An Annotated Rowlett Family Tree

The First Five Generations in America

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

These notes are copyrighted. I give permission for anyone to make copies as long as the copies are for personal research, nothing is charged to anyone by anyone for the copies, and the copyright notice is not removed from the copies. All other rights reserved.

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The first Rowletts came to America very early in the history of the Virginia colony. Most likely they came from Northamptonshire or Leicestershire, the English counties where the Rowlett family had been concentrated since at least the 1300's. Most likely they came at first as indentured servants, leaving little trace of their passage in the surviving records of the colony. It is not until 1679 that the records of Henrico County begin to make regular references to Peter Rowlett, a farmer living in the southernmost part of the county. This area, just west of the James River and north of the Appomattox River, has been part of Chesterfield County since that county was formed from Henrico in 1749.

Although other Rowletts came to America later on, the majority of Americans named Rowlett are probably descended from this Peter Rowlett, who died at the end of 1702 leaving two sons, Peter and William, to carry on the family name.

Years ago (in the 1970's, I think), J. Garland Rowlett made an exhaustive search of the surviving records on microfilm at what was then the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia) in Richmond. He summarized his findings in a large handwritten chart, "Rowlett: Seven Generations in Virginia." This chart remained on file at the Library, and countless researchers have studied it since. When I was at the Library in 1982, the librarians allowed me to make a reduced photocopy of the top half of the chart, covering generations 1 through 6. This web site is an updated, annotated, and extended electronic version of Garland Rowlett's work.

Garland Rowlett's work has influenced Rowlett genealogy in countless ways, and I see in many online family trees information that can only have come from the chart, if not directly then at second, third, or fourth hand. We are all highly indebted to his long hours of work. However, everything on the chart needs careful verification. As new information becomes available, old conclusions may or may not stand up.

In preparing this family tree, I've made important use of the work of John W. Pritchett summarized on his formidable web site http://www.virginians.com. Another relatively recent source is Roger G. Ward's 1815 Directory of Virginia Landowners (and Gazetteer), which helped me understand where families lived in the period just a few years after the lives of those listed here.

There remain several stubborn misconceptions about the origins of the family in America. In 1922, a book on the Huguenots in America listed a Pierre Roulet in the Huguenot colony of Manakin Town in Henrico and identified this person with Peter Rowlett. If Pierre Roulet is a real person (and I do not know one way or the other about that), he was certainly not the same as Peter Rowlett. This mistake has caused many to believe that the Rowletts came to America from France. They did not. They probably came to England from France, but that was in the wake of the Norman conquest of 1066, many centuries before some of them came to America.

In addition, many people have jumped to the conclusion that the father of Peter Rowlett (d. 1702/3) was John Rowlett, a man mentioned in a 1635 land patent who may have been the first of the family in Virginia. This is a reasonable guess if the land patent is the only early record available to you. However, we do not know if this John Rowlett survived and left descendants. As Garland Rowlett and many other careful researchers have known (since at least 1915), the likely father of Peter Rowlett is an older Peter Rowlett known to have died in Henrico County in 1679.

I invite you to look over the family tree and see, perhaps, where your ancestors fit. Your comments are welcome, and I would be especially happy to hear from people who have well-documented information that adds to or contradicts anything shown here.

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Latest revision April 3, 2003