Delmarva Settlers

Biographical Profiles
Edward Drew— A Study In The Fragility Of Society On Virginia’s Eastern Shore
By Amy Chase

    In the colonial records of Virginia is found a list of the number of men, women and children inhabiting the counties within the Colony of Virginia. For Accomack County on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 1634 the total was 4,914.[1] The record continues that after this list was drawn up, a Dutch ship came from the Bermudas with one hundred and forty-five more, with that an additional sixty coming on an English ship from the Bermudas.[2] The colonies were growing, but even though people were continuously entering the Chesapeake, only a limited number stayed on the Eastern Shore. It was a tight-knit community where everyone played a role. Because of the geographical area and the limited number of people, the Eastern Shore colonists had much interaction with one another. Thus by looking at one person and his interactions, one can see the whole society more clearly as a developing organic unit.


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Edward Drew came to the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 1618 on the Sampson when he was twenty two.[3]  He was transported from London, but whether this was his previous residence is unknown, although he was English. In the Immigration Passenger Index, there is another Edward Drew who allegedly arrived in 1624. Since Edward Drew is listed among the living in Virginia on February 16, 1623 the first date seems to be the more viable of the two.  It was not uncommon for people to sell passenger lists, thus reclaiming the transportation of immigrants and more than once taking more land.  Hence there were often two or more immigration dates recorded for an individual.[4]

Even though Drew came to America in 1618 no further records of him are found until 1624. It is very possible that he was an indentured servant and then eventually earned his freedom and bought his own land. It was very typical that men would come over as servants and then would work, purchase their own land, obtain their own servants, and then eventually become moderately prosperous themselves. By January 23, 1624, Drew was listed in the Virginia Muster.  His provisions included “eight barrels of corne, four peeces (guns) and a house”.[5]  Hence, in the six years he had lived on the shore he had already established himself. While there are no marriage records telling the exact date of his marriage, at some point before 1630 Drew married a woman named Mary. In February 1636 The Colonial Residents of Virginia’s Eastern Shore records his age at about forty, while his wife Mary is listed as twenty-seven years old in February 1635.[6] Thus his wife was around fourteen years younger than him, not an uncommon occurrence for the time. The two seem not to have had children.

Edward Drew was granted a hundred acres of land, next to the landholdings of Thomas Powell and David Windley in December 1633. The Governor and Council also confirmed that Drew was to “pay rent and conditions” for twenty-one years, according to an Act made at James City.[7] Additional tracts of land were granted to Edward in 1636, including a patent he received for three hundred acres of territory which was across a branch on the north “of the Taylor land.” This land would later be devised unto Edward Dolby, a neighbor and friend, by his last will and testament.[8] In October 1639 Edward Drew received another patent for two hundred acres of land located in Accomack County, again adjoining the land of Thomas Powell. “It is thought fit and so ordered by this Court that Edward Drew shall have all the land between Phillip Taylor and Obedience Robins at the Seaboard side he the said Drew making it appear to be justly due to him.”[9] At Drew’s decease this land was left to Edward Dolby. In 1663, Dolby and his wife sold it to William Kendall and twenty years later Kendall received a separate patent for this land in his own name.[10] Moreover on April 16, 1683, three hundred additional acres of land in Northumberland County, formerly granted to Edward Drew, were also sold to William Kendall.[11]

Although Drew was listed as a “planter” or a small farmer, he seemed to have dabbled in other professional avenues. Late in 1637, Drew commenced a legal suit on behalf of Thomas Harte against Elyas Chandler and Thomas Powell, and as the attorney of the said Harte he collected the court fees which were eight hundred pounds of tobacco.[12] This was not an isolated instance either, for he also represented Phillip Taylor in court.[13] He was also the “lawful assignee” of Roger Sanders in a case against William Burdett.[14] One did not have to have formal training in law to act as an attorney; however, that person should at least be literate. From this observation one can derive that he was at least somewhat educated and a well-spoken man; with some regularity his neighbors asked him to represent them in court proceedings. Furthermore, in October 1649, Drew was an appraiser for the estate of Richard Turner, along with Randall Revell and Anthony Hoskins.[15] Although this was not his primary career, he must have been knowledgeable or interested in the material. Later on Drew would also serve as a sheriff. Therefore, members of the community at this time had to be multi-talented, and they would have to take on various kinds of work, since there was much to be done and not many people to do the multitudes of work.

