Surrey (England) and Virginia: the Mercantile Activities of the Descendents of the Saunders Family of Charlwood

Below continues Justin Sanders’ exploration of the Saunders family of Charlwood, Surrey, England and their descendants. See Conversations with Justin Sanders regarding English Connections of Sanders/Saunders Families of Virginia and subsequent entries under the “Saunders” category.


Most of the following information comes from Ralph Sanders work, Generations: A Thousand Year Family History. It will take some time to create correctly annotated files; in the interest of expediting this information, I’ll not include notes on the original sources referenced by the author, only the corresponding page numbers in Generations within the text. And for the sake of clarity and brevity, the author will hereafter be referred to as “RS.”

I first read this book in the summer of 2012, about eight months after my research into two DNA matches led to a breakthrough in my Sanders line. At the time I found Ralph Sanders’ work a marvel of research, and felt there was a 50-50 chance that I descended from Thomas Sanders (1607-1653) of Gloucester.

The information I’ve gathered since that time has made this second reading richly rewarding, especially in regard to providing clues to the origins of family alliances. In 2012, I was unaware of offshoot connections to the family names of Prior, Edwards, Chiles and Burton, to name just a few, and had no knowledge that I was directly descended from ancestors named Adams and Barrett.

And should it prove correct that I directly descend from Thomas Sanders (a second reading has caused me to upgrade that theory from possible to probable), it would come with the knowledge that I had at least one direct ancestor, possibly two (Francis Barrett and Unknown Adams) and several relatives who were already established in the colony more than two decades before Thomas Saunders first arrived in Virginia.

As Bill and I suspected we would find, most (if not all) of the Saunders persons in Virginia records dating from the early 17th century, whether they embarked from London or Bristol, were indeed related, their lineage traceable to the Charlwood group in Surrey; and that those biological ties, no matter how distant, were closely bound by family alliances and economic opportunity.

To the financial benefit of all, those with a background of mercantilists worked together with their numerous relatives with maritime interests.

Saunders family interests in overseas commerce began in the late decades of the 16th century, brought about by a climate social and political change in England. RS states: “All Saunders branches . . . exploited emerging opportunities in the nascent English capital regime of the early 1600’s,” but the Derbyshire branch “in particular engaged in international trade,” and Joseph Saunders, a merchant of London “contributed most significantly to Virginia’s early development.” [p. 192].

I sent Bill notes earlier, and which he posted on Vikings and Virginians, in regard to the above Joseph Saunders. About 1623, Joseph Saunders established a warehouse near the southern tip of the Accomack peninsula – hailed as “the very first private commercial establishment in America.”

Simultaneously, he opened warehouses in London and Rotterdam, “a triangle of strategic commercial value.” Plying between the three warehouses were two ships he himself owned, the Flower de Luce and the Bonny Bess. RS found no evidence that Joseph ever traveled to Virginia. Operations there were run by Edward Saunders, who in turn enlisted the aid of a relative named Roger Saunders. [pp. 193, 195].

RS writes: “The warehouse itself was part of a larger family scheme designed to profit from Virginia trade. Principal support for the Sanders warehouse was supplied by Joseph Saunders, a well-to-do merchant, shipowner, and member of the Vintners Company of London. Joseph was of the Saunders of Derbyshire, an offshoot of the Saunders of Charlwood. Joseph married Anne, a daughter of William Smith of Mitchum, Surrey. At one point, William Smith, probably Joseph’s brother-in-law, joined Roger and Edward Saunders in Virginia, and he obtained land in Accomack near Roger Saunders in 1629.” [p. 192].

Joseph Saunders was born about 1598, the youngest son of Thomas of Lullington, born in 1548. The Derbyshire branch originated with Joseph’s grandfather, Thomas Saunders Sr., born about 1500, the son of William Saunders, born about 1475 in Charlwood; William was the son of Richard Saunders (1442-1480) and Agnes Courtenay, “daughter of a distinguished old Norman family whose pedigree is a lexicon of English royal history.” [pp. 76, 87, 193, 195-6]. Richard was the son of William Saunders of Charlwood (1415-1481) and Joan Carew.

This William Saunders was the common ancestor shared by the Derbyshire branch of Saunders and those who went to Wales in the late 16th century, then Gloucestershire and Bristol in the early 17th century and Virginia by mid-century.

Edward Saunders was born about 1595 in Charlwood, Surrey, the probable grandson of Thomas White Saunders. He first traveled to Virginia in 1619, residing there intermittently over the next two decades.

RS believes Edward was closely related to Richard Saunders, also a member of the Vintners Company, who died in 1636 on “ye Neck of Land in the Maine” [James River]. Richard Saunders appears to be the American progenitor of the Sanders line later found in Nansemond County.

