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Saint Boltoph's Northfleet Parish Church in County Kent, England

Norfleet Family Genealogy

Merton College, Oxford, the college of Master John de Northflete

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The Norfleets of Colonial Virginia and North Carolina (1666-1775)

by Phil Norfleet

Section 1 - Migration Groups to the British Colonies in North America

In recent years, historians of Colonial America have recognized that the settlement of British North America before the Revolution was not a uniform process but rather was accomplished by many highly differentiated immigrant groups. These historians (such as Bernard Bailyn, T. H. Breen and David Hackett Fischer) have further contended that even the English-speaking groups were culturally very different, even though they were all came from Britain and/or Ireland. According to Fischer, [1] the principal British migration groups were:

a. Puritans, mostly of the middle class, from the eastern counties of England to Massachusetts Colony during the years 1629-1640.

b. A very small number of families from the Cavalier elite, a few middle-class people who paid their own way, and a very large group of mostly lower-middle-class, indentured servants (whose passage was paid for by others), from the southern English counties to the Virginia Tidewater area during the years 1642-1675.

c. A group of mostly Quakers from the Midland counties of England and Wales to the Delaware Valley (mainly to Pennsylvania Colony) during the period 1675-1725.

d. English-speaking people from the northern counties of England, from Scotland and from the Province of Ulster in Northern Ireland (the Scotch-Irish), to the Appalachian back country of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas during the period 1718-1775.

The original Norfleet immigrant, Thomas Northfleete, settled in Nansemond County, Virginia about the year 1666,. He probably was of middle class social status and came from the northeast part of County Kent, England. In the years immediately following the Revolutionary War, all of the Norfleet households were located in the eastern lowland areas near the border between Virginia and North Carolina. Accordingly, the Norfleets are clearly associated with migration group b. above.

Section 2 - Colonial Virginia Land Grants

Initially, Virginia was colonized under royal charters issued by James I to the London Company. However, in 1624, the London Company was dissolved and Virginia became a royal colony under the direct rule of the King. The basic doctrine of land tenure throughout the colonial period was that all land was held immediately by the King, to be dispensed by the royal officials of the colonial government in accordance with the wishes of the King. Patents (grants) to land in Virginia were issued in accordance with the "headrights" system. Under this system, every person (or headright) who paid his own way to Virginia would be assigned 50 acres of land, and if he transported, at his own cost, one or more other persons/headrights, he would, for each person whose passage he also paid, be awarded an additional 50 acres of land.

After patenting and surveying a tract of land, a patentee was required to settle the land within three years of the date of the patent and pay an annual "quit-rent" of one shilling for every fifty acres. Title to previously patented land could be returned to the King in the following two basic ways:

1.  The land had not been settled within the three year period (lapsed land).

2.  When the landowner died without heirs or he was convicted of a felony (escheat land)

Throughout most of the seventeenth century, land was granted almost exclusively on the basis of the headright system. However, as the population of the colony increased and as the labor supply became more plentiful, there arose a demand to permit the granting of undeveloped land, particularly land adjacent to developed tracts, without having to provide additional headrights. Accordingly, by the late seventeenth century, custom permitted and laws were eventually modified to permit land grants issued upon the payment of a fee in the secretary’s office, usually at the rate of five shillings for each fifty acres of land so granted. [2]

Estimated Immigration to Virginia Colony Based on Headrights

Most of the Colonial Virginia land patent records have survived in a series of fourteen patent books which have been abstracted by Nell M. Nugent; her abstracts have been published in a series of volumes issued by the Virginia State Library. The land patent books provide the date of the patent, number of acres of land granted, general location of the land, and (when granted upon a headright basis) the individual names of the headrights/persons for whom the land was granted. Accordingly, these records provide an excellent source upon which to estimate the rate of immigration to Virginia Colony during the 17th Century. Professor Wesley Frank Craven of Princeton University used these land records to calculate the number of Virginia headrights recorded by year from 1636 through 1699. [3] I have summarized this information by decade in this table.

