Delmarva Settlers

Biographical Profiles
John Wilkins: A Big Fish in a Little Pond
by Don Kelly

The Eastern Shore of Virginia has a long history. It took little time for the English to look across the Chesapeake towards the land the Indians called “Accawmacke” which meant “across the water place.” [1] Jamestown was settled by the English in 1607. By 1620, a permanent settlement was set up across the Chesapeake. In 1634, the Shire of Accawmack was set up which covered the entire Eastern Shore of Virginia and was to be “governed by the shires in England.” [2] Two years earlier a local government was established in which a court was established with commissioners who met in homes or taverns. On 3 March 1642/3 the commissioners determined that “the plantation and county known as Achomack shall be knowne and called by the county of North’ton [Northampton],” in an effort to anglicize heathen, Indian names. [3] Those records still survive and are the old continuous county records in the United States.


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John Wilkins arrived in Virginia before the first permanent settlement was established on the Eastern Shore. Little did he know that his name would live on and be studied 350 years later.

In 1618, John “Wilkines” arrived in the Virginia Colony aboard the ship Mary gould. [4] At the time of his arrival in the Virginia Colony John Wilkins was between twenty-two and twenty-six years old. Wilkins was probably born in England between 1592 and 1596. [5] Wilkins’ origins in England are not recorded in any known records. The 1624/5 Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia shows “Wilkines” on the Eastern Shore with his wife, Briggett.

Briggett had arrived three years after John aboard the ship Warwicke in 1621. She was twenty at the time. According to the Muster listed in Adventurers of Purse and Person, the Wilkines owned a moderate amount of possessions which amounted to “Provision: Corne, 7 barreles. Armes: peeces, 1; house 1.” [6]

Fig. 1. “John Wilkins. His Marke and Seale.” From the Will of John Wilkins. Northampton County, Virginia Record Book. Oaths, Debts, Wills &c., Vol. 3. 1645-1651, p. 238. Reel #3 at Edward H. Nabb Research Center, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland.

By 1624, Wilkins was a man of growing importance. On 8 February 1624, Wilkins appeared before the General Court of Colonial Virginia in which he swore that before he had heard Thomas Parks say before he departed from Accomack he “made answere that hee would make noe will, for that he had given all hee had to his mate William Bibby.” [7]

The records are sparse from 1624 to 1632. We do not know where Wilkins lived at the time because there are no surviving land records in his name. [8] Beginning in 1632 we have access to the County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, and it provides us with the most extant records of the life of John Wilkins.

First, lets look at where John Wilkins lived. Wilkins is mentioned in the Court records on 8 August 1636. The record shows that:

mr. John Wilkins doth make to appeare [by sufficient] testymony to our court that all these persons heere under [written were] and are his servants we therefore certyfie the same for [a truth] to the governor and counsell under the tytill of our court.
John Wilkins, Bridget Craft, Agnis Medlam, George Lee, Paul Trendall, Thomas Vinsent, Joane Harman, Richard Graves, Mary Wells, Davis Koffine, william woulfe, Richard Leack, william Hucheson, Anthony Stensby, Robert Stackhouse, william Wilbourne, Michaell Bryant, william Cozier, Rowland Rayne, Edward writt, Stephen Barnett, william Crosman, Thamsine his mayde, 1 negro. [9]

Nearly one month later John Wilkins received a patent for land. An abstract in Nugent’s Cavaliers and Pioneers shows that on 9 September 1636, John Wilkins received 1300 acres of land on the “E[ast] side of the Nansemund Riv. . . . 50 [acres] for his per adv. & 1250 acs. For trans[port] of 25 pers[ons]. . .” [11] The same twenty-five people who were listed in the court records above are listed here.

Interestingly enough on 18 May 1637, Wilkins received 1300 more acres for the transport of the exact same group of people. [12] According to the headrights system each person was allowed fifty acres for each person brought over from England. One was not allowed to claim the same person for another headright in later years. This was widely practiced, but before Wilkins is castigated as a thief it might have simply been a clerical error.

The Nansemund River is located across the Chesapeake Bay on the western shore in the Upper County of New Norfolk. It seems that there was simply an error in the recording of the patent. The 1637 patent was apparently a correction of the earlier one.

On 13 April 1635, Wilkins -- who by then was a commissioner of the county of Accomack -- petitioned the court for land in the said county. He was already a resident of possibly ten years by then, since he was listed in the 1624 Muster as living in Accomack. Wilkins asked for “a neck of land joyning unto the land that he is now possest of which neck bounded upon the kings creek westerly and est into the woods along the mayne branch, northerly on Cugleyes ould field, southerly on the head of kinges creeke which this bord doth desire the governor and counsell to confirm unto him.” [13]

Fig. 2. Patent Map of Northampton County, Virginia. Wilkins’ first Accomack land patent was the patent numbered thirty-eight (500 acres). He received patent thirty-seven in 1640 (600 acres). From Virginia’s Eastern Shore: A History of Northampton and Accomack Counties, by Ralph Whitelaw. (Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1989), inset.

