John Worley, Immigrant Ancestor of the Powhatan County Area Worley Family

John Worley, the immigrant ancestor of our Worley line, first appeared on the records of Henrico county, Virginia on 14 July 1718 when William Kennon was granted ten headrights for transporting ten people into the colony, including ‘John Whorly.’ Men and women were recruited in England to come to America to stake England’s claim in the New World. To encourage immigration, the Virginia Company, and later the colonial government, issued headrights for the importation of new immigrants. Wealthy landowners paid for the transport of men and women into the colonies. The imported persons agreed to work for five to seven years as indentured servants to pay for their passage. In addition, those paying the transportation costs were given fifty acres of land per person or per head, known as a headright, for those for whom they paid the transport costs. That someone claimed a headright for John’s importation indicates that John entered Virginia sometime prior to that date. However, the system of headrights was greatly abused. Several people, from the ship’s captain to the one who actually paid for the transport to anyone else looking for free land, might try to claim the land bounty, and most would succeed because there was very little oversight on the process. Some of the wealthier citizens would return to England and claim a new headright each time they reentered the colony. It is not surprising then to find another person, Richard Walthall, claimed a headright for a ‘John Wordley’ in March 1725. Interestingly, a Henry Walthall was one of John’s neighbors.

At any rate, in September 1720, two years after his first mention in record books, John made his first land purchase, buying fifty-six acres in Henrico County from James Aken, Jr. “on the north side of Swift Creek adjoining Capt. John Worsham, being part of a grant to James Aken, Sr. and Richard Lyon and where Worley now lives”, paying a total of fifteen pounds. If John were transported into the colony as an indentured servant, he would not have been eligible to buy land until his term of service was up, indicating that he was perhaps in Virginia as early as 1713 if his term was for seven years, or 1715 if he only served for five years.

No record of an Esther Worley of any spelling has been discovered on transport lists to date, so it is assumed that she arrived in America either as a single woman or was born here and she and John were married in the colony. The fact that John was later living among the Huguenots at or near Manikentown may indicate that he married one of the persecuted Protestants who began arriving in the new colony as early as 1705. She was most definitely not Esther Blount as is so often seen in internet genealogies. The first mention of Esther Worley was in a Court Order Book of Henrico County (1719-1724) when she and John sold some land to John Farlee, Jr. in 1722. The deeds of this time do not survive so the details of this transaction are lost, but this does tell us that she and John were married by this time. It is assumed that this was the land that John had purchased from James Aken, Jr.

In August 1725 John received a patent of 277 acres on the North side of Swift Creek. His neighbors included Henry Walthall, Edward Hill, John Farlow [Farlee?], and Martha Blankenship. In November 1726, the couple sold this land to Will Moseley.

Goochland county was formed in 1727 from the western portions of Henrico county and Esther and John Worley fell within the boundaries of the new jurisdiction. At this point, we don’t know if they had any real estate because there are no details of the transaction in 1722 when John sold land to John Farley [Farlee]. There are several references to John in the court records of the new county. In 1730 he sued Thomas Lockett for trespass. In 1733 he was sued by Thomas Dickens of Manakintown for a debt; that case being dismissed.

Road building and road maintenance were very different enterprises in colonial Virginia than they are today. If someone wanted a new road built, they would petition the local government. If it was deemed that a new road was needed, three or four people who resided in the area were appointed by the court to go out and decide on the best route for the new road. Once that task was accomplished the court would order that the new road be built, usually appointing the person who requested the new road be responsible for the work. The maintenance of roads was very similar. The local government would simply assign people to be responsible for ’surveying’ a road segment, which meant making sure the road was maintained and kept clear. In 1734 John Worley was appointed surveyor of the road, only to be replaced the following year by Joseph Baugh. In April 1736 the Goochland court “Ordered that the titheables of Col. Richard Randolph’s two quarters, Capt Moseley’s quarter, William Clay, Thomas Moor, and John Worley at Jenito Quarter, do work on the road whereof Henry Clay is Surveyor, that John Baugh do clear the road from Ditoways Branch to Watkins Path and that Henry Clay keep the bridge in repair.” [Genito is in current day Powhatan County.]

