MAJOR THOMAS OWSLEY
OF STAFFORD COUNTY, VIRGINIA
The following account was first published in Thomas Owsley - A Virginia Gentleman (1990), by Ronny O. Bodine and again in The Ancestry of Dorothea Poyntz, Wife of Rev. John Owsley, First Preliminary Edition (1995), by Ronny O. Bodine and Brother Thomas W. Spalding, and with slight revisions in the Second Preliminary Edition (1997) and Third Preliminary Edition (1999). This account has been slightly altered to accommodate its appearance at this website.
THOMAS OWSLEY, the fourth child and third son of Rev. John Owsley and his wife Dorothea (Poyntz) Owsley, was born 11 June 1658 at Stoke-Coursey (now Stogursey), Somersetshire, England and was baptised there at St. Andrew's Church on 11 July. The entry of his baptism was written in the hand of his father who was serving as church rector and reads:
"Thomas Owsley the sonne of John and Dorothy Owsley borne the 11th day of June about three of the closke in the morning and baptized the 11th day of July. Borne on a Friday, baptized on a Lords Day in the afternoone."
As the son of a minister, and grandson of an officer in the Royal Army, it is likely that he received a good education and in his youth attended college as did his elder brothers. But, caught up by an adverturesome spirit, young Thomas Owsley apparently never completed his college education, for, by September 1677, he had arrived in the Colony of Virginia. First settled in May 1607 by the royally-chartered London Company, Virginia became a Crown Colony in 1624 and by 1641 could boast of a population that had grown to about 7500 persons. The whereabouts of Thomas Owsley, within Virginia at this time, are uncertain and he likely traveled about visiting the towns of the growing Colony, among them, certainly those within Stafford County. It was here that he would first become aware of the vast area encompassing the Northern Neck region and the availability of prime land for settlement. In 1648, the Northern Neck had been formed into Northumberland County and in 1653 became a part of Westmoreland County. When Stafford County was formed in 1665 it consisted of all the north part of the Neck, lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers continuing back to the Blue Ridge along these rivers.
During the next three years he seems to have engaged in an enterprise that necessitated travel between England and the Colonies. It was during one such journey, in 1679, that he was taken prisoner by Algerine pirates and was ransomed by the villagers of Glooston, the parish in Leicestershire, England where his father was then serving as rector. This event was duly recorded in the Register of Glooston Parish:
"July 28th, 1679: To redeem Thomas, son of Mr. Owsley, Rector of Glooston, taken by the Algerines, the sum of £1.11.3d. was collected."
By 6 September 1679, however, he was back in Virginia. On that date Colonel William Fitzhugh of Stafford County offered his opinion to Major Robert Beverly, clerk of the House of Burgesses, of a suit in which Thomas Owsley was then involved (OFHS Newsletter, March 1996, pp. 6-7). By the following year, at the age of only 22 years, he held the position of Clerk of the County Court (Goolrick, John T., The Story of Stafford, Stafford, Virginia, 1976, p. 49). From the earliest days this important position was always held by a man of education and Thomas Owsley was well suited for the post. His clerical duties appear, however, to have been of short duration, for he was soon again engaged in a more profitable business, as agent for one Colonel Cadwallader Jones. On 14 March 1681/2, Jones was issued a memorandum, valid for six months, to authorize Thomas Owsley to traffic in a variety of commodities, excepting munitions, with the Nantecoke Indians (Maryland Historical Society, Archives of Maryland, XVII, p. 88).
In another business deal, on 6 May 1686, Thomas Owsley drew up an original bill of exchange on his brother, Newdigate Owsley, Merchant of London, with Brice Cockran, Merchant of Coleraine, in County Londonderry, Ireland due within ten days, but not repaid by Owsley as promised. When Newdigate Owsley was unable to repay the debt due to "want of Effects" Cockran appointed Jacob Alexander, a Londonderry mariner on his way to Virginia, as his attorney to secure from Thomas Owsley the sum of £120 due him (Stafford Co. Record Book, 1686-1689, p. 49, 84)
His business dealings were surely lucrative, resulting in an accumulation of wealth and prestige, sufficient to establish himself as host for the Stafford County Court in his home on 12 November 1690 (Stafford Co. Record Book, 1689-1693). During the ensuing years his status in the colony grew. He was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Stafford County Militia and was appointed a Justice of the Peace. During this period militia officers generally held concurrent judicial positions within their respective counties and Thomas Owsley had his hands full ensuring both the safety of the region and doing his part in the administration of justice. On several occasions he forwarded letters to the governor's council and in one instance was the lone dissenting justice in a case heard before the county court (ibid., p. 505). On 8 June 1692, Captain Thomas Owsley was given command of a detachment of ten men who were then added to the Potomac Rangers. Commissioned by the Virginia legislature, this group was to range the frontier from above the Occoquan to the head of this river as protection against hostile Indians. That same date he was sworn in for another one year term as Justice of the Peace (ibid., p. 276).