The court records are filled with countless instances of people bringing suits against others for debts or wrongs. Correspondingly, Edward Drew took many of his neighbors to court, and likewise they brought him to court also. Most of the court cases deal with one individual owing the other money (tobacco). By looking at these court orders, one can also see what the seventeenth century settlers held as valuable, and also what they traded and used. Even though tobacco was the most common commodity and the typical currency in the Chesapeake area, there are instances when people would pay with other produce, for instance, corn or animal hides. In one court order John Major was ordered to pay a number of beaver skins to Edward Drew.[16] In another instance, Drew was ordered to pay off a debt of four barrels of corn to James Barneby.[17] Upon the complaint of William Carter against Edward Drew, it was ordered that Drew had to give Carter “clothes according to the custom of the country,” and Edward Drew was also ordered to deliver “one shute of apparel one shirt one pare of shoes and stockings within one month unto John Evans.”[18] Similarly, in the case between Drew and Edward Morrish the lawsuit was over clothes and services.[19] There is no evidence to suggest that Drew was a tailor, thus this clothing must have been used in trade and bartering. These cases show the value of clothes in society. More often than not, a colonist would only have one outfit and this would have to last for awhile. Through these court records one can see what the colonists traded and with whom.[20]

Although most of the debts were contracted among the various colonists, there was also a debt in the form of a balance due to the government. These debts usually were related to land or taxes. Both Edward Drew and Thomas Powell acknowledged that they owed and were indebted “unto our Sovereign Lord the king” for one hundred pounds sterling. Thus, Edward Drew had to be present at the next court in Accomack, in order for it to be void, or else he would be forced to pay.[21] The debts among the settlers themselves emerged as a result of a variety of reasons. In January 1636, Drew took out a suit against John Hayes for 200 pounds of tobacco. Then Edward Drew was granted the position of executive agent of John Hayes for 200 pounds tobacco according to that January act.[22] It was very common that after a person was deceased, his inventory would include a list of all the debts that he owed, or that someone owed him. In October 1638, after Capt. John Howe was deceased, Drew was awarded payment of 1,220 pounds of tobacco out of his estate. Edward Drew later lodged a complaint against the estate of Captain John Howe when he did not receive his money.[23]

Besides debts owed, there were many other court orders that showed the happenings of the time. Colonists were often witnesses; thus they would often have to make depositions and swear to their statements. For instance, Mary Drew was a witness when two dogs killed a cow.[24] Although this seems trivial, cows were highly valuable and someone had to be accountable for the loss. Mary’s testimony could have brought the owner of the dog to light, and would make he or she liable. The court records show all the various evidence of the disputes. The colonists also frequently served on juries, and Edward Drew was no exception.[25] Other orders had to do with disturbances within the community. In one case at Alexander Mountney’s house, John Tompkin almost fought with Edward Drew. Apparently Drew had been drinking excessively, for the court fined him two hundred pounds of tobacco for being a drunkard. In addition he had to ask the minister, Cotton, publicly, for forgiveness in court. It is not clear whether the two would have fought because of opposing personalities, or rather just because of the alcohol. Other conflicts were more overt.

