Major #11392

Richard Major (1601-1676)

Born in England.  Arrived in Virginia probably in 1632 and

Jane Iremonger (1604-1643)

Born in England.  Arrived in Virginia probably in 1632.

Major #11392

An invaluable resource in researching this family is a book by James Russell Richards Major entitled A Major family of Virginia, published by Wolfe Publishing (Fernandina, Florida: 1998).  James R. R. Major was the C. H. Candler Professor of Renaissance History, Emeritus, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  This is not an easy volume to locate, but I was fortunate enough to find a copy in the Genealogy and History reference collection of the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, which I photographed in the course of my research and consulted extensively in the writing of this section.


Map showing Hursley dated 1607 - Hursley is a village and civil parish in Hampshire, England located roughly mid-way between Romsey and Winchester.

Map showing Hursley dated 1607 – Hursley is a village and civil parish in Hampshire, England located roughly mid-way between Romsey and Winchester.

French & English origins (by way of the Channel Islands)

There are family legends concerning the history of the family of Richard Major (1601-1676), immigrant to Virginia, to the effect that Hursley Manor in Hampshire, England was the family seat for several centuries.  This tradition was passed along to James Major by his father, Julian Neville Major, who wrote a book in about 1936 recording the history of the family as he understood it, based on what he had been told and material he had inherited.  The story was largely false (although with a kernel of truth), but it is interesting insofar as it is part of the family mystique that was passed down from generation to generation in America.  A Major Family of Virginia attempts to trace, with the imperfect source material available, the connection of the Virginia family to the Mauger/Maijor/Major family of Hampshire, England.

Hampshire, on the map of England

The first part of James Major’s book tells the story of the legendary founding of the Major family of Virginia and describes the story of how Jean Mauger[1], a carpenter, emigrated from the Island of Jersey (one of the Channel Islands) around 1521 and settled in Southampton, Hampshire, England.  He notes that his status was little better when his life drew to a close than it had been when he arrived in England, but his thoroughly anglicized son made some progress.  His grandson and great grandson became burgesses and mayors of the town.  The last was especially wealthy, and he managed to raise his only son, Richard (1604-1664), as a gentleman and leave him with enough funds to purchase the 10,000 acre manor of Hursley in 1639, as well as significant other property.  In 1643, Richard’s daughter, Dorothy (1627- ), married Richard Cromwell, the son of Oliver Cromwell[2], and the Hursley estate passed into the Cromwell family.  Richard Cromwell lived with his wife Dorothy at Hursley from 1649 until 1658, when he was proclaimed “Lord Protector of the Realm” following the death of his father.  This made Hursley briefly the country seat of the ruler of England.  It was not to last, however, as Richard’s grip on power was weak.  He was forced from office within months, and by 1660 concerns for his safety forced Richard Cromwell to flee the country with Dorothy.  They travelled first to France and then to other parts of Europe, where Richard lived under an assumed name.  Richard’s son, Oliver Cromwell II ( -1705) took over the Hursley estate, and the tenants claimed their ancient rights and customs (including pasturage and felling trees) in a lengthy legal battle.  Richard subsequently returned to Hursley after Oliver died in 1705 and lived on as lord of the manor until he died in 1712, whereupon he was buried in the chancel of All Saints’ Church, Hursley.  Richard’s daughters sold Hursley estate to Sir William Heathcote for £35,100 in 1718.

Richard Cromwell (1626-1712), the third son of Oliver Cromwell and his wife Elizabeth. In 1649 Richard married Dorothy Maijor, daughter of Richard Maijor, a member of the Hampshire gentry and possibly a distant relation to our ancestor. After the death of Oliver Cromwell, he was the second ruling Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, serving for just under nine months from 1658-59 (National Portrait Gallery, London).

My immigrant ancestor, Richard Major (1601-1676), belonged to a junior branch of this Maijor family that rose to prominence in the region of Southampton, Hampshire, England, in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Dorothy Maijor, the wife of Richard Cromwell (Oliver Cromwell’s son, discussed above) was the 3rd cousin of Richard Major (1601-1676), my immigrant ancestor who settled in Virginia.  The fact that Dorothy’s father was also named Richard and has dates of birth and death that closely match the immigrant’s dates, has caused confusion for some who have studied the history of this family[3].

James Major goes into considerable detail regarding his research into the English origins of Richard Major in Appendix 3 to A Major Family of Virginia[4], from which I quote freely in the narrative that follows.  The Richard Major who settled in Virginia in the early 1630s was almost certainly from Hampshire, England.  This was recorded in the bible of William Major (1813-1891) of Springfield, and was also recorded in the bible of his father, William Major (1774-1847) of Fairview, who was also interested in family history and listed births, marriages and deaths in his Bible.  This William, in turn, was an adult when his grandfather, Samuel Major[5], died in 1799 at the age of 87.  As a child in King and Queen County, this Samuel must have known the grandchildren of the first Richard in Virginia, who lived long enough to bequeath land to at least one of them.  Thus an oral tradition had only to begin with Richard and be passed to his grandchildren, and then through Samuel to reach descendants who kept family records we now have.  In addition, the father of James Major (i.e., author of A Major Family of Virginia) had from an unknown source the years of birth of children born in Virginia.  Where they can be verified, they have been proved correct or within a year or two of ages recorded as “or thereabouts”.