RS was unable to determine the origins of Roger Saunders, who is alternately listed in early Virginia records as a merchant and mariner, but believes he, too, was closely related to Edward. It stands to reason that the warehouse enterprise was initiated by Saunders kin who all sailed from the Port of London – and for that reason it is my own belief that Roger, too, hailed from the Charlwood group. [p. 191].

“Trade in earliest Virginia floundered in part because the colony lacked ports. . . . Ships arriving from England landed at individual plantations along Virginia’s rivers, carrying goods consigned to individuals. What was missing was a center for collecting and distributing goods, a marketplace for exchange. Joseph Saunders particular genius was to recognize this need and act upon it. . . . Joseph built a warehouse at the southern tip of the Accomack peninsula, a strategic site where the Chesapeake Bay enters the Atlantic Ocean.”

By 1630, the warehouse operation was, for the most part, a smoothly run and profitable enterprise. But before the decade was out, Joseph Saunders would lose all three of his Virginia partners: Roger Saunders died about 1632; William Smith, Joseph Saunders’ brother-in-law, died in 1636; Edward Saunders and three coworkers died aboard the Flower de Luce on a return trip to England in 1639.

Thus, through the first seventeen years of his Virginia operations, it appears Joseph Saunders contracted primarily, if not exclusively, with London-based family members of Charlwood. About 1640, Bristol and Gloucester relatives entered the picture in the form of Thomas Sanders.

“In London, Joseph Saunders of the Vintners Company had begun casting about for new contacts in Virginia, seeking to continue trade that was well begun with his Accomack warehouse. But with Edward Saunders’ death in 1639, Joseph needed new colonial representation for his trading business, and for this purpose he contracted with a certain Peter Knight of Virginia.

Peter Knight arrived in Virginia about 1638, residing in Accomack, and shortly thereafter amassed a sizeable plantation on the James River. In 1643, Knight underwrote the costs for transportation for William Nicholas, Thomas Sanders’ good friend, to come to Virginia and undertake trade there. Knight’s engagement of William Nicholas on behalf of Joseph Saunders suggests that Joseph actively sought partners from the Bristol maritime community.

It seems likely that Thomas Saunders traveled to Virginia a year before William Nicholas under a similar arrangement. If so, he spent a year or two in Virginia before returning to England.” [p. 204].

Ralph Sanders believes Thomas traveled to Virginia about 1641, or earlier.  In 1642, William Barnard received a patent near the Charles (York) River, that included the headrights of a Thomas Sanderby, a name that never again appears in Virginia records.

In all likelihood, this person was actually Thomas Sanders of Bristol. “William Barnard acquired land adjacent William Tookey, a family with whom Thomas’ son (Thomas Jr.) had close dealings in later years. Even more significantly, the Barnard family in 1647 rented land on the Charles River from an early settler there, William Prior.

Thomas Sanders later would witness the execution of William Prior’s estate and himself take up lands near Prior’s original plantation. Prior’s daughter married a Thomas Edwards, perhaps a relative of Thomas Sanders’ stepmother, and this Edwards held the Prior plantation that the Barnard’s eventually rented. Taken altogether, these facts argue that Barnard’s headright claim for Thomas Sanderby was in fact Thomas Sanders.” [endnote no. 58, p. 213].

My own research strengthens the author’s circumstantial evidence, shown above, at least in regard to the surname Prior. Over the next century the name Prior appears in close proximity with my theoretical line of the 17th century, and my proven line in the early 18th century, spanning the counties of New Kent, Henrico, Goochland and Albemarle, until about 1750.

Although a firm trail of Virginia records for Thomas Sanders does not begin until about 1646, it appears Ralph Sanders is correct in surmising the Bristol native entered into Joseph Saunders’ operations as early as 1640, or 1641.

Those records show Thomas made at least three trips to Virginia, where he presumably died sometime before 1653. The scant records pertaining to Thomas Sanders have been posted on V&V, and will not be repeated here. Instead, I’ll focus on retracing his lineage to the common Charlwood ancestor he shared with Joseph Saunders.

Thomas Sanders was born 1607 in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales. He was the second of three known children attributed to Philip Saunders: older brother John was born about 1604; sister Thomasin was born sometime after 1607 (p. 103).

Through his mother’s family and that of his paternal grandmother, Jenet Barrett Saunders, Thomas was endowed with strong ties to the maritime community of southwest England and Wales. About 1603, Philip Saunders married Jane Adams, she of a “Pembrokeshire, Wales family with a strong naval history.”

