Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Thomas OTTOWELL (1583-1645), married Mary

Edna OTWELL-SIM > Edwin > Maurice > John F. > William > Francis > William OTTWELL > Francis > Charles > Francis > William > Thomas OTTOWELL

The following (indented) is from the research of Rev. Edward H. OTWELL and Edward BREGENZER’s The Otwell Manuscript (The Otwells in America Since 1619) which is a compilation of their research on the Otwell family history, dated 1998. (You can find a link to this document on our resource page.)
  • Thomas was born in 1583 in England. He married Mary and it is believed that they had at least 5 children: John, our ancestor William, Thomas and Mary. He migrated to Jamestown Colony on the ship THE BONA NOVA between 1619 and 1624.
  • Thomas was a servant to plantation owner William BLANEY (also originally from Huntington).
  • Between 1623 and 1650, Thomas owned land in York County, Cheeseman River.
  • Thomas next married Margaret about 1630 and they had at least one child, a daughter named Frances (1631).
  • Thomas died in 1645 in Lancaster County (north of his Cheeseman Plantation).

The Virginia Company’s hope was to send colonist to the New World to discover gold. No gold was found and The Company settled on tobacco as their cash crop. Tobacco farming requires large tracts of land and laborers. Land was plentiful. Laborers were enticed to risk a voyage across the ocean by offering free passage and a promise of 50 acres of land after 7 years of indentured service was completed. In the early 1600s, few English farm laborers had the opportunity to own land or improve class status. 

In 1618, the Virginia Company changed the requirements for land ownership to 3 years of service and 100 acres parceled at 50 acres now and 50 acres upon completion of service. This applied to existing colonists, too. The hope of a better life motivated Thomas, nearly 40 years old) to risk a voyage, loose his freedom for 3 years and survive colonial life. Disease, starvation and Indians were all threats to the Jamestown colonists.

There are no ship manifests showing when Thomas arrived in the colonies. We know it was between 1619 and 1622. The BONA NOVA travelled between England and the New World between 1619 and 1624. The earliest record of Thomas is a 1623 census.  If Thomas is our ancestor, the OTWELLs have been in America for nearly 400 years.

After learning of a horrific Indian massacre (1622), King James I dissolved the Virginia Company, took procession of the colony, called for a census (to determine which colonists survived the massacre) and a muster (1624) (a type of census that listed all property owners and their servants along with property such as stored food, arms, homes and livestock). A quarter of the colonists had been killed in this massacre.

Thomas OTTOWELL appears on the first census as a survivor of the 1622 massacre. His location was “At the Plantation over against James Cittie”.  Those that died had been on the outskirts of the town.  Thomas was safer near the city as they had time to prepare for the attack.

On the muster, Thomas OTTOWELL appears as a 40 year old servant on the Edward BLANEY Plantation. It also says that Thomas came to the colonies on a ship called the BONA NOVA, but the date of his arrival was not recorded.

There is quite a bit of information on Edward BLANEY.  At age 25, he came to the colonies about 1620.  He travelled to and from England in 1621 and could have recruited Thomas at that time.  It is assumed that, like BLANEY, Thomas was from Huntington, England.  In the 1924 muster, BLANEY had over a dozen servants (all male) and 2 plots of land. The first had 2 houses, 2 boats, no arms, stored food (30 barrels of corn, half a hogshead, 9 bushels of oatmeal & peas, 2000 dried fish) and livestock (20 cattle, 10 goats, 5 kids, 21 swine and 8 pigs). That gives us some indication as to the diet they ate.  It notes “The rest of his servants Armes ect at his plantation Over ye Watter”. This refers to the southerly side of the James River opposite James Island and is likely where Thomas was in 1624.

“Over ye Watter” plantation had 3 dwelling houses, 3 tobacco houses, no food or livestock and the following arms: 7 lbs powder, 12 lbs lead & shot, 8 pieces (guns), 2 coats of mail, 2 quilted coats (usually worn under mail), 12 swords, 1 murderer (a small brass or iron ordinance that was used on ships and forecastles to clear decks of boarders), 10 matchcockes (guns that used matches at primer), 6 jacks (leather jackets), matches (slow burning fuses made of twisted hemp soaked in saltpeter or a piece of cotton rope). It is impressive that young BLANEY attained this much land and possessions within only 5 years of settling in the colonies. There were a total of 22 houses and BLANEY owned 5 of them.

Thomas' plantation was farther inland from James City.  As more colonists moved in, they encroached further into Indian lands staining those relations. He died at age 62 in Lancaster County, north of the Cheeseman plantation.

Virginia locations of the BLANEY plantation, James City
and Thomas' plantation