The tradition that these Majors were descended from Archbishop Mauger[6] and were related to Richard Major or Hursley was also passed on by word of mouth, but we have to wait longer before these were recorded in writing.  They were, however, of sufficient antiquity to have been carried to Kentucky around 1800 by four of Samuel’s sons.

James Major points out that oral traditions often become garbled.  It is certain that Richard of Virginia could have been no closer than a 3rd cousin to Dorothy Maijor, the daughter of Richard of Hursley, and that he emigrated before that manor was purchased.  There is even a legend that Richard of Hursley participated in the trial of Charles I, and that one of the Virginia Richard’s descendants who moved to Kentucky had the silver shoe buckles that he wore at this trial.  Actually, Richard of Hursley had nothing to do with Charles’ trial, and the Cromwell-Major marriage did not take place until just after his execution.

Nevertheless, it is almost certain that the tradition of a connection with the Southampton Majors is true.  How else (James Major asks) could the Virginia Majors have known of those of Southampton?  Even Richard Maijor of Hursley rarely appeared in print.  Ambassadors to England, memoir writers, pamphleteers and others almost never mentioned his name or that of the family, even when Dorothy was lord protectress.  The first person to take a scholarly interest in the Maijors was Mark Noble, but the earliest edition of his Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell did not appear until 1784.  It is highly improbable that any of the Virginia Majors ever saw a copy.  There were no public libraries to speak of in Virginia, and the Majors do not seem to have become book buyers until the 19th century.  Indeed, the inventory of Samuel’s estate in 1800 does not mention a single one.

Noble’s book, on the other hand, may have influenced the Majors who remained in England.  Thomas Major (1719-1799), a well-known London born artist who became engraver to the king, assumed he was related to Richard Maijor of Hursley.  Someone produced a pedigree depicting Thomas as the great-great grandson of a brother of Richard Maijor of Hursley.  However, neither of Richard’s parents mentions a brother in their wills, and the pedigree his father prepared is clear that he had none.

It is one thing to assume that Richard Major of Virginia was raised in Hampshire and another to identify him.  Richard was a common given name, and there were more Majors in the county than one might think, few of whom were related to the Majors that concern us.  James Major found at least ten “Richard Majors” who lived in Hampshire in the early 17th century, and it is probable that there were more.  One cannot assume that because we find a man with the right name in the right place at the right time, he is the one we seek.

We know that Richard Major of Virginia was born about 1601, because in Jan 1660/1 he listed his age as 60 “or thereabouts”.  William of Springfield’s family Bible and long held family tradition agree that he married a Jane Iremonger.  As there were even more Iremongers in Hampshire than Majors, this tradition is probably true.  Unfortunately, the name of his wife is not known with certainty, but James Major speculates that she was Jane Ironmonger, the daughter of John Ironmonger and Katherine, who was christened on 17 Mar 1604 in the parish of Hurstbourne Tarrant[7].   Family records used by the father of James Major that have since been lost stated that Richard had four sons: George I (1631), Robert (1632), John (1634) and Richard (1636).  All four can be found in Virginia records.  On 20 Aug 1658, George I gave his age as 29 or thereabouts.  John’s birth can be precisely dated as 1634 from Virginia sources, thereby confirming the family records.  Since we know the approximate date of Richard’s birth and that of his four sons and the probable name of his wife, we have the means to identify him, if he can be found in the parish registers.

The difficulty is that there were over 300 parishes in Hampshire, and less than half of them go back far enough to be of any use.  In 1538, Henry VIII directed the clergy to keep parish records, but many of the earliest ones have been lost.  Furthermore, the vicars did not always take their task seriously, and it is obvious that there are numerous omissions in some of the records that do survive.  James Major claims that he or a competent investigator has examined all the parish records that go back far enough to be of service (except that of Farringdon).

In Appendix 3 to A Major Family of Virginia, James Major indicates the principal unpublished records that he consulted in his search for the English origins of Richard Major of Virginia.  He visited England twice and made extensive use of the invaluable microfilm collection of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  In the Public Record Office in London, he checked the appropriate wills probated in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury by the Majors of Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.  More importantly, he examined the Southampton and Hampshire tax records located in series E179.  In the Southampton Record Office, he consulted the Waterworks Assessments, some of the Stall and Art Lists and Poor Books, the Muster Books, the Subsidiary Assessments, the Books of Debts, the St. Michael Parish Register, the Parish Rates and other documents.  In this investigation, James Major cites T. B. James, Southampton Sources: 1086-1900 (Southampton, 1983) as an invaluable guide.  In the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester, he found the muster rolls in the Herriard Collection to be of great value.  This depository also contains the largest collection of Hampshire parish records and the relevant wills of the Winchester Diocese and Archdeaconry.  From this research, he found that there was a Richard Major in Wooton, St. Lawrence Parish in 1641, in Romsey parish who married in 1610 and died in 1668, in Fordingbridge parish in 1637 who died in 1662, in Moonstoke parish who was buried in 1639, in Froyle parish who answered the muster in 1633, in South Warnborough parish who was baptized in 1629, in Bassingstoke Estra who answered the muster in 1632, in Alton Infra or Hartley Mauditt who answered the muster in 1633 and in Lockley parish who was married in February 1632/3, and of course Richard Maijor of Hursley.

