1. Introduction. In this section, I am interested in describing buildings, personal possessions, transportation assets, and other property used during the 1600s and 1700s. I am also interested in comparisons with today. I start off with land and land ownership.
2. Land Ownership. Land availability and land ownership were major incentives for immigrants going to the Northern Neck. Initially, the English crown assumed it owned the Virginia Colony land. In the middle 1600s, during the English Civil War, the exiled Charles II awarded ownership of the Northern Neck land to several Englishmen, who assisted him and his eventual restoration as King of England. The granting of this land ownership by the “crown” to private individuals begin a period of 125 years when the land ownership in the Northern Neck would be characterized by confusion, bureaucratic difficulties, and much change. Initially, such confusion and difficulties resulted in a few Northern Neck resident individuals (about a dozen) owning large amounts of the Northern Neck land by the late 1600s, early 1700s. One of these dozen individuals, Robert Carter (1663-1732), was an ancestor (listed in the tables in Section I, Introduction). Land owned by others than this dozen or so individuals was of a much smaller acreage.
By the end of the 1600s, the beginning of the 1700s, the original English owners, who were granted the land by Charles II, had sold their ownerships to one of the original owners - Lord Fairfax. Lord Fairfax acted as a de-factor government – he would sell land to buyers, who would claim ownership, but who had to pay tax on the land to Load Fairfax. So, by the early 1700s, land was available for purchased, both from Lord Fairfax and the dozen or so individuals, who own much of the land at the end of the 1600s.
During the 1700s the land ownership varied quite a bit. By the late 1780s, the dozen individuals owning a lot of the land at the beginning of the 1700s, are believed to own a lot less - about 10% of the Northern Neck land. And Lord Fairfax was no longer a large land owner. Information indicates that by the 1780s about half of the Northern Neck households owned land. And the average size of land tracks owned in the middle 1700s was about 450 acres, but two thirds of the land owners owned less than 200 acres. In the 1780s, about 65% of land owners paid taxes on less than 200 acres. The general conclusion is that during the 1700s most of the land went from being owned by a few owners to being owned by many owners. With the land availability and with less confusion in the 1700s, compared to the 1600s, as the land purchasing systems evolved, Northern Neck land was owned by increasing numbers of owners.
1773 rerecords show the following land ownership patterns in Lancaster County:
The 289 total number of land owners represent about 50% of the free white males, 16 years old and older, in the late 1700s (1773 to 1790). Fifty percent is based on records that show the population of free whites males, 16 and older, in 1790 to be about 540. (Land owners in 1773 (289) divided by 1790 total number of land owners, white males, 16 years and older (about 540), gives approximately 50%.) And approximately 70% of the land owners owned fewer than 200 acres ((209 (83+126) acres/289 acres)) in Lancaster County in the 1773 to 1790 time frame.
Along with this shift in landownership from a few to many was the need, by current large and smaller landowners, for more labor to farm the tobacco, the main crop. This need for labor led to a system that became known as the indentured servant system, under which immigrants from England would have their passages paid for in return for a commitment (for example, 5 to 7-years) to provide labor services to the persons providing the passage fees. After the commitment expired, the indentured servant would be granted ownership of a tract of land, perhaps 500 acres - land provided by the person who engaged the indentured servant. Those who paid for indentured servant passages, even the smaller land-owning farmers, would also be granted additional land acreage for sponsoring immigrants to the Northern Neck.
During the 1700s, more structure evolved in terms of land-ownership record keeping and proof of ownership. The development of a county-wide government system help to account for this evolution. A system of land surveying evolved which was critical for improving land ownership records. Good, reliable surveying was necessary for economic growth, which was based on the use of the land. Land surveys often referenced streams, tree lines, creeks, and other natural occurrences as land property lines. The surveying system included the development of competent land surveyors, needed for the success of the system. The son (George Washington) of one of my ancestors, Mary Ball Washington (1708-1789), listed in the tables in Section I, Introduction, was such a surveyor.