John Worley’s son, William, bought the “plantation on Swift Creek where John Worly (sic) now lives” from John Maxey in July 1739 for fifty pounds. Looking at the land records presented so far it seems as if John Worley, Sr. had sold all, or at least most, of the land he had purchased by 1726 and so he must have been leasing this land from Maxey. [He purchased 56 acres in 1720 and made a sale in 1722. He purchased 277 acres in 1725 and sold that land in 1726.] No other deeds for John Worley turn up until 1749 and it would appear that William purchased this land for, or out from under, his father. It could simply have been that John Maxey was selling the land and William bought it, living on the land with his father and perhaps other family members until his father was able to make his own purchase.

The court in Cumberland declared John Worley to be levy free in 1743. This was usually done for a person who had become infirm, was elderly, or was a minister. [I need to check this fact because Cumberland did not exist in 1743, so was the year 1753 or was it Goochland county.?] There are mentions in the early church records of the area that John and Esther maintained a ‘Reading Room’ on their property. A reading room was a location for holding church services where the liturgy would be read, but no sacraments given, by the lay reader. The parish priest was responsible for the entire parish and would visit the various churches in that parish, each in turn. For many, the distance to the church building prohibited their attending regular services and so they would attend a reading room. Once Southam Parish was established the church began paying Sylvanus Witt one thousands pounds of tobacco for being the reader at South Chapel, so it seems most likely that John merely provided the meeting place.

In September 1744 the Virginia legislature divided Goochland County into two counties, Goochland and Albemarle. At the same time they divided St. James Parish, which had encompassed all of Goochland, into three new parishes; St. Anne‘s Parish to serve all of Albemarle county; St. James, Northam for all the parts of the original parish that were north of the James River; and Southam Parish which was to serve all of the lands south of the James River and extended to the Appomattox River. These new divisions were to be in effect from December 1744. The new vestry for Southam Parish met in August of 1745 and “ordered that a chapel be built at or near the Reading Place at Worley’s as soon as conveniently may be done”. John Worley, Sr. was appointed sexton of South Chapel in 1748 and given payment of 500 pounds of tobacco per year. [A sexton was charged with the maintenance of the church and/or the nearby graveyard.] Shortly before Christmas 1749 John Worley was paid his 500 pounds of tobacco for being sexton of the Chapel, plus an additional 300 pounds for clearing around the chapel, ninety pounds for horse blocks, 100 pounds for setting up ten benches and twenty pounds for providing pins for the window. John received his salary of five hundred pounds of tobacco from the Church yearly through 1756, plus some extras here and there for performing additional duties or for the use of his Bible. In December of 1757 “Esther Wherley (was) appointed sexton of South Chapel in the room of John Wherley, deceased.”

As the influx of immigrants into Virginia continued, the frontier boundary was continually being pushed westward, away from Richmond, out along the path of the James River and its tributaries, toward the interior and the Blue Ridge mountains to the west. The increasing land area being populated and the greater numbers of people immigrating from England and Europe, necessitated the establishment of a new county, which was called Cumberland, in 1749. This county was formed from the southwestern portion of land in Goochland county. In September of that year, John Worley bought two hundred acres, recorded in the new county, “on the north side of the Appomattox River” and on the north side of the main branch of Swift Creek, from Isaac and Ann Robinson, being part of a four hundred acre tract patented to Robinson in 1734, “on both sides of the main branch of Swift Creek“. This was most likely quite near to the land William purchased in 1739. This deed was witnessed by his son-in-law, Anthony Agee, who the same day purchased one hundred forty acres “on Buckingham Road, near the new Chapple, the Rock that lys in the Road is and lys in the land where John Whorley now lives”.

In May 1754 John Worley appeared as a witness for Joseph Akin (sic) in a suit brought by William Battersby, administrator for John Canifix (sic), dec’d plaintiff against Joseph Akin administrator for James Akin, dec‘d, defendant. This was probably the James Aken, Jr. that John bought his first piece of land from back in 1820. John attended court for eighteen days and Joseph was ordered to pay him 450 pounds of tobacco for his attendance. John’s granddaughter, Esther Maxey, would grow up to marry William Canifax, the son of this John Canifix.