As an example of the frustration of genealogical research, James Major recounts a discovery he made in the microfiche prepared by the Mormons of a Jane Iremonger who was christened in Romney (a market town only several miles from both Hursley and Southampton) on 18 Nov 1610.  On a trip to England, he also found in London that a Richard Major was taxed in Romsey in 1628 and 1629.  Thinking that this could be the Richard and Jane who emigrated to Virginia, he traveled to Romney to investigate only to discover that the infant Jane was buried on 15 Dec 1610, and that Richard married someone else that same year and died in Romsey (not Virginia) in 1668.

Southampton, Hampshire and environs on a modern map

James Major explains that it is very difficult to determine the origins of Richard of Virginia, and that in his narrative he presents the most probable background of the emigrant, as suggested by the contacts he made and the trade of boatwright he followed in Virginia.  These conjectures led him to believe that he came from the Southampton Water area west of the town.  Unfortunately, the registers of only one of the seven parishes (Eling) go back far enough to have recorded Richard’s birth.  Only one more, Nursling, is of sufficient antiquity to have recorded his marriage and the birth of his eldest son.  The few surviving muster rolls obviously fail to name all the able-bodied men in the rural parishes, and only better off inhabitants were subject to lay subsidies voted by Parliament.  Therefore, the proofs of Richard’s origins have disappeared, and James Major concludes: “We are thus left with the necessity of making an educated guess as to Richard’s background”.

James Major speculates that Richard Major may have been raised in Millbrook, a parish on the north side of Southampton Water, and made his living as a carpenter or boatwright, as this was the profession he practiced in Virginia.  As such, he may have had contact with the sailors who embarked from Southampton[8] to Virginia or with those who were returning with tales of the new land.  He could also have been drawn to the New World through the activities of the four West brothers[9], who were early settlers of Virginia, and Nicholas Pescod, who married Jane Maijor (the daughter of John Maijor brother of Richard Maijor and Richard Major’s 3rd cousin).  Richard later had dealings with them in Virginia.  James Major opines in A Major Family of Virginia that:

“Jane and her brother doubtless regarded Richard Major as a poor relation, as a reminder of their own humble origins, but there were probably some contacts between them.  They lived only a few miles apart and were of the same generation.  Richard must have heard something of the activities of the Wests, who were so powerful in that part of Hampshire, and have talked to sailors and others who returned from Virginia.  As a skilled laborer there was little chance for him to improve his lot in England.  The lure of adventure and far off places called.  He would try his luck in another land ans Jean Mauger had done more than a century before, despite his thirty odd years, a wife and a baby.[10]

We don’t know when Richard and his family reached Virginia, but James Major speculates that it was probably between Nov 1631 and Feb 1632, for these were the months sea captains preferred[11].  This was around the time that Virginia’s new Governor, Sir John Harvey, was implementing aggressive measures to lay the basis for a sounder economy in the colony, including importing skilled workers to carry out his ambitious plans.  In a country dominated by rivers, as Virginia certainly was, anyone who could build a boat was in great demand[12].

The population of Jamestown was probably no more than 150 permanent inhabitants when Richard arrived with his family, and the population of the entire colony was only 3,200 persons.  By 1632, both sides of the James River had been largely settled, but the banks of the York River were virtually free of Europeans.  Governor Harvey determined to occupy this vacant region, and to entice settlers he persuaded the council on 8 Oct 1630 to give Capt. John West and Capt. John Utie each 600 acres to settle in the area.  For the first year after this date, settlers who joined the two captains were to receive 50 acres each, and those who came in the second year were to get 25 acres.  Richard arrived too late to claim 50 acres, but he decided to take 25 and save the headrights due him for transporting his family to the colony.  At a later time, he would have a better idea of where he wanted to settle permanently, and the means to obtain the additional headrights for a larger plantation.

Richard’s plot on the west side of Felgates Creek was ideal for his purposes.  It was probably located between a half a mile and a mile upstream from the York River, but this created no problem as the creek, being tidewater, was deep enough to float any boat he could make.  He could build his house on the high ground overlooking the creek, grow corn and other food to feed his family and experiment with the tobacco culture, at the same time he practiced his trade as a boatwright.  In fact, he is the only person in York County who is known to have plied the trade of boatwright prior to 1660.  On the other side of the creek, which was several hundred miles wide, lay the much more extensive estate of John West, whom he may have known back in England.  It is said that West became the godfather of one of his children.

