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Washingtons » John Washington, the Emigrant 1633 - 1677

John was the son of the Reverend Lawrence Washington (who was born at Sulgrave in 1602). Lawrence was married, aged about 33 in December, 1633 to Amphilis Twigden born in Spratton, Northants, of a similar age. The exact date of John’s birth is not known but it is always stated as 1633/34 (ie between Jan and March in 1634 in modern terms) which makes it close on the marriage.

John is unlikely to have been born at Sulgrave; Lawrence, and probably Amphilis, were in Purleigh in 1633 and the birth is more likely to have been either there or at Amphilis’ family home at Tring – where there is reputed to have been a house on Frogmore Street in which the Rev. Lawrence and his family resided from 1630 to 1650. It was not unusual for rectors at the time to live away from their parish and it is possible that Lawrence lived at both places for part of each year.

Sutton's Hospital.
Sutton's Hospital.

At the age of 8 years in 1640, young John Washington was enrolled in the prestigious Sutton's Hospital in London (later to become Charterhouse School) based on a nomination by King Charles I. His future looked very promising – though he had to wait his turn. Which never came. We do not know where or whether he was educated but it has been suggested that he may have been trained in London where there were family connections.

In 1643, during the English Civil war Rev. Lawrence was accused as a "Malignant Royalist" and "oft drunk", and was ejected from his living as Rector of Purleigh which is in south east Essex near Maldon. Lawrence was forced to move from Purleigh to the nearby lesser parish of Little Braxted, Essex, probably through the patronage of Thomas Roberts, who was Lord of the Manor at Little Braxted until his death in 1680. Amphillis Twigden is believed to have returned to her mother’s home with her children.

With the Parliamentary victory, John's promising and comfortable future abruptly disappeared. Next we hear of him is in Feb 1656, aged about 22, when, some eighteen months after her death, he completed the formalities as his mother’s executor. The long gap between her death and this completion is used to argue that he was out of the country – possibly trading in Barbados. Through his grandfather’s brother, Lawrence’s marriage to the widow, Mary Argall, John had a distant cousin, Samuel Argall, who was active in the colony from 1609 and was Deputy-Governor of Virginia in 1617-19. The Washington family also had links through marriage to Sir Edwin Sandys who had led the Virginia Company during the important years in which 4,000 colonists were sent, the Virginian headright was originally and full male suffrage temporarily established. For a young man with a surname identified with the Royalist cause, who had grown up near the Essex coast, with family connections in trade, Virginia and the tobacco trade must have looked a natural career.


Later in 1656 he left England answering a summons from Edward Prescott to become the second master on The Sea Horse, one of dozens of ships devoted almost exclusively to the growing trade for the one of the most profitable crops then available. At one time it was believed that John was married to Edward Prescott’s sister but more recent authorities have discounted that tale.

John’s first trip was to Danzig, from where he sailed to Lubeck and Copenhagen and was sent overland to Elsinore to sell tobacco. From here they sailed to Virginia probably with a cargo of household and other supplies to exchange there for tobacco. He sailed as ‘second man’ i.e. as an experienced sailor capable of taking charge of the ketch, the Sea Horse of London, with the expectation of receiving part of the profits of the voyage.

The ships sailed up the rivers, making every frontier plantation an international port of call. The hundreds of miles of Bay tributaries were the highways of the time, but were poorly mapped, and often hazardous. The Sea Horse, on its return voyage in early 1657, met a fate in the Potomac like many others before and after – it ran aground, then was sunk by a winter storm. John helped to save the ship and then decided to stay in Virginia. April and May were spent in law courts disputing with Prescott who owed who what. The two partners embarked on a period of conflict and accusations. Prescott sought legal remedy against John Washington for his abandonment of their partnership and the subsequent loss of capital. At one point John Washington, in a Maryland court, retaliated by accusing Prescott of a witch hanging aboard his ship. John's fortunes turned for the better when he was befriended by Nathaniel Pope, a well established land owner in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Pope bailed young Washington out of his debts, and assisted him in severing ties with Prescott. Nathaniel Pope was one of the magistrates hearing the case and seems to have decided that John would be useful to him and John, deciding the same, perhaps, decided to stay in Virginia.