Her father, Henry Adams, owned a 12-ton ship named Anne, and her uncle Nicholas Adams was for a time the Vice-Admiral of Pembrokeshire. In 1607, a relative named Robert Adams, whose relationship to Jane has not been determined, commanded the fourth English voyage to the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. (p. 167).

It is worth noting that Robert Adams bore the same name of my direct ancestor – whose parents I have not yet been able to identify – born about seventy years later in Virginia.

Jane Adams Saunders died about 1611. Thomas’ father Philip remarried to Alice Edwards Barrett, the daughter John Edwards – a coastal merchant of Tenby, Wales – and widow of Sanders Barrett, a first cousin twice removed from Philip. (p. 168).

In 1621, at the age of fourteen, Thomas Sanders entered into an apprenticeship with John Mynne, a cousin dating back to the family’s days at Ewell in Surrey County. The document outlining the terms of the apprenticeship identifies Thomas’ father, Philip Saunders, as a mariner. (p. 169). About four years later, Philip Saunders died.

Left without sponsorship, Thomas Saunders’ apprenticeship was terminated, two to three years short of completion. Very soon after, Thomas’ widowed stepmother, Alice Edwards Barrett Saunders, took her third husband, Hugh Wogan, the couple removing from Gloucester to the town of Wiston, Wales.

She remained faithful to her stepson, arranging for him to complete his apprenticeship under a new master, William Roche – suggesting that John Mynne may also have died in the interim. For this act of fidelity, Thomas’ grandmother, Jenet Barrett Saunders, bequeathed to Thomas’ stepmother in her 1628 will. (pp. 169-170).

In early adulthood it appears Thomas divided his time between Bristol and the Gloucester town of Wotton-under-Edge, where his siblings John and Thomasin had also taken up residence.

Children of Thomas Saunders (1607-1652) & Elizabeth Webb:

Thomas Jr., 1630-1679.

Mary, m. J. Hutchinson.

Sarah, m. J. Clarkson.

Nathaniel, 1634-1695, m. M. Stratton.

Samuel, 1636-1686.

All of the above were born at Bristol or Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucester Co., England.


Philip Saunders, the father of Thomas, was born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire County, Wales about 1579, and died in Gloucester, England about 1625. He was the son of Erasmus Saunders and Jenet Barrett.

It is with Philip’s generation that this branch of the former Charlwood group entered into the livelihood of merchants and mariners. Philip’s mother, Jenet Barrett, was the sole heir of William Barrett, a wealthy merchant and shipowner. She was somehow related to the unknown Barrett male who was the spouse of an unidentified female cousin of her husband, Erasmus, parents of a son named Sanders Barrett, born a year or two prior to her marriage.

She had an uncle, James Barrett, also involved in maritime interests. James Barrett may be the father of John Barrett, a close relative of Sanders Barrett, the first husband of Alice Edwards, the second wife of Philip Saunders. (pp. 167-169).

 Known Children of Philip Saunders (1578-1625) & Jane Adams: (p. 152).

John, 1604- ? m. J. Haines.

Thomas1607-1652, m. E. Webb.

Thomasin, 1607- m. T. Owen.

All of the above were born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Children of Erasmus Saunders (1540-1603) & Jenet Barrett: (p. 152).

Nicholas, 1571-1636.

William, 1573-1635.

Erasmus, 1574-1612.

John, 1576-1612.


Devereaux, 1580-?

Elizabeth, 1582

Henry, 1583-1636.

Ann, 1585-1613.

Jane, 1558-1613.

All of the above born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Note: An inordinate number of early Sanders/Saunders in Virginia pertain to men with the given names William and John. They likely descend from the family group of Erasmus Saunders and his brother, William.

Known Children of William Saunders of Ewell, Surrey Co. (1502-1571) & Joan Marston: (p. 108).

Nicholas, 1532-1587


Mary, 1536-1613

Urithe, 1538-1600.

Known Children of Henry Saundre of Ewell, Surrey Co. (1456-1519)  & Joan Lepton: (p. 108).

Nicholas, 1488-1549

Agnes, 1501-1530

William, 1502-1571

Margaret, 1504-?

Cornelia, ?

Children of William Saundres of Charlwood, Surrey Co. (1415-1481) & Joan Carew: (p. 76).

William, 1438-1478

John, d.1501

Stephen, 1441-1513

Richard, 1442-1480

Nicholas, 1446-1499

Thomas, d. after 1473

Joan, d. after 1518

Henry, 1456-1519.

Note: William Saundres of Charlwood is the common ancestor shared by Joseph Saunders of Derbyshire (1598) and Thomas Saunders of Gloucester (1607-1652).

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