What I have written above is not an attempt to provide exhaustive detail of all aspects of the land purchase systems (I lack sufficient knowledge and understanding to do that). But rather, to portray that confusion was often associated with Northern Neck land ownership. This confusion shows, I believe, an important conclusion – that coherent, trustworthy, and workable land ownership systems can take time to develop. But this time of development is needed for achieving more optimal transactional processes necessary for an effective land ownership system, such as the one that eventually developed in the Northern Neck, the one that exists today. The landowners of the 1600s and 1700s likely spent a lot more time negotiating the systems then in place for successful land ownership than landowners do today, resulting in more efficiently and productivity in today’s economy. The systems used in land ownership used today depend on evolution of processes, processes that started as early as the 1600s and 1700s.
During their lifetimes, the following ancestors (names found in the ancestors tables in Section I, Introduction) owned at least the acreage shown:
Land ownership records in 1782 show that William Augustine Washington, Pemberton Claughton, George Garner, and Robert Wormeley Carter owned land in the Northern Neck. I have Northern Neck ancestors with the same last names (see tables in Section I, Introduction).
In the 1780s and 1790s, based on tax records and slave holdings, the following last names (same last names as my Northern Neck ancestor last names - see tables in Section I, Introduction) were large landowners in Northumberland County:
Northumberland County - large land owners in 1780s, 1790s
Richard H. Ball
Robert W. Carter
John Cralle, Sr
In the 1780s and 1790s, the top 10 percentage of tax payers owned greater than 50 percent of the land.
The various land purchase and ownership systems in the Northern Neck would exist for over 125 years from around 1660 to 1785, when the Northern Neck system in existence in 1785 was abolished, and a state-wide system was established by the new State of Virginia.
During these 125 years of Northern Neck land systems, land tax regimens were in place in which taxes were due to the Charles II-appointed English and subsequent owners of the land. Representing these English owners would be land tax agents living in the Virginia colony. An ancestor, listed in the tables in Section I, Introduction, Robert Carter (1663-1732), held this position from 1702 to 1712 and 1722 to 1732. The land tax agent was compensated well for the service, as well as receiving useful information on land which the agent could buy. Robert Carter greatly benefited by being a land tax agent; this likely contributed a lot to his success as a large land owner.
It was not unusual for the same family to own and live on land initially purchase in the 1600s, through the 1700s, and into the 1800s. Land ownership longevity was much greater then than now. This possibly has to do with a greatly decreased need for farming and the land no longer serving as a source of recurring income.
3. Houses. In the later 1600s, houses were generally very similar, of simple design, made of wood. Apparently expectations were that the houses would not be lived in for a long time, perhaps no longer than 20 years, and then would be replaced, so the houses would be roughly built, of wood from nearby forests, and needing frequent repairs. Tar might be used for surface applications. These houses were built on posts that were piled into the ground, so that a space existed between the ground and the first floor. Chimneys, built of brick or wood, provided the heat and with possible two chimneys, one at each end of the house. Windows were limited, and where existing, of small size. Glass use was limited, if used at all. A house could be no larger than 20 by 20 feet and only of one floor and two rooms (some with only one room). A back door might be built, lined up with the front door so that when both doors were opened, a summer breeze might provide some cooling effect. Most houses were of a size that people had to learn to live in very closer quarters, e.g., multiple people to one bed, a very different living style than in today’s 21st Century America. The Northern Neck houses were likely much different from the English houses that the Northern Neck immigrants from England left behind.
Houses for sale were listed in the Virginia Gazette (see Section IV, Culture, Subsection 6, Language and Communications, for more about the Virginia Gazette). A study of those listings reported that about 35% of the listings were for one or two bedroom houses.