A Letter has survived from this period that presents a vivid picture of the danger that was often present to the early settlers and in this situation directly impacted upon Thomas Owsley. In 1692, he was residing upon his plantation on Pohick Run when Indians attacked his home. The letter, presented to the Maryland General Assembly, describes the events of May 1692:
"...Last night about 11 or 12 a Clock Came two men from Mr Ousleys to Captain Addisons to give notice that about 3 a Clock in the afternoon Mr Ousleys negro Woman going betwixt the Lower and Upper house was almost killed by two Indians and hath two wounds in her head, and a peice of Skin the breadth of a Crown piece flead off her skull, and stabed under the right Breast, which wound is thought to be Mortall and Stabbed quite through one Arm, with several other small wounds, a Cooper being at a Little Distance heard her Cry out, who with another Man with him made towards her, which frightened them away and in a Little time after Mr Ousley being out, came home with his Ranging Party and Eleven Pisscataway Indians with him, who immediately went after them & found where they had Camped near to the house. The Indians say they think by the footing there is ten of them. They pursued them so hard that they dropt several things 1st pair of Mockasoons, one stick like a back sword much like that you did see at Captain Addisons; Mr Ousley returned to his house last night, but the Indians are still in pursuit, who says they doubt not to come up with them, unless they Come over Potowmack Mr Ousley and his Party is appointed by Our Indians to meet them again this Day…" (Maryland Historical Society, Archives of Maryland, XIII, p. 282-283)
In 1692, Thomas was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses from Stafford County and took his oath as a Burgess on 3 Mar 1693 (McIlwaine, H. R., ed. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, Richmond, 1913, II, p. 412-413). He served again from 1695 to 1696 (ibid., III, p. 6). The Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia record that on "Fryday, April 24th 1696, Mr. Martin Scarlet" was elected "Burgess of Stafford County in room of Capt. Thomas Ousley now Sheriff of Stafford County." He may have held this post only a year or two for he again served as a Burgess in 1698. In the latter year, the militia officers included "Capt Tho: Owesly" of Stafford Parish, which later became Overwharton Parish. He was reflected as commanding a detachment of 53 men (King, Overwharton Parish, p. 180).
On 15 November 1694, Thomas Owsley obtained two patents of land in Stafford County. The larger tract of 1000 acres was fronted on its southern point by Pohick Bay. The smaller 150 acre tract adjoined the larger at the northeast corner. He secured a grant of 600 acres on 17 November 1696 and another on 24 March 1697. This latter tract, comprising 640 acres, was situated some distance from his other holdings, but was undoubtedly prime land being located on the shore of the Potomac River in northeast Stafford County (Northern Neck Patents, II, p. 58, 60, and Northern Neck Grants, II, p. 260, 267).
On 3 June 1699, Thomas Owsley was appointed a Major in the Stafford County Militia and was thus second in command under Lieutenant Colonel George Mason, the commander-in-chief (McIlwaine, H. R., ed., Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1925, I, p. 445). That same year Thomas Owsley was again serving as Clerk of the County Court and continued in that position until his death.
On 3 September 1700, Thomas Owsley prepared a deed to "...freely give unto my daughter Sarah Owsley half of the dividend of land upon Powhick and Acquatinke down the Rigg and she to have that part that lies upon the Pohicke..." (Stafford Co. Record Book, 1699-1709, p. 44-45).
Major Thomas Owsley died 10 October 1700 in Stafford County, Virginia and was buried there on his plantation, now located on the Fort Belvoir Military Reservation, in Fairfax County. The exact date of his death is known from a survey map of 1748 in the case of French Mason vs. Daniel McCarty, 25 March 1748, on which is noted his grave and the comment "Owsly buryd there, as by a tomb stone, he dyed October ye 10th 1700." The survey was redrawn and published in Mitchell's Beginning at a White Oak (op. cit.), p. 64.
Four days later, on 14 October 1700, the court secretary, R. Wormley, writing to the justices of the county court "I understand that Mr. Thomas Owsley Clerk of your County Court is dead by which the said Place is become vacant" recommended Mr. Leonard Sarout as a replacement (Stafford Co. Record Book, 1699-1709, p. 51-52).