John Worley wrote his will on 22 March 1757. Even though he states he was in perfect health, he may have known his time was drawing to a close because he died by December 15th of that year. We are grateful for his will because it gives us proof of his children, the married names of his daughters who had all married by this time, and the names of at least three of his grandchildren.

Will of John Worley, Cumberland County, Virginia
“I John Worley am disposed to make my Will being in perfect Health and Sense and Memory praised be to God for it. In the Name of God Amen.
I give my soul to God who created it and my body to be buried at the Descretion (sic) of my executive.
Item I give to my well beloved Wife Esther Worley all my Estate after my debts are pay’d and the Plantation whereon I now live during her life and then the said Plantation after her Life I give to my grandson Charles Maxey to him and his heirs .. Lafully (sic) begotten and never to be sold and if the s’d Charles Maxey should dye then to fall to John Gipson son to Thos and Elizabeth Gibson.
Item I give to John Worley ye Younger and my grandson the plantation where his father now lives and so to a new line I make according to my own pleasure for the division but my Will is that my son John Worley shall have the sd Plantation during his life but no liberty to sell it nor to rent it.
Item. I give to my son John Worley Junr one shilling sterling
Item. I give to my son Wm Worley one shilling sterling.
Item. I give to my daughter Mary Maxey one shilling sterling.
Item. I give to Daughter Elizabeth Gibson one shilling sterling.
Item. I give to Daughter Christian Agee one shilling sterling.
Item. I give to Daughter Jude Smith one shilling sterling
and this I allow to be my last Will and testament as Witness my hand this 22 Day of March 1757.”
John Worley SS
Curnell Keen, Nathael Maxey wit”

“At a court held for Cumberland County the 27 day of March 1758, the last will of John Worley decd was proved by the witnesses hereto and by the court ordered to be recorded.”

After John died Esther continued on as sexton of Southam Chapel. She received the same payment her husband had, five hundred pounds of tobacco each year. She continued in this manner, receiving the five hundred pounds of tobacco plus an additional two hundred pounds beginning in 1765 because she was “a poor person” until her son, William, took over in 1772. Esther Worley most likely died shortly after she ceased her duties as sexton; she was last paid two days before Christmas 1771. Although the church records do not say so, William may have taken over because of her death, the most likely prospect, because payments to her as “a poor person“ also ceased.

John Worley “of Buckingham” sold the hundred acres he inherited from his grandfather to John Moseley of Powhatan for eighty-five pounds on April 16th 1778. This John Worley was John, III, son of John, Jr. We can place death of John, Jr. between July 1777 and April 1778 because John, Jr. had “the said Plantation during his life“ after which it was to go to John, III.

The following year William Worley, the only surviving son, sells the land that he had purchased back in 1739 for twelve hundred pounds. He certainly struck a better bargain than his nephew for his ninety-five acres. William’s land was also described as being bounded by the land of John Moseley and Alexander Trent, as well as by the land of James Bransford.

Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants. Vol. 3: 1695-1732. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1979.
The Huguenot, No. 13 (1945-1947), The Huguenot Society, Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia, pp. 153-159
Henrico County Deeds 1714-1718, p. 507.
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 13, No. 1, July 1905, p. 175.
Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, William Meade, p. 33, 34.
Virginia Tax Records, “The Vestry Book of King William Parish 1707-1750”.
Goochland County Virginia Wills and Deeds, 1736-1742, Benjamin Weisiger, III, p. 31.
Powhatan County Virginia Order Book 1, p. 189.
Goochland County Road Orders 1728-1744, Nathaniel Mason Pawlett.
The Route of the Three Notch’d Road: A Preliminary Report, Nathaniel Mason Pawlett.
Cumberland County Virginia Will Book 1.
Cumberland County Virginia Deed Book 1.
Chesterfield County Virginia Will Book 1.
The Maxeys of Virginia: A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Edward and Susannah Maxey, Third Edition, Edythe Maxey Clark, Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, 2000.
Chesterfield County Wills 1749-1774.
The Agee Register, Louis N. Agee, pg. 270.

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