In the latter part of the 1600s and early 1700s, newly built houses began to be larger, with more rooms and a possible 2nd floor added. In some cases, cellars, using brick, would be built. These houses continued be built mostly of wood into the 1700s, but brick did begin to be used in house construction, increasingly so as the 1700s reached the mid-1700s. Brick houses would be a sign of greater prosperity of the owner. Beginning around the start of the 1700s, smaller buildings, scattered around the main house, would be built (especially by the more successful farmers), buildings having such functions as: kitchen; laundry; spinning; baking; storing (e.g., tobacco); and meat preparation. Also built would be slave resident houses (often only one room). The change in housing characteristics in the early 1700s, from the 1600s, likely represented a major cultural change, and a sign of economic progress.
Many 1700-built houses are still standing and lived in. The table below identifies many of these. Many of the houses have had extensive renovations and maintenance. These houses are likely good examples of those lived in by those in Class Structure two and three, defined in the Culture Section, Class Structure Subsection.
The Claughton-William house listed in the above table is an example of a 2-room house. The 1787-house was built by William Claughton (Claughton is one of my ancestral names) on 400 acres of land that had been in the Claughton family since the 1650s. The Claughtons were successful planters. William was a representative of St. Stephan’s Parish at a 1797 church convention.
In addition to the above houses, representing houses lived in by the overwhelming majority of Northern Neck householders, the wealthy, large landowners starting building (especially by the 1730s) much larger houses (which came to be known as plantations), usually built of brick. These plantation houses started appearing in increasing frequency as the large land owners began to profit handsomely from their tobacco farming and started to look to their houses for comfort and symbols. The houses were often based on planned architectural objectives - perhaps representing the beginning of increased architectural sensibilities in the Virginia Colony. The owners often applied names to the houses they built.
The following are the names, locations, owners, and dates built of some of the plantations (some of these plantations are no longer standing):
Corotoman Lancaster County built by Robert Carter in 1725
Sabine Hall Richmond County built by Landon Carter in 1730
Stratford Hall Westmoreland County built by Robert Carter II in 1730
Nomini Hall Westmoreland County built by Col. Thomas Lee in 1730s
Mount Airy Richmond County built by Col. John Tayloe in 1758-62
These plantations are good examples of where those in Class Structure one (defined in the Culture Section, Class Structure Subsection) lived.
With the growth of house building, a demand for more skilled house builders was created that was not met by the supply.
4. Courthouses. Initially, in the 1600s, courthouses were built with wood, and, by the middle of the 1700s, those courthouses likely would be replaced with new courthouses, possibly built with brick. New courthouses might be consistent with changes in the 1700s related to new architectural sensibilities, the use of improved construction materials, such as brick, and better construction practices.
In Lancaster County, the present courthouse is approximately seven miles northeast of the Rappahannock River, along route 3. (It is not in a town.) This courthouse was built in 1863, of brick. A previous courthouse existed at approximately the same location since the 1740s, possibly made of brick. Adjacent to the current courthouse are 1700s buildings that served as a jail and a clerk office. Prior to the 1740s, locations of previous courthouses are not certain, but probably closer to the Rappahannock River. Records indicate plans for a courthouse were being discussed in the 1650s.
In Northumberland County, the first courthouse, which no longer exists, was built in 1681 at the site where the current courthouse buildings exist (in Heathsville). Prior to 1681 court was held in private residences or temporary buildings. The current Heathsville courthouse buildings are adjacent to one another. One was built in 1851, of brick, and the other in the 1990s, also of brick. Between 1681 and 1851, another, fifth courthouse was built, likely of wood (because it no longer exists).
In Richmond County, the first courthouse was built in 1697, close to Landon Carter’s plantation, Sabine Hall. This courthouse was replaced in 1730 in a new location, which became known as Warsaw in 1846. (Warsaw was named to recognize Warsaw, Poland’s pursuit of freedom.) Both of these courthouses were probably built of wood. Then in 1748, a new brick courthouse was designed and built by Landon Carter at the same Warsaw site. This one-story brick building was apparently used as the courthouse as late as 1975, when a new building was added as the principle courthouse, and then a second building added in 2006 as the new principle courthouse. However, the 1748 building is still being used as part of the courthouse campus. This is the only remaining courthouse from the 1700s. Richmond County is fortunate in that the 1748 building is of brick, as the building has given exceptional long-term service to the county.
