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Biographical Sketch of John Norfleet (1699-1753) of Chowan County, North Carolina

by Phil Norfleet

John, the son of John and Esther Norfleet, probably was a grandson of the original Norfleet immigrant, Thomas Northfleete (c. 1645 - c. 1700). Due to the loss of virtually all Nansemond County records dating to before the Civil War period, very little information is available re this family while living in Virginia. From John's Bible record, we do know that, in 1727, he married Elizabeth Riddick (1710-1781), a member of a very socially prominent Nansemond County family. John Norfleet was a successful planter in Nansemond County, Virginia; he was a Justice of the Peace for Nansemond County and a member of the Vestry for the Upper Parish of Nansemond for a number of years.

In 1740, John Norfleet patented 633 acres of land in Chowan County, North Carolina, near Corapeak Swamp, and established a grist/saw mill on the site. This northeastern North Carolina land was very near the plantation of his first cousin, Marmaduke Norfleet (1700-1774) and Buckland Plantation, belonging to William Baker and Judith Norfleet Baker (daughter of Marmaduke Norfleet).  The hyperlinked map depicts this region. For several years, John continued to also own land in Nansemond County and was referred to, in the 1747 land processioning notes contained in the Upper Parish Vestry Book, as "John Norfleet at the mill." After 1747, he ceased active participation in the Nansemond Vestry but, apparently, he never formally resigned. After John's death in 1753, his widow, Elizabeth, with the help of her children, took over management of the mill. In 1779, that part of Chowan County where John Norfleet had lived became part of the newly formed County of Gates. John's widow, Elizabeth Riddick Norfleet, died on 9 May 1781. [1] 

George Washington Buys Norfleet Swamp Land

On 15 October 1763, George Washington passed through the Corapeak area and made the following annotation in his diary:

"The main swamp of Oropeake is about a mile onwards from this, where stands the Widow Norfleet's Mill and Luke Sumner's plantations … At the mouth of this swamp is a very large meadow of 2 or 3000 acres held by Sumner, Widow Norfleet, Marmaduke Norfleet, Powell and others and valuable ground it is." The "Widow Norfleet" mentioned by Washington was, of course, Elizabeth Riddick Norfleet.

Washington was quite serious with respect to his interest in this "valuable ground." By indenture, dated 25 April 1766, Washington and his brother-in law, Fielding Lewis, acquired Cousin Marmaduke's Corapeak plantation of 1093 acres. [2] After the sale, Marmaduke supplied wheat, oats, beef and corn for the slaves which Washington had sent to work the land he had just acquired. Marmaduke subsequently moved to Northampton County where he purchased from Thomas and Priscilla Hunter, by indenture dated 27 December 1766, a total of 535 acres of land called Rich Square. There, Marmaduke established a trading center consisting of a general store, a blacksmith shop, and a grist mill.

Norfleet’s Mill

In the Revolutionary War, during October and November 1780, John Norfleet's old grist mill, then called "Norfleet's Mill," was the encampment site for North Carolina militia forces commanded by General Thomas Benbury, who were opposing a British force then operating in the Suffolk and South Quay areas of Nansemond County. [3]

Bible Record of John and Elizabeth Norfleet

John Norfleet (1699-1753) and Elizabeth Riddick (1710-1781) had twelve children of whom six (6) sons and five (5) daughters survived into adulthood. Primarily as the result of pioneering genealogical work by Fillmore Norfleet (1903-1987), the identities of the eleven surviving children were disclosed. In a letter, dated 10 September 1942, to Nettie Hale Rand of Saint Louis Missouri, the author of Rand-Hale Strong and Allied Families, A Genealogical Study with the Autobiography of Nettie Hale Rand (New York: 1940), Fillmore Norfleet states that:

" … A decade ago a man employed in dismantling a barn on the Elisha Rawls farm near Box Elder, Virginia, found, after he had torn the roofing away from one corner of the house, a Bible with one weathered page containing the birth and death dates of the family of John Norfleet. The Elisha Rawls farm had belonged formerly to John A. Norfleet, and before him, to his father, Abram Norfleet (1774-1827). [4] The Bible was given to Edward Alston Norfleet, and at his death passed to Mrs. John E. Martin (Virginia Jenkins), granddaughter of Wilson Norfleet. It has remained in her possession, but she refuses to let me or anyone else have an expert bring out the vanished names beside the birth dates."