In 1638, Richard began to expand his land holdings, and through a series of transactions he acquired 700 contiguous acres on Queens Creek (to the north) in an area now occupied by the Colonial National Historical Park[13].

Being a bold restless man, Richard was again on the move by 1650, when he began to acquire land on the north side of the York River.  In 1654, he patented 1,000 acres in what was then Gloucester County.  Eventually, several transactions brought the total of his land holdings in the area to 2,120+ acres, and Richard’s plantation eventually became known as “Bellevue”.  It fronted on the York River at a point where it was about two miles wide.  To the north, it was bounded by Hockley Creek.  It then extended to the southeast to Guthrie Creek and then southwest to the river.  This last boundary ran along the property of John Major.  The York needed only a wharf to accommodate any vessels of that day, and Hockley Creek, which was navigable for a mile or so, provided a safe haven for smaller boats.  One of Richard’s closest neighbors was Richard Lee (1617-1664), whose principal residence was named “Paradise”.  Richard Lee is my 10th g-grandfather, discussed under his own heading, and the founder of the famous Lee family of Virginia.

Richard Major’s friends and neighbors included several members of the colonial aristocracy, who owned vast acres, served on the governor’s council and were referred to as esquire or by some military title.  Then there were men like John Lewis and Ashwell Batten, who had become large plantation owners and respected members of society.  Finally there were the small planters like James Holding, who probably started as indentured servants and were struggling to find their place in the still fluid colonial society.  Richard was clearly a member of the middle group, but in the absence of county records it is impossible to chronicle his growing social status.  In 1651 that part of York County that was to the north of the river was broken off to form Gloucester County.  Three years later Gloucester itself was divided, the portion north of Poropotank Creek becoming New Kent County.  Thus when Richard first patented land at Bellevue it was Gloucester, but within a year it became New Kent.  The records of both counties have long been lost, but as one of the largest landowners in New Kent, Richard would almost certainly have been made a justice of the peace.  This judgment is confirmed by the fact that he was usually referred to as Mr. Major for the remainder of his life, which was a courtesy title given to justices of the peace and other prominent persons, who did not merit the title of esquire and had no military rank.  It was also awarded to vestrymen.

Soon after Richard Major acquired his first thousand acres in New Kent County, he apparently returned to England.  He must have felt some pride when he reached Hampshire, having successfully established himself as the owner of a large plantation in the new world.  It was then that he learned that his rich cousin had bought Hursley Manor and married his daughter to the son of the ever-victorious Oliver Cromwell.  If it is true that the lord of Hursley gave him a pair of shoe buckles as a memento (the incident previously mentioned above), it must have happened on this visit.  From that time Richard must have watched events in England with great interest.  The stories he told his children and grandchildren about what he had found became garbled as time passed, and the ties between the colonial Majors and Hursley became depicted as closer than they really were.  As Jane did not accompany him, it may be assumed that she had died.

Richard himself last patented land on 9 Feb 1664, but references to Richard Major Jr. in Aug 1667 and to a Mr. Major in 1672 suggest that he was still alive at those dates, and he may have lived to witness Bacon’s rebellion in 1676.  He was not referred to as deceased until 1686.  We know he left a will, because he bequeathed Francis Major 100 acres, but this valuable document and the inventory of his estate are long since gone.  Thus Richard Major, who had begun his career in Virginia with 25 acres on a creek in the Chiskiack area, ended his life with a beautiful plantation on the York River with well over 2,000 acres, some of which he had given to his children.  He had firmly established his family in Virginia.

The children of Richard Major and Jane Iremonger are listed as follows:

  1. George Major I, born about 1631 in Hampshire, England and died in New Kent County, Virginia in 1700
  2. Robert, born 1632.  Almost nothing is known of him.  The only certain proof that he reached adulthood, or indeed ever existed, comes from the vote of the House of Burgesses granting him 200 pounds of tobacco for catching a runaway servant in 1672.
  3. John, born in 1634, was the most successful of Richard’s sons.  He acquired land, gradually assumed a leading position in the family and became a prominent citizen in the county.
  4. Richard, born 1636.  The land he inherited from his father included 420 acres that had been assigned to his father in excess of his patent through a faulty survey, and Richard lost this land in 1687, when it was given to another planter.
  5. Margaret, who never appears in any official document.  This is not a surprising fact for a woman who lived in a county where neither wills nor parish records survive.

