Thomas Cheatham (1645-1726)

Thomas Chetham, as his name was commonly spelled, first appears in Henrico County, Virginia in 1677.   He may have been there several years earlier, as there are almost no surviving Henrico records prior to 1677.

In one of the earliest of Henrico County’s surviving records, on 9 November 1677, Thomas Chetham was a witness to a deed of gift by William Harris and his wife Mary to her father Thomas Wells.1  In July 1679 he served on a coroner’s jury investigating the death of one Thomas Adkins, a certain signal that he was a freeholder.2  Also in July 1679 he was “aged 34 or thereabouts” when he testified that he, along with Joseph Royal, Francis Epes, and Samuel Knibbs had recovered horses belonging to Royal and his stepdaughter.3  Coincidentally, there survives in Henrico County a tithables list for June 1679 that shows Royal, Epes, and Knibbs as three of the nine heads of household residing at Bermuda Hundred.  This particular record organized the county into lists of “every fforty tythables”, each of which was to be assessed a man and horse and supplies to build military forts.4  It isn’t completely clear what the listed names represent, but they were probably landowners — the nine names listed for Bermuda Hundred, for instance, commanded a total of 44 male tithables.  Thomas Chetham was not listed anywhere by name, though his jury service clearly establishes that he was a freeholder.  It seems likely that he was among the 44 tithables residing at Bermuda Hundred, perhaps as a tenant or lessee of one of the nine named residents.5

He served on another coroner’s jury in June 1681 investigating the death of Walter Sher.6  Several months later in February 1681/2 he witnessed powers of attorney by Mary Royal and Ann Epes, given to William Epes. 7  In April 1684 he was a member of a grand jury that indicted William Ligon and Martin Elam for quarreling and drunkenness.8  On 9 August 1684 Thomas Chetham witnessed a deed from Thomas Jones, his wife Mary and mother Mary Skirme, to his brother Reps Jones.9 In September 1791 he served on yet another jury in the case of a bull killed by dogs.10

The Martin Elam Patent

“Tho. Chetham” appears on 23 October 1690 as one of 18 headrights for a patent issued to Martin Elam for 900 acres in Henrico County on the south side of the James River on Proctor’s Branch in what was later Chesterfield County.11  Though possible, It is doubtful that he was actually imported by Elam, more likely  that he sold his own headright.12   Note that no wife or children were among the headrights.

Land Purchases

The following year, on 29 January 1691/2,Thomas Chetham bought 300 acres of the Elam grant from Martin Elam and his wife Frances for 2,000 lb. of tobacco.13  He retained this land until his death.  The 1704 Quit Rents, actually dated April 1705 for Henrico County, included “Tho. Cheatham” with 300 acres.14

On 1 August 1692 Thomas Chetham paid 265 lb. of tobacco for a 1/2 acre lot in Bermuda Hundred Town on the James River.15  A 1691 act of the General Assembly had directed the establishment of several river port towns for the convenience of mercantile traffic, including one at Bermuda Hundred Point on fifty riverside acres belonging to Mary Woodson.  In 1692 a total of 26 men living in or near Bermuda Hundred purchased 28 lots in the town.  Thomas Cheatham’s lot was designated No. 12.  The deeds required the purchaser to build a house of at least twenty square feet, though there is no evidence that the proprietors ever enforced the restriction.  The act concerning port towns was later repealed and the town never achieved its fifty acre size, but it survived for a hundred or so years as a trading center for ships traveling the James.  In its early days, Samuel Knibb operated Henrico’s only regular ferry there.

Thomas Cheatham may have intended to operate a tavern or some other business in town.  Lot No. 12 occupied a prized location on a corner directly opposite the town’s market square and was one of the few lots that backed onto the river as well.  Only six of the original lots bordered the market square, and it seems likely that the purchasers of those lots intended them to house commercial enterprises.16

He may have made additional purchases of land, as not all deeds of the period survive.

