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Thomas Fenwick: His Lands and Island

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

And now the continuation of story of Thomas Fenwick (for the prior post, click Here.)

Thomas Fenwick, born between 1632 and 1635, was the fourth son of Walter Fenwick and his wife Madeline Hunt. He was the first ancestor to reach America. He arrived in Maryland in 1670 aboard the Nightingale, which had set sail from Hull.

In 1677 he moved to Lynn Haven Parish, Norfolk County, Virginia and had married his first wife, Mary (née Savill), widow of George Lawson of that place. On 28 September 1681, Thomas received a grant of three thousand acres in Lower Norfolk County in consideration of having transported sixty persons to the Colony. The grant was later reduced to 2,650 acres on 21 October 1684. On that date he received a separate grant of 350 acres in the same country for transporting seven persons.

The first reference indicating that Thomas Fenwick married a second time was on 16 July 1685 when he and his wife Mary (surname unknown) conveyed to Lt. Col. Anthony Lawson, also of Lynnhaven, the 350 acres previously referred to.

Thomas then began to acquire property in Somerset County, Maryland, starting with the return of a survey on 12 April 1686 of 500 acres in that county called "Fenwick's Choice." On 4 May 1687, there was another return of a survey of 1,000 acres called "Scottish Plot", followed by another survey of 500 acres called "Dumfries" on 5 May 1687.

On 22 October 1690, Thomas was granted 600 acres on the South side of Indian River, Sussex County, Delaware.

On 27 December 1692, George Layfield and his wife, of Somerset County, MD, conveyed a 100 acres called "Fishing Harbor", an island, to Thomas. They also conveyed 500 acres called "Winter Pasture" on Assateague Island that same day.

By 1694 they had disposed of the "Dumfries" property and acquired 80 acres in the town of Lewes, Delaware, deeded on 28 November 1694. Thomas acquired an additional 96 acres on Lewes Creek, adjoining the uppermost part of Lewes on 6 June 1699.

The territory occupied by the present county of Sussex was known in the seventeenth century as Hoorenkill, Horekill and Whorekill, and extended from Bompties (Bombay) Hook to Cape Henlopen (Fenwick Island). The first settlement was on the site of the present town of Lewes.

In 1700 Thomas served as Member for Sussex of the Provincial Council and a Member for Sussex of the Assembly. He also served as a Justice for Sussex County as well as appearing in Court as the coroner. On 9 August 1705 he was appointed as Register of Wills, an office he held until his death. His wife Mary died sometime between 1700 and 1704.

At a court held at Lewes, 6 May 1707, Thomas acknowledged a conveyance for the use of the Presbyterian Professors for a Meeting House, School House and burial place of a parcel of land in Lewes.

Thomas died in 1708, as his will was dated 22 March 1708 and was probated 1 May 1708.

Perhaps the most prominent piece of land he owned became known as "Fenwick Island." Lord Baltimore originally claimed the island and was repeatedly referred to in the depositions in the case of Penn v. Lord Baltimore, a long-running legal conflict between William Penn and his heirs on one side, and Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore and his heirs on the other side over the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. The island was later gave it to Colonel William Stevens in 1680, who then gave it to Thomas Fenwick in 1692.

Although Thomas never actually live on the land, it received his namesake nonetheless. In the 1600’s, Fenwick Island resembled an actual island more than it does today. There were several inlets that connected the bay to the Atlantic Ocean, and they were well-travelled by not only merchant ships and sailors, but pirates as well. Fenwick Island lore states that the small islands surrounding Fenwick Island were used by pirates to unload or hide their treasure. Charles Wilson, partner in crime with the infamous pirate Blackbeard, allegedly buried treasure on Assateague Island, which is just south of Fenwick Island. Before being tried and hung for his crimes, he wrote a letter to his brother which was recovered in 1948, that detailed directions to his treasure, but it has never been found.

When Thomas Fenwick died, Fenwick Island became the property of his daughter and son-in-law, Mary and William Fassett. According to legend, William Fassett swam to the Fenwick Island beach after being tossed overboard from a pirate ship off the shore of the southern Delaware coast. He was so thankful to reach the beach that he allegedly vowed that he would own the land someday, a wish that came true by marrying Thomas' daughter.

The Fenwick Island Lighthouse

Although it had passed ownership several times, Fenwick Island still remained relatively uninhabited for quite some time. Due to an increasing number of shipwrecks occurring off the coast of Fenwick Island in the 19th century, a lighthouse was deemed necessary. The light was lit in the Fenwick Island lighthouse in 1859, where it has been a fixture ever since. The lighthouse slightly boosted the population of Fenwick Island with the addition of the families of the lighthouse keeper and his assistant.

During his lifetime, Thomas acquired vast amounts on land throughout the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia (Delmarva) region, becoming a prosperous landowner as well as a county official.


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