The "Abraham Norfleet (1774-1827)" referred to by Fillmore was the brother (see page 65) of David and James Norfleet of Kentucky. At the present time (1996), I have no information as to the possessor of this Bible; however, per Filmore Norfleet, the fragmentary records from the bible provided the following information: [5]

_____ Norfleet, son of John Norfleet and his wife, was born 21 Jul 1699

Elizabeth Riddick, daughter of Abraham and Pleasant Riddick, was born 5 Apr 1710

John Norfleet and Elizabeth Riddick were married 28 May 1727

Children of John Norfleet and Elizabeth Riddick:

1. Abraham Norfleet was born 28 May 1728

2. _____ Norfleet was born 30 Oct 1729

3. Pleasant Norfleet was born 14 Aug 1732

4. _____ Norfleet was born 18 Mar 1734

5. Esther Norfleet was born 13 Jan 1736

6. _____ Norfleet was born 30 Jun 1737

7. _____ Norfleet was born 30 May 1739

8. _____ Norfleet was born 19 May 1741

9. _____ Norfleet was born 17 Aug 1743

10. _____ Norfleet was born 06 Oct 1745

11. _____ Norfleet was born 23 Aug 1747

12. _____ Norfleet was born 28 Mar 1751

The surviving Bible record, set forth above, provides the names of only three of the twelve children. However, the research of Fillmore Norfleet and Clairborn T. Smith, Jr. (then of Rocky Mount, North Carolina) conducted during the 1940's primarily among the land records and court administration papers of Gates County, North Carolina, identified the names of eight of the other nine children.

Also, an order of the Gates County, North Carolina Court, dated 12 February 1786, provides for the final division of the remaining monetary portion of the estate of John and Elizabeth Norfleet (see Figure) among the eleven surviving children and lists their names (six sons and five daughters) as follows:

Abraham Norfleet

John Norfleet

James Norfleet

Hezakiah Norfleet

Elisha Norfleet

Jacob Norfleet

Pleasant Twine

Esther Winborn

Elizabeth Norfleet (probably "Elizabeth Ann" aka "Nancy", who married John Baker)

Barsheba Gordon

Mary Ellis

We know from the bible record that Abraham was the oldest son and that Pleasant was the oldest daughter named, with Esther being the second eldest daughter named. If we assume that the list is in order of sex and age, then John Norfleet would be the second born son (born 30 October 1729).

Since Abraham is clearly the first born son, we have an example of a deviation from the normal Southern English and Virginia custom of naming the first borne son and daughter after the paternal Grandparents.[6] In this case, the first born son is apparently named after the maternal Grandfather, Abraham Riddick. Also the eldest daughter, Pleasant, is apparently named after the maternal Grandmother, Pleasant Riddick. I'm not sure why this naming procedure was followed, but it may be the result of giving deference to the Riddick family, as the Riddicks were probably the most socially prominent family in the Upper Parish of Nansemond County at that time.

Apparently, in this case, the paternal Grandparents names were used for the second born son and daughter. Thus, I am confident that John was the second eldest son. Also, information possessed by the descendants of Barsheba (nee Norfleet) Gordon indicates that the mother of John Norfleet of Chowan was named Esther. [7] The second oldest daughter of John (d. 1753) was also named Esther. These facts fit the above described naming strategy perfectly!

Last Will and Testament of John Norfleet

The last will and testament of John Norfleet (1699-1753), dated 10 September 1753, was probated in Chowan County, North Carolina in April 1754. The essential elements of the will are transcribed as follows:

" … I dispose thereof as follows: first I give to my son Abraham Norfleet All the Land and Plantation That I bought of Henry Syles, Lieing on Bockahock [sic} Creek to him his Heirs and Assignees for ever.

