The Arrival of Abraham Estes in Virginia

by David Powell
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Cheryl Singhal in the preparation of this article. Following a post I made to soc.genealogy Cheryl did some digging around for me and some of the following is the result of her research. Cheryl is not an Estes descendent, rather she is a genealogist specialising in the time when Abraham arrived in the New World.

Most Estes researchers (from the USA at least) are descendants of Abraham Estes, whether confirmed or suspected. Given this great interest in the descendants of Abraham, an important question that has been unanswered is just when did Abraham depart from England and voyage to the New World Colonies.

"Traditionally" (at least in the past 15 years or so), it has been held that Abraham arrived in Virginia on the 20th April, 1682. This claim is based on evidence from "Cavaliers & Pioneers", to wit:

Lucy Keeling, dau of Thorowgood Keeling, dec'd 300 acs, Lower Norfolk County, Lynhaven Par, 20 April 1682, p 146.  Beginning on a poynt on the Dildoe Br, to br dividing this & Jno. Johnson, & C.  Bequeathed by sd Keeling to sd Lucy to be possessed with the same after the death of his wife Lucy--(now Lucy Haies) etc.  Transportation of 6 persons: Abraham Easter, Jno Rose, Richard Cook, Margaret Woollingham, Elizab. Sixworth, Robt. Calderwood.[1]

But does this prove that Abraham arrived on that date? Despite the assumption by many Estes researchers that it does, in fact it only proves that Abraham was in Virigina on this date. The date that appears in Cavaliers & Pioneers is the date of the assizes (court) session when head right was assigned for Abraham. There was no time limit for applying for a head right claim.[7]

Just what do we know for sure about when and where Abraham was around this time? On the 29th December, 1672, he was in Worth, County Kent, England, when he married Ann Burton.[2,3] The next documented appearance by Abraham (apart from the head right claim) was in 1683 when he was a signatory on a petition whilst living in St. Stephens Parish, New Kent County.[2,4] In 1704 he paid land tax on 200 acres in King and Queen County (which was formed from New Kent County).[5] Abraham died 21st November, 1720, in King and Queen County, Virginia.[6]

So we know Abraham was somewhere in Virginia in mid 1682 and by 1683 he had moved to King and Queen County, where he remained until he died.

But where was Abraham between 1672 and 1682? And just when did he sail?

The following I will quote directly from Cheryl:

"On 20th April 1682, approximately 600 head rights were recorded (per Nugent's Cavaliers & Pioneers). Counting the 100 patentees, that's over 700 persons at a time. There is no way they were all off the same ship. Ships of the era simply didn't carry that many passengers. A passenger complement of 70 would be usual and 200 would be very overcrowded and under-provisioned. Nor would it be likely that multiple ships carrying smaller numbers of passengers would have all arrived the same day."

"I noted as part of the in-depth process the number of recordings for 20th April 1682 were over 100 persons who patented or recorded land that day. Additionally, a roughly similar number of records appeared on or about the 20th of every month. That suggests it wasn't a ship arrival, but rather some sort of "Assizes" or "court day"."

"More specifically, the entry which mentions Abraham does not by any means confirm his recent arrival. His passage was paid for by Thorowgood Keeling, who was dead by 20th April 1682. Thorowgood's wife Lucy (now Lucy Hales) inherits and, upon her death, the land goes to their daughter Lucy; the head rights, which got Thorowgood the right to the land, are listed and include Abraham. However, there is an earlier entry (1675) that mentions Thorowgood's land, in the same vicinity. It is entirely possible that the head right importations occurred prior to 1675 and were simply never patented until it became part of the estate settlement."[7]

Which basically says that Abraham arrived in Virginia before 1682 and possibly as early as 1675, if not before then.

Another pertinent fact is when Thorowgood Keeling died. We know from the Cavaliers and Pioneers quote that Thorowgood had died by 1682 since the quote refers to his widow.[1] Since Thorogood was Abraham's sponsor, one can reasonably assume that Thorowgood died after Abraham arrived in Virginia or at least after Abraham's passage had been booked and paid for by Thorowgood.