Confirming his Birth Year

He had been aged 34 in mid-1679 and two later records serve to confirm his birth year.  On 20 August 1694 Thomas Chetham was “aged about 50 years” when he made a deposition in the case of a hoax involving the supposed Indian massacre of a neighbor family.17  (An interesting summary of the case was published several years ago.18 )  And on 5 August 1720 he was “aged seventy five years or thereabouts” when he made another deposition regarding a boundary dispute between John Worsham and John Woodson.19

Marriages & Theories

There is a record in York County’s Charles Parish register of the death of “Margarett Cheatham, wife of Thomas” on 6 April 1670.20   Note that if this was “our” Thomas Cheatham, Margaret was surely not the mother of his children, who seem to have been born after 1670.  In fact, we note that there are no other records of Cheathams in the register, which include births from 1648 and deaths from 1665.

Was Thomas Chetham in York County prior to arriving in Henrico County?  The destruction of Henrico records make that question impossible to answer.  Charles Parish was located in the eastern part of York County, and James City County lay between it and the James River, meaning that Thomas Cheatham would have to have moved some 120-odd miles up the James to Bermuda Hundred.  One plausible theory is that Thomas Cheatham and Margaret were newly arrived in Virginia in 1669 or 1670 and, like so many new arrivals, she died shortly afterward.  Thomas, who would then have been about 25, may have continued up the James to live with or near a relative.

Whatever the case, the name of the mother of his children does not appear in any record.

We may point to a license issued to Thomas Cheatham on 24 October 1681 as plausible evidence of a marriage — supported by the notion that his children were probably born after that date.  The record cited is an accounting of “Lycences granted & returned to Towne of Jamestown”, listing seven persons who paid 200 lb. (of tobacco) each.21  To be clear, the record does not identify the type of license.  It could have been a license to sell food or drink, or for any other activity for which a license was required.  However, we note that a marriage license required at that time a payment of precisely 200 lb. to the Governor (in addition to 200 lb. to the minister, 50 lb. to the clerk, and 40 lb. to the Secretary.)   If we assume it was for a marriage license, it suggests that his children were born after 1681.

Origins in England?

Numerous internet postings include some variant of the following claim:

Arrived aboard a private sailing vessel called the “Bethany” to the shores of Jamestown, Virginia in 1641 from Manchester England, where his father had been a sheriff, and his grandfather had owned a private boy’s music school.

The source of this is unknown, but clearly it makes no sense as he could not have arrived in Virginia four years before his birth.  Therefore this apparently assumes that Thomas Chetham was a second-generation Virginian, born to an earlier immigrant who was also named Thomas Chetham.  Unfortunately, there is not a single piece of evidence that supports this theory.  Nor, as far as I can determine, is there  evidence that connects him to Manchester, England.

Another — and contradictory — set of internet postings claim that he married in Deane, Lancashire on 13 February 1669/70 to Margaret Houlme.  Presumably, this claim assumes that the couple immediately boarded a ship to Virginia and traveled to York County in Virginia where Margaret died less than two months after the marriage.  Not only does that assume a very rapid voyage, but I cannot find a shred of evidence that the two Thomas Cheathams were the same person.

Thomas Chetham’s Will

He made his will on 2 May 1720 and it was proved six years later on 1 August 1726.22   No wife was mentioned.  To son Thomas he gave “that part of the land I live on according to its first and earliest bounds, beginning at Indian Paton path on Proctor Creek along said path south to a marked pine corner tree in the Moseley line, thence east to a marked corner pine in the head of the branch before his house, down said branch north to the creek, then up said creek to the beginning”.  To son Jonathan he left “my wearing cloathes”.  To son Marmaduke he left four books [the first four below], and to son Benjamin he left two more books.  Grandson Thomas Cheatham received a ewe lamb and one book.  Daughters Mary and Susanna were each left a pair of gloves.  Daughter Tabytha was to have a servant named Mary Herbert until her contract expired upon reaching 21 (which must surely have occurred by 1727), a  horse and saddle, a double handled porringer, a dram cup, a senting (sic) bottle, a gold ring, a bedpan, and a pewter candlestick.  Son William was named executor and was to have the land he occupied and all else.   Witnesses were Arthur Moseley, Jr. and John Clark, Jr.

