+Winston%22+%2B+%22Anthony+Winston%22+Jamestowne&btnG=Search
Dr. John Woodson
of Virginia” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Virginia
“John Morton of Warwickshire England and his Descendants.”
Woodson & Sarah? (Is he Dr., is she Winston?)” http://boards.ancestry.com/localities.britisles.england.gls.general/4279/mb.ashx?pnt=1
“John Woodson of Flowerdew Plantation, Virginia.” http://webpages.charter.net/pepbaker/woodson.htm
The Descendants of Col. Thomas Ligon."
Southern Family http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mysouthernfamily/myff/d0027/g0000097.html
Ship Lists Early 1600's
“The Woodson Family”
Family of VA and MO."
Family Genealogy Forum”
Family Genealogy Forum.”
Henry Morton. Historical Genealogy of the Woodsons and Their Connections.,
1915. Original from the Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison. Digitized 16 Apr 2008. 760 pages. pp. 42-46. http://books.google.com/books?id=GuhfAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA45&ots=Udrxc_faSL&dq=%22John%20Woodson%22%20House%20of%20Burgesses&pg=PA45&output=text