Wilkins received his land on 10 March, 1638. He was granted the land for transporting ten people and receiving their headrights. The 500 acres ran “parallel to [King’s Creek] 1 mile and extending in breadth towards land of Obedience Robins, Gent..” [14]

In 1640, Wilkins added to his land holdings. This time he looked toward the seaside. On 8 December 1640, Wilkins received a patent for “600 acres on the seaboard side; bounded on the north side by Mr. Robin’s land, on the southern by Longborough Branch, and the land of John Waltham.” [15]

Wilkins was to become a leader on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He owned over a thousand acres, and he was upwardly mobile. His story is best told by using the County Court Records since, in Wilkins’ time, nearly every record was kept by the local courts. Fortunately for us, Wilkins is mentioned throughout the records and a detailed narrative of his life is feasible.

The first mention of John Wilkins in the in an official capacity is in early 1633. Wilkins petitioned the court for “fourtine day worke [due] unto him for attendance one the Burgysses at James Citty at same tyme.” [16] The court ordered that he would get his money. To be a Burgess was an important position. Interestingly enough it was a common occurrence in Northampton County for the Burgess to have been a non-commissioner. Generally, there was an “invariable pattern” that those non-commissioners were appointed as commissioners within several months. [17] John Wilkins attended the Assembly of Burgesses in February 1633 and was made a commissioner at a court meeting in James City on 29 August 1633. The appointment read as follows: “For that divers of the Commissioners of Acchawmacke are deceased and gone from the plantatione, it is thought fitt that . . . [various men] and mr. John wilkins be appoynted Commissioners for that Plantatione and that the former Commissioners doe administer the like oath of Commissioners unto them. . .” [18] The County Court commissioners were appointed by the governor. The court usually included eight to ten commissioners, with four selected as a quorum. One member of the quorum in addition to three other commissioners was satisfactory to make up an official court. The County Court was required to meet at least six times per year. [19]

Before he was made commissioner however, Wilkins made a business deal with Edmund Scarborough, a man well-known on the Eastern Shore. Wilkins and Scarborough bought and sold cattle to each other. In April 1632 Scarborough sold Wilkins three cows and one calf. In November he also sold Wilkins one cow and a nine month old calf. On the same day “John Wilkins of Acchawmacke, planter,” sold Scarborough some of his own cattle: “one blacke Cowe with a broad head, and a broken horne about five yeares old now wilde in the woods.” [20]

Wilkins appears in well over one hundred court records in his lifetime. Many of those records are standard business for a commissioner of his day. Usually he simply attended the court meetings without offering anything profound or interesting to scholars of today. [21] In many other records Wilkins serves as an appraiser in an inventory, [22] as an official in the court-ordered seizure of property, [23] as an arbitrator in a legal dispute, [24] or as an administrator of an estate. [25]

Generally those records tell us little about the life of John Wilkins, other than the fact that he was an important man who was a planter, but was also well-versed in law and the affairs of local government. Many other records offer a wealth of knowledge about the everyday affairs of Wilkins. Wilkins was not extremely litigious, but he sued (and was sued) several times. He was involved or was a witness to several crimes. Many of these topics are very interesting, so those are the issues which will be focused on to tell the story of John Wilkins.

Fig. 3. The Cattle Mark of John Wilkins’ son John. From Cattle Marks of Northampton County, Va., 1665-1742, transcribed by Frank V. Walczyk. (Coram, N.Y.: Peter’s Row, 1999), 52.

Wilkins’ first recorded lawsuit was against a Mr. Mellinge on 5 January, 1634/5. Wilkins filed a complaint against Mellinge because one of Mellinge’s servants “by a bill of his hand appeared to be dew and upon due examination it is ordered that the syd mellinge shall put in security to answer his suite at James Citty at the next quarter Court.” [26] If the case needed to be heard at James City it must have been for a moderate sum of money. County courts only head petty civil and criminal cases. For a lawsuit to be heard at the Quarter Court in James City the “bill of his hand” must have been for a large amount. No mention or record is found as to whether Wilkins won the suit.

On 14 September 1635 William Cotton, a minister, appeared before the commissioners. He “presented an order of Court from James Citty for the building of a parsnage house . . . which is by this board referred to be ordered by the vestry, and bycause ther have here to for beene noe formall vestry nor vestry men appoynted we have from this present day appoynted to be vestry men these whose names are underwritten.” [27] Mr. John Wilkins was one of those new vestrymen of Hungar‘s Parish. Planter, commissioner, arbitrator and now religious leader.

Wilkins appears as a witness in a case in which Peter Varlow, the servant of a neighbor, Mr. Cugley, claimed to deserve money at the end of his indenture. He claimed that Varlow was to have money, but he “knoweth not how much.” The notable aspect of this deposition is that Wilkins’ age is listed as “aged 40th or ther abouts. . .,” which would place his birth date at 1596 “or ther abouts.” [28 ]

In November 1636, Wilkins sued once again. This time he sued Alexander Wignall. Being sued by a judge and being tried in his court is never a pleasurable thing to experience. Of course Wignall lost, and he was ordered to pay Wilkins one hundred pounds of tobacco. By 1 January 1636/7 Wignall still had not paid his debt to Wilkins. The court granted an execution to John Major to collect the debt. No mention is made of Wignall actually paying, but it can be assumed that he surrendered the tobacco since no further actions are taken. [29]

John Wilkins’ first known wife was Bridgett Craft who emigrated to Virginia in 1620. No record of her can be found after 1620. It is believed that she died, but no date is known. Wilkins remarried, but again the date is unknown. By 1637 he has a new wife, Anne. On 25 September 1637, Anne is deposed by the court in an amusing case. Apparently Anne Wilkins overheard Anne Williamson and Anne Stephens “in a jeering manner abuse Grace Waltham saying that John Waltham husband of the said Grace hade his Mounthly Courses as Women have. . .” [30] Accusing a man of having a period was certainly a punishable offense. These court records are full of such references.

