Ancestral Quaker Lineages in New Kent County, Virginia: An Exploration of Some of the Published Research

WHB – If one spends a few hours perusing the pedigree charts of persons descended from one or more of the John Johnsons identified in 17th and 18th Century Virginia, who show in the vestry or Quaker monthly meeting minutes from New Kent, Hanover, Louisa, Middlesex and Bedford Counties, one can detect great confusion as to which Johnsons descended from which.

The seminal book on the Virginia Quaker families surnamed Johnson, [Rhoda Moorman Johnson Coffin, Rhoda M. Coffin, her reminiscences, addresses, papers and ancestry]  contains likely inaccuracies that have added to the confusion.

Rhoda Moorman Johnson Coffin

However, her reminiscences are especially valuable since Mrs Coffin, who died at an advanced age in the mid-19th century, was part of the extended family of the Bedford County Johnsons from whom I am descended and had first hand knowledge of the considerations, relating to the evolving Quaker position on slavery, that led part of the family to move to the Miami Valley of Ohio in 1807.

In Mrs Coffin’s book, the following observations were made:

“The Vestry Book of St Peter’s parish shows that ROBERT ELLYSON [Ellison], JOHN JOHNSON, William Johnson and Thomas Massie, all ancestral forefathers of the generation to which Mrs Coffin belonged, were vestrymen and active in church affairs for a period covering a full half-century of more, and were unfailingly punctual at the vestry meetings; indeed, they were leading figures in the colony as evidenced by the personal records.

“The vestry in those times exercised the chief authority in the parish. It apportioned the parish taxes, appointed the church wardens, acted as overseers of the poor” [FN 8] and performed other special offices. The parish records show that the salaries, charities, and most of all the business of the parish was paid in tobacco [FN 9 Parish Vestry Book of St Peter’s 1682-1729, p. 213.].

“At the vestry meeting, ‘August Ye 24, 1751,” Robert Ellyson and William Johnson were appointed a committee to divide lands that belonged to the church into twenty precincts. JOHN JOHNSON and Captain Massie received a like aportionment for which service they were to be paid 1260 pounds of tobacco [FN 10 Ibid., p. 137].

“It is to be noted that the footprints of all these families are on the early records as slaveholders. The slaves belonging to them are registered by name in the parish books by the score. . . .

“In some instances the name of a child born to the master occurs the same year and is in the same list with the slave. During a period covering much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centures the JOHNSONs and thier near kindred held slaves; even after the families of another generation had united with the Quakers there are ‘disownments’ on the Friends’ records of lineal descendents who had scarcely given way to the ‘testimony’ and rules which the Society had gradually but finally declared for the freedom and rights of the individual black man.

“There is nothing on record to evidence that these Ancestors had any extensive communication with the world, though their settlements lay on the beautiful James river, the York, and Rappahannock rivers, and were not distant from the Chesapeake Bay. It is not discolosed that they became notably worthy of fame. They were respected personalities in the church as the personal records make known.

“The general character of the colony was high and ‘stood for educating the white populations, morality, and religion.”

“The lives of the landholders were devoted much as were the lives of all Virginia planters of ‘Ye Olden Time” to social, domestic ties, and to their plantations worked by their slaves. Tobacco was the great product and commodity for all commercial exchange.

“After the generalizations of those with whom the Quaker records make us acquainted, they were, with few exceptions, staunch and faithful friends.

“The tidewater section of Virginia during the first century of its habitation by these early ancestors was a heavily wooded wilderness. The usual method of passing from one point to another was in open sloops and canoes on the creeks and rivers, and walking through the forests. At some seasons of the year they could journey throught the bogs and swamps on horseback. In the month of February,, 171_, Thomas Wilson and James Dickinson, two Quakers, making for the Friends’ settlement, landed on the Rappahannock river and went ashore at Queen Anne’s Town and passed over to York river, then “took our saddlesbags and great coats on our shoulders and traveled afoot several miles.

“The Indians had not yet moved onward towward the setting sun. The Quakers did some missionary work among them.

“The year the Johnson families became Quakers is not made clear. Those were scattered unorganized meetings of the Friends in this part of Virginia at an early period – 1678. James Dickinson, mentioned above – visited the York river country and Kent Ccounty in 1691, and writes in his journal, “A meeting was established from that time.”

“One Joseph Newby, a Quaker evangelist, came from North Carolina into the settlement near the close of the century, or early in the eighteenth century, and like John the Baptist, lifted up his voice in the wilderness, disclosing a Deity in such fervor and power and with so much intensity of heart that a sweeping conviction reached the hearts of his hearers and convinced a large number of the inhabitants that the spiritual standard beliefs, and principles of the Quakers were right. It is stated through tradition that the larger proportion of the then sparse population became members with the Quakers, and were afterward the founders of the earliest organized meetings. . .

“So little in known of the personal history of the first John Johnson of whom we have record, we cannot give exact dates concerning him. It is evident that he was born about the middle of the seventeenth century . .  He was a faithful and active member of the Established Episcopal Church in the Virginia colony. . .

“In the parishes of New Kent and Middlesex Counties, there lived two men by the name [of John Johnson], both of whom were born [in] the middle of the seventeenth century. These men were evidently kinsmen in blood; the one “married Mary Broadbent” 22d November 1680, the other “married Lucinda Blake, April 6, 1686.” We have, at this date, no further record of their parents.

“We conclude that the genalogical line we are now tracing is lineally descended from the second of the two – John and Lucinda [Blake] Johnson. Their marriage is entered upon the “Parish Register Christ Church” Middlesex, 1653-1812.

“It is a tradition in the family that an early ancestor, John Johnson, married Elizabeth Massie whose mother was an Ashley of the South Carolina Ashleys. The significance of the given names which frequently appear in more than two generations would tend to corroborate the tradition.

“The Johnsons and Massies are found neighbors in all othe places where both families have lived. The name of Ashley as a land holder is not found on the Public records of those parts of Virginia nor in the Parish or Quaker records, but is well known in South Carolina. The only proof we have of such a marriage connection is, as stated above, the significance of names. . . “

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