Unfortunately for the descendants of Richard Major, the records of subsequent generations in Virginia were subsequently lost to fire.  Many of the records of Gloucester County (where Bellevue was briefly located) went up in flame when the courthouse burned in 1820, and those that survived were taken to Richmond for safekeeping during the Civil War only to suffer a similar fate when that city was burned in 1865.  The New Kent County records largely were destroyed by a vindictive John Price Posey, who set fire to the jail and the county clerk’s office in 1787 in retaliation for being sent to jail for a month for assaulting the sheriff.  Posey was hanged for this crime in Richmond.  Richard’s will and the inventory of his estate would have told us much about Richard’s way of life and the status of his children.  Bellevue became part of the newly erected county of King and Queen in 1691.  These records were partially destroyed in a fire in 1833, and Union troops completed the destruction in 1864 when they burned the courthouse.  Therefore, we have only limited glimpses into the lives of the Major family during the time they resided at Bellevue.

Richard began to divide his property among his children before his death.  Since he owned over 2,000 acres, there was about 400 acres for each child.  There is no evidence that George I took any steps to improve his financial lot after his father’s death, except that in 1683 he obtained five headrights and patented 250 acres adjoining the land on which he lived.  However, he lost this land in 1697 because he failed to seat the property as required by law[14].  Apparently George I gambled that he would not get caught, but his inaction limited his son to the same acreage he enjoyed, some of which was surely depleted through tobacco cultivation.

The name of George I’s wife is unknown to us[15].  The only recorded child of George I was George II, born in 1658.

For the other sons of Richard Major, the only certain information is the list of landowners prepared in 1704 for tax purposes.  It lists John Major and Francis Major (sons of John Major born in 1634?), but George Major II is not listed.  The reason for this is not known (he had probably diedby that time), but it does demonstrate that George II definitely enjoyed a lower economic status than his father or grandfather.

The name of George II’s wife is unknown to us.  We are descended from their son George III, born in 1683 in New Kent County, Virginia.  We believe he married a daughter [given name unknown] of Francis Iremonger (1633-1720) and his wife Elizabeth [surname unknown].   George III apparently had to struggle to make a place for himself in society, but he did manage to scrape out enough of a living to marry and raise seven children.  Part of his earnings apparently came from odd jobs.  In 1732 we find him receiving 15 pounds of tobacco for two years later 54 pounds for performing minor services for the vestry.

I am descended from the George Major IV, the son of George Major III and [unknown] IremongerGeorge IV was born in 1717 in King and Queen County, Virginia, and we know only that he died sometime after 1750.  Not much is known of the life of George Major IV.  At an early age, he moved from King and Queen to the neighboring county of Middlesex with his parents and siblings.  This was likely the beginning of a migration of the Major family from King and Queen County and ultimately from Virginia entirely that was likely brought about by the increasingly difficult task for each subsequent generation of eking out a living on ever smaller tracts of exhausted tobacco land.  James Major’s book A Major Family of Virginia follows the Major line through Samuel, George IV’s older brother born in 1712.  Samuel eventually moved his family to Caroline County and later to Culpeper County, Virginia.

Because of James Major’s book, we know much more about George Major IV’s older brother Samuel Major (1712-1799) than we know about George IV, who is not mentioned often in official records.  James Major makes certain inferences regarding the family in this generation from the will of Richard Major ( -1750)[16], the eldest son of George III and [unknown] Iremonger (and brother of Samuel and George IV).  Richard’s personal property was indeed modest.  He owned a gun, two wigs, a hat, a waistcoat, a coat, britches, leggings, three pairs of shoes, two pair of buckles, some gloves, a shirt and more surprising a handkerchief, razors, a looking glass and the like.  We associate some of these garments with a gentleman’s costume.  As the appraisers assigned them little value, it is likely that Richard, as the eldest son of the eldest son back to the time of the first Richard, had inherited them.  They reflect a time when the Majors were more prosperous.  Since Richard was a bachelor, it is not surprising that his furniture was sparse.  In King and Queen, where he still kept a few possessions, the appraisers noted one large book.  The buckles and the book are the most interesting items listed.  As mentioned previously, there is a family legend that Richard Maijor of Hursley gave buckles to his Virginia cousin.  It seems more likely that they belonged to the latter in the first place.  Whatever their origins, they were treasured by one branch of the family for many generations.  The large book was very likely a bible.  It may have contained the names and birth dates that make it possible to identify the Majors during a period when county and parish records are lost.  The total appraised value of Richard’s personal property in both counties (King and Queen and Middlesex) came to less than £14, which was a modest amount by the standards of the day.

After his death, Richard asked that his possessions be divided among his four surviving brothers: Samuel, George IV, John and Iremonger, and his nephew, George Dillard.  His sister, Jane, had married Francis Dillard and had evidently died.  Another brother, Francis, was omitted and presumably he was already dead before 1750.  He named Samuel and George IV as his executors.  Samuel, who had moved to Caroline County, never qualified, and it was left to George IV to settle the estate.  Handling this task must have been inconvenient for George IV, who by this time had moved to Westmoreland County.  Once the chore was done, we lose track of his activities.

