Peter Rowlett (ca. 1673-1750)

Notes by Russell J. Rowlett, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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This Peter Rowlett was one of the two surviving sons of Peter Rowlett (ca. 1639-1702). Family historians have generally assumed he was the older son, but we have no proof of this; it is possible his brother William was older. Presumably he grew up on his father's farm in the southern part of what is now Chesterfield County, Virginia (it was then part of Henrico County).

In August 1689 the elder Peter Rowlett was fined in Henrico County Court for failing to report his son as a tithable, that is, as an adult male liable for service in the militia. Boys became tithable at age 16, so this places the birth of the younger Peter in 1673, more or less. On August 1, 1691, Peter Jr. testified in court that he was about 17 years old, placing his birth in 1673-74.

This testimony followed closely after the tragic death of Peter's sister Martha on July 16, 1691. Martha had her hand caught in the bridle of a horse; the horse kicked her in the head and ran, dragging her three quarters of a mile, according to the coroner's report. It was Peter who chased after the horse and freed his sister's body.

On February 2, 1703, at the age of about 28, Peter submitted his father's will to the court, and on April 2 he was granted the administration of his father's estate. This will contains evidence that Peter had married and started a family sometime around 1695-97. For one thing, he received no land in the will, so it appears he had already taken possession of land on the Appomattox River his father had owned since sometime before 1679. In addition, the will mentions two grandchildren, Mary and Anne. These were most likely Peter's children: his brother William is not known to have been married before 1703, and his sister Mary and the two children are mentioned without any surname.

Apparently (as we shall see) Peter also had two sons, John and Thomas, by this first marriage. They were probably born after 1701, since Peter, Sr., does not mention them in his will.

There survives a quit rent roll (a record of land owners in the county) for 1704; this document shows Peter as owning 164 acres of land, presumably his inheritance from his father. The roll does not include 200 acres of land on the south side of Swift Creek, granted to Peter in 1704 as a result of four persons having been transported to the colony. This was probably Peter's portion of land actually due to his father and mentioned in a court record of 1692.

On September 24, 1709, Peter recorded the purchase of 189 acres of land on the Great Branch of Old Town Creek from Philip Jones, the same Philip Jones who had sold land in this area to Peter's father in 1687. Peter was evidently prospering, since he now owned about 550 acres of land in three tracts.

We don't know the name of Peter's first wife or when she died. Sometime not later than 1716, Peter married his second wife, Mary Ligon. She was the elder of the two surviving daughters of the late William Ligon of Curles Neck, a substantial landowner and former county surveyor. Mary Ligon was also the widow of William Anderson, whom she had married in 1698.

Peter and Mary had a family connection: Mary's uncle Richard Ligon, the brother of William Ligon, was married to Mary Worsham, who was an aunt of Peter's sister-in-law Frances Worsham Rowlett.

I believe that Mary Ligon was widowed rather early. I have found no mention of William Anderson in Henrico County records after March 10, 1701, when he witnessed the will of Mary's grandmother Mary Tanner Platt, and there do not seem to be any children who survived from the marriage.

One possibility is that Peter married Mary Ligon in or shortly before 1709, when he suddenly had the cash to buy the 189 acres from Philip Jones. This is only a guess, but it is consistent with the records we have.

On January 7, 1717, the deed was recorded that proves the marriage of Peter Rowlett and Mary Ligon. Mary's father William Ligon died young, in July 1689. His will included the following bequest:

My land that lies on the back of Curles [Neck], joining land that formerly belonged to Solomon Knibb, I give to my daughter Mary and the child my wife now goes with, to be under the care of my wife until they are age 21, unless she marry, and then to age 16.

This was very valuable bottomland on the north side of the James River. The deed recorded in 1717 states:

Whereas William Ligon, late of the County of Henrico, dec'd, did by will bequeath to his daughter Mary and the child she [sic] went with, his land lying in back of Curls, to be equally divided, and the child well known by the name of Lucretia Ligon is now 21; Mary and Lucretia have agreed to divide the land, and Peter Rowlett, who married said Mary, consents. Land is therefore divided.

Note that in colonial Virginia a woman could own land in her own name, but if she was married she could not divide or sell her land without her husband's consent. After bringing about this division, Peter and Mary sold their portion of the land to Benjamin Hopson.