On 20 November 1637 Wilkins almost added another notch to his belt. The court records read:

Whereas it was taken into Consideration . . . Concerninge the nominatinge and appoyntinge of three particular able and sufficyent men within this County of Accomack to be appoynted and sett downe for the choice of Sherriff in the said County the next ensueinge year. It is thought fitt and concluded upon by and betweene the said Commissioners at this presente Court that Mr. John Wilkins, Mr. Edward Drue and Mr. Henry Bagwell bee nominayted appoynted and sett downe for that purpose . . . at the next Quarter Court at James Citty where one of the said 3 partyes is to be elected and chosen by the Worshipfull Counsell to execute and perform the office and place of High Sheriff the next ensueing yeare within the said County of Accomack.[31]

Wilkins lost the election. He came back to Accomack County and fell back into his position as commissioner.

If Wilkins wanted to get back at his opponent in the Sheriff’s election he had an opportunity in January of the next year. Daniel Cugley had rented a building to Mr. Edward Drue [Drew] “to keepe hogges in which was afterwards Burnte.” Wilkins was designated as one of the two men who would appraise the damage and certify to the court what the house was worth. Drue would then be obligated to pay to Cugley whatever Wilkins and Mountney determined. [32] There is no evidence of Wilkins having an axe to grind with Drue, but if there happened to be animosity over the election it is interesting to think of how Wilkins could have settled the score.

On 24 January 1638/9 Wilkins finally lost a lawsuit. Wilkins was ordered to pay Farmer Jones “five hundred eighty and two pounds of tobacco . . . within six days or else Execution to be awarded.” Apparently the case was still under arbitration and a disclaimer was added that provided for the arbitrator’s decision in the case. No record is made as to whether Wilkins had to settle the debt. [33]

On 28 April 1639 Wilkins added a memorandum to the court records. He writes: “I Mr. Jon Wilkins due give unto my god sonne Fisher a black Cowe calfe marked with both ears Cropt and the right eare slitt.” [34] Records such as these must have been kept in case of family disagreements, or as a record in case of cattle theft.

John Wilkins had several indentured servants and slaves. It seems as if Wilkins may have been a harsh taskmaster. On 6 July 1640 an interesting case came before the Court of Accomack. Wilkins was not in attendance as a commissioner which would have surely been a conflict of interest. John Marshall, a servant of John Wilkins was being charged with threatening to assault Wilkins. Several depositions were heard that day about the case. John Dolby and Walter Dickenson, two indentured servants under the authority of Wilkins testified that about two weeks before they had each heard John Marshall say that he “could find it in his heart to knock his Maister John Wilkins on the head.” Henry Metcalfe used more colorful language. He claimed that he heard Marshall say that “hee could Find in his heart to give his Mr. [master] John Wilkins A Kinge Henry knocke. . .” [35]

The Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words does not list a “Kinge Henry knocke” but it does list a “King-Harry cut” which could be a more accurate transcription. According to the dictionary, a “King-Harry cut” is slang for “a slash over the face.” [36]

The date is lost, but Marshall was brought to justice. The verdict was recorded as follows:

Forasmuch as this Courte hath this presente day taken into a serious consideration as well the manie misdemeanors and refractory courses allsoe the injurious and unlawfull speeches of John Marshall by him the said Marshall Formerly used and spoken towardes and concerninge Mr. John Wilkins, which hath at large appeared by severall depositions Formerly deposed and this present day taken And whereas the same hath tended to such dangerous and ungodly action And being such ill president It is there upon thought Fitt and soe ordered by this Court that hee the said John Marshall shall for his enormous offences comitted suffer and undergoe the punishment of thirty stripes upon his bare shoulders, As allsoe that hee satisfie his said Master For all such charges as hee is to undergoe and pay both unto the high Sheriff as alsoe For all such charges of Court in and about this said suyte and Furthermore and in consideration of the promisses hee is hereby ordered From henceforth to bee and remayne upon his good Aberance and well Behaviour.[37]

In addition Walter Dickenson, the former deponent, was sentenced to twelve stripes on his bare shoulders for “his obstinacies and offences . . . by him comitted and towardes his [Master] John Wilkins.” [38]

Later on 3 August of the same year the Wilkins are once more involved with a case of violence between master and servant. Elinor Rowe was a maid-servant of Anne Wilkins. She had petitioned the court for “releefe”. She had been a servant of Mrs. Wilkins, but Mrs. Wilkins had traded maids with Elizabeth Berry. The record says that “the exchange was soe made by the earnest sollicitinge and much importunity of the said Mrs. Wilkins, As allsoe it hath appeared that the said Mrs. Wilkins after such her exchange haveinge receaved the said Berryres mayd shee most unconscionably and dangerously Beate her.” [39]

Interestingly enough, the violence of Mrs. Wilkins was not an issue. She is neither scolded or punished for her brutality. The matter at hand was whether Rowe could be released from her indenture since she had been traded. The court decided that Elinor Rowe, “the servant exchanged and which is nowe at the said Barryes house shall there remayne and serve her whole Indented tyme and the other servant in like manner with Mrs. Wilkins. . .” [40] The Wilkins seem to have been strict, unforgiving masters of their servants.