About 1680, Thomas Owsley married Ann Harris, apparently the only child of Lieutenant William Harris, a former British Army officer whose presence is attested to in Stafford County in the 1660s, and in whose will of 1698 devised all of his land to his Owsley grandchildren. Ann survived her husband by many years. On 13 March 1700/1, she transacted two sales of land, one, a parcel on the South side of Acquia Creek being sold to Daniel Beach for 3000 pounds of tobacco and the other, approximately 650 acres upon Oququon River, to Edward Barton for 4000 pounds of tobacco (Stafford Co. Record Book, 1699-1709, p. 59-60, 62-63).
On 14 May 1701, John West, J. Peake, James Herriford and Samuel Jackson met at the home of Mrs. Ann Owsley and took an inventory of the effects of Thomas Owsley and on 2 June 1701 appraised their value. An additional inventory was held on 6 October 1701 which included "one sorrey Indian slave, one lame boy about 9 years old, one old bull, one old servant" (Stafford Co. Record Book, 1699-1709, p. 114).
About 1703/1704, Ann Harris Owsley married John West, the elder of two sons bearing that name, of Major John West, certainly a friend of her late husband's, and one of the four men assigned to conduct an inventory of his property. On 14 March 1704, John West Junr. requested of the Stafford County Court:
"Mr. Waugh. Please to record a cow and yearling for Eliza. Ridgway given to her by my wife in her widowhood." (Stafford Co. Record Book, 1699-1709, p. 259).
On 26 September 1714, a warrant was issued to Daniel McCarty for 648 acres in Stafford County which included the description: "....beginning at a corner marked hickory of the land of Majr. Owsley on the Southside and near to the sd. run, opposite to the dwelling houses of the sd. Owsley's plantation now in the possession of the Widdow West, late the widow of the sd. Owsley." The land was granted to McCarty on 19 December 1716 (NN Grants, V, p. 129).
The reference to the Widow West is the first indication that John West Jr. had died and Ann was again a widow. Two children were born of this marriage. Hugh West, the elder son, was born on 18 March 1705. He served Truro Parish as vestryman, 1744-1754, and as churchwarden, 1746-1747 and 1748 (Slaughter, Philip, The History of Truro Parish in Virginia Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1907, p. 121) and when Alexandria was organized, in 1749, he served as a member of the first board of trustees. From 1752 until his death in 1754, he sat in the Virginia Assembly as a burgess from Fairfax County. John West, the younger son, was born about 1706 and died underage in 1725/6 as attested to per his estate inventory in the Stafford County Index to Lost Will Book K and The Papers of John Marshall ("Ashton vs. West," University of North Carolina Press), I, p. 175.
A survey, made in October 1716, of the land of Captain Daniel McCarty, lying on the Pohick and Accotink Creek in Stafford County includes "Part of the Lines of the land the Widow West lives on." (Fredericksburg District Court Plats and Other Papers, Virginia State Library and Archives)
By September 1718, Ann Harris Owsley West married her third husband. On that date, Mrs. Anne Wheeler came to court to surrender dower rights to the land Thomad Owsley had acquired in 1694 that Thomas Owsley (Jr.) finally deeded to Daniel McCarty on 14 August 1718 (Schwermer, Anne. Report on the History of the Barnes-Owsley Site (44FX1326), 1995, p. 11).
Her third husband is known from a subsequent land warrant issued on 3 April 1724 to John Wheeler and Thomas Howsley (sic) for 586 acres in Stafford County. The land was granted to them on 5 August 1724 (NN Grants, A, p. 60).
In an unresolved financial obligation transacted between her first husband and Bryce Cockram in 1686, the following document was exhibited in court on 13 October 1727 and recorded:
"Stafford. I George Mason Attorney of Brice Cockram Mercht. in Kingdom of Ireland do oblige myself never to molest or disturb Mrs. Ann Ously adminstratrix of Majr. Thomas Ously concerning an execution against the Estate of the said Ously signed by Samuel Hayward one of the Justices of the Quorum for the said County dated 12th Day Decembr 1688 until further Impowered or said Cockram come or send as witnesseth my hand this 10th of August 1702.
Jo. Fraser minister of Overworton G. Mason
At Court held for Stafford County this 13th October 1727 Ann Wheelor Exhibited in Court this Paper which on her motion is admitted to record." (Stafford Co. Deeds, J, p. 488)
The final known reference to Ann Wheeler, certainly now approaching her 80s, was on 17 July 1739, when Thomas Owsley and his wife Ann, and Ann Wheeler, all of Prince William County, sold the remaining 400 acres of the grant that Major Thomas Owsley had received in 1696. This land, situated in Hamilton Parish, Prince William County, was sold to William Aylett for £ 130 (Prince William Co. Deeds, D, p. 190).
