Ancestor of the Month
c1665 d. aft 1739
“The Immigrant “ for
the Crowson branch of our family tree is probably Robert Crowson who was born about 1665 in Nottingham, England. (Originally Robert’s name was sometimes spelled Crowdson, which helps in remembering the correct
pronunciation. Crow-son rhymes with Prow or Chow, not Crow-son
rhyming with Grow or Throw.) We know virtually nothing of
his family in England nor any of his reasons for leaving there. Between 1685-1690
while he was in his early 20’s, Robert migrated to the colony of Virginia and settled in Accomack Co. on the east coast. As far as we know, the young man was traveling alone, for he was as yet unmarried. He had probably come to the colonies to seek his fortune.
The Headright System
Robert’s passage to Virginia
was paid by Capt. Thomas Welburne. Welburne did not pay this passage as a form
of charity or good deed. In 1619 The Virginia Company passed a body of
laws which included a provision that “any person who settled in Virginia or paid for the transportation expenses of
another person who settled in Virginia should be entitled to receive fifty acres of land for each immigrant. The right to
receive fifty acres per person, or per head, was called a ‘headright.’”
As a result, on 18 March 1690 Welburne was awarded 2,450 acres of land in Accomack County, VA for the 49 people he
had brought to Virginia shores. (Claims for headrights were often made
several years after the people were imported to the colonies; thus we do not know exactly when Robert arrived. [I was unable to find him on a ship’s list.])
In addition to the land awarded to
those paying passage, the system usually involved an agreement that the importee repay his benefactor by working as an indentured
servant for four to twelve (usually seven) years. Thus Welburne and others who
used this system not only received free land; they received “free” labor as well.
(We have already seen this practice put to good use by several of our ancestors, both as importers and those being
Many settlers used this headright system to gain a step up
in the colonial hierarchy. For those who had money, it was fairly simple. For those being brought into the colony, it meant about seven years of hard labor
working for someone else, after which they spent more years of hard labor in clearing their own lands. Some unscrupulous land owners managed to beat the system by moving some of their old servants from one
county to another and reregistering them as new arrivals and new “headrights” when they were not really new at
all. According to one genealogist, “For aristocrats with important friends
in high places, some received as much as 25,000 acres of free land just for being in the loop.” Others, like Thomas Welburne, used the system to make their way into the ranks of Virginia gentlemen. Through the headright system, Thomas became a plantation owner and slaveholder and
eventually a Member of the House of Burgesses. A more affluent (and
probably jealous) diarist of the time sneered that in England Welburne’s family had been "lowly sheep handlers."
There is a possibility that Robert may have been registered
twice as a headright, for on 16 Nov 1686, a “Robt. Crowdson” was listed as one of 17 people William Anderson claimed
to have transported to the colony. For transporting 17 people, Anderson should
have received 850 acres; however, he only received 200. If these Anderson and
Welburne transactions had happened in reverse order, we could surmise that perhaps Anderson’s claims for part of his
headrights were not allowed. However, because of the dates, if wrongdoing did
occur, it is more likely that Welburne listed a headright belonging to another person.
Though such a situation adds drama and skullduggery to what might otherwise be “boring history,” an equally
strong argument could be that there were simply two Robert Crow(d)sons.
Whatever the case, our Robert completed the terms of his
agreement with Welburne and/or Anderson and set out to make his own way in the new land.
Predictably he settled in Accomack where the Welburne and Anderson plantations were located. In that area he was lucky enough to meet a young woman whom he admired.
Unfortunately her name has been lost in history. They wed, probably,
Before and during this time of “starting
his own life,” Robert’s name appeared on Accomack County documents several time. First there is a record of a
Robert Croudson suing Hance Bettnor 2 Sep 1685 for
one year of wages from 20 Jan 1684/85; thus, if this is our Robert, he must have had arrangements with Welburne and/or Anderson
that would allow him to work for others as well. His name appears 12 May 1686
and 6 July 1686 on lists of “delinquent soldiers belonging to Capt. Henry Custis.”
(Everyone served in the militia; this listing is not as ominous or demeaning as it sounds.) On the same list with Robert was John Littleton who ten years later would have a daughter named Comfort
Littleton. Comfort would marry Robert’s son William.) In 1692 and 1694 Robert Crowson’s name appears on a list of tithables for Accomack County. (Typical spelling for the period gives Robert Crowson for 1692 and Robert Crouson for 1694.)
Robert and his bride had two sons,
William, who was born in May of 1693, and Thomas who was born in 1696. We can
assume that the family endured the same hardships as other colonists of the times. At
least the major Indian massacres had abated. Unfortunately life was difficult
in those times, and death often occurred in childbirth, “fevers,” accidents, and maladies which would be inconsequential
today. We do not know the fate of Robert’s wife, but she died sometime
Life as a Single Father
Robert probably felt overwhelmed. He was only 37, and he had been left with the care of two young boys, one 6 and one
8 years of age. How was he to survive—much less “make his fortune”? In those days the favored solution to his problem was to remarry quickly. Robert chose a second, though equally popular solution. He
“bound out” both sons as apprentices to tobacco planters in the area. His
own sojourn with Thomas Welburne may have helped him make this decision.