On 1 March 1641, John Wilkins and Mr. Obedience Robins set out to improve the economy of the Eastern Shore and build their own wealth as well. Wilkins and Robins hired Anthony Lynny to “build, sett up and finish a Wyndemill within the County of Accomack for their Use.” There were no windmills on the Eastern Shore at the time. Robins and Wilkins agreed to pay Linny two hundred and twenty pounds sterling and twenty barrels of Indian corn. In addition, the buyers were required to “fynde all the Iron worke of belonging and apperteyneing unto the Finishing of the said Mill.” [41] Anthony Lynny swore not to take on any more work until he had completed the windmill. He also signed his entire estate over to Robins and Wilkins if the windmill was not built. Ironically, Lynny kept his promise.

On 14 May 1642 the records show that Anthony Lynny had died. [42] Because of that agreement Obedience Robins and John Wilkins came into possession of Lynny’s estate. It was not much. His estate amounted to four indentured servants and an assortment of household furniture including beds, linens and kitchen utensils. [43]

In May 1641 John Wilkins had another run-in with his old nemesis Mr. Melling. John Wilkins had an unspecified disagreement with Melling, John Dennis and Pasco Crocker. The arguments had been heard in James City, but the court in James City decided to send the matter back to Accomack County for the local courts to decide. [44] Wilkins hired John Neale as his attorney. Neale was approached by Melling who suggested that their differences be taken to arbitration. Neale obtained a certificate from Obedience Robins, Captain William Stone, Mr. William Burdett and Mr. William Andrews who said that they had known John Wilkins for a long time and that “they never see nor heare by him of any ill Carriage towards any person whatsoever.” On the other hand they prepared a certificate that stated that Melling, Dennis and Pasco “lived very basely and suspiciously in the Country.” The Secretary desired a quick end to this. Melling came then to Neale and in effect dropped any charges that he may have had against Wilkins. [45]

Wilkins may have never bore “ill carriage” towards anyone, but apparently he had a foul mouth at times. On 30 August 1642 the court ordered that “Mr. John Wilkins shalbe Amerc’t [46] Thirty pounds of tobacco for swearing a blasphemous Oath in the face of the open court to be disposed of by the next vestry.” [47]

Wilkins was soon in trouble once more with his servants. This time it was not necessarily his doing. James Morphew was John Wilkins’ overseer. He managed the daily lives of the servants. Apparently he was a brutal man. In the complaint it states that Morphew “hath most unhumanely beate and abused one John Williams, an Apprentice unto the said Mr. Wilkins.” Morphew was ordered to never again unlawfully beat or abuse any servants belonging to Mr. Wilkins or “hee shalbe for his last Censure by the court.” [48]

On 25 May 1643, Morphew is once again accused of violence. William Evans and John Marshall -- two servants of John Wilkins -- gave depositions against Morphew. Marshall testified that “about the last of January past, Fower of Mr. Wilkins his men were carrying a logge of wood upon a handspickes and the logge slip’t of the fore handspike. And James Morphew sayde to Dickinson saying Cannot you come after whereunto the said Dickinson Answeared saying my handspike is soe short I cannot carry. Whereupon the said Morphew took upp his handspicke and gave him two or three blowes and presently afterwards the said Dickinson shewed this deponent his hurt and it was blacke about his hipp.” Evans told the same story. [49]

Immediately following the Morphew depositions there is another issue involving a servant of John Wilkins. John Williams, an apprentice of John Wilkins who was formerly beaten by Morphew, “hath absented himself from his Masters service which offense the said Mr. Wilkins through the persuasions of Argoll Yardley hath Remitted. It is therefore ordered by this court that for the next offense in the like nature shalbe committed by the said Williams the said John Williams shall have Twenty lashes upon his bare shoulders as a punishment inflicted upon him for his said Offence.” [50]

It is probably a correct assumption that most indentured servants were treated poorly by their masters, but Wilkins’ name appears throughout the records for topics that relate to cruel treatment of servants. No more mention is made of these servants, so maybe they must have either learned their lessons or been set free from their indentures.

On 31 August 1643 Wilkins is called upon to testify in an interesting deposition that related to matters pertaining to the then-current political situation in England. In 1640 a revolution began in which supporters of King Charles fought against supporters of Oliver Cromwell and the Parliament. The Virginians were staunch Cavaliers -- the nickname of the followers of the king. Wilkins testified that “beinge on board the ship belonging unto Mr. Richard Ingle Marriner in the Cabbin Capt. Francis Yardley and the sayde Ingle had some words of Controversie.” Wilkins did not know what was said except that he heard mention of Roundheads and Rattleheads. Roundhead was the nickname for followers of Cromwell and Parliament. Wilkins remarked that “in a discontented passion the said Ingle came into the Cabbin and fetch’d a Powle Axe and Cuttles or a sworde. Whereupon Argoll Yardley Esquire or Capt. Yardley stept unto him the said Ingle saying I arrest you in the Kings Name. And the said Ingle Answeared saying if you had arrested mee in the King and Parliaments name I would have obeyed it for soe it is now.” Wilkins continues by saying that Ingle “in a dominereing way florished his sworde and Comaunded all the Virginians saying gett you all out of my shipp soe weighed Anchor and went upp to Maryland.” [51]

It is interesting to see the English Civil War played out on a small scale over an ocean away. From the reaction of John Wilkins it is safe to assume that he was a Cavalier as were most of the Eastern Shore Virginians.

