Editor’s note: This genealogy column ran in the Aug. 2, 1998, issue of the Tribune-Star.
In the years 1641-1675, a large migration of Britons to Virginia took place. This was a migration of wealthy cavaliers and their servants from the west country of England to the Chesapeake Bay area in America.
The migration began when Sir William Berkeley was appointed Governor of Virginia by King Charles I. Berkeley was an educated, well-mannered, knighted cavalier whose only stumbling block to success in Britain was that he was the second son in a well-to-do family. Because the British system of inheritance — called primogeniture — left all of a father’s land to the first-born son, other sons were left landless and usually chose careers in the ministry or military.
Berkeley arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1641, and immediately began shaping the colony in his own image. He transformed what had been a poor and wretched community into a haven for Britain’s elite “second sons.” Meanwhile, a similar system was evolving in Maryland under Lord Baltimore.
These cavaliers came to the new world to create the society that they had been denied at home because of the primogeniture laws. To do the manual work on their large thousand-acre plantations, they recruited indentured servants, who were offered their freedom plus 50 acres of land after seven years of servitude.
These elite settlers, although not the first settlers to the colony, became the ancestors of what would later be called Virginia’s “First Families.” Among them were the maternal and paternal ancestors of George Washington.
The cavaliers who immigrated to Virginia and Maryland, along with their indentured servants, were primarily from two areas in England — the counties surrounding the city of Bristol, and London and its surrounding counties to the west.
These immigrants brought with them the cultural values and practices from England’s west country and transplanted them to Virginia and Maryland society. They were Royalists loyal to the established Anglican Church, and the parishes played a large role in their social and political lives. Today, parish records from these areas is as important in genealogical research as the civil records.
They preferred country living, as their families had lived back in England, and brought the system of primogeniture with them for passing on their lands. Because only their first sons inherited property, other sons were forced to seek land elsewhere, eventually moving westward.
They often named their children after kings or knights, Christian saints, or used traditional English folk names. Frequently, the first son was named after the paternal grandfather, and the second son after the father. The first daughter would be named after the maternal grandmother, and the second daughter after the mother. By looking at several generations, a naming pattern emerges in which the same first names are repeated every third generation.
These immigrants created a way of life in the colonies that was directly transplanted from their culture back home.
Source: British Origins of American Colonists, 1629-1775, by William Dollarhide.