There was no indication that any of the children were under age.  The mention of seven books, together with his signatures, clearly shows that Thomas Cheatham was literate and so were at least some of his sons.

The Books

The seven books mentioned in the will are interesting.  The first four were given to Marmaduke Cheatham:23

  • The Parable of the Pilgrim — probably refers to a book written by an English theologian named Simon Patrick (1626–1707) and first published in 1667.
  • The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Holy Dying — by Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667).  This was originally published as two books in 1650 and 1651, and was republished periodically for the next 200-odd years.
  • Osborne’s Advice to a Son — first published in 1656 by English essayist Francis Osborne (1593-1659), this was one of the Seventeenth Century’s best sellers.
  • Cocker’s Arithmetick — a schoolboy’s textbook written in 1677 by Edward Cocker (1631–1676) and republished more than 100 times.
  • Dr. Smith’s Sermons — ?
  • True Happiness and General Directions for a Comfortable Walking with God — two books first published in 1638 written by Robert Bolton (1572–1631).  The books were regularly reprinted.  This is evidently a combined edition.
  • Allen’s Sermons On Conversion — ?

The Children

I confess that I have not traced his children — other than his son Marmaduke Cheatham — beyond what appears in Ms. Dennstedt’s paper.

  1. Henrico County Record Book 1677-92, page 24. []
  2. Ibid., page 108. []
  3. Ibid., page 153. []
  4. W. W. Hening, The Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. 2, pages 433-35. []
  5. The Bermuda Hundred list was:  Mr. Martin Elam – 6, Edward Stratton Jr. – 3, Samuel Knibb – 2, Mr. Francis Epes – 9, Joseph Royall – 3, At Mrs. Isham’s – 6, George Browning – 5, Mr. [Richard] Kennon – 3, John Worsham – 4.  Total – 44. []
  6. Ibid., page 191. []
  7. Ibid., page 211. []
  8. Ibid., page 312. []
  9. Ibid., page 308. []
  10. Henrico County Record Book (Orders & Wills) 1678-93, page 385. []
  11. Virginia Patent Book 8, page 124. []
  12. My own research into headright certificates and patents of the late 1600s (see elsewhere on this website) suggests that the majority of headright names in patents were not in fact imported by the patentee. []
  13. Henrico County Record Book 1688-97, page 274-5. []
  14. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 28, No. 3 (July 1920), page 210. []
  15. Ibid., page 328-9. []
  16. See the plat maps in The Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2, pages 29-35. []
  17. Henrico County Record Book 1688-97, page 535. []
  18. The Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, pages 70-73. []
  19. Henrico County Record Book 1725-37, page 37. []
  20. Landon C. Bell, Charles Parish, York County, Virginia. History and Registers (The Virginia State Library Board, 1932), page 207. []
  21. Henrico Record Book 1677-92, page 185.  The other six persons were Seth Ward, Jos. Tanner, Melchiz. Richardson, Mr. Tho. Cocke, Mr. John Gouch, and Lambert Tye. []
  22. Henrico County Record Book 1725-37, page 36. []
  23. According to the Virginia Historical Magazine, Vol. 10, page 404, the list included Gernutus’ Meditations rather than True Happiness…   Gernutus was famous in ballads and poems as the Jew of Venice, generally thought to be the character on whom Shakespeare based The Merchant of Venice.  The book in question may have been John Gerard’s Meditations, first published in 1640 in Latin.  (Gerard would have been rendered as Gerardus in Latin.) []