Although it is difficult to distinguish varying personalities in these court cases, one can easily discern the disagreements and disputes. Thus it becomes apparent who got along and who did not. There was a scandalous quarrel between Drew’s wife, Mary, and Joan Butler, the wife of Thomas.  In began when Edward Drew took out a petition against Joan Butler for calling his wife a "common carted hoare."  Both John Halloway and William Baseley testified that she used those exact words.[26]  As punishment for her slander, Joan Butler had a choice to “be drawn over Kings Creek at the stern of a boat from one kewpin [cowpen] to the other,” or during the next Sabbath service she could stand up in front of the entire congregation and announce “I Joane Butler do acknowledge to have called Marie Drew a whore and this by I confess I have done her manifest wrong, wherefore I desire before the congregation that the said Marie Drew will forgive me and also that this congregation will join and pray with me that God may forgive me.”[27] Apparently this punishment did not suffice for Mary Drew. She sought her own retribution by saying some unpleasantries about the Butlers.. Then Thomas Butler wrote a petition against Mary Drew for reporting that he had an adulterous affair with Bridgett Wilkins, the wife of John.  In the account, apparently Joan Butler showed another neighbor, Joan Muns, where her husband “laid the head and heels of Bridgett Wilkins.”[28] The case did not end here. William Cozier testified that Mary Drew said that Joan Butler was “whipped at the carts tail.” Then later William Ward swore that he heard Mary Drew say that Joan Butler was a "carted hoare" and that she had "carted in England."[29] For her scandalous gossip, Mary Drew received the same punishment as Joan Butler and had to stand in front of the Church, admit her wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness.[30]

Edward Drew seemed more than willing to get into the dispute in order to defend his wife. He initiated the court petitions, and moreover, he became defensive when his wife was accused of indiscretions. This bickering was not isolated to the women either. Subsequently William Cozier, a surgeon, took out a suit on Drew for calling him a “forsworn fellow” and declaring that he, Cozier, had taken a false oath. Drew was then ordered to give fifty pounds of tobacco to the surgeon and to pay court costs. Both Richard Brudn and John Denis swore that Drew had done this.[31] Apparently, to protect his wife’s image, and to the same extent his own, he spread around the community that William Cozier was a perjurer, and that he had lied about Mary making those derogatory comments. This neighborly dispute shows that things were not always so peaceful among the Eastern Shore inhabitants.  The whole “he said, she said” episode seems reminiscent of some high school lunchroom drama. It goes to show that regardless of the era, people have changed little over time. Yet in the seventeenth century reputations were also more fragile and were carefully scrutinized. Furthermore, promiscuity was not tolerated in this religiously-based community on the Eastern Shore. Why was this even an issue in the courts? Is it simply because they had nothing better to do, or was it because it was seen as serious offense?

Curiously enough after that lurid scandal, Edward Drew and Mary Drew were still prominent members of the Church. In 1635, the minister, William Cotton presented an order of court from James City for the building of a Parsonage House upon the “Gleeb land.” A parsonage house, or rectory, was the official residence for the town’s parson and it usually was provided by the church or community. Since there was no formal Vestry at the time, a committee of members was elected to administer the temporal affairs of a parish. The court appointed twelve Vestry men; among them was Edward Drew. Their first meeting was scheduled for the 29th of September.[32] Drew was listed as present at that September meeting. There they all agreed on the place and specifications for the new parsonage house to be built.[33] They accounted for all the particular qualifications and details, including specific dimensions of the church itself. Therefore Drew must have been an active member in his church as well as a prominent person in society if he was chosen to participate on this Vestry.

At one point in his life it seems that Edward Drew was also appointed sheriff, which adds to the fact that he must have been a fairly respected individual in the community. “At this court the names “under written” for the choice of a sheriff of Accomack County were to be presented to the Governor and Council at the next quarter court: Nathaniel Littleton, John Neale, William Roper, Edward Drew, Alexander Mountney and Henry Wilson.[34] By December 1637, the choices had been narrowed down to John Wilkins, Edward Drew and Henry Bagwell.[35] Drew’s name was the only one among the three submitted which had been on the original list. At the next Quarter Court Session in James City these names were presented for the position of High Sheriff for the coming year. Apparently Drew received the position because he is referred to later as “Mr. Edward Drew High Sheriff” when he seized the cattle of the deceased Capt. Howe to repay a debt of 1,000 pounds of tobacco to Sir John Harvey Kt. Governor.[36] He must have only held the position for a short time because there are not many further references to him with this title, unless he is just referred to as sheriff. The position of sheriff in colonial America was a recent development in the seventeenth century, which shows the growing need to govern the expanding colonies. The first sheriffs and other county officials in Virginia were selected from exclusive groups of large land holders within the counties. They were typically the most influential men and the position lasted for about a year. The fact that Edward Drew obtained such a position tends to support the assertion that he was well-respected on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