As will be discussed in the next section, the extant Virginia land patent information indicates that the first Norfleet immigrant to Virginia was probably Thomas Northfleete who arrived and settled in Nansemond County about the year 1666. As the above table shows, during the decade in which Thomas arrived (the 1660’s), Virginia Colony was experiencing one of its largest migrations from England; only the decade of the 1650’s was larger by a small amount. I find this massive influx to be rather inexplicable as it occurred during a time of severe depression in the Virginia tobacco trade. Indeed, in the year 1666, Virginia produced a bumper crop of tobacco which completely glutted the market. Also, the migration occurred during the Second Dutch War, when all English seaborne traffic was in serious danger from very formidable Dutch naval forces. The danger was so great that, commencing in 1665, Virginia Governor Sir William Berkeley arranged for all Virginia tobacco ships to travel in convoys to provide protection against the Dutch. [4]

The Carolina Grant to the Lords Proprietors and Its Influence on Immigration

By a Royal Charter issued on 24 March 1663 which was subsequently modified (grant increased in boundary by 30 minutes of latitude) by the Charter of 13 June 1665, the land which today comprises North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia (lying between 31 degrees and 36 degrees, 30 minutes North Latitude), was granted to eight "Lords Proprietors." These eight men were political supporters of King Charles II, and most had assisted in the King’s restoration to the English Throne in May 1660. In 1664, the Proprietors established a local county government within the Carolina grant, in an area northeast of the Chowan River, bordering on Albemarle Sound; that local government was called Albemarle County. This was the first region of the Carolina Grant, in what is now North Carolina, to be settled (see map).

The coastal waters and sounds lying along the North Carolina seaboard are for the most part too shallow to allow safe entry for ocean going vessels, even the small wooden ships of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Therefore, the natural entry point to the Albemarle region was through Hampton Roads and from there on to that part of Virginia lying south of the James River, in particular, southern Nansemond County. Carolina-bound settlers would have initially arrived by ship in Virginia. Many of these immigrants, originally intending to settle in North Carolina, found, upon their arrival, the area north of Albemarle Sound still to be virgin wilderness, inhabited by Indians and not readily open to settlement. Accordingly, many of these people probably chose to remain in Virginia Colony as land grants there were inexpensive and still relatively abundant. I believe that one reason for the heavy immigration to Virginia in the mid 1660’s may be associated with the promotional campaign put on by the Lords Proprietors during that time frame, concerning immigration to the Carolinas. Thomas Northfleete may have been one of these immigrants, who decided to remain in Virginia.

Possible Influence of the Diggs Family on Norfleet Emigration

Another possible reason for the immigration of Thomas Northfleete may have been his connections with the Diggs Family. Sir Dudley Diggs (d. 1639) was the first member of the family to be the Lord of Chilham Manor, having acquired the manor in 1616. One of his younger sons, Edward Diggs (d. 1676), came to Virginia Colony about the year 1650 and settled in York County. From 1656 to 1658 Edward served as the Governor of Virginia. In March 1658 he returned to England to serve as one of the agents of the Colony. He did not return to Virginia until 1670. The parish registers of Chilham indicate that at least two Norfleet families were resident in Chilham in the 1620’s. Thomas Norfleet, Yeoman of Molash, is very likely a son or grandson of one of these families. I’ve long wondered if the first Virginia immigrant, Thomas Northfleete, may also have been a child or grandchild. If true, it is possible that his decision to emigrate may have been influenced by Edward Diggs, whose brother, Thomas Diggs (d. 1687) was then the lord of Chilham Manor and who may have been Thomas Northfleete’s liege lord. Edward Diggs was the agent for the Colony in England during the 1660’s, during which time frame Thomas Northfleete emigrated.

Norfleet Land Grants in Colonial Virginia

As mentioned previously, the Virginia State Library in Richmond is the repository of all the extant records of the Colonial Virginia Land Office. In this repository, I have located a total of ten land grants made to members of the Norfleet family (two by assignment and eight by direct patent) in colonial times. This  table summarizes this information.

The table indicates that the first record of a Norfleet in Virginia Colony occurs on 22 October 1666. A man, referred to in the entry as "North Fleete," had a 300 acre tract of land recorded in the Land Office at Jamestown; he had acquired this land by assignment from a certain John Skerrett, who had originally patented the land on 17 March 1654/55. Two years later, on 30 September 1668, "Thomas Northfleete" again recorded an entry for the same land. Apparently, the acquisition was recorded the second time to correct the name of the assignee, which had been garbled on the 1666 entry under the name "North Fleete."

These two land patents constitute two of the three known references to Thomas Northfleete, the original immigrant to Virginia. The third reference is a court record (writ) indicating that a certain "Thomas Norfleet" had served on a Jury of Escheat in Nansemond County on 21 October 1673. [5]

The third (dated 1695) and fourth (dated 1718) entries in the table probably refer to Thomas Norfleet, the son of the original immigrant, Thomas Northfleete. The fact that the entry, dated 25 October 1695, refers to "Thomas Norfleet, Junr" indicates that the original immigrant and father of Thomas, Junior was still living at this time. My experience with the official records of early America strongly indicates that the use of the terms senior and junior are mainly used to differentiate two people of different ages, with the same name, living in the same area at the same time. The senior person would be older than the person with the junior designation; the terms would not necessarily indicate a father-son relationship. However, it is reasonable to assume that very few Norfleets lived in Virginia at that time. Accordingly, the designation "Thomas Norfleet Junr" cited on the 1695 land patent probably indicates not only that a senior (older) Thomas Norfleet was still living in the area, but also that the elder Norfleet was probably the father of the younger.