On 10 February 1644/5 John Wilkins acted strangely. For the past few years he had been heavily involved in the affairs of the court, but on this day a memorandum was issued by the commission stating: “That Mr. John Wilkins Being sent for by the Commissioners to come and sitt in court the said Mr. Wilkins sent an Answear by the undersheriffe: which was that he had foresworne to sitt any more in Court therefore he said hee would not come by reason whereof the inhabitants do suffer in Respect Court cannot bee held.” [52] No explanation is later given, but Wilkins continued to be involved with the county courts. Perhaps, he was performing a simple protest.

On 28 May 1645, Wilkins marked in the court records an account of a voyage he had recently made to Holland for trade. A man named Henry Weede had shipped seventeen hogsheads of tobacco for Wilkins to sell in Holland. Seventeen hogsheads only fetched about twelve pounds, two shillings. Wilkins was ordered to pay the Captain of the ship, William Stone, ten pounds sterling and to give the balance -- two pounds, forty shilling and eight pence -- to the heirs of Henry Weede since he had died before the voyage could be completed. [53] The records do not show when Wilkins took his trip to Holland, but taking a trip overseas was quite an ordeal in those days. Now Wilkins was taking on the role of an Importer/Exporter. Wilkins was definitely ambitious and his determination to earn money is easily observed.

On 29 July 1645 we see a merciful side of John Wilkins. He is serving on a jury that is hearing a case between Henry Boston and Mr. Obedience Robins. Boston was an indentured servant to Robins’ father, Edward. He was suing for his freedom and claimed that Edward Robins gave him one year to be indentured. Based on the testimony of his former owner, Wilkins and a jury of eleven other men ruled against his friend Robins in the favor of Boston. The jury ruled that “wee conceive hee ought to

Strangely enough on 11 November 1645 Wilkins was given jury duty again. This time he was chosen as the foreman, but this time he refused to show up. The court record states, “Whereas Mr John Wilkins was warn’d by Capt. William Stone high Sheriff of Northampton County hath chosen Mr Wilkins for his Attendance as foreman if the Jury. And the sd Wilkins haveing absented himself and not given his dew attendance. The court doth therefore order that the sd John Wilkins shall be ammerc’d one hundred pounds of tobacco for his delinquency to bee disposed of as the next Vestry shall thinke fit.” [55] Wilkins acts very oddly at times. Usually he is very supportive of the system of government, but, at times, he acts very rebellious.

On 28 January 1645/6 Wilkins found himself sued by William Waters. The record specifically states that Mr. Wilkins “shallbe there prsent ppria persona [in his own person] in respect there are Accons comenst agt of wch his Attorney is not capable.” [56]

At the same Court meeting Wilkins was admonished for not attending his own lawsuit against Henry Field. Field was arrested because of suit brought against him by Wilkins, but neither Wilkins nor his attorney showed up, so Wilkins was proclaimed nonsuited “and shall pay all costs and charges.” [57]

Maybe Wilkins was too busy with the small trading empire he was setting up with Obedience Robins and Argoll Yardley. Wilkins was involved in sending ships to and from Holland to open up tobacco trade routes. We know this because Wilkins and Company hired William Waters to work one of the voyages to Holland. Upon return he claimed that only Robins had paid him his due and that Wilkins and Yardley owed him his share. [58] On 29 June 1646, the court found in Waters’ favor and awarded him thirty-five shillings sterling and Wilkins was made to pay the court charges. [59]

Much of the Wilkins references have to do with the daily business of trading tobacco. Wilkins owes one person a hundred pounds of tobacco; someone owes Wilkins a few hundred pounds of tobacco, etc. It gets monotonous, but one could possibly study how the economy changes from time to time or how the value of a hundred pounds of tobacco fluctuates based on overgrowth or bad weather. Unfortunately this study will not answer those questions.

Wilkins’ overseas trade network seemed to be growing well by 1647. On 27 August, 1647 it is made known in the record book that “Phillipp Dodsworth of Poplar in Stepney in ye County of Midds in ye Kingdom of England gent doe make constitute and ordayne my we beloved friend Mr Obedience Robins of Accomacke . . . and Mr John Wilkins of the same place gent. My true and Lawful Attor. . . .Giveing and granteinge unto my sd Attorneys my full powr & authoritye in ye prmisses. . . .” [60] Wilkins’ trade empire was growing.

While Wilkins was busy building his fortune his servants apparently revolted and left en masse. On 28 December 1647 the court records an opinion that states, “Mr. John Wilkins his servants shall return home to their maystrs service and behave themselves (as servants ought to doe) dureinge the tyme exp’ssed in their Indentures.” [61]

By 1 February 1647/8, Wilkins’ problems with his servants had not been settled. John Wilkins once again filed a complaint with the court about his unruly servants. He complained that “his servantes have in disturbinge menacinge mannr often exprssed themselves in tearmes not fittinge to be give [given] their Mr [Master] (vizt) that they will not any longer be his servants.” The court once again ordered them to go home with Wilkins and act in a manner appropriate to their status. [62]

On 20 October 1648, Wilkins accepted another job--a job in which he would not win friends in the community. He became a tax collector. Wilkins and others “prsented in court their particular Accottes & Lystes of the generall Levyes & Colleccionsfor ye publiq.” His assessment was found to be “just and pfect.” [63]