In Westmoreland County, the current courthouse is in Montross. Nearby is the previous brick courthouse, built in the 1890s, now a museum and historical archive. Information on courthouses before the 1890s have not been discovered.
In King George County, the current courthouse was built in 1923 and is located in the community of King George. At least three previous courthouses proceeded the current one. More information on the earlier courthouses could not be found. King George County was split off from Richmond County in 1720.
I write above that by the middle of the 1700s, courthouses built in the 1600s would likely be replaced with new ones, possibly built of brick. This turns out to be only mostly true where I could find information (see above on what was found for each county). I could find that only two were built of brick - the courthouse in Richmond County, built in 1748, and the Lancaster courthouse built in the 1740s, possibly with brick. And only the Richmond County courthouse building still exists.
The 1748 Richmond County-built brick courthouse tells an interesting story. The Richmond County courthouse was designed and built by Landon Carter, who was very familiar with building with brick; his plantation Sabine Hall had been built with brick in 1730. Besides having this expertise, he also probably had the resources (e.g., money, labor, materials) needed to build a brick building, certainly resources that would be needed in greater amounts than for building a wooden building. My conclusion is that other counties, who built new courthouses in the 1700s, simply did not have the familiarity, skills, and resources to pursue building a brick courthouse. But, by the 1800s, building with brick apparently became more routine, as all the courthouses built in the 1800s were of brick. Today few, if any, buildings are built with a wooden exterior.
In the 1600s and 1700s, courthouses were the central, most frequently visited sites in each county. They were the locations of the major commercial activities in the county.
5. Churches. As written in Section IV, Culture (Subsection 4, Religion), more than 75% of the 1600s and 1700s Northern Neck population are believed to have been church attendees. So, from the 1640s, with the first immigrants arriving in Northumberland County, building churches where religious communities could meet likely was a high priority. The following discussions are only for Church of England buildings and communities, the official (state) church in the 1600s and most of the 1700s.
Buildings for use as churches were constructed in the 1600s. However none of them remain. Most of the buildings were likely built of wood, one reason why they would vanish. And if some were built of brick, construction methods and poor bricks, as well as poor design of buildings, probably account for why none of those remain. For the same reasons, few churches remain from the 1700s.
In Lancaster County, church buildings were associated with at least two communities during the 1600s and 1700s: Christ Church (on today’s route 646, near Irvington) and St. Mary’s Whitechapel (on route 364, about 9 miles northwest of Irvington). Both of these communities constructed brick churches in 1700s: Christ Church in 1728 and St. Mary’s Whitechapel in 1740. The Christ Church building has lasted to today and is recognized as perhaps the most admired remaining church building from the 1700s, at least in the Northern Neck.
The St. Mary’s Whitechapel name shows the strong connection and regards that those who built and attended St. Mary’s had to England. St. Mary’s Whitechapel in Virginia was named after a church in London. The St. Mary’s Whitechapel’s 1740 building did not survive. After the American Revolution, the 1740’s building was abandoned for 30 years and became unusable. When a church community resumed use of the land in the 1800s, a new building had to be constructed, which is the building currently in use.
Both of these 1700s Lancaster County church buildings were associated with families (the Carter family – Christ Church - and the Ball family – St. Mary’s Whitechapel), who helped in the construction of these buildings. Both of these families had members who are in the tables of my ancestors shown in Section I, Introduction, and who participated in facilitating the buildings’ constructions. Another ancestor, Capt. David Fox, provided land and funds in the 1660s, when the St. Mary’s Whitechapel’s first building was constructed, which preceded the 1740-built building.