For further details on surrounding the three marriages of Ann Harris, see "Owsley-West: Why Ann West was not the wife of Thomas Owsley" at The West Family link from the Genealogy Page of this website.
An important document in establishing the offspring of Major Thomas Owsley is a deed of partition dated 29 March 1741 in the records of Prince William County. It reveals that on 24 March 1697/8 William Harris composed his will leaving all of his land in Stafford County to his granddaughters Jane and Anne Owsley to be equally divided between them. If they had no heirs, the land should go to Mary Owsley, and if she had no heirs it should go to the testator's grandson Thomas Owsley. The deed of partition goes on to relate that Jane married James Gregg and Anne married Isaac Kent and that their heirs in 1741 were Matthew Gregg of Stafford County and Isaac Kent of Prince William County (Prince William Co. Deeds, E, p. 305-309).
CHILDREN AND GRANCHILDREN
OF THOMAS OWSLEY
1. JANE OWSLEY. Jane Owsley was born about 1685. She married James Gregg. On 2 June 1699, Thomas Gregg, Jr. deeded his brother James Gregg, a portion of the 795 acres between branches of the Occoquan River and Neabsco Run patented to him 14 Apr 1698 (NN Grants, II, p. 289; Stafford Co. Deeds and Wills, 1699-1709, p. 381-382; Prince William Co. Deeds, A, p. 438-440). On 4 Nov 1707, 240 acres was patented to James Gregg on the north side of the Occoquan River next to the land acquired through his marriage to Jane Owsley (NN Grants, III, p. 177). On 24 May 1717, he also received a patent for 600 acres on the south side of Potomac Creek (ibid., p. 168). James Gregg died soon after 1724, when he was recorded as one of the tobacco tenders in Overwharton Parish. According to the index to a lost will book covering the years 1721-1730, his will was on page 58 and his inventory on page 218. A division of his estate was ordered by the court on 9 May 1734, perhaps at the time his oldest son, Matthew, came of age. The division into six equal parts took place in the home of Matthew Gregg on 20 May 1734. Jane Gregg was not named among the heirs and is presumed to have died before then (Stafford Co. Deeds, M, p. 161-162).
1-1. Thomas Gregg. Died 1724/9 May 1734.
1-2. James Gregg. Died 1724/9 May 1734.
1-3. Lucy Gregg. Died after 1787, m/1 John Peak, died shortly before 25 Aug 1756 in Prince William County, Virginia; m/2 after 1761 to Robert Moseley, died shortly before 5 Feb 1787 in Prince William County. 8 children.
1-4. Matthew Gregg. Died 6 Mar/14 Dec 1756 in Stafford County, Virginia; m/1 Catherine _____, m/2 15 Aug 1751 in Stafford County, _____ Chinn. 3 children.
1-5. John Gregg. Not of age 29 May 1734; living 13 Aug 1749.
1-6. Sarah Gregg. Not of age 29 May 1734; believed to have died before 13 Aug 1749.
1-7. Lettice Gregg. Not of age 29 May 1734; believed to have died before 13 Aug 1749.
1-8. Jemima Gregg. Not of age 29 May 1734; living 13 Aug 1749.
2. ANN OWSLEY. Ann Owsley was born before 24 March 1697/8 when she was named in the will of her maternal grandfather William Harris as co-heiress with her sister Jane to his lands in Stafford County (op. cit). Ann Owsley married Isaac Kent. Her son, Isaac Kent, was a principal in the division of his grandfather's land in 1741 as one of his heirs, implying that his mother was then deceased.
2-1. Isaac Kent. Living 29 Mar 1741.
3. MARY OWSLEY. Mary was the contingent heir named in the will of William Harris, of 24 March 1697/8, to receive all of his land above the Occoquan in the event his granddaughters, Jane and Ann Owsley, do not leave any heirs. Unlike Jane and Ann, Mary was not specifically named as a granddaughter. Nothing further is known of Mary Owsley.
4. THOMAS OWSLEY. Thomas Owsley was born before 27 March 1697/8 when named as a contingent heir of his maternal grandfather in his will (op. cit.). In his own right, he is first recorded on 10 June 1723, when he signed his name to a deed, witnessing the transfer of 322 ½ acres of land in Overwharton Parish, Stafford County from John and Frances Mayfield of St. Ann Parish, Essex County to Samuel Smith also of St. Ann Parish (Records of Long Standing). That same year, 1723, the Quit Rent Roll for Stafford County recorded Thomas Owsley being in possession of 600 acres (The Register of Overwharton Parish).