With the exception of the two grants to Thomas Norfleet in 1695 and 1718, all of the eighteenth century Norfleet grants are in exchange for money or tobacco paid to the Secretary of Virginia Colony. It should also be noted that several grants were, at least in part, composed of land that had earlier been patented by other people (including members of the Norfleet family). Apparently these previously granted tracts had never been seated and/or planted as required by law, hence the title to this land had "lapsed" and the Crown had resumed ownership, making such land available for regranting. The earliest Norfleet land grants were in the area just north of the town of Suffolk (established in 1742), on the western side of the southern branch of the Nansemond River (see map). Today, Thomas Northfleete’s land grant is in the vicinity of Thompson Landing (see map). 

Section 3 - Virginia Quit-Rent Roll of 1704

As mentioned previously, land granted by the King to settlers in Virginia Colony was subject to a perpetual duty or quit-rent of one shilling for every 50 acres, payable in tobacco at the rate of one penny per pound. The amount of revenue generated by this source was of considerable importance to the British government. However, throughout the entire Seventeenth Century, the Royal Governors had great difficulty in collecting this tax. In their letters to the Board of Trade in London, the Governors were always reporting that there were large arrears of quit-rents which it was impossible to make the landowners (particularly the large landowners) pay. The quit-rent lists were usually quite inaccurate and incomplete, substantially understating the amount of land and associated tax due the King.

One of the Royal Governors, Francis Nicholson, made an unusually strenuous effort to obtain a truly accurate rent roll for the colony. He produced this list for the year 1704 and had a true copy of the roll sent to the Board of Trade. [6] The list includes the twenty Virginia counties whose quitrents were payable to the King. Excluded were the five counties of the Northern Neck, [7] the quit-rents of which were paid to the Lords Proprietors (the Fairfax-Culpepper family). Today the Board of Trade copy is on file at the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London. [8] This roll has been published many times and is readily available to historians and genealogists. [9] Except for fragments, pertaining to only a few counties, no other quit-rent lists have survived in either Virginia or England!

In the early 1920’s, Professor Thomas J. Wertenbaker of Princeton University performed an extensive analysis of the 1704 quit-rent roll in conjunction with a list providing the official returns of tithables of Virginia for the year 1702. [10] Tithables were those persons subject to the direct poll tax; this tax was the principle source of government revenue in colonial Virginia. The poll tax was levied on all freemen over the age of sixteen, male servants over the age of fourteen, female servants who worked in the fields over age fourteen, and all slaves (of either sex) above the age of sixteen. All of these persons were termed "tithables." Unfortunately, Professor Wertenbaker’s calculations, done long before electronic calculators and computers were available, contains several errors and omissions. However, I have compiled a completed and corrected set of findings for the twenty Virginia counties whose quit-rents were payable to the King in 1704. Charles City and Prince George Counties have necessarily been combined since Prince George County had just been created out of Charles City County in 1703; it did not exist when the 1702 tithables list was compiled. The results are summarized in this table.

The above table indicates that, in most Virginia counties (including Nansemond), the average plantation was only about 300-500 acres in size and was worked by the owner, one of his sons, and perhaps one or two servants. The popular conception of colonial Virginia is that most of the land in the colony was owned by a few wealthy planters, of Cavalier descent, who maintained huge plantations worked by large numbers of indentured servants and/or slaves. However, Professor Wertenbaker concludes, partly on the basis of the information summarized in Table 4, that at the beginning of the eighteenth century Virginia was primarily composed of yeoman planters, who possessed farms of only a few hundred acres and had perhaps two or three servants. [11]

Plantation size in Nansemond County was particularly small; the average plantation was only 313 acres. Just ten plantations were of 1000 acres or more; the largest plantation, belonging to Ann Pugh, was only 2300 acres. The quality of tobacco in Nansemond was significantly inferior to that grown in those Virginia counties lying to the north of Nansemond. For that reason, the really wealthy planters tended to reside in these northern counties. Even in 1704 this was the case; for example, the six largest plantations in the Colony, in 1704, were in the following counties:

County Name of Planter No. of Acres
Henrico William Byrd 119,500
Isle of Wight Samuel and William Bridger 12,900
Henrico John Pleasants 9,669
Henrico Giles Webb 7,260
Isle of Wight Major Lewis Burwell 7,000
New Kent Colonel Park 7,000

A total of four members of the Norfleet family are identified on the 1704 Quit-Rent Roll, all living in Nansemond County, as follows:

John Norfleet 600 Acres
Thomas Norfleet 500 Acres
Christopher Norfleet 400 Acres
Edward Norfleet 200 Acres

These four individuals are probably sons of Thomas Northfleete, the first Norfleet immigrant; John Norfleet is probably his eldest son. While these men were obviously not wealthy, the size of their four plantations compares favorably with the average plantation size for Nansemond County (313 acres). John Norfleet is undoubtedly the father of John Norfleet (1699-1753) of Chowan County, North Carolina. Thomas Norfleet is almost certainly the father of Marmaduke Norfleet (1700-1774) of Perquimans and Northampton Counties, North Carolina. [12] Christopher and Edward Norfleet are probably the youngest sons of the original immigrant, Thomas Northfleete. There is no hard evidence regarding the descendants (if any) of Christopher and Edward; however, the use of these names in later generations of Norfleets strongly implies that they had male progeny who continued to live in Nansemond county throughout the eighteenth century. This hyperlinked chart  shows my best conjecture concerning the first three generations of Norfleets in America.

Section 4 - The Norfleets during Virginia’s Golden Age

Although three of the four Norfleet plantations cited in the 1704 Quit-Rent Roll were above average in size, there is no reason to believe that these planters were significantly wealthier than the Norfleets of Faversham and Molash in England, during the late seventeenth century. However, several Norfleets of the next (third) generation in British America would significantly exceed the socio-economic success of their English forebears. These Norfleets would finally reach the "gentry level" in both colonial Virginia and North Carolina. This third generation lived during the so-called "Golden Age" of Virginia.

The Golden Age

Most historians define the Golden Age as having commenced with the arrival, in 1727, of Major William Gooch as the Royal Governor of Virginia and having ended with his return to England in 1749. Several factors were responsible for making this 22-year period into an economic and political Golden Age:

1.  On 11 June 1727, George II followed his father, George I, to the Throne of England. The new King, under the influence of his wife, Queen Caroline, and her Whig Party advisors, elevated the brilliant Sir Robert Walpole to the political leadership of England as its first Prime Minister. Walpole was an adroit manager who welded the ruling Whig Party into an efficient instrument of legislative power and, due to his mastery of the erratic and unpredictable George II, he was able to achieve an unprecedented era of harmony between the executive and legislative branches of the British government. [13] Walpoles’s policy toward the American colonies was essentially one of benign neglect. As long as the British merchants who traded with the colonies were content, the American colonial legislatures were pretty much left alone to govern as they saw fit. [14]

2.  In September 1727, the able and amiable Scottish Whig, Major William Gooch, arrived in Virginia as Lieutenant Governor. The titular Governor of Virginia since 1705, George Hamilton, Earl of Orkney, remained in Britain and took no active part in governing the Colony, aside from collecting the revenues of the office! In my opinion, Gooch, Sir William Berkeley and Alexander Spotswood, were the three most competent royal governors in the history of colonial Virginia and Gooch was unquestionably the governor most esteemed by the people of Virginia.

3.  Among Governor Gooch’s most important achievements was the legislative passage and royal approval of the Tobacco Inspection Act of 1730. This Act revolutionized tobacco regulation and became a permanent feature of the Virginia tobacco trade until the end of the colonial era. The Act established public warehouses in each Virginia county, provided for the appointment of county tobacco inspectors and required all planters to transport their tobacco to one of the public warehouses for inspection. The inspectors received annual salaries and were obliged to refrain from engaging in the tobacco trade. [15] Systematic inspection of tobacco reduced fraud, raised quality, standardized shipment weights and reduced tobacco surpluses. [16] The Act worked smoothly in Virginia, increased the overall quality of tobacco shipped, and significantly enhanced the overseas market for the Virginia product. Several Norfleets were tobacco inspectors.

4.  Gooch encouraged a liberal policy of granting large tracts of land located west of the Blue Ridge Mountains to wealthy planters. These grants were made with the understanding that these large tracts were to be subdivided and sold for a modest sum to settler families of mainly German and Scotch-Irish origin. This policy was designed to help rapidly populate the Virginia frontier regions and provide a buffer zone protecting the Tidewater areas from the Indian tribes living west of the Alleghenies. This policy was so successful that, during the 22 year Gooch tenure, 16 new counties were created resulting in a total of 44 counties in Virginia by the mid-eighteenth century.

