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The Pettyjohns, Part 2: Delaware

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About 1685, John married Sara (her maiden name is currently unknown). They had seven children who grew to adulthood and married. They moved their family to Delaware about 1692, settling in the area that became Broadkill Hundred, then later Georgetown Hundred. One of the first land warrants was issued to John on 3 August 1715. He eventually owned 540 acres of land, a portion of the 1200 acres known as the Bundick tract. Here John established the Pettyjohn family seat that they would occupy for over 160 years.

Sons Thomas, James, and John were born in Accomack County, while William and Richard were born in Sussex County, Delaware. It is uncertain where the daughters born.

Before their arrival, Delaware was a land of struggles between the Dutch, the Swedes, and the English. The Dutch established the first settlement at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, but that was wiped out by the Native Americans in 1632. The Swedes arrived next and made the first permanent settlement in the area that is now Wilmington. Enraged by this, the Dutch built a fort in 1651 at a place called Sand Hook and named it Casimir. In 1654, the Swedes seized the fort, but New Sweden (which became New Castle) fell to the Dutch the following year.

The English then conquered New Netherland and, except for 1673-74 when the Dutch temporarily regained control, remained under their rule. The first new settlers came from Maryland and Virginia and enough had arrived by 1680 that three counties were set up. New Castle kept its name, but St. Jones and Deal were renamed to Kent and Sussex, respectively.

After William Penn acquired Pennsylvania, the Duke of York also granted him several tracts of land that encompassed the three counties. As the population increased in both the Pennsylvania and the lower counties, there were differences and dissatisfaction that led to the counties establishing their own legislature in 1710.

John and his family moved to Delaware with several other families up the peninsula from the Virginia counties. Their motivation may have been land grants available from the new Pennsylvania proprietors. John selected land on a branch of the Indian River. It was sandy loam and level, with creeks, rivers and marshland along the coast. The earliest settlers had named the area Zwaanendael (The Valley of the Swans), due to the large number of birds, particularly hundreds of thousands of Canada and Snow geese that settle there every spring and fall.

John's land grant was located between current day Lewes and Georgetown, south of the Broadkill River, on Long Bridge Branch and Love Long Branch. It is believed that he owned at least 1,350 acres. This was quite an achievement for someone who was orphaned at such a young age. As soon as his sons were old enough, they also began to purchase land. Each one, like their father, referred to themselves as a yeoman, which was a person who was a freeholder of a class below the gentry who worked his own land.

The Pettyjohns worshipped at the Church of St. John the Baptist, which was located "in about the center of the county in the forest of Sussex, in Broadkill Hundred, at the fording place of Long Bridge Branch." The original church was some two miles southwest of the congregation's present location in Milton. The church was 14 miles directly west of Lewes and under the auspices of St. Peter's Church of Lewes. Reverend William Becket, an Anglican missionary from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, was the minister at four local churches so only one service per month was held at each location.

John and his family lived close enough to the church that they walked the sandy roads to attend services while others travelled seven to ten miles.

John deeded land to his sons and the family land holdings grew to be quite extensive. Because of the sandy soil, few crops grew well and the land possessed few natural resources. A lot of the area was swampland and had to be drained and ditches were dug to empty the marshes. Settlers were able to provide an adequate livelihood, but there were few possibilities for attaining real wealth, so wealth was typically measured by land ownership.

Lewes was the first county seat so John and his sons would travel there whenever they needed to attend to business in court. Because they did not have a lot of money, they probably did not feel much need for regular access to a town, artisans or laborers. Whatever supplies or services they could acquire during a trip to Lewes.

They lived just east of Georgetown, which became the county seat in 1791. Sussex County had been enlarged after the boundary between Delaware and Maryland was settled in 1760. As a result, settlers in the southwestern portion of the county had a far distance to travel to the county seat in Lewes. Petitions were presented to the General Assembly in 1786, requesting that a more central location be found for the county seat and the area that became Georgetown was selected. The General Assembly called for "a quantity of land, not not exceeding one hundred acres, near the center of the county of Sussex...for the purpose of building a courthouse." The land that was purchased was known as "James Pettyjohn's Old Field", property that originally belonged to John and was then bequeathed to his son James.

The family were evidently close and all lived in the general area of Long Bridge Branch. As a result, John and Sara were frequently visited and cared for.

Thomas, their eldest son, is believed to have married Elizabeth White. They had only one child, a daughter named Isabel after her grandmother. Shortly after her birth, Thomas died in 1721, at the age of about 36. He had written his will on 9 April and died by 21 July 1721 when his will was recorded. He described himself as "grieved with sickness." His "honored father" John was appointed as the executor of his estate. He left the plantation 100 acres on which they lived to his daughter. The remainder of his estate was divided equally to Elizabeth and Isabel and he left a two year old bay mare to his brother Richard.

Sara, the family matriarch, must have died not too long afterward since she was not mentioned in her husband's will which he wrote on 26 October 1733. He left his estate to his four surviving sons: James, John Jr., William and Richard. He then died within the week and his will was recorded on 5 November 1733. It is not known where John and Sara were buried, although it is highly likely that they were buried on their land in a family burying ground.

In the old Ebenezer Pettyjohn house, east from Georgetown, which was taken down in 1878, were found some rare and curious coins bearing date from 1698 to 1723, the latter being probably the time when the building was erected, as the money was securely fastened in a mortise in the frame of the house.


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