The name of George IV’s wife is unknown to us.  We are descended from their son John Major, born in 1740, probably in either Middlesex or Westmoreland County, Virginia.  After six generations of slow westward progress in Virginia from Tidewater to Piedmont.  John Major was destined to be the first of my line to cross the mountains and join the historic migration through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky on the Wilderness Road blazed by the frontiersman Daniel Boone in 1775.  The migrants were drawn west by the promise of rich soil, and Virginians and others poured through the passes in such numbers that by 1800 the population of Kentucky had jumped in a mere quarter century from almost nothing to 220,000.  Within another generation it was clear that Kentucky itself was not enough to hold the land-hungry farmers, and with hardly a pause many of them moved to Missouri and then spread throughout the West.  This diaspora exemplifies one of the most important trends in American history, and our ancestors were very much a part of the prevailing trends.

"Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap" (George Caleb Bingham, oil on canvas, 1851–52)

“Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap” (George Caleb Bingham, oil on canvas, 1851–52)

John Major (the son of George IV) reached Kentucky prior to the arrival of Samuel Major’s sons, John and Francis, in 1797 or 1798.  According to James Major, by 1798 the Majors [John and Francis] had settled in Franklin County, Kentucky.  When they arrived they found that another large family of Majors were already living there.  The founder of this family was John Major, who in 1783 had settled on a plantation of 1,000 acres east of Frankfort[17].   These Majors were apparently wealthier than the Culpeper family.  Documentation provided in several “Sons of the American Revolution” applications show that John Major had been a private in Gen. George Washington’s continental army at Valley Forge, after which he received a treasury warrant to 470 of 1,000 acres in Franklin County, which was issued to John Major by Governor Patrick Henry in Richmond, Virginia[18] in 1779 and signed by Gov. Patrick Henry in 1786.  The plantation he founded became known as “Ingleside”.

Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church was founded in the early 1780s by a Spotsylvania (Virginia) congregation which migrated together to Kentucky to escape widespread persecution of Baptists in that area.

The John Major house is located in the “Two Creeks” community east of Frankfort, Kentucky and stands to this day[19].   To see it, go into the Two Creeks subdivision past the guard station, look at the hillside on the left and see a small, two story stone building located on the Glenary Farm property.  I have not actually seen the property, but this information is reported on the website of the Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church in Midway, Kentucky.  The website explains that the church, which has moved its location several times since its founding in 1788, originally met at the home of John Major.  The church was founded by a congregation of Baptists from Spotsylvania, Virginia that migrated to Kentucky to escape widespread persecution of Baptists in the area at the time. This was part of a large group of migrants seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity, known as “The Travelleing Church”, led by Rev. Lewis Craig[20]. The group included an exodus of up to 600 people (composed of most of his congregation from Spotsylvania County and others) to the area of Virginia known as Kentucky County (the largest single group to so migrate). They walked down the Great Wagon Road in the Blue Ridge Mountains through present-day Lynchburg, Roanoke and Fort Chiswell, gathering members, before joining the Wilderness Road. They crossed the Appalachians through the Cumberland Gap, and then continued north, ultimately settling in central Kentucky and establishing a church at Gilbert’s Creek. In 1792, the cross-Appalachian counties separated from Virginia to form the new state of Kentucky.

In Virginia in 1763, John Major married Elizabeth Redd, the daughter of Thomas Redd and Elizabeth BarbeeJohn and Elizabeth had a large family, some of whom settled upon portions of his estate, while others settled nearer Versailles, Kentucky, where they were residents for many years.  Three of his daughters were: Frances, who married Nathaniel Thomson; Susanna, who married Robert Wooldridge and Mildred, who married Powhattan Wooldridge, all of whom, at one time, were residents of Woodford County, Kentucky.  John’s eldest son, John Major (Jr.), Jr., built an elegant brick residence in 1793, just back of the “Weehawkin” mansion, with only a garden separating the two homes, and soon thereafter he married Judith Trabue, a daughter of John James Trabue and Olympia Dupuy of Chesterfield County, Virginia.  I am descended from another of John’s sons, Oliver Thomas Major (1769-1846).  Oliver Thomas also built a residence on a part of his father’s estate at the intersection of the Versailles Road and the L & N railroad, and he was soon thereafter wedded to Susanna Trabue, the youngerst child of the above-mentioned family.  James Major was still another son of John Major, and he built a splendid brick house on a part of his father’s estate that is opposite the station at Jetts, and adjoining the farm of his brother, Oliver Thomas.  Within a hundred yards of the residence he built a brick cotton factory, “the odd design of which attracts the attention of every one who passes, and he wonders what was the object of its construction.  These buildings are in excellent condition today” (according to William E. Railey, writing in 1938 in his History of Woodford County, Kentucky).