The Gooch regime was popular with most Virginians of all social classes and it was with considerable popular lament that he and his family sailed back to Britain in August 1749. The poet John Markland wrote:

"Arts flourish, Peace shall crown the plains,

Where Gooch administers, Augustus reigns"

The Albemarle Region of North Carolina during Virginia’s Golden Age

The Albemarle Region (see map) of North Carolina has been economically linked to Southeastern Virginia since colonial times. Even in the 1990’s, many residents of Gates, Perquimans and Chowan Counties in North Carolina commute daily to jobs in the Suffolk, Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas of Southeast Virginia. In colonial times, since ocean-going vessels could not enter the shallow Albemarle Sound, the principal market outlets for Albemarle produce were the towns and ports of Southeast Virginia.

In 1728-29, the King bought the interests of seven of the eight Lords Proprietors and converted North Carolina into a royal colony. Institution of royal government greatly improved the socio-economic condition of the colony; thus, during Virginia’s Golden Age, the Albemarle Region of North Carolina also enjoyed good economic times.

During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Albemarle Region was settled by Virginians moving south from Princess Ann, Norfolk and Nansemond Counties. Members of the Norfleet family were among these early settlers, particularly Thomas Norfleet, Jr. and his three sons: Thomas, James and Marmaduke.

Dividing Line Survey of 1728

In those early days, the exact boundary between Virginia and North Carolina was not accurately defined until a special survey was conducted in 1728. Therefore, before 1728, many land patents issued by Virginia to land tracts, thought to be in southern Nansemond County, were subsequently discovered to actually lie within North Carolina. Although several earlier attempts had been made to survey the boundary line, it was not until 1728 that a comprehensive survey was finally accomplished. The main impetus for a comprehensive survey at this time was the decision (1727) by the King and his ministers to convert North Carolina from a Proprietorship to a royal colony. A team composed of commissioners from both Virginia and North Carolina conducted the survey. The Virginia contingent was led by William Byrd II who later wrote two famous accounts of the survey: History of the Dividing Line Run in the Year 1728 and The Secret History of the Line. [17]

The survey team was in the Nansemond County area in late March and early April of 1728. Byrd’s histories make no mention of any Norfleet families, although they must have passed just to the north of the lands owned by Thomas Norfleet, Jr., and his sons Marmaduke and James Norfleet, near Corapeak Swamp. William Byrd’s comments regarding Nansemond County are none too complimentary. He stated:

" … the Commissioners decampt early in the Morning, and made a march [18] of 25 miles, as far as Mr. Andrew Mead’s, [19] who lives upon Nansimond River. … In our Journey we remarkt that the North Side of this great Swamp [20] lies higher than either the East or the West, nor were the approaches to it so full of Sunken Grounds. We passt by no less than two Quaker Meeting Houses, … That persuasion prevails much in the lower end of Nansimond county, for want of Ministers to Pilot the people a decenter way to Heaven.

"The ill Reputation of Tobacco planted in those lower parishes makes the Clergy unwilling to accept of them, unless it be such whose abilities are as mean as their Pay. Thus, whether the Churches be quite void or but indifferently filled, the Quakers will have an opportunity of gaining Proselytes.

" … It was with some difficulty we cou’d make our people quit the good cheer they met with at this House [Meade’s], so it was late before we took our Departure; but to make us amends, our Landlord was so good as to conduct us Ten Miles on our Way, as far as Cypress Swamp, [21] which drains itself into the dismal. Eight Miles beyond that we forded the Waters of Corapeak, [22] which tend the same way as do many others on that side."

First Norfleets in North Carolina

Before the Dividing Line Survey, Thomas Norfleet, Jr. and his sons Marmaduke and James acquired land which, after 1728, was found to be within the Perquimans Precinct of North Carolina. In the 1740’s, John Norfleet (1699-1753) acquired land in the northern part of Chowan County, near the modern-community of Corapeake (see Chapter 4, Map 8) and Thomas Norfleet (oldest son of Thomas Norfleet, Jr.) acquired land and operated a merchandising business in Edgecombe County, North Carolina.

