Tuesday, May 30, 2017

John GARTH (1713-1786)

John GARTH's "Mark"
Edna OTWELL > Edwin OTWELL > Maurice OTWELL > John F. OTWELL > Quintilla GARTH-OTWELL > John GARTH > Thomas GARTH > John GARTH

Our first proven GARTH ancestor in America was John GARTH. He was not educated and could only make “his mark” in lieu of a signature. Lack of education means he was likely born in the colonies.

By 1734, John was a plantation owner in St. Martin’s Parish, Hanover County, Virginia. This area was later called Fredericksville, Louisa County. He invested in land and later came to own over 2,000 acres. He raised livestock and farmed tobacco and corn.

By 1740, John married his first wife Rachel. By 1761, he married Hannah. He may have had another wife between Rachel and Hannah. He had a least 7 children: Sarah, Thomas (our ancestor), Elizabeth, Mary Ann, David, John and William. He was guardian over at least 2 additional children. In his later years, he married the widow Elizabeth CLARK in 1775. There were no children from that marriage.

John was likely a member of the Church of England, as that was required by law.

In 1745, John applied for a patent on 400 acres of land on the South Anna River. The patent required him to cultivate 3 acres out of every 15 within 3 years. And he had to pay an annual fee of one shilling for each 50 acres. After proving his patent, he built a grist mill and leased out portions of the land. This land he sold at a profit in 1761. The grist mill was later known as Byrd Mill after the man who later owned it. The original mill no longer exists.

Later land investments gave John the opportunity to avoid taxes. He would pay the fees on the land in order that the assessor would register his name. This would establish his claim on the land and prevent any future person from claiming it. He would then pay for a survey. But, he failed to apply for the patents. So, he did not pay taxes to the crown.

He was the first GARTH to own slaves. Prior to 1747, he was an overseer of slaves owned by other people. In 1747, he brought a boy aged 11 to court to have his age judged. Newly imported slaves were immediately taxable unless they were under the age of 16. To avoid taxes, John preferred to purchase young and newly imported slaves. In the 1780s, he was also accused in a lawsuit of illegally detaining a slave owned by another family.

Though he could not read or write, in the 1750s, John was a Precinct Processioner. His job was to meet with local property owners to verify the boundaries of their land and note any disputes. After land was processioned three times, the boundaries were unchangeable by law. He was also involved in building county roads.

During the Revolutionary War, John provided beef to the American Militia.

John died in 1786 at about 73 years old. In his will, he provided for his wife Elizabeth for one year. The estate was then split equally amongst his children.

The English surname GARTH means an enclosed yard or garden. Our family likely originated in England. No one knows when the GARTHs came to the colonies or who John’s father was. There is a theory that another GARTH living in Virginia as early as 1733. Known as “Old John GARTH”, he could have been John’s father. Old John could read and write and so he may have come to the colonies from England as an indentured servant.  As always, more research is needed.

This ends the GARTH research.


Davis, Rosalie Edith. The Garth Family: Descendants of John Garth of Virginia, 1734-1986. Dexter, MI: Thomson-Shore, 1988. Print.

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