Ligon family genealogists have claimed that Peter and Mary had no children, but this is clearly incorrect. It is an important clue that the elder of the surviving sons mentioned in Peter's will was named Joseph. Joseph is not a traditional name in the Rowlett family of Virginia, but Mary Ligon had a brother, an uncle, and a grandfather named Joseph. Indeed, it seems that Peter and Mary had at least four children: sons Joseph and William and daughters Martha and Sarah. We have two lines of evidence that these children were probably born prior to 1720. First, Mary must have been born by about 1680, so her child-bearing years would have been ending around 1720. Second, none of the births appear in the Bristol Parish register, which begins in 1720. This makes it seem likely that Peter and Mary were married by 1710 or very shortly thereafter.

On March 24, 1725, the colonial government granted Peter 400 acres on the north side of the Appomattox River "adjoining Henry Hill." This land seems to have been well to the west of Peter's home plantation. By this time, Peter was a moderately substantial landowner. In 1736, a sheriff's account book recorded that he paid taxes on a total of 950 acres in four tracts. It does not give us the locations of those tracts, but they must have been the original 164 acres, the 200 acres granted in 1704, the 189 acres purchased from Philip Jones, and the 400 acres granted in 1725, making a total of 953 acres.

Peter and Mary were members of the established church in Bristol Parish, which later became Blandford Church of Petersburg. They make several appearances in the oldest surviving vestry book of the parish. At this period the parish vestries had several governmental functions, including the power to appoint district officials. On July 24, 1727, the vestry appointed Peter Rowlett and William Worsham as processioners of the district between Swift Creek, Old Town Creek, and Ewells Branch. Processioners had the task of walking all the property boundary lines in the precinct, accompanied by the landowners, noting and repairing the boundary markers to avoid future disputes.

Slavery, unfortunately, was well established by this time. On February 15, 1725, the vestry book recorded the baptism of Pat, "a negro girl belonging to Mr. Peter & Mary Rowlett." A few weeks later, on March 14, the vestry ordered that Poll, an Indian girl "born in the house of Mr. Peter Rowlett, bound to serve him & his heirs as ye law directs."

In 1735, Bristol Parish was divided and the land north of the Appomattox became Dale Parish. No early vestry records survive for this parish. In 1749, Henrico County was divided at the James River, and the Rowlett lands became part of Chesterfield County.

In 1741, when he was about 68 years old, Peter seems to have made a settlement with the children of his first marriage, giving John and Thomas deeds to some of his property. All we have on this is a notation in the court order book that deeds to John and Thomas were recorded; the deeds themselves do not survive. It appears that John received the 400 acres in the far southwest of the county, wher he was developing a plantation called Winterpock. Thomas probably received the 200 acres on Swift Creek.

Peter made his will on January 5, 1750, and it was received by the court in May. He left the land he had bought from Philip Jones in 1709 to his son Joseph, and he left his son William 160 acres, probably the land on the Appomattox that had come down to him from his own father and grandfather. Since the land grants of 1704 and 1725 are not mentioned, these tracts probably had gone to John and Thomas in 1741. He does not mention his wife Mary, so she was probably dead by this time. He left feather beds and furniture to all four of his children by Mary. His daughter Martha is described as "Martha Cousins": she had married Charles Cousins of Amelia County. Sarah was apparently not married.

Following is the text of the will as transcribed by Frances Rowlett Perkins:

In the name of God Amen the fifth Day of January in the Year of our Lord Christ one thousand seven hundred and forty nine [old style; this is 1750] I Peter Rowlett of the Parish of Dale and County of Chesterfield being of sound and perfect mind and memory do constitute and appoint this my last Will and Testament in manner and following:

Item I give and devise unto my son Joseph and to his Heirs forever one certain Tract or Parcel of Land containing by Estimation one hundred and ninety acres more or less situate Lying and being in the Parish of Dale and County of Chesterfield on the great Branch of Old Town Creek which said Tract of Land was purchased by the said Peter Rowlett of Phillip Jones.

Item I give and devise to my son William and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten forever the Plantation I now live on containing one hundred and sixty acres more or less.

Item I give to my daughter Martha Cousins one feather bed and bolster one rug and blanket and a pr. of sheets.

Item I give to my son Joseph one feather bed and furniture as above.

Item I give to my son William one feather bed and furniture.

Item I give to my daughter Sarah one feather bed and furniture.

All the rest of my estate both real and personal I give to my two sons Joseph and William to be Equally Divided between them. Lastly I constitute nominate and appoint my said two sons Joseph and William Executors of this my last Will and Testament in Witness thereof I have hereunto set my hands and affixed my seal the Day and year above written.

Peter PR Rowlett

witnesses: George Willson, Sherman Nunnally

Latest revision April 5, 2003