The Christ Church building is quite similar in appearance to a still-standing 1700s church building in Gloucester County, Virginia, the Abingdon Episcopal Church building. The Abingdon building was constructed in 1755; Christ Church in 1728. The Abingdon building is about 25 miles south of Christ Church and was the church that the Warner family worshipped at during the 1700s, and likely help build. The churches are so similar in appearance to me that it suggests that the Christ Church building was used as a model for the Abingdon building. Mildred Warner married Lawrence Washington (two individuals in my ancestors tables in Section I, Introduction) in 1686, and their 1700s descendants likely knew well both the Christ and Abingdon Churches. This might be a good example of how families in Class Level one (in my class structure scheme given in Section IV, Culture, Subsection 2, Class Structure) interacted to benefit one another.
In Northumberland County, at least two Church of England communities (parishes) emerged during the 1600s – St. Stephens (in Heathsville) and Wicomico (along today’s route 200) – with both constructing church buildings, but none of the buildings lasting beyond the 1700s. However, the two church communities did last and today church congregations, with the same names, meet at the same locations in buildings built in the 1800s, or later.
In Richmond County, two current church communities and buildings can trace their histories back to the 1600/1700s. One, Farnham Church (in Farnham), dates back to the 1693. Its current building is a largely-restored (in 1887) badly damaged 1700s building that had only the walls remaining. The other church, St. John’s (in Warsaw), has a building dating back to 1835, which replaced a previous 1732 building.
In Westmoreland County, two locations (one in Kinsale and the other in Mount Holly) have church communities going back to the 1600s. Only one of them, at Kinsale, has a building from the 1700s. The brick building at Kinsale, call Yeocomico Church, was built in 1706. A wooden building existed there prior to the 1706 building. This 1706 building is apparently the oldest church building in the Northern Neck.
The other location, Mount Holly, has a church community going back to the 1600s, but the current building goes back only to 1852, with previous buildings being replaced. Both of these buildings, the one in Kinsale and the one in Mount Holly, are now Episcopal Churches (as are most, if not all, current church communities in the Northern Neck that originally were Church of England communities).
In King George County, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s (in the King George community) history goes back to the 1600s. The community that evolved in the 1600s built two wooden buildings before the current brick building, in use by St. Paul’s, was built in 1767. A second King George’s County church building that dates back to the 1700s is Lamb’s Creek Church building (built in the 1770s).
I could find no other buildings and church communities that date back to the 1600s and 1700s, other than the buildings and associated communities identified above.
Each of the five surviving church buildings from the 1700s – Christ Church in Lancaster County; Yeocomico Church in Westmoreland County; Farnham Church (restored to original design) in Richmond County; and St. Paul’s and Lamb’s Creek in King George County – have unique, interesting designs, very different from churches built in the 1800s and later. The buildings are not big, with only a ground-level floor. Each building has a unique entrance and a variety of window designs.
The small size of each building suggests that attendance had to be small at any given service. Since these buildings served the existing parishes in the 1700s, church attendance likely was a far less percentage of the population than the believed church attendance in the 1700s (some reports suggest that church attendance might have been as high as 75% of the population). These churches seem too small to serve 75% of the Northern Neck population, which might have been as high as 10,000 by the late 1700s. What seems possible is that these buildings were built to only serve those in the two upper class: the large land owners and the yeoman planters, higher-level service providers, who lived nearby, not requiring long distances to attend church. So, the churches were only intended to serve a limited geographical area, perhaps closest to where the two upper class levels residents lived. If 75% of the population did attend church, other church building locations needed to exist.
Three of the five Northern Neck courthouses (those in: Heathsville, Northumberland County; Warsaw, Richmond County; and King George, King George County) have close-by one of the 1600s/1700s church buildings described above. This is consistent with what is believed was a planning goal in the 1600s and 1700s, which was to collocate courthouses with churches and other facilities to develop communities. However, none of these three courthouses and churches are today in towns of any size. This suggests that other factors, other than planning and building construction, are needed for town (city) growth.
The Historic American Buildings Survey Collection at the US Library of Congress has photographs of many of the houses, court houses, and churches discussed above.