Nathaniel Pope had been the richest man in Maryland, moving to Virginia (as a result of a complex political scene) in 1649 and setting up as a trader and planter in the Northern Neck. Why he chose John Washington for his 20 year old daughter Ann – in a colony where there were at least three men for every woman and where Ann, as native born and rich, was eminently marriageable – is not clear. It argues that young John had a certain sort of something about him! John and Ann married in the last quarter of 1658 after John had been 18 months in Virginia.

Mattox Creek.
Mattox Creek.
For their wedding present in 1658 Nathaniel gave his new son-in-law John Washington and his bride Ann 700 acres of land on Mattox Creek near his own home where John had been residing (Hoppin I, p213). John Washington built a home on Mattox creek and began his new life with his bride Ann.

John and Ann had 5 children, of whom two died young with little known about them. The fact that they are recorded in their father’s will as being buried with their mother in the Bridges Creek burial ground, implies that they died after its purchase in 1664. His eldest son, Lawrence, was born late September 1659, with Ann born between 1660 and 1665 and John between 1660 and 1666.

In 1659 and 1660 John purchased an additional 1,000 acres to his already extensive 700 acres at Mattox Creek. John took advantage of the "headright" system through which an English land owner in the Virginia colony would receive 50 acres for every indentured servant he agreed to receive in the colony. In 1664 John purchased acreage at Bridges Creek where he made his permanent home. His largest single purchase was in 1674 at Hunting Creek across the Potomac River from the "Piscataway Indian Towne" in Maryland. This land would obtain everlasting fame as the location for Mount Vernon. By 1668 and in a span of 10 years, John Washington by use of headright and shrewd investment had increased his land holdings to 5,000 acres.

John Washington and family established a home a Bridges Creek where he lived until his death in 1677. With John enjoying the comforts of family life and the prosperity of farming and land ownership, he began to rise as a leader of Westmoreland County. He was elected as county judge and coroner. This post was offered only to the leading members of the community. As a dedicated member of the Church of England, John Washington also served as vestryman in the local Episcopal parish which would eventually be renamed in his honour – Washington Parish. During this period he also transacted legal work for friends, in addition to his activities in maritime commerce with England, in the buying and shipping abroad of tobacco and other products. In return he received general merchandise from England which he sold in Virginia. John received a commission in the Virginia Militia and rose to the rank of Colonel. All of this civic honour culminated with John Washington's appointment to the Virginia House of Burgesses. His service in Jamestown would lead to a friendship with Virginia Governor Berkley.

Bacon's Rebellion and the seizure of John's home

In 1675 raids by the Doeg (Dogue) Indians began to plague Virginia plantations, especially on the frontier of the colony. Compounding this problem was frustration by lower income planters towards trade with Indians. Bacon's Rebellion occurred when this sizable group of Virginians attempted to seize or stop trade with Indians. Governor Berkley supported the trade with the Indians (some believe he privately profited from such trade). At the request of the Governor, Colonel John Washington was called to arms to investigate Indian raids on the Northern Potomac. Leading a unit of Virginia militia, Colonel John Washington met with Maryland militia members. The armed men were met by a couple of Dogue tribe members seeking to avoid bloodshed. The site of the encounter is believed to be modern day Washington D.C. Colonel Washington welcomed a peaceful solution, but before progress could be made, members of the Maryland Militia proceeded to execute the Indians.

There is some evidence that the Indian raids were carried out by members of the Seneca tribe who were willing to blame to the Dogues. With some justice given to the Indians, the Marylanders were punished. While Colonel Washington was quelling Indian conflicts, his home at Bridge Creek was overtaken by Bacon supporters led by Daniel White who physically constrained servants from loading or selling any tobacco or other trade items. By 1676 Bacon's rebellion failed, and Daniel White was ousted by John Washington from Bridges Creek. White was handed over the courts for proper trial. There is some evidence that he was hanged for his misdeeds.

Ann Pope died about the time of John's dispatch with the militia. Luckily the Washington children were in their teen years and were able to take care of themselves probably somewhere removed from Bridges Creek (perhaps in England). John remarried a second time to Ann Gerrad who soon thereafter died, and then John married a third time to Ann's sister Frances. Two years after Ann Pope's death, and perhaps only a year after the short marriage to Ann Gerrad and later Frances Gerrad, John Washington died at Bridges Creek in 1677 at the age of 46; by the time of his death, he owned more than 8,500 acres.