  Between December 26, 1649, and January 28, 1650, Drew wrote a will.  He was "intending to take a voyage to England." One third of his estate, land and goods, he left to his “beloved wife” Mary. In the event that Mary Drew should die, then all Drew’s possessions should pass to Edward Dolby, the oldest son of John Dolby.  The other two thirds were to be divided between the children of John and Margaret Dolby.  The witnesses to this will were John Wilkins and William Pinley, but at the time of probate they were both deceased.  This will shows the close relationship Edward must have had with John Dolby and his family.  Since he himself did not have any children, he may have looked at Edward Dolby as a son. In colonial communities neighbors often had to aid and support one another to get by, thus it was often like an extended family.

The court ordered that an appendix be added to the will, which was the deed of gift by which Anne Bartlowe, servant and Edward Drew, was granted her freedom. On his deathbed Edward Drew told the despondent that he would set Anne Bartlowe free and release and exonerate her from all sums of money and encumbrances she still owed.[37] The appendix also allotted her one cow and one year’s provisions, as well as the Drew’s servant boy, an indentured servant, named John Kinney. Kinney was bound to Drew for seven additional years. After Edward Drew's business was concluded and debts satisfied, John Dolby as executor of the estate, was to deliver the servant boy, John Kinney, to Bartlowe with enough bedding sufficient for two people.  Then, according to the deed of gift, Anne Bartlowe shall have her freedom.  Drew had commented “I think I do very well by her.”[38] Thus Drew seemed to be fairly generous to his servant and concerned about his well being. Perhaps because he liked her or maybe because he could sympathize with her plight having himself come to the country and struggled to obtain the status he had. It is rather interesting that he gave Anne Bartlowe his other servant instead of having him remain with his wife. The inventory does not show that he had any other servants listed, thus he might have depended on John Dolby to look after Mary Drew. Mary Drew would manage though, and in 1652, she would have William Kendall as her servant.[39] Kendall would later receive a patent for land that Drew once owned, thus this demonstrates the interconnecting ties that existed on the Eastern Shore.

The cause of Drew’s death is unknown. He was planning to travel to England, perhaps to visit family or more probably to engage in trade. In a later court record, it states “the year before Mr. Edward Drew went last for England” which alludes that he did in fact take his trip.[40] Yet he also granted Anne Bartlowe’s freedom on his “deathbed,” which means that his death was not sudden or a surprise. Therefore he may have contradicted a sickness on his journey, and when he returned home, he did. On the other hand, maybe Dixon’s testimony about Drew leaving is incorrect. Perhaps Drew became ill and never actually got to go on his voyage. This remains speculation, but what is really known is that in early 1651 died, and by the next court Mary Drew and John Dolby had to bring in an inventory and show authority for the whole estate of her late husband's estate. 

An inventory of Edward Drew’s goods was presented to the court by Mary Drew, on July 28, 1651. In this inventory there was a variety of hoes and tools; Drew was essentially a farmer. Farms during the colonial period needed to be self-sufficient. What they could not obtain in open ways, settlers would have to barter for; tobacco was a typical currency at the time. In his inventory he had fifteen pounds of tobacco; and furthermore, Thomas Norris owed him eighty pounds of tobacco. Drew also had a wealth of wood tools including saw, an auger and files. It is likely that there might not have been an experienced carpenter in the fledgling community, thus he would have to do a lot of his own work. He had a grindstone which was probably used to sharpen his tools. He owned several head of cattle, which was often a good source of sustenance during the winter. He also had some comfort items like a bed, kitchenware, a looking glass and two pairs of shoes. Drew was neither a very wealthy man, nor a destitute one. He worked his land, and traded with and borrowed from his neighbors.