Justices of the Peace in Colonial Virginia and North Carolina

The justices of the peace had been key officials in the county government of England since Tudor times. These officials, like the vestrymen, were used in colonial Virginia and North Carolina with virtually unchanged responsibilities. The English historian, W. E. Lunt, has this to say with respect to the English justices of the peace:

"Local government became far more important under the Tudors than it had ever been before, but it was not local self-government. These local officials were merely agents to assist the central administration. All of them, except the coroners, the churchwardens, and the constables, who were locally elected, were appointed by the central authority or by the centrally appointed justices of the peace. The pivot on which the system swung was the justice of the peace. In the county the justices themselves did most of the administrative and judicial work, and all of the other officials of the county, except the lords lieutenant, were more or less responsible to them. In the local units the constables and the churchwardens, though popularly elected, were under the direction of the justices in many things and subject to their supervision in all. The overseers and surveyors were appointed by them as well. …

"Legally the system was highly centralized The justices of the peace were responsible to central authority, and other local officials to the justices of the peace. In actuality the system was not so completely centralized as it appears on paper. The control of the central government was fairly close under the Tudors, but the country gentlemen who held commissions of the peace were not amenable to the same discipline as clerks whose livelihood depended on the pay of crown. Their social position among their neighbors caused them to have regard for the interests of the people they ruled as well as those of the government they served, and the large discretionary powers which necessarily went with such multitudinous functions gave them a certain degree of independence of both. The result was an administrative system sufficiently centralized to secure the good administration of the law and sufficiently responsive to local needs to prevent the formation of a bureaucracy as the basis for an unpopular despotism." [23]

With respect to the colonial justices, Albert Ewing, Jr., writing in the Tennessee Law Review, observed that:

" … The former monthly courts in Virginia became Justices of the Peace of the County Courts in 1662, by an act of Assembly which required that the Justices be

‘of the most able, honest and judicious persons of the county.’

How faithfully these requirement were carried out and preserved during the following hundred years is shown by a glance at the names of the Justices of the Peace of Colonial Virginia in the 20-year period immediately prior to the revolution. All of the seven Virginia signers of the Declaration of Independence had served as Justices in their respective counties … who accepted and acquitted their responsibilities as Justices of the Peace in the period when this position of Honor and Service and NOT of emolument represented the genuine aristocracy of Virginia." [24]

In Virginia, both Edward Norfleet (d. 1747) and John Norfleet (1699-1753) were appointed Justices of the Peace for Nansemond County by Governor Gooch on 1 May 1735. [25]

In North Carolina, James Norfleet (d. 1732), son of Thomas Norfleet, Jr., was appointed Justice of the Peace for the Precinct of Perquimans on 18 May 1731 by Governor George Burrington. [26] Marmaduke Norfleet (1700-1774), another son of Thomas Norfleet, Jr., was also appointed as a Justice for Perquimans by Governor Gabriel Johnston on 23 March 1734/1735. [27]

It is interesting to note that all four of the Norfleet justices of the peace, cited above, were closely related, third generation Norfleets (see chart). The North Carolinians, James and Marmaduke Norfleet were brothers, who were also first cousins to the Virginia Norfleets, Edward and John!

Vestrymen in Virginia and North Carolina

In Colonial Virginia and North Carolina, the Anglican Church was the only officially established religion. Each County in Virginia and North Carolina was divided into one or more Anglican parishes and each parish had a vestry. These parish vestries were as important politically, socially and economically as they were in England. Bishop William Meade of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia, in the 1850’s wrote the following:

"The vestries were the depositories of power in Virginia. They not only governed the Church by the election of ministers, the levying of taxes, the enforcing of laws, but they made laws in the House of Burgesses; for the burgesses were the most intelligent and influential men of the parish, and were mostly vestrymen … Nor were the vestries represented in the popular branch of the Government only. We will venture to affirm … that there was scarce an instance of any but a vestryman being in the Council …" [28]

The socio-economic success of the Norfleets is best illustrated by the fact that at least five members of the family were vestrymen in eighteenth century Virginia. In the mid-1740’s, three of the twelve members of the Vestry of Upper Parish, Nansemond County were Norfleets. The five known Norfleet vestrymen in Virginia (all from Upper Parish, Nansemond County) are:

1.  Edward Norfleet (d. 1747), Vestryman when the Vestry Book commences in 1743.

2.  Christopher Norfleet (d. 1751), Vestryman from 1745 until his death in 1751.

3.  John Norfleet (1699-1753), Vestryman when the Vestry Book commences in 1743.

4.  Thomas Norfleet (d. 1777), father of Nathaniel, Vestryman from 1771 until his death in 1777.

5.  Nathaniel Norfleet (1760-1836), son of Thomas, served in Revolutionary War, chosen Vestryman in 1784.

In North Carolina, Abraham Norfleet (1728-1784) was Clerk of the Vestry for Saint Paul’s Parish, Chowan County, having been appointed to that position on 4 August 1764. [29] Also, Abraham was a Reader at "Farlee’s Chapel," for many years, having been first appointed to that position on 3 June 1754. [30]

