William Rowlett (ca. 1670-1735)

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

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William and Peter Rowlett were the two surviving sons of Peter Rowlett (ca. 1639-1702). Family historians have generally assumed that Peter, who was born about 1673, was the older son, but there is no proof of this. It could be that William was older; if so, he was probably born around 1670.

In the early spring of 1687, there was a tragedy in a neighboring family: the two sons of Henry Sherman, Henry Jr. and John, died within a few days of each other. In his will dated March 9, 1686/7, John Sherman left his father the services of his "English servant William Rowlett." It was not uncommon in early Virginia for young men to be indentured, even if their fathers were landowners. The indentures were really apprenticeships in which the young man's services were pledged in return for some education and perhaps training in a useful skill such as carpentry or cooperage. These indentures were usually for a term of seven years starting at about age 14.

Later that year, on August 1, 1687, William's father recorded a deed to 200 acres of land "bounded by the mouth of a great branch of Old Town Creek," for which he had paid Philip Jones 2200 pounds of tobacco. The land was part of a land grant formerly owned by Jones's uncle Bartholomew Chandler. After completing his indenture, William probably set to work clearing this land and bringing it under cultivation. The site is upstream from the original Rowlett farm, about a mile northwest of the present campus of Virginia State University.

If William was married before 1700, we have no surviving evidence of it. When the elder Peter Rowlett died, at the end of 1702, he left two granddaughters, Mary and Ann. Everyone has always assumed they were daughters of William's brother Peter, who is known to have been married twice. But for all we know they could have William's daughters.

In any case, William inherited the 200 acres at the mouth of the Great Branch and his brother Peter inherited the home plantation. More often than not it was a younger son who inherited the home place, and in this case the home plantation was smaller (160 acres). Thus the will seems consistent with the idea that William was actually the older son.

In October 1703, William Rowlett married Frances Worsham, the daughter of John Worsham. The Worshams were a much more prominent family in the community than the Rowletts had been, so this marriage was an important step in raising the standing of the family. John Worsham was a county magistrate and a captain in the militia; he had also been Sheriff of Henrico in 1696-97.

We don't know as much as we would like about the family of William and Frances Rowlett. In his will, William named only three children, his sons William, John, and Peter. He also makes a reference to "all my children" that suggests they might have had others not named. We do know of a fourth son, Daniel, whose birth on June 10, 1721, and baptism on July 30, 1721, are recorded in the register of Bristol Parish. Nothing more is known of Daniel and he probably died as a child. The register begins with the year 1720, and since no further births to William and Frances are recorded, Daniel may have been their last child.

There are good reasons to believe that William and Frances had at least one daughter, Frances, who married John Pride, Jr. Pride had a farm on Swift Creek in Chesterfield. By 1746 he and his wife Frances had moved to Amelia County, where they lived in the community later called Pridesville, near Amelia Courthouse. They named their second son Rowlett Pride.

Bristol Parish was the established church in the area; it survives today as Blandford Church in Petersburg. Its vestry book for the 1720's contains several additional references to William Rowlett. In 1724 the vestry appointed William Rowlett and Abraham Burton as counters of the tobacco crop for the precinct between Old Town Creek and Swift Creek. In 1725, William was appointed to the same task, this time with William Chambers.

In 1730, William was granted a patent on some 700 acres of land on Winterpock Creek in the southwestern part of the county, and in 1734 he acquired an even larger tract, about 800 acres, on Beaver Pond Branch in the eastern part of what is now Amelia County, across the Appomattox River from his Winterpock holdings. This made him, for a short time, the largest landowner of any Rowlett of the colonial era in Virginia.

Recognizing these new responsibilities, William Rowlett wrote a new will on July 5, 1734. He appears to have died sometime in the spring of the following year; if he was the older son of his father he would have been about 65 years old. His oldest son, William, inherited the home plantation and a large share of the Winterpock lands. He remained in Chesterfield and died in 1760. John, the second son, moved to Prince Edward County before 1747 and died there in 1776. The youngest son, Peter, moved to Lunenburg County, farther to the southwest, and died there as a young man in 1754. Frances survived her husband, but we do not know when she died.

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

In the name of God amen, I William Rowlette of the County of Henrico being sick and weak in body but in perfect mind and memory praise to Almighty God I do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament hereby revoking all former wills by me made do humbly Commiting my Soul into the hand of Almighty God the Creator hoping that the merrits of my Saviour and redeemer Jesus Christ for remission of my Sins and a joyful ressurection at the last day and my body to the Earth in a decent Burial and for my worldly Estate I give and Dispose as followeth --

Item I give and bequeath unto my son William Rowlett this plantation I now live on from the [illegible] branch to the fork of the same branch so up the Licking Creek to him and his heirs forever.

Item I give and bequeath to my son John Rowlett that plantation he now lives on to him and his heirs forever.

Item I give and bequeath to my son Petter Rowlette a Tract of Land and Stock in Prince George County [now Amelia County] containing 400 Acres and lying upon the Bever pond branch to him and his heirs forever being his first [illegible].

Item I give and bequeath to my son William and Petter a Tract of Land lying upon Bever branch in Prince George County joining to my son Peter's plantation, to be equally divided between them and my son William to have the upper part of the said Tract to them and their heirs forever.

Item I give and bequeath to my son John a parcel of land lying upon the Old Town Creek in Henrico County to him and his heirs forever.

Imprimis I give and bequeath to my Dear Beloved along with my personal [illegible] of Negroes to be kept upon the same plantation during her life and after death I give the Negroes to my three sons William and John and Petter and I desire that who makes choice of Simon they shall have Daniells for their Choice. Then I give and bequeath after my wife's death all my personal Estate and moveables except the Negroes to be equally divided between all my children.

Also I appoint my Two Sons William and John my executors of this my last Will and Testament -- In witness whereof I have put my hand and seal this fifth day of July Anno Dom. 1734.

Published signed and declared in the presence of --

Thos. Jones
William More
Thos. Franklin

At Court held for Henrico County the fifth day of May 1735
This will was presented by the executors upon oath and proved by the oath of the witnesses
Whereupon it was admitted to Record
Bowler Cooke

Latest revision April 5, 2003