6. Personal Possessions. In this subsection, I am interested in exploring what the personal possessions of the Northern Neck residents of the 1600s and 1700s might indicate about what life was like then. By personal possessions, I mean primarily those items that might have been recorded on wills, probate documents, and tax records as belonging to individuals. Two questions I am looking to answer include: 1. Did the personal possessions of my ancestors, the ancestors listed in the tables in Section I, correlate with the class levels I believed that those ancestors were in, based on other factors such as land ownership and public office appointments? and 2. How did 1600s and 1700s individuals perceive, think about personal possessions – their values, symbols, etc., compare to people living today and how did their possessions compare to today in terms of life styles, expectations and other attributes?
In general, in the 1600s and early 1700s, most personal possession items were likely imported from England, as producers of such items were not yet established in the Northern Neck. English imported items provided a sense of pride to those owning them.
Probate-will records, examined by others, indicate that several residents in the middle 1700s identified large number of forks, knives, and spoons, and similar items as personal property, which apparently is considered by historians as a good indicator of having done well financially. Large number of such items, listed in the 1700s by one of my Ball family ancestor members, suggests the economic well-being of those ancestors. (The class level of the Ball family ancestors is discussed further in Section X, Ancestors Living in the Northern Neck in the 1600s and 1700s – Ball, Carter, Champe, Claughton, Cralle, Garner, and Washington;
Subsection 2, Balls.)
Northern Neck residents likely had much fewer personal possessions, and lived a poorer lifestyle, compared to their counterparts in England.
Because waterways are so predominantly present in the Northern Neck, boats of various sizes (e.g., ketch, sloop, shallot, bateau, schooner, canoe) were likely owned extensively for transportation use, and therefore an important personal possession for many. Many of the large landowners owned ships for exporting tobacco to England and returning with manufactured items. An example would be Robert Carter (1663-1762) (on my ancestor tables in Section I, Introduction), who owned more than one ship capable of transporting tobacco to England.
Even as water transportation was frequently used, travel by horse and carriage was necessary. Very likely most farmers (large and small) would own at least one horse. Horses were to the 1700s as cars are today with respect to transportation. The difference, however, is tremendous in terms of mobility, ease of use, and other considerations. This transportation difference is just one that makes it hard for us, today, to comprehend what it was like then. The very rich would also own race horses, as horse racing was a popular entertainment – as explained in Section IV, Culture, Subsection 9, Entertainment and Socializing.
The extent of carriage use is not well known.
Likely traveling distances beyond one’s own farm, church, and courthouse community was not frequent, as roads were bad, methods of travel tiring, and absences from one’s daily requirements hard to justify when so much depended on meeting those requirements.
land ownership in Lancaster County table
number of land owners
ancestor land ownership table
William Ball (1615-1680)
Joseph Ball (1649-1711)
Walter Broadhurst (1618-1658)
Robert Carter (1663-1732)
John Champe, Sr. (1665-1740)
James Claughton (1639-1698)
John Cralle (1660-1728)
John Garner (1634-1702)
Parish Garner, Sr. (1674-1718)
David Fox (1647-1699)
Nathaniel Pope (1603-1660)
John Washington (1631-1677)
Lawance Washington (1659-1698)
1700s-built houses table
location (county; route)
Lancaster, along rt 611, Merry Point area
King George, intersection of rt 650 and 625
King George, close to intersection of rt 649 and 609
King George, on rt 301, near Port Conway
Northumberland, near Kilmarnock
second half 1700s
Northumberland, rt 624, near Lewisetta
Northumberland, close to Indian Creek, Kilmarnock
Northumberland, rt 607 and 669, near Kilmarnock
Northumberland, rt 605, Kilmarnock
Richmond, rt 1, near Farnham
Richmond, rt 610, near Farnham Creek
Richmond, rt 635, near Warsaw
Richmond, near intersection of rt 646 and 360, near Warsaw
Westmoreland, intersection rt 207 and 87, near Lebanon
Westmoreland, rt 613, near Lyells
Westmoreland, on Nomini Creek
Lancaster, along rt 683, near rt 354