On 9 July 1649, John Wilkins was sued by Henry White. White claimed that “Wilkins denyeth him to suffer him to followe his & those imploymtes wch hee is bound to followe. The Court hath thought fitt that ye said Mr. Wilkins shall pmitt & suffer ye sd Henr. White quietlye to followe his Croppe & other imploymtes Untill ye next court.” [64]

At the next court on the 28th of July 1649 John Wilkins was summoned. His wife Ann had been arrested. Henry White had had her arrested for defamation. Wilkins was in attendance to fight the suit against White, but ironically White failed to appear and he was nonsuited and forced to pay for all of the court fees. [65]

Wilkins seems to slowly disappear from the record books after the lawsuit mentioned above. He continued to serve as commissioner for several court sessions, but all seems quiet. He virtually disappeared from April 1650 to November 1650. It is probable that between the months of April and November John Wilkins had made a voyage to England. It is unclear what exactly happened in those seven months, but it seems as if on the voyage home to Virginia, Wilkins became sick. He died in late December after returning home. The exact date is unknown.

On 31 December 1650 the first business of the court was to give an account of the items that “Jno Wilkins gave freely unto Jno Baldwyn with his wife.” [66] John Baldwyn’s wife was Mary, the daughter of John Wilkins. She was the only child he had with his first wife Bridget. He had several children with his wife Ann: John, Argoll (presumably named after his business partner and attorney Argoll Yardley), Nathaniel, Lydia, Anne and Frances. [67] His children are not mentioned until after his death, but Wilkins does pass on his land to his family where it remain for several generations.

The items that Wilkins passes on to the Baldwyns are very important due to the fact that no inventory was ever made for John Wilkins. Apparently he gives much of his property to his oldest child and his son-in-law. Wilkins gave the Baldwyns “ffoure Cowes: one Heyffer, & one Bull & three Barr. Of Corne; one horse; towe shones [?] one hundd. and fifty Acres of Land . . . one Bedd and boulster; one Rugge & Blankett. & three payr of sheetes. & one Pillow-beare; one table cloath, sixe Napkins & 3 towelles. three pewtr dishes, six spoones; one candle-sticke; one salt & a drame-cupp; one pewtr Iron pott one Kettle; and one brasse Kettle.” [68]

On 28 January 1650/1 the will of John Wilkins was put into the court records. It reads as follows:

[Memorand] That this daye the last will and Testamt of Mr. Jno Wilkins late of Northampton County decd was pved by the oathes of Edm: Mathews Clir and Jno Marshall Planter./
In the Name of God Amen I John Wilkins of Accomacke (as Northampton County in Virginia gent. Resolveinge by the pmission & assistance of Almighty god forthwth to take a voyage for England. And consideringe wth my selfe that all men are mortall not Knoweinge howe thinges maye interveene or whether it shall please god I shall returne agayne or not, Doe hereby declare that (by virtue of these prsentes) all formr wills by mee made & signed are revoked & made voyd: It is my prsent will & desire that (in case I shall change my beinge . . . in this world before ye hopes of my returne into Virginia.) I doe give & bequeath unto my Loveinge wife Ann Wilkins And my Children (wch god hath blessed mee wth by her) my whole Estate Reall and psonall; moveables & immoveables: making her my indubitable Executrix of this my last will and Testamt And desire yt my debts maye in ye first place bee pd In testimony whereof I have subscribed my hand & put my Seale this xxiiith daye of Decembr Ano 1649.
Signed Sealed & dd
Jno [his marke] Wilkins
his mrke
ye seale [69] In ye prsence of
Edm: Mathewes Clir
John Marshall

In an ironic twist of fate, the man who was once found guilty of wanting to give Wilkins a “King Henry Knocke” was now a witness for the will of John Wilkins and an important planter in his own right. Maybe Wilkins was not so harsh a man after all. After his death John Wilkins is mentioned briefly in the court records. Ann Wilkins was called to give a deposition about the will of the recently deceased Edward Drew. She testified that while John Wilkins lay sick “since he came from England . . . Told [her] that hee was prsent . . . when Mr. Edward Drew his will was made. . . And himselfe was a witness unto ye will.” Hear-say evidence was apparently legal because Ann Wilkins testified that “Alsoe this dept remembreth yt her sd Husband told her that Mr. Drew his wife was to have ye thirde of his estate, and Jno Dolby his children the rest.” [70]

In February 1650 Ann Wilkins prepared her own will although she was not near death. In fact she married twice more during the next six years. [71] Her will of 1650 reads as follows:

These are to testifye and declare to all & evry one to whome these concrne that Ann Wilkins widdowe doth sett apart for ye use of such children as she had by Mr. Jno Wilkins as followed. ffor John Wilkins ffive Cowes and their increase, a young mare to be sett apart for his use (after ye towe first foales.) As alsoe a bedd & furniture belongeing unto it; a gun three pewtr dishes & a pott. & towe breedinge sowes att ye daye of marriage . . . att age. As alsoe a table cloath & halfe a dozen of Napkins And for ye other five children that they have each sett apart for their use ffoure cowes wch they are to receive wth their increase & each a bedd and furniture. And for the Sonnes, Nathll & Argoll each a gun. And in soe farre that their bee Increase if the mare that ye aforesd Mris Wilkins nowe possesseth, that then each Sonne and Daughtr shall have a Mare or a Horse. These concluded the seaventh day of ffebur. Ano 1650.
Teste [his mark] Lewis White
Peter Wraxall
Jno Marshall.
Ann [her mark] Wilkins [72]