Eight-year-old William was indentured
to John Evins/Evans, and 6-year-old Thomas was bound to Mrs. Sarah Hinman Coe (1649-1718), widow of planter Timothy Coe (1631-1689). The Coes were Quakers. Both boys
were to stay with their masters until they reached the age of 21. (For less affluent
families, indenture for some of the children was necessary whether the mother [or father] had died or not. It was, in fact, a common practice. In addition, town authorities
often bound out children of the poor in order to save the town from the expense of providing for them.) Two types of indentures or apprenticeships—voluntary and compulsory—were common. The voluntary indentures were usually for people who chose to put their children (or themselves) into a
situation where they could learn a trade or profession or repay a debt; the compulsory indentures were usually a means for
the children of the poor to subsist.
Both of Robert’s sons were
involved in voluntary indentures. William’s legal document (original spelling retained) signed 3 Feb 1702 stipulates that Mr. Evins would provide the boy with “
Meate drink washing lodging & Clothes fitting for one of his degree.” In
addition “when his Sd aprentis doth attaine to ye age of twenty and one years ye sd Evins is to give him one sute of
Apparrell with Shoos & Stockings, and a two yeare Heifer….” Father
Robert was to receive the “sd heifer” in May of that year and would take care of it and the calves it produced
on his own premises until William became 21. Robert would own all the bull calves. Apparently William would receive the females.
This agreement was beneficial to both father and son and was signed when William was “at the age of Eight years and Aight months.”
On 28 Nov 1702, Robert signed indenture
papers (original spelling retained) for his son Thomas who was “six years ten months & Fifteen days of age.”
Thomas was to be bound to Mrs. Sarah Coe. Mrs. Coe was more particular about
Thomas’ behavior than Evins had been about William’s. She insisted
that Thomas “shall keep close his Commandments Lawfull and honest every where.”
The goods of his Said Mistress
or Master he shall not Inordinately waste nor them to any body lend: at Cards or dise or any unlawful games he shall not play:
fornication he shall not Comit within his said Mistress or Masters house or elce whare, matremony he shall not contract Traverns
he shall not frequent: wth his own pro: Googs day an night he shall not himself absent: or prolong him self from his said
Mistress or Master service: but in all things shall beare & behave himself as an apprentis or sarvant ought to do towards
his said Mistriss or Master during his servitude.
In return the Coes would pay Thomas
12 pence per year (a penny a month). In addition, Mrs. Coe (or her son William
or his heirs) would give Thomas, the “Sd aprentis sofitiant meatte drink
washing & lodgin and apparell sofficiant for such an Apprentis & at ye expirn to Reserve a goog soffitiant Sute of
Aparell sutable for such a servant.” The agreement was acknowledged in
open court 1 Dec 1702 and recorded 12 Dec 1702.
Not much is known about John Evins
(or Evans), but his name appears on deeds, wills, and other documents of the day, so he was a fairly important man. He had the means to provide the “training” William would need in learning how to raise tobacco. The Coes were included on a modern list of “Important Quakers on the Eastern
Coast.” (Their ”importance” may have come from their landholdings. The 1704 Accomack County tax list shows the widow Sarah Hinman Coe with 900 acres
of land and her son Timothy II with 4100 acres). They, like Evins, had a large
tobacco plantation. Robert Crowson apparently chose well in determining where
to place his sons.
Bias Against Quakers
Unfortunately, even if they had large
landholdings, Quakers had a hard life in early Virginia. The “state church”
was the Church of England, and the Anglicans were, at the time, an intolerant group.
Governor Berkeley wrote letters like the one below to officials in the colony showing his displeasure at their failure
to rid the colony of Quakers: (original spelling retained.)
Mr. Conquest August 8th 1660 I hearr wth sorrow yt you are very remisse in yor office, in not
stopping frequent meetings of this most pestilent sect of ye quakers, whether this be so or not, I doe charge you (by virtue
of ye power ye grand assemble has entrusted me with) not to suffer any more of theire meetings or Conventicles & if any
such shall be refractory, yt you send them up prisoners to James Citty. I expect your obedience to this wch I send you without
enclosing yt all may take notice of it.
Yor Loving ffrend,
Quakers were harassed in every way possible. If they refused
to have their children baptized in the Anglican Church, they were fined 2,000 pounds of tobacco. If they were over 16 and
assembled in groups of five or more to practice their religion, they were fined 200 pounds of tobacco for the first offense
and 500 for the second. If a Quaker could not pay his fine, other Quakers were
made to pay it for him. Anyone informing on a Quaker for assembling or breaking
other laws was rewarded with half the fine; the other half went to the public treasury.
This practice was obviously designed to encourage informers. Quakers opposed
slavery and would often buy slaves just to set them free. In Virginia, this became
illegal, but that law was repealed before1796.