The children of Oliver Thomas Major and Susanna Trabue are listed as follows:

  1. Oline T. Major (1794-1846)
  2. John J. Major (1795-1876)
  3. Margaret Major (1798- )
  4. Elizabeth Redd Major (1802-1821)

In 1820,  Elizabeth Redd Major (1802-1821) married John Turley Gunnell in Franklin County, Kentucky.  John Turley Gunnell (1796-1867) was born in Virginia and is the son of Allen Gunnell (1735-1826) and Elizabeth Turley (1740-1813).  Elizabeth Redd Major  died in 1821 (the same year her son Thomas Allen Gunnell was born) at about nineteen years of age.  John Turley Gunnell later married Catherine Athelia McKenzie in 1827 in Christian County, Kentucky, and they removed to Illinois some time between 1827 and 1850.  US Census records show them resident in Stouts Grove, Illinois in 1850 and Danvers, Illinois in 1860.  Illinois Census records also show them resident in Danvers, Illinois in 1865.  After his father remarried and moved to Illinois, Thomas Allen Gunnell remained in Kentucky until 1844, when he moved to Missouri, along with his paternal grandparents who raised him, Thomas Major (1769-1846) and Susanah Trabue (1772-1862).  Thomas Allen Gunnell knew them as “Ma & Pa”, according to his memoir, which he wrote towards the end of his life (1902-1903) to his grandaughter, Seddie Gunnell (1875-1946), entitled Memories of a Grandfather “From Twilight to Twilight”.  This work has been passed down to us through our grandmother, Elizabeth Gunnell Hamlin (Seddie’s daughter).

The lineage of Thomas Allen Gunnell and his wife, Marion Wallace Thomson, is continued under the heading of William Gunnell (1676-1742).

[1] Jean’s name is generally spelled “Mauger”, and those of his Hampshire descendants is often spelled “Maijor”, whereas the family that migrated to Virginia evidently adopted the spelling “Major” at some point in time.  Other variations of the name are seen in other branches.

[2] Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was an English military and political leader who was part of the joint republican, military and parliamentarian effort that overthrew the Stuart monarchy as a result of the English Civil War, and was subsequently invited by his fellow leaders to assume a head of state role in 1653.  As such, Cromwell ruled as “Lord Protector” for a five-year segment (1653–58) of the 11-year period of republican Commonwealth and protectorate rule of England, and nominally of Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  As one of the commanders of the New Model Army, he played an important role in the defeat of the King’s forces, the royalists in the English Civil War.  After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, Cromwell dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England, conquered Ireland and Scotland, ruling as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658.

[3] The relationship between Dorothy and Richard is summarized as follows: Richard Major (1604 – 1660), father of Dorothy – John Major (1575 – 1629) – Bonaventure Major (1521 – 1583) – Jean Mauger (who immigrated to Southampton, England from Jersey  in about 1521) – George Major (1522 – ) – Elias Major – George Major (Son of Edward)* – Richard Major (1610-1676).  *George, the father of Richard Major (1610-1664) may have been the son of Elias rather than Edward.  Both men had sons named George. The probable father of Jean is Guille Mauger of St. Lawrence Parish, Jersey. He fathered a Nicholas, Thomas and Jean. This Jean had three sons, Bonaventure, Richard and George. George, the youngest, had four sons, John, Elias, Edward and Peter. Both Elias and Edward had sons named George. Either of them may be the father of Richard, the immigrant to Virginia in 1631 or 1632. it is worth noting that Richard named his eldest son George, as did the next three generations of Majors in Virginia.

[4] Major, James.  A Major Family of Virginia, p. 347-51.

[5] Samuel is the brother of George IV, my 7th g-grandfather, representing the fifth generation in Virginia, and he was one of the earliest of the Virginia family to migrate west to Kentucky.  Within a generation, the family had spread beyond Kentucky, over the Great Plains and eventually to the Pacific coast.

[6] The family tradition that the Maugers of the Channel Islands, including Jean Mauger who migrated to Southampton around 1521, were descendents of the 11thcentury Archbishop Mauger of Rouen (France) is impossible to prove or disprove in the absence of documentation.

[7] Major, James.  A Major Family of Virginia, p. 69.

[8] For example, Southampton was chosen as a rendezvous for the Mayflower coming from London in 1620 and the Speedwell bringing the “Pilgrims” from Holland.  One could even imagine that he was involved in the efforts (unsuccessful) to make the Speedwell seaworthy prior to the voyage.

[9] Their sister, Elizabeth West (1573-1633), is my 11th g-grandmother, and her daughter, Elizabeth Pelham (1604-1628) married John Humphrey (1596-1661), who is discussed under his own heading.  However, Elizabeth Pelham died in England prior to John Humphrey’s emigration to Virginia. The Wests were of an old noble family.  As Barons De La Warr, they had the king’s ear.  The 9th Baron was among the peers who in 1536 sentenced Ann Bolelyn to be either burned to death or beheaded as the king pleased.  Henry VIII assigned him the Abbey of Wherwell with its many manors in the Test River Valley, when he dissolved the monasteries. To the south of Wherwell, the Test River forms the boundry between Millbrook and Eling parishes just before it joins Southampton Water. In Eling the Wests owned the important manor of Testwood, where a Thomas Iremonger was a copyholder in the 1640s.  The four brothers were: Thomas (1577-1618), an early investor in the London Company of Virginia who reached Virginia in 1610, later returned to England and then died on a return voyage to Virginia in 1618; Francis (1586-1634), who arrived in Virginia on a supply ship in 1608.  He returned to England by 1610, but from 1612-1617 he was commander of the colony at Jamestown and in 1627 he became Governor of Virginia; John West (1590-1659), who arrived in Virginia before 1622 and played a prominent role in the colony’s affairs, becoming a member of the Governor’s Council and briefly Governor. It was with him that Richard Major was to have the most contact; Nathaniel (1592-1623), who reached Virginia in 1617 but died before he could achieve the prominence of his siblings.