Even though the Baldwyns were left a large amount of possessions by John Wilkins they apparently wanted more. In February 1650/1 there is the verdict from a suit brought against Ann Wilkins by her stepson-in-law John Baldwyn. There was obviously bad blood between the only child of Wilkins’ first wife and the family he raised with Ann, his second wife. The suit concerned “cattle he claimeth due unto him by the marriage of Mary the daughter of the said Mr. Wilkins.” The verdict continues:

It is thought fit and ordered by the court that Mr. Thomas Higby (who hath married the said Mrs. Ann Wilkins) shall (out of the said estate) forthwith upon demand make delivery unto the said John Baldwyn six heifers of two years old a piece, and one bull of the same age. The said cattle appearing due by the declaration of the said Mr. John Wilkins under his hand and the attestment of Mr. Obedience Robins and in case that the said Mr. Thomas Higby shall refuse to perform this order that then execution shall proceed for the original demand with Court charge.[73]

John Wilkins probably died at the age of fifty-four. He lived a productive life, and he took advantage of every opportunity he could find in the new Virginia Colony. Scholars would profit from studying individuals such as John Wilkins along with John Smith or Lord Baltimore or the other founders of our country. It was men like John Wilkins who developed our states and countries from the ground up. John Wilkins arrived in Virginia before the first permanent settlement was established on the Eastern Shore. He moved across the bay and became one of its founding fathers who should not be overlooked by students of the local history of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Most Americans and even historians will never have a chance to study a common man like John Wilkins, but we can learn so much about the past that it is worth the time to study one of the “little guys”.


1. Gene Williams, History of Accomack County. [website] Available from history.htm. Accessed 11 May 2005

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2. William W. Henning. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, Vol. 1. (New York: R & W & G Bartow, 1823; reprint, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969), 224.

3. Ibid, 249.

4. “Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia 1624/5.” John Hotten, ed. From The Original Lists of Persons of Quality; Emigrants, Religious Exiles; Political Rebels; Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices; Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1986), 34.

5. William Houston and Jean Mihalyka. Colonial Residents of the Eastern Shore: Whose Ages were Proved Before Court Officials of Accomack and Northampton Counties. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1985), 117. Wilkins’ age is figured based on his testimony in a deposition before the Northampton County Court in 1636 in which he claimed to forty years old. (County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, 1632-1640, p. 71). In the Muster of 1624/5 Wilkins is listed as twenty-six years old in 1618.

6. “Musters of the Inhabitants in Virginia, 1624/1625” from John F. Dorman, ed., Adventurers of Purse and Person: Virginia 1607-1624/5, Fourth edition, Vol. 1. (Baltimore: Genealogical Pubishing Co., Inc., 1986), 71.

7. H. R. McIlwaine, ed. Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, 1622-1632, 1670-1676: with Notes and Excerpts from Original Council and General Court Records into 1683, now Lost. (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1924), 46.

8. According to Virginia Land Records. Gary Parks, ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1982) the Virginia Land Office has collected Commonwealth land grants from 1626 until the present. No record of John Wilkins is found until 1636.

9. Susie M. Ames, ed. County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, Vol. I, 1632-1640. (Washington D.C.: American Historical Association, 1954), 56.

11. Nell M. Nugent. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants 1623-1666. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1979), 46.

12. Ibid., 56.

13. Ames, CCR I, 31. Original record can be found in Northampton Court Records 1 (1632-40) Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 48, Reel #1 at the Edward H. Nabb Research Center, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland. All subsequent microfilm references are located at the Nabb Research Center.

14. Nugent, Cavaliers & Pioneers, 84. It refers to patent thirty-eight in the above map.

15. The abstract of the patent is available at the Library of Virginia’s website. The image of the original patent is also available at Accessed 23 Feb. 2005.

16. Ames, CCR I, 2. Original record can be found in Northampton Court Records 1 (1632-40) Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., 6, Reel #1.

17. James R. Perry. The Formation of a Society on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1615-1655. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 215n.

18. Ames, CCR I, 7-8. Orig. is found in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., 14, Reel #1

19. From Virginia County Court Record Descriptions. Located at http:// Accessed 15 May, 2005.

20. Ibid., 3. Orig. is found in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., 7, Reel #1.

21. Ibid., 36, 64, 108, and many others.

22. The Inventory of Captayne Claiborne. Susie Ames, ed. County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, Vol. II, 1640-1645. (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1973), 37. Original record can be found in Northampton Court Records 2 (1640-45) Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 19, Reel #2 at the Edward H. Nabb Research Center, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland.

23. Ames, CCR I, 16.

24. Ibid., 11. Scarborough v. Bagwell.

25. Administrator of the estate of Anthony Linny. Ames, CCR II, 210.

26. Ames, CCR I, 25-6. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 42, Reel #1.

27. Ibid., 39. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 58, Reel #1.

28. Ibid., 53. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 71, Reel #1.

29. Ibid., 60, 67. Origs. are in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 80, 88. Reel #1.

30. Ibid., 85. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 112, Reel #1.

31. Ibid., 96. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 124, Reel #1.

32. Ibid., 99-100. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 128, Reel #1.

33. Ibid., 136. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 169, Reel #1.

34. Ibid., 144. Orig. is in NCR1, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 181, Reel #1.

35. Ames, CCR II, 5. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 6, Reel #2.

36. James O. Halliwell, A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words: Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs From the XIV Century, seventh edition. (London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1924), 495.