Even after his death, Edward Drew’s estate was being settled. Mr. Dixon testified in January 1651 that the year before Edward Drew left for England that he and others were at Drew’s home. At that time Drew told Mr. Dixon that he had three steers. Then they bought one of the said steers, and then later Drew told Mr. Dixon that he had sold the other two to Randall Revell.[41] William Waters then testified that he had helped Randall Revell kill one steer (or oxen) in the town fields in October 1650 that had Drew’s mark. All cattle and such were branded with various marks of ownership, indicating to whom it belonged, thus eliminating debates of ownership. Following this, Randall Revell apparently took out a suit against the estate of Edward Drew because while he had purchased two steers, in actuality he only received one. Therefore the court ordered that the executors of the Drew estate shall make satisfaction of the debt and give Randall Revell an ox of the same age of the said steer.[42] John Stringer made a court order for a cow to be delivered to him out of Drew’s estate, but then William Strangridge and John Dolby brought forth testimony against his case. The case was dismissed after a rehearing with Capt Stringer present.[43]

Edward Drew demonstrates a typical man living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the early half of the seventeenth century. He came to America with little, but through the years he established himself in a leadership role. By looking at him we can see how an average man lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the mid-seventeenth century. We can also see how, in a short time, a man could rise to a position of prominence in such a frontier environment. Edward Drew’s life story shows clearly the fragility of interpersonal relations in this quickly changing society on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.


1 Housten, William, Colonial Records of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, (Baltimore : Genealogical Pub. Co., 1985). p. 91

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2 Virginia Colonial Abstracts. Compiled by Beverly Fleet.Vol. 1 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988).

3 Hotten, John Camden, ed. The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986), p263.

4 Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. Compiled by William Filby and Mary K. Meyer. (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981).

5 Meyer, Virginia M. Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia 1607-1624. (Alexandria: Order of First Families of Virginia, 1987), 69.

6 Virginia Colonial Abstracts. Compiled by Beverly Fleet.Vol. 1 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988).

7 Northampton County Virginia: Orders, Deeds, and Wills 1651-1654. Transcribed by Frank V. Walczyk. Book I. (Coram: Peter’s Row., 2003), 16.

8 Ibid., 241.

9 County Court Records of Accomacke-Northampton, Virginia 1632-1640. Transcribed by Susie M. Ames. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1973), 38.

10 Virginia Colonial Abstracts. Compiled by Beverly Fleet.Vol. 1 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988), 188.

11 Nell Marion Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of VA land Patents and Grants, Vol 2: 1666-1695 Patent Book 7, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1974-1979repri.),259.

12 Northampton County Virginia: Orders, Deeds, and Wills 1651-1654. Transcribed by Frank V. Walczyk. Book I. (Coram: Peter’s Row., 2003), 107.

13 Walczyk, Northampton County Virginia, Vol. 1 page 36.

14 County Court Records of Accomacke-Northampton, Virginia 1632-1640. Transcribed by Susie M. Ames. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1973), 61.

15 Marshall, James H. Abstracts of the Wills and Administrations of Northampton County, VA, 1632-1802. (Maine: Picton Press, 1994).

16 Virginia Colonial Abstracts., 90.

17 Ibid., 38.

18 Northampton County Virginia, 267.

19 Ibid.,44.

20 Virginia Colonial Abstracts, 125.

21 Ibid., 2

22 Ibid., 27.

23 Ibid., 67.

24 Northampton County Virginia, 21.

25 Virginia Colonial Abstracts, 288.

26 Northampton County Virginia, 16.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., 18.

30 County Court Records of Accomacke-Northampton, Virginia 1632-1640. Transcribed by Susie M. Ames. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1973), 22.

31 Northampton County Virginia, 18.

32 Ibid., 31

33 Ibid., 34.

34 Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts. Volumes 1 and 2. Compiled by JoAnn Riley McKey, Bowie, Md: Heritage Books,1996), 58.

35 Ibid., 96.

36 Northampton County Virginia, 100.

37 Ibid., 15.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid., 76.

40 Ibid., 60.

41 Ibid., 66.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid., 76.

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