Friday, April 9, 2010

Our Family's Colonial Era, 1607 - 1775, Part I

The following five colonial history posts are put together from a number of sources including published historical works, internet sites, and from the research of our contributors Dr. Rhodes Holliman, Maxine Wright, Glenda Norris, Ron Holliman, the late Walt Holliman and other family members who came before them. Those who have additional information or ideas for genealogy posts, please let us hear from you. Only by researching, critiquing, and listening to one other can our understanding of the past increase.

"From where did we come" is one of the oldest questions we humans ask. For Hollimans, our American experience began in Jamestown, Virginia where English America was founded by some adventurous colonialists from London in 1607. In this post we begin an on-going series about the first decades of our family in American.

By: Glenn N. Holliman

The map right identifies Smithfield, Virginia, where Christopher Holliman, Sr. settled by 1661. Jamestown is not marked but is just south of Williamsburg, where one can catch a ferry to Isle of Wight County on the south side of the James River.

By any measure, the life of Christopher Holliman, Sr. (ca. 1630 - 1691) was one of adventure and economic success. We know he sailed over on a ship that was sponsored by John Coxe of London. Christopher stepped onto American soil in Jamestown, Virginia on May 22, 165o. He was only 19 or 20 years of age when he began his adventure in the "new world."

Christopher Sr.'s first wife was named Anne, last name unknown, and of that union, six children grew to maturity. Those of us reading this are descended from their eldest, Christopher, Jr. (You can review the "lineage" page at the top of this blog to refresh your memory.)

There is no other record of Christopher Sr. until 1661, when a deed states that he purchased land near what is now Smithfield, Virginia, across from Jamestown on the south side of the James River. He farmed several hundred acres along Cypress Creek, a tributary of the Pagan, which itself runs into the James River. From this body of water, Christopher, Sr. easily loaded hogsheads of tobacco onto ships which would transport his cash crop to England. He purchased more land along Cypress Swamp in 1668.

He did well economically because in 1684, now in his 50s, he patented a large amount of land from the Royal Governor between the Mill Swamp and the Blackwater River. The Blackwater River is the western boarder of Isle of Wight County. The plantation, as he styled it in his will, was large - 1,020 acres, a large farm for the time and place. When he died in 1691, his will divided the land among his children and his second wife, Mary Gray Holliman.

Where is the exact location of the original site? The deeds, dependent upon landmarks now gone, except for the Swamp and Blackwater River, are unclear. A family friend and professional geographer who also traces his family back to Isle of Wight County, Paul Fly, suggested I look along the border of Surry and Southampton Counties.

In March 2010 my wife, Barb, our oldest granddaughter, Holly, age 4 1/2, and I took a day trip from Richmond, Virginia down Highway 460 past Wakefield, Virginia to the hamlet of Ivor. There we turned east on Proctor Bridge Road, crossed the Blackwater River and made some interesting 'discoveries' that I will share with you next week!

The Blackwater River (pictured right) flows southward into North Carolina. It is deep and wide enough for boats to carry tobacco casts to ships bound for England. Tobacco was the cash crop of Virginia and was the mainstay of its colonial economy. In his 1691 will, Christopher Holliman Sr. records that he had tobacco barns, confirming tobacco too was his financial foundation.


  1. This is awsome work. I do want to keep very close to your work. I cannot express how much I appreciate you sending me this information. I will look into the missing info on John Holliman, I hope my work load will soon be lighter, giving me more time for research.... Eddy Smith Fayette County Al....

  2. Your work is so well done. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Keep up the great work!

    Jeanette Holiman Stewart