"Item. I give to my said son Abraham Two Red Pide [sic] Stears about five Year Old. Also, I give to my said son Abraham five Sheep to wit one Ram and four Ewes.

"Item. I give to my loving Wife Elisabeth Norfleet The Plantation whereon I now Live with all my Lands thereunto belonging. Also, my Grist Mill and the Land belonging thereunto, together with my Island and all the mearsh [sic] & Land thereunto belonging. To Hold to Her during her Widowhood.

"Item. I give the use of all my Negroes and other Estate of what Nature and Kind so ever not before given to my Wife Elisabeth Norfleet During her Widowhood. Item. I give the Houses Plantation and all the Lands there unto belonging, after my Wifes deceas to my son Jacob Norfleet and to his heirs and Assignees for ever.

"Item. I give my Island and Marsh being Three hundred and Sixteen and a half acres After my Wifes Deseas. to be Equally Divided amongst all my Children Sons and Daughters. but my son John to have his first Choice. To them their Heirs and Assignees for ever. But that neither of them shall sell or Assign their Part thereof unless it be to a Brother or Sister. And if my Wife should Happen to Marry again after my Death then my will and desire is that my Grist Mill and the Land there unto Belonging and also my Copper Still shall be sold at Publick Sale to the Highest Bidder for Ready money after my wifes Deceas or Marriage. And Out of The Money so arising and the Residue of my Personal Estate I give to Each and Every one of my Children Except my Son Abraham The sum of Twenty five Pounds Virginia Money. And a good Feather Bed to Each Except my son Abraham and my Daughter Pleasant who have already received theirs. And if my Estate after the Still, mill, and Negroes are sold at Publick Sale to the highest bidders, amounts to more money; then my will and desire is that the remainder be equally Divided amongst all my children without Exception. I mean share and share alike and

"Lastly I make and ordain my Loving Wife Elisabeth Norfleet Executrix and my son John Norfleet and my son James Norfleet Executors To this my Last Will and Testament …"

Particular note should be made of the provisions in the will for the division of John Norfleet's "Island and Marsh" consisting of 316 and 1/2 acres, among all his sons and daughters. After John's wife Elizabeth died in 1781, this tract was divided among the eleven surviving children. Most of the children almost immediately sold their shares to others. It was through the analysis of these land sale records, located in Gates County, that Fillmore Norfleet and Clairborn T. Smith were able to obtain the names of John's sons and daughters as well as the names of many of the spouses. [8]

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1.  Information obtained from a genealogy chart of the Gordon family; Barsheba Norfleet, daughter of John Norfleet (1699-1753) married Jacob Gordon. The chart is included in the O’Bryan Papers, pages 14-16, on file in the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

2.  See Perquimans County, North Carolina Deeds, Part 1, page 48.

3. Walter Clark, Editor, The State Records of North Carolina, Vol. XV, pages 137, 142-143 and 529.

4.  This Abraham Norfleet was the youngest son of John Norfleet (1729-1812). The Rawls farm and adjoining mill had originally belonged to this John Norfleet and later to his son, Abraham. The mill pond, even to this day, is known as Norfleet’s Pond. Also, Abraham was a grandson of John Norfleet (1699-1753) of Chowan County, North Carolina, hence the connection of the farm with the original owner of the Bible record.

5.  See Filmore Norfleet, Bible records of Suffolk and Nansemond County, Virginia Together with Other Statistical Data (1963), pages 96-99.

6.  See David Hackett Fisher, Albion’s Seed (1989), pages 306-310.

7. O’Bryan Papers, pages 14-16 (see note 1, above).

8.  For further information concerning these land records, see Fillmore Norfleet, Bible Records of Suffolk and Nansemond County, Virginia, Together with Other Statistical Data (1963), pages 97-98.

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