Trustee of the Town of Suffolk

William Byrd II had astutely observed, in 1728, that the tobacco of Nansemond County was inferior to that grown in the upper Tidewater Virginia counties. Even so, after passage of the Tobacco Inspection Act of 1730, public warehouses for the county tobacco inspectors were established at the headwaters of the Nansemond (the fall line) at Constant’s Warehouse. By 1742, the trade in tobacco on the upper Nansemond River continued to grow and the population at and around Constant’s Warehouse had so increased, that the Virginia Assembly passed an act for erecting a town at that site. The new town was named Suffolk in honor of the home county of Virginia’s then Lt. Governor, Sir William Gooch. Edward Norfleet (d. 1747) was appointed as one of the trustees for this new town of Suffolk. [31]

Tobacco Inspectors

An additional measure of the Norfleet family’s success is indicated by the fact that at least two Norfleets had functioned as royal government tobacco inspectors for Nansemond County. The position of tobacco inspector was a much sought after and potentially lucrative position. The two known Norfleet inspectors were:

1.  Joseph Norfleet was appointed inspector at Lawrence’s Warehouse in December 1733. He was the father of Cordall Norfleet (c. 1735-1788) of Southampton County. Joseph died in about 1756.

2.  Thomas Norfleet was the inspector at the town of Suffolk. He was a Vestryman for Upper Parish and the father of Nathaniel Norfleet (1760-1836). Thomas died in 1777.

Required Oaths for Colonial Officials

In colonial Virginia and North Carolina, all justices of the peace, vestrymen, officers in the militia and other appointed officials of the King were required to take a series of four oaths as a condition of appointment. Virtually all the Norfleets, cited in this Section 5, would have taken these oaths of allegiance and abjuration. Since the oaths were frequently items of controversy during the eighteenth century, particularly if you were not a member of the Established (Anglican) Church, I here set forth these four oaths, in the form used during the reign of King George II (1727-1760), as follows:

1.  Oath of Allegiance: 1.  Oath of Allegiance:

    "I do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty, King George the Second. So help me God."

2.  Oath of Abjuration:

    "I do swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest, and abjure, as impious and heretical, that damnable doctrine and position that Princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, or any authority of the see of Rome, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any other whatsoever. And I do declare that no foreign Prince, Prelate, Person, State or Potentate, hath, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, preeminence or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm. So help me God."

3.  Oath of Allegiance:

    "I do truly and sincerely acknowledge and promise, testify and declare, in my conscience, before God and the world, that our Sovereign Lord, King George the Second, is lawful and rightful King of this realm and all his Majesty’s dominions and countries hereunto belonging; and I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I do believe in my conscience that the person pretended to be the Prince of Wales during the life of the late King James, and since his decease pretending to be, and taking upon himself the style and title of the king of England, or by the name of James III, or of Scotland by the name of James VIII, or the style and title of King of Great Britain, hath not any right whatsoever to the crown of this realm, or any other dominion hereunto belonging; and I do renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him, and I do swear that I will bear faithful and true allegiance to H. M. King George II, and him will defend to the utmost of my power against all traitorous conspiracies and attempts whatsoever which shall be made against his person, crown or dignity; and I will do my utmost to endeavor to disclose and make known to his Majesty and his successors all treasonable and traitorous conspiracies which I shall know to be against him, or any of them; and I do faithfully promise, to the utmost of my power, to support, maintain and defend the successor of the crown against him, the said James, and all other persons whatsoever, which succession, by an act entitled ‘A act for the further limitation of the crown and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject,’ is and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, late Electress and Duchess, dowager of Hanover, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants; and all other these things I do plainly and severally acknowledge and swear, according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense understanding of the same words, without any equivocation, mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever; and I do make this recognition, acknowledgement, abjuration, renunciation, and promise, heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian. So help me God." [32]

4.  Test Oath:

          "I do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the             elements of bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever." [33]

Section 5 - The Vestry Book of the Upper Parish of Nansemond County

All of the Norfleets of Colonial Virginia, except Cordall Norfleet (c. 1735-1788) of St. Luke’s Parish, Southampton County, resided in the "Upper Parish" of Nansemond County. The only Upper Parish vestry book to have survived, covers the time frame from 1743-1793. This vestry book documents a number of vestry functions such as: managing the parish budget; levying taxes for parish expenses; hiring of ministers and other church officers such as clerks and lay readers; building and repairing churches and chapels; caring for the poor; assessing fines for offenses against public morals and church discipline; and maintaining boundary lines of land owners within the parish. This latter function was known as "land processioning."  This hyperlinked map shows the land processioning precincts (districts) for the Upper Parish of Nansemond County. The Upper Parish Vestry Book contains more than a hundred references to members of the Norfleet family. This hyperlinked table provides a listing of the most genealogically significant of these references.