[10] Major, James.  A Major Family of Virginia, p. 73.

[11] Major, James.  A Major Family of Virginia, p. 79.

[12] James Major writes a good description of the geography of tidewater Virginia: “The most striking feature… was its rivers. The Chesapeake Bay itself was in reality the Susquehanna River bed, as would become quickly apparent if the ocean level dropped a few hundred feet. Into it flowed four great rivers out of the west. The largest and northernmost, the Potomac, was seven miles wide at its mouth and about eighty feet deep. Then came the Rappahannock with a mouth three miles wide, then the York, and finally the second largest, the James, which was still a mile wide as far upstream as Jamestown. All except the York were navigable to the fall line nearly a hundred miles in the interior. In no other place in the world are such large rivers found in so small an area. Indeed we could think of Tidewater Virginia as three tongues of land jutting out into water, rather than as vast stretches of land through which rivers flowed to the bay.” (p. 73).

[13] Operated by the National Park Service, the park is comprised of various properties including Cape Henry, Historic Jamestowne, Yorktown Battlefield and the Colonial Parkway, a scenic highway connecting Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown, also known as the Historic Triangle.

[14] To seat land, it was only necessary within three years to build a cabin, plant an acre of corn or tobacco and turn loose several head of cattle to graze in the woods. An alternative was to obtain a new patent incorporating the land he already owned and had seated with his new acquisition. This would have entailed a trip to Jamestown (an overnight trip) and the payment of a fee.

[15] In fact, we do not know the names of any of the wives of Richard’s sons.

[16] Major, James.  A Major Family of Virginia, p. 121-122.

[17] Major, James.  A Major Family of Virginia, p. 152.

[18] Kentucky was part of Virginia prior to being admitted as the 15th state on 1 Jun 1792.

[19] This statement is at odds with the account of William E. Railey in his History of Woodford County, Kentucky (1938).  According to Rainey, “John Major, Sr. owned the tract of land that lay between the Georgetown and Versailles roads beginning at the intersection two miles out of Frankfort and running to the county road intersection at Jetts.   His commodious residence, which was destroyed by fire about 1840, was rebuilt by S. F. J. Trabue, who purchased the estate about that time.  It was ever known as the “Weehawkin” estate.

Elijah Craig's name is now used as the brand name for a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey marketed by Heaven Hill.

Elijah Craig’s name is now used as the brand name for a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey marketed by Heaven Hill.

[20] Rev. Lewis Craig was the brother of Elijah Craig (1738-1808) was a Baptist preacher in Virginia, who became an educator and capitalist entrepreneur in the area of Virginia that later became the state of Kentucky. He has sometimes, although rather dubiously, been credited with the invention of bourbon whiskey. Craig was born in Orange County, Virginia in 1738, the 5th child of Polly Hawkins and Taliaferro or Toliver Craig, Sr. Converted by David Thomas in 1764, Elijah Craig soon began holding meetings in his tobacco barn. In 1766, he convinced David Read to travel from North Carolina to baptize members of the new congregation, including himself. His older brother Lewis and younger brother Joseph Craig also became Baptist preachers. In 1768, Lewis Craig, John Waller, James Childs, James Reed and William Marsh were imprisoned in the Fredericksburg jail for 4 to 6 weeks. In 1771 Elijah Craig was ordained and became the pastor of Blue Run church, halfway between Barboursville and Liberty Mills, Virginia. He was jailed at least twice for preaching without the required Virginia license from the Anglican Church. In 1774, the convention of independent Baptists designated Elijah Craig and John Waller Apostles (missionaries) to evangelize north of the James River. Although Virginia adopted the principle of freedom of religion in its Declaration of Rights in 1776, Baptists still faced persecution from some elements of the Anglican religious establishment during the early statehood period, particularly when they preached to mixed congregations of freemen and slaves, white and black. Moreover, the Anglican Church (re-established as the Episcopal Church after the American Revolution) received subsidies. Thus Craig became politically active as the legislative liaison of the general convention and general association to Virginia’s legislature as well as the ratification convention of 1788. As such, Elijah Craig worked with Patrick Henry and James Madison concerning protections to religious freedom in the federal and the state constitutions. Ultimately, religious freedom became protected in the First Amendment, and Baptist membership grew.


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