Thorowgood Keeling died sometime in 1679: his will was made 31st March, 1679 and was probated 15th August, 1679. [8,9,10] Since the voyage from England to Virginia took less than 4 months, we can safely conclude that Abraham had arrived in Virginia by at least 1679.

At this time I am not aware of any documented evidence which could pinpoint Abraham's arrival in Virginia any more precisely than sometime between 1673-1679. However, speculation and general practices at the time can help shed some more light. Quoting again from Cheryl:

"The operation seems to have worked thusly: Thorowgood had money, but needed field hands, so he found some field hands in England, paid their ticket to Virginia, they worked at current wages until they'd repaid the cost; at that time, they moved on and obtained land of their own. The typical indenture was for 7 years."[7]

Abraham was a free man in 1683 when he signed the St Stephens Petition,[4] thus if he had served the usual indenture time, he would have arrived in Virginia by at least 1675. Likely a few years before this since he would have needed a few years after working off his indenture in order to gain the capital to purchase his own land (according to the law at the time only land-owners had voting rights and thus the right to sign a petition). As for why Abraham waited until around 1684 to marry he was not in a financial position to support a family until after he had paid off his indenture (men rarely married until they had paid off their indenture).[7]

So if we assume Abraham followed the standard route of an indentured arrival, he most likely arrived in Virginia around 1673/1674 remembering he married in England a few days before the end of 1672.[2,3]

According to "family tradition" (and we all know what that means), Abraham's first wife died young, possibly due to complications with their first child, either enroute to Virginia or just prior to Abraham's departure (an exhaustive search has failed to find any trace of children for in England).[11]

If the family tradition is true, then Abraham would have travelled to the America's sometime in 1673. Is it a coincidence that this matches the date estimated above? I suspect not!

I have seen an undocumented claim that Abraham arrived in Virginia in 1674 on the Vana, however I have not been able to substantiate this claim.

Where to from here? Several suggestions have been made which someone in the USA may care to follow up. The 1673-1682 estate settlements for Lower Norfolk Co, VA (where Thorogood Keeling lived), may shed some light on Abraham's movements (especially for 1679). The Library of Virginia (which houses the state's Archives) may have additional information. There is also a Maritime Museum in Newport News, VA, across the bay from Norfolk. They may have pertinent information.


[1] Cavaliers and Pioneers, Vol 2, 1666-1695, abstracted by Nell Marion Nugent;  p.234 of Patent Book 7.
[2] The English Ancestry of the American Estes, Niel Gunson. Article originally appeared in Estes Trails, 1992, 12.3 (whole issue).
[3] Reminiscences of the Eastes Family in Kent and Australia, Niel Gunson, 1998, and references therein. (Book published by Dr. Gunson.)
[4] Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Vol.28, Beverley Fleet, citing: Colonial Papers 1657-1687, held by Archives Division, Virginia State Library, Richmond, Virginia. Reprinted, with list of signatories, in Talking to Myself, Kitty Estes-Savage, Estes Trails, 1988, 8.1, pp.5-6. Also (without signatories) on the www within the file: <>.
[5] Talking to Myself, Kitty Estes-Savage, Estes Trails, 1988, 8.1, pp.2-19 (see p.6, only year given).
[6] See, for example, Talking to Myself, Kitty Estes-Savage, Estes Trails, 1988, 8.1, pp.2-19 (see p.6).
[7] Cheryl Singhal.
[8] Lower Norfolk Wills, etc, from Cheryl Singhal.
[9] <> Ancestry World Tree entries on Thorowgood Keeling.
[10] <> Rootsweb entries on Thorowgood Keeling.
[11] For example, see Abraham Estes' Children by Bud Altmayer, 1992, Minor's Pub, Boone, NC.

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