On 3 April 1724, the Proprietor's Office issued a warrant to John Wheeler [step-father of Thomas Owsley] and Thomas Howsley for a tract of land encompassing 586 acres in Stafford County. The land was surveyed on 16 April 1724 and was granted on 5 August 1724 (Northern Neck Grants, A, p. 60). Despite the concentrated efforts of Beth Mitchell and her associates in plotting the locations of all Northern Neck grants in Fairfax County for her book, Beginning at a White Oak (McGregor & Werner, 1977), the location of the grant to John Wheeler and Thomas Owsley could not be precisely determined. However, based upon natural landmarks noted therein, this tract appears to be situated near the town of Mantua, east of Fairfax, and encompasses all or part of that town. When taken in conjunction with the absence of any records showing subsequent disposition of this land, it is possible that John Wheeler and Thomas Owsley did not fulfill their obligations in assuming the grant and consequently it reverted back to the proprietors for regrant to other individuals.
He died between 30 Mar 1750 (incorrectly transcribed as 1751 in Fairfax Co. Wills, A-1, Part 2, p. 468), the date of his will, and 4 July 1750, when his death was noted in relation to a lawsuit (Fairfax Co. Minutes, B, p. 102). He married (1) Name unknown. (2) Ann Hudson. The notion that she was a member of the West family has been disproven in "The West Family of Stafford County, Virginia - The Final Chapter: Being an Account of the Three Husbands of Anne Harris," (OFHS Newsletter, March 1996, p. 1-7.)
4-1. Thomas Owsley, born 1731/2 in Prince William County, Virginia; died 1 Nov 1796 in Madison County, Kentucky; married 1746, when aged 15, to Mary Middleton, born 1730; died 16 Sept 1808 in Garrard County, Kentucky. 12 children.
4-2. John Owsley, born c1734 in Prince William County, Virginia; died 14 Sept/8 Oct 1764 in Loudoun County, Virginia; married c1755 to Ann Stephens, living 10 Dec 1810 in Claiborne County, Tennessee. 5 children.
(NOTE: DNA testing has proven that John Owsley was not a biological son of Thomas Owsley II.)
4-3. William Owsley, born c1736 in Prince William County, Virginia; 11/16 Sept 1762 in Loudoun County, Virginia; married to Jane _____, living 11 Nov 1762. 1 child.
4-4. Newdigate Owsley, born c1738 in Prince William County, Virginia; died 21 Jan 1797 in Hancock County, Georgia; married c1761 to Mary Ann _____, who survived. 6 or 7 children.
4-5. Sarah Owsley, born c1740 in Prince William County, Virginia; died 4 Aug/24 Oct 1808 in Clark County, Kentucky. Unmarried. 3 children.
4-6. Pointz Owsley, born c1742, in Prince William County, Virginia; died shortly before 8 Feb 1813 in Loudoun County, Virginia; married to Ann _____, who died shortly before 8 Sept 1834. 5 children.
4-7. Ann Owsley, born c1744 in Prince William County, Virginia; died 5 Feb 1823 in Laurens County, South Carolina; married 2 June 1759 in Fairfax County, Virginia to Edward Garrett, born 31 Aug 1733 in New Kent County, Virginia; died 25 Aug 1794 in Laurens County. 16 children.
4-8. Elizabeth Owsley, born c1746 in Prince William County, Virginia; living 30 Mar 1750.
4-9. Jane Owsley, born c1748 in Prince William County, Virginia; living 30 Mar 1750.
4-10. Weldon Owsley, born c1750 in Prince William County, Virginia; died 1814 in Hancock County, Georgia. 3 children.
5. POYNTZ OWSLEY. Poyntz is known only from a Northern Neck Grant of 7 Apr 1742 in which he is referred to as "Poynts Owsley Son of Thomas Owsley of the County of Prince William." The grant consisted of a 89 acre tract of waste land in Prince William County adjoining Captain Cock's land called the Black Oak Thicket (NN Grants, E, p. 43-45). There is no further mention of him in any of the early records. There can be no question of the fact that he was the son of Major Thomas Owsley as the son of Thomas Owsley II, bearing the same name, was not born until about 1742.
6. SARAH OWSLEY. Sarah was born about 1700. On 3 Sept 1700, Thomas Owsley deeded to his daughter a dividend of land situated upon Pohick and Accotink, which land was to be divided between Pohick and Accotink "down the Rigg" and "she the said Sarah Owsley to have that part that lies upon Pohick." (Stafford Co. Record Book, Z, p. 44) Nothing further is known of Sarah Owsley.