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The Pettyjohns, Part 1: Virginia Tidewater

James Pettyjohn was living in Hungars Parish, Northampton County, located on Virginia's Eastern Shore in 1660. The first existing record of his residence was the baptism of the daughter of James and Isabel Pettyjohn that was recorded in the parish register, on 16 May of that year.

It was initially believed that the Pettyjohns were Huguenots. However, the name Pettyjohn does not exist in any list of Huguenot immigrants to Virginia. In addition, the fact that James was in Northampton County as early as 1660 does not fit the usual pattern of Huguenot immigration. It is possible that it is an Anglicized version of a French name, such as "Petitjean", but that has not been verified. The name has also been spelled many time in early records as "Pettijohn".

The Eastern Shore of Virginia was one of the first areas to be explored and settled after Jamestown. The first settlement in the region was the result of the colonists' need for salt to preserve food. In 1614, approximately twenty men from Jamestown were sent to the peninsula to make salt and catch fish. They established a settlement near Cape Charles and a salt works on Smith Island, just to the east. However, the first permanent settlement was established at Old Plantation Creek. The first community and church were created in 1624 at Accomack on the north side of King's Creek and actually included all of the Eastern Shore south of Maryland. The lower section became Northampton County in 1643.

It is uncertain how long James and any relations had been living in the area before 1660. There is an item that probably came from the county court order book mentioning a Joan Pettyjohn, whose relationship to James was not provided, but the name is unique enough that they were probably related. In 1652, Joan was one of two people accused of "malicious gossip" and when the parish church was completed by the next spring, Joan was punished by having to "stand att the church dore with a gagge in her mouth." James and Isabel must have behaved, since there was no record of their misconduct.

James first leased a tract of land. He later owned property and built a productive homestead. He had thirty head of cattle, two bulls, numerous hogs, and a horse and raised at least corn and tobacco. Besides being a planter, he was a cooper and a skilled carpenter.

James married Isabel (maiden name unknown) about 1654 and they had four children. When James died on 26 May 1665, his wife Isabel may have also died since the children were placed under the care of a different person after his death. It was assumed that James was the eldest, followed by William, Isabel, and John.

The fact that the Northampton County court moved quickly to appoint guardians for the children suggests that their mother had also died and they were now orphans. Captain John Custis was the administrator of James' estate, which was sold at public auction by court order. It brought in a substantial 27,308 pounds of tobacco. James Bruce was appointed to be responsible for the "tuition and bringing up" of James "until eighteen years of age or the court ruled otherwise." William Satchell was likewise ordered to look after William. Isabel's care went to Abraham Heath. Later, Nicholas Powell, the person who purchased her father's plantation, became responsible for her. It was further ordered that "Capt. William Jones should have the disposition of John Pettyjohn...either to take into his custody or leave it in the custody of John Cole for the bring of it up." All of the children continued to live in Northampton County and most likely grew to adulthood there.

It appears that John was left in the custody of John Cole. On 29 July 1680, John petitioned the court to allow him to leave John Cole and have John Satchell appointed as his guardian. The court granted the petition and ordered that John continue under guardianship with John Satchell until he was twenty-one, "unless the court finds cause to the contrary." John Satchell was the son of William Satchell, who died in 1680, and had been John's brother William's guardian.

In November of that same year, John petitioned the court again, this time asking to be discharged from John Satchell's care. The court rejected his petition. John was probably unhappy that he was not given the opportunity to attend school, as the court had directed his guardians. As a result, John did not learn to read or write.

John again petitioned the court in May 1682, asking to be discharged from his bonded due to good behavior. He was successfully discharged from the bond after a proclamation was made in open court and no objection was made against him. John then lived his brother William in Accomack County where they both owned land. In June 1689, they were summoned to court to show cause for not appearing to help clear the highways. The case was dismissed after they were able to show just case for failing to appear and paid court costs.

John stayed in Accomack County until early in 1692 before relocating to Sussex County, Delaware. His experiences will continue in the next post.


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