Thomas would have been bound to Quakeress Sarah Coe until 1717. Thus,
if he lived that long, he might have experienced some of the prejudice afflicted against Quaker households. In 1692 after her husband’s death and before taking Thomas, Sarah had moved her family to Somerset County, Maryland, probably because of the prejudice. However,
both she and her sons came back several times. Finally, sometime before 1702,
she returned to Accomack Co. to stay and died there in 1718. By 1750, however,
few if any Quakers remained on the East Coast of VA. On the good side, since
Sarah and Timothy had had 8 children, Sarah had had experience with young boys.
Although the Coe children were all adults and probably gone by 1702 when Thomas entered his indenture, hopefully Sarah
treated Thomas more as one of her children than as one of her servants or slaves.
The Fate of Robert and his Sons
There is no real evidence (Taxes,
public records, etc.) of Robert Crowson in Accomack County after this time (1702). He apparently moved on to greener pastures. It is believed that he may have moved to Bertie Co., NC by 1739. (By 1739, however, the two boys would have long completed their indentures and would have been in their
forties. Thus, Robert could have easily remained in Accomack Co to keep an eye
on his boys until their release from servitude before he moved to NC.
Son Thomas was to have completed
his indenture in 1717. His experiences after 1702 and the date of his death are
unknown. There is speculation that he may have changed his name to Coe, but I
was unable to find any Thomas Coe with an appropriate date of birth. Hopefully
he grew to manhood and had a full life of his own. Unfortunately, chances are
he died in childhood.
Son William completed his indenture
in 1715/16. During the time of his apprenticeship, he met Comfort Littleton (1695-aft.1745),
daughter of John and Sarah Littleton. Actually he had probably known Comfort
all his life since their fathers were friends or acquaintances. The young couple
married in 1716, likely as soon as William was free of his obligation. They had
nine children: 6 girls and 3 boys: John
(1725-c1780), William (1723-?), Charles (1745-c1800), Betty, Comfort, Hester, Margaret, Sinah, and an unknown daughter. William died in 1756 at 62 years of age. Comfort
Littleton Crowson died after 1745.
John, William’s oldest son,
grew up to marry a woman named Sarah, and they later moved to Johnston Co., NC. (At
least one researcher proposes that John moved to NC to be near his grandfather, Robert.
She indicates that a John Crowson and a Robert Crowson both signed documents in Anson Co., NC that contained various
combinations of their names and the names of William Rushin and Rowland Williams. Her
contention is that the Crowsons, Rushins, and Williams were friends or acquaintances and might have moved to NC together.)
John and Sarah Crowson became the
parents of six children, one of whom was our ancestor William (1740/1750-1814). William
was a Revolutionary War veteran who married Mary Thomas, daughter of Jordan and Ann Thomas, in 1769 in Jones Co., North Carolina. The young couple moved to Sevier County, TN where they had 12 children.
Their daughter “Polly” married William Hatcher, lived in Wear’s Valley, and helped start a Hatcher
dynasty of her own. (Read about William Hatcher and William Crowson in the Archives. Go to the top of this page and click the link to previously published articles.)
We can admire Robert Crowson’s
bravery in coming to the new world to find his fortune, and we can understand how he would indenture his children to insure
their well being. The facts of the majority of his life are lost in history. Maybe these facts—and those concerning the fate of his young son Thomas—will
someday be known.
Robert Crowson was Mamaw’s 6 great grandfather. If you are Mary Elizabeth Hatcher’s great great grandchild, Robert Crowson
is your 10 great grandfather.
Line of Descent from Robert Crowson to Mary Elizabeth Hatcher
Robert Crowson (c1665-aft 1739) + Unknown (? -c1702)
William C. Crowson (1694-1756) + Comfort Littleton
John Crowson (1717-1780) + Sarah LNU (?-?)
William Crowson (1740/1750-1814) + Mary Thomas
Mary Elizabeth Crowson (1770/1780-1838) + William
Reuben Hatcher (1798-1870) + Martha Magill (1802-1875)
James H. Hatcher (1839-1900) + Mary Elizabeth
Elder Israel Alexander Hatcher (1860-1950) + Susan
Mary Elizabeth Hatcher (1889-1969) + Rev. Eli
Many thanks to Bill Crowson, author of Crowson Genealogy, published in 1999, who provided copies of his notes
concerning Robert Crowson.
For more information on his book, Crowson Genealogy, contact the author at the addresses below.
212 Marks Ave.
“Ancestors of Ira Wood Howell.”
Anders, Vikky Wilburn. “History of my Wilburn Family in America.”
Brickhouse, Grady Gordon. “Eastern Shore Quakers.”
Family Association http://www.brickhousefamily.com/quakers.as
on Robert Crowson.” e-mail 1 July 2000. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Crowson Family Genealogy.” http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~shudspeth/crowson.htm#HI
Crowson Genforum http://genforum.genealogy.com/crowson/
“Crowsons in America.”
“Descendants of both John Hinman (VA, 1635) and Sgt.
Edward Hinman (CT, 1650)”
“HISTORY OF THE CROWSON FAMILY.”
“Timothy Coe of Northampton
and Accomack Counties, VA” http://www.ghotes.net/descendants/timothycoe.htm
VIRGINIA LAND PATENTS & GRANTS 1695-1732
“VINSON, Eliab 1798-1864.” http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/chatmondieu/VinsonEliab1798.html