Some recent correspondence with a descendant of Stephen Pettus of Blisland Parish, New Kent County, Virginia, reminded me that I may not have kept genforum members up to date on my research findings with regards to Stephen's relationship to Thomas Pettus II of Littletown plantation, James City County, Virginia.
Back in 1976, I discovered a Stephen Pettus who was the son, baptized in 1629, of John Pettus and his wife Mary Pollard of St. Mary Woolchurch Haw Parish, London. Stephen was orphaned upon the death of his father in 1634, and John’s brother, Rolfe Pettus of London, became his guardian. I also found Virginia records that mention a person or persons named Stephen Pettis or Pettus who may have been John’s son in 1637, 1642, 1662, 1668, and 1677. While I didn’t have proof that SP of London settled in Virginia, I suspected that might have been the case and that he might have been the ancestor of SP of Blisland Parish.
In 1686, Thomas Pettus II traveled to Holland with power of attorney from the heirs of George Billingsley of Chuckatuck, Virginia, to claim money from the estate of his grandmother, Agatha Billingslee. One of George’s heirs was his half-sister, Mourning Burgh, who had married Thomas Pettus II. Thomas succeeded in getting the money, but he died while still in Holland. Before leaving Virginia, Thomas had made a will in which he had named Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., and Maj. Lewis Burwell as executors. Bacon died in 1692, but Burwell eventually distributed the money to the surviving Billingslee heirs in Virginia except for Mourning. Mourning never got her share, because she had already proved Thomas’s will, which evidently didn’t mention the money!
In 1691 Thomas’s former guardian, Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., inventoried Thomas’s estates on the James River, including Littletown and Utopia. The title of the inventory reveals that the goods and chattels then belonged to Thomas’s “Orphand,” but Bacon did not identify the orphan. Stacy and others misread “Orphand” as “Orphans,” but a close inspection of the original document reveals that they were incorrect. In a codicil to his own will made in 1692, Bacon mentioned Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Thomas Pettus, should she live to be 21. Clearly, Thomas left an orphan daughter, but was she the orphan heir Bacon had in mind when he made the inventory? Was she Thomas’s only child? That question is one of the most important in Pettus genealogy and one that has occupied my thought for many years.
On 2 May 1700, Elizabeth made her will and apparently died on the same day. Several months later, on 4 October, Stephen Pettus of Blisland Parish, New Kent County, Virginia, and certain other parties were grantors in a lease-release conveyance of the Pettus estates to James Bray, Jr., of Wilmington Parish, James City County, Virginia (only the lease deed is still extant). Bray had married Mourning Pettus sometime prior to Bacon taking inventory.
How did Stephen acquire an interest in the Thomas Pettus estates? Several possibilities can be mentioned: (1) Stephen was Thomas’s orphan son and heir, (2) he inherited the estates from Elizabeth under the terms of her will, or (3) he inherited under the rule of primogeniture as Thomas’s nearest male relative. The reader should bear in mind that John Pettus of London and Col. Thomas Pettus of Virginia were first cousins. Thus SP of London and Thomas Pettus II of Virginia were second cousins. Perhaps the deed is evidence that SP, grantor in the sale of the Pettus estates, was a descendant of SP of London. In that case, the situation was similar to that in “Downford Abbey,” which appeared on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theatre” this season. In that series the heir-apparent was a third cousin of the abbey’s owner.
Sometime within the last ten years, I came across a previously overlooked record that convinces me that SP was the son of TP II after all. The evidence is in a York County record of a lawsuit brought by Thomas’s widow against Lewis Burwell. Mourning claimed a shipment of tobacco had come to her during her widowhood. According to Mourning, the tobacco had become mixed with her late husbands’s estate and had wound up in Burwell’s possession. Burwell’s defense attorney argued simply that the disputed tobacco was “the proper estate” of SP.
My interpretation of this evidence is that Burwell, as executor, was holding the tobacco for Thomas’s orphan son until the latter came of age. Had SP been a cousin and “heir-at-law” by primogeniture, he would have no claim to tobacco grown elsewhere and shipped to Littletown. Primogeniture applied only to the inheritance of real property. Furthermore, the tobacco did not come to SP as Elizabeth’s heir, as she was still living at the time. If she was the only orphan child of TP II, Burwell’s attorney would have argued that the tobacco was her “proper estate!”
My book examines the question of Stephen’s identity in considerably more detail than can be included in this brief message. The evidence and proof arguments appear in Volume 2 of my book, Thomas Petyous of Norwich, England, and His Pettus Descendants in England and Virginia. Volume 1, which has the biographies of all the Pettuses mentioned above, is now in the hands of the publisher, Otter Bay Books, LLC, of Baltimore, Maryland. I plan to publish Volume 2 after I have compiled the index.
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