37. Ames, CCR II, 19. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 12, Reel #2.

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid., 22. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 13, Reel #2.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid., 154-5. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., fol. 76, Reel #2.

42. Ibid., 170. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., fol. 84, Reel #2.

43. Ibid., 155. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., fol. 76, Reel #2.

44. Ibid., 163. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 81, Reel #2.

45. Ibid., 165-6. Orig. is in NCR, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 82, Reel #2.

46. “Amerc’t” is an abbreviated form of amerciament. It means the “affliction of a penalty left to the ‘mercy’ of the inflictor; hence the imposition of the arbitrary mulct or fine. From the Oxford English Dictionary Vol. I A-B. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), 279.

47. Ames, CCR II, 202. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., fol. 104, Reel #2.

48. Ibid., 266. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 143, Reel #2.

49. Ibid., 276. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., fol. 149, Reel #2.

50. Ibid. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 149, Reel #2.

51. Ibid., 301. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 164, Reel #2.

52. Ibid., 407. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 217, Reel #2.

53. Ibid., 433. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., p. 230, Reel #2.

54. Ibid., 453. Orig. is in NCR2, Orders, Wills, Deeds, etc., fol. 240, Reel #2.

55. Howard Mackey & Marlene Groves, eds. Northampton County Virginia Record Book: Orders, Deeds, Wills &c, Vol. III, 1645-1651. (Rockport, ME: Picton Press, 2000), 2. Orig. record is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 2, Reel #3.

56. Mackey, NCVR III, 29. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 14, Reel #3.

57. Ibid., 32. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 16, Reel #3.

58. Ibid., 65. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 30, Reel #3.

59. Ibid., 77. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 36, Reel #3.

60. Ibid., 183. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 96, Reel #3.

61. Ibid., 234. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 126, Reel #3.

62. Ibid., 246. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 132, Reel #3.

63. Ibid., 298. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 156, Reel #3.

64. Ibid., 339. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 175, Reel #3.

65. Ibid., 345. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 178, Reel #3.

66. Ibid., 445. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 233, Reel #3.

67. Dorman, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 677.

68. Mackey, NCVR III, 445. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 233, Reel #3 or see appendix.

69. Ibid., 454-5. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 237, Reel #3 or see appendix.

70. Ibid., 457. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 239, Reel #3.

71. Dorman, Adventurers of Purse & Person, 677. She married the Rev. Thomas Higby in 1651. He died in 1655. By 1656 she had remarried again to Henry Voss.

72. Mackey, NCVR III, 460. Orig. is in NCR3, Deeds, Wills, etc., fol. 241, Reel #3 or see appendix.

73. Northampton County, VA: Orders Deeds & Wills, 1651-1654. Book IV. trans. Frank Walczyk. (Coram, N.Y.: Peter’s Row, 1998), 8. Orig. record can be found at NCR4 Deeds, Wills, etc., p. 10, Reel #4.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Ames, Susie M, ed. County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, 1632- 1640. Washington D.C.: American Historical Association, 1954.

Ames, Susie M,, ed. County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, Vol. II, 1640-1645. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1973.

Cattle Marks of Northampton County, Va., 1665-1742. Transcribed by Frank V. Walcyzk. Coram, N.Y.: Peter’s Row, 1999.

Henning, William W. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, Vol. 1. New York: R & W & G Bartow, 1823. Reprint, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969.

Houston, William and Jean Mihalyka. Colonial Residents of the Eastern Shore: Whose Ages were Proved Before Court Officials of Accomack and Northampton Counties. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1985.

Mackey, Howard and Marlene Groves, eds. Northampton County Virginia Record Book: Orders, Deeds, Wills &c, Vol. III, 1645-1651. Rockport, ME: Picton Press, 2000.

McIlwaine, H. R., ed. Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, 1622-1632, 1670-1676: with Notes and Excerpts from Original Council and General Court Records into 1683, now Lost. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1924.

Northampton County, VA: Orders Deeds & Wills, 1651-1654. Book IV. Transcribed by Frank Walczyk. Coram, N.Y.: Peter’s Row, 1998.

Parks, Gary, ed. Virginia Land Records: From “The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography”, “The William and Mary College Quarterly”, and “Tyler’s Quarterly.” Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1982.

Secondary Sources

Dorman, John F., ed. Adventurers of Purse and Person: Virginia 1607-1624/5, Fourth edition, Vol. 1. Baltimore: Genealogical Pubishing Co., Inc., 1986.

Halliwell, James O. A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words: Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs From the XIV Century, seventh edition. London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1924.

Nugent, Nell M. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants 1623-1666. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1979.

Oxford English Dictionary Vol. I A-B. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.

Perry, James R. The Formation of a Society on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1615-1655. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Whitelaw, Ralph. Virginia’s Eastern Shore: A History of Northampton and Accomack Counties. Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1989.

Online Sources

Land Patent for John Wilkins, 8 December, 1640, available at the Library of Virginia’s website at Accessed 23 February 2005.

Virginia County Court Record Descriptions. Located at virginia/va_records/Court.htm. Accessed 15 May, 2005.

Williams, Gene. History of Accomack County. Website. Available from history.htm. Accessed 11 May 2005.

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