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1.  David Hackett Fisher, Albion's Seed (1989), pages 785-788.

2.  W. Stitt Robinson, Junior, Mother Earth - Land grants in Virginia 1607-1699 (1957), page 42.

3.  Wesley Frank Craven, White, Red, and Black (1971), pages 15-16.

4.  William W. Abbot, A Virginia Chronology 1585-1783 (1957), pages 22-23.

5.  "Inquisitions on Escheated Land, 1665-1677," The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 20, Number 4, page 253.

6.  Thomas J. Wertenbaker, The Planters of Colonial Virginia (1922), pages 50-52.

7.  These five counties were: Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, Stafford and Westmoreland.

8.  See Correspondence of the Board of Trade, CO5-1314, Document 63VIII.

9.  One useful version is the one compiled by Annie Laurie Wright Smith, in her book: The Quit Rents of Virginia 1704, published in 1977. This version has the taxpayers arranged alphabetically by name.

10.  See The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. I, No. 4 (April 1894), pages 364-375.

11.  See Thomas J. Wertenbaker, The Planters of Colonial Virginia (1922), pages 56-59. See also, John J McCusker & Russell R. Menard, The Economy of British America 1607-1789 (1985), page 124.

12.  Based upon my review of the wills and deeds re the Colonial North Carolina Norfleets, I conclude that the "Thomas Norfleet, Junr.," cited in the 1695 Virginia land patent, was almost certainly the father of at least three sons: Thomas, James and Marmaduke (see Chart 2).

13.  Kenneth O. Morgan, Editor, The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain (1984), pages 369-370.

14.  Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Virginia A History (1984), page 37.

15.  Arthur Pierce Middleton, Tobacco Coast (1953), pages 135-136.

16.  William W. Abbot, A Virginia Chronology 1585-1783 (1957), pages 47-48.

17.  A recently published source for these histories is the Dover Edition (1967), introductions by Percy G. Adams and William K. Boyd, book entitled William Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina.

18.  From the VA/NC border, north to the Southern Branch of the Nansemond River.

19.  Andrew Mead was a member of the House Of Burgesses for Nansemond County and was a Senior Captain of Militia. His plantation was near the site, which in 1742, would be chartered as the town of Suffolk.

20.  This is the Great Dismal Swamp, the northwestern part of which lies within southeastern Nansemond County.

21.  John Norfleet (1729-1812) would, in about the year 1760, construct Cypress Chapel (Anglican) at this location.

22.  Thomas Norfleet, Jr. and his sons James Norfleet (d. 1732) and Marmaduke Norfleet (1700-1774) owned land in this area.

23.  W. E. Lunt, History of England (1956), page 384.

24.  Albert Ewing, Jr., Tennessee Law Review, Volume 21, Number 5 (December 1950), pages 491-492.

25.  Executive Journals, Councils of Colonial Virginia, page 349.

26.  William L. Saunders, Colonial Records of North Carolina, Volume III (1886), page 234.

27.  Ibid., Volume IV (1886), page 47.

28.  William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia (1855), page 151.

29.  Transcription by Raymond Parker Fouts, Vestry Minutes of St. Paul’s Parish, Chowan County, North Carolina 1701-1776, page 157.

30.  Ibid., page 117. Farlee’s Chapel appears to have been located near the modern town of Sunbury, now in Gates County, North Carolina.

31.  See Joseph B. Dunn, The History of Nansemond County Virginia (1907), page 32.

32.  This oath is, of course, directed against any political supporters of the Stuart pretenders. The Jacobite threat to the House of Hanover was very real during the first half of the eighteenth century. It was not until after the defeat of "Bonnie Prince Charlie" at the Battle of Culloden (1746), that the House of Stuart ceased to be a serious threat to the Georgian Kings of England.

33.  The Doctrine of Transubstantiation is a major tenet of the Roman Catholic Church that was formally promulgated during the Counter-Reformation Era at the Council of Trent in 1551. Most Protestant Churches explicitly reject this belief; conversely, many Protestant denominations support either the Doctrine of Consubstantiation (Martin Luther’s view) or the Doctrine of Symbolic Transformation (Baptist view) of the Eucharist. No Roman Catholic could take the Test Oath in good conscience!

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