Robert Coleman The Immigrant

ROBERT COLEMAN, THE IMMIGRANT,
OF MOBJACK BAY, GLOUCESTER COUNTY, VIRGINIA

    No evidence has been found in any Virginia records to indicate the year of Robert Colemanís birth, but his birth year has traditionally been estimated as ca. 1622.  Robertís name first appeared in the records of the colony on a headright list from Upper Norfolk County on 2 Mar 1638.  He was listed as a headright of Thomas Symons.  Although the headright list was dated 1638, Robert was probably in the colony at least by 1637 (see Headright information\).

    The Coleman brothers made their way to York County before 1645.  They may have traveled overland, but more likely went by boat.  Virginia was a true wilderness in those days, heavily forested and occupied by Indians and wild animals.  Traveling in small parties would have been safe enough by boat.  Larger groups of settlers could travel overland with relative safety, depending on their number.

York County is likely where the Coleman brothers met and married their wives.  Settlers throughout the Virginia colony had crowded into York in anticipation of the eventual opening of Indian lands to the north.  Neither Gloucester nor Lancaster counties were open for white settlement until 1649, and all three brothers appear to have been married by that year.

York County is also where Robert Coleman became good friends with Thomas Ray, although the strong possibility exists that Thomas Ray was a cousin of the Colemans (see will of Edward Colman\).  Thomas Ray was named Godfather to Robertís oldest surviving son, Thomas Coleman.

Very few deeds or court actions still exist regarding Robertís activities in the new colony, but those records are noted on page Unknown

The map below shows the Mobjack Bay and Gloucester County region as it was divided about the time Robert arrived.

Gloucester County Parishes and Mobjack Bay of the early 1600s

The Gloucester County Parishes and Surrounding Counties in the 1630s

    Robert married Elizabeth Grizzell, although no records exist as proof.  Very little is known about Elizabeth, other than the name "Grizzell" is a Scottish form of "Grace"There were at least two men in the colony at that time with the surname of Grizzell: Humphrey and WilliamNothing further is known about either man.  Robert and Elizabeth had six known surviving children: Thomas, Robert, Joseph, Grizzell, Daniel and JohnThese children and their descendants are the subjects of this book.

    The Abingdon Parish Register was destroyed in 1676, and without those records it is nearly impossible to determine how many children Robert and Elizabeth Coleman actually had.   It is credible to assume they had more daughters in addition to Grizzell, but if those daughters survived to adulthood and married, their existence has been lost to researchers.

    Son Thomas, born before 1654, was the oldest surviving child of Robert and Elizabeth and would have inherited most of his fatherís Gloucester County land.  He and his wife Rebecca Claiborne left many descendants, although a good portion of them migrated to other parts of Virginia and points west.  After decades of tobacco and other crops had drawn nutrients from the land, Gloucester County soil would have deteriorated.  Early Virginians exhibited little hesitation, and indeed were eager, to migrate to areas with fertile, virgin soil.  The name Richard Coleman appears often in the line of Thomas and Rebecca.

    The next surviving child of Robert and Elizabeth was son Robert, born in 1656.  Perhaps the law of inheritance was the impetus which prompted Robert to leave Gloucester County and settle first in New Kent County which, at that time, bordered Gloucester.  Robert and his wife, Ann Spilsbe, were living in New Kent County until King & Queen.County was formed from that area in 1691.  The land on which Robert had settled then became part of King & Queen.  Robert and Ann had many children who in turn had many children of their own.  Their blood flows through thousands of Coleman descendants all across America and around the world.  The names of Edward and Richard Coleman were given to sons in the early generations of this line.

    Joseph Coleman was the next child of Robert and ElizabethHe and his wife, Agnes Adelston, had two children, one of whom did not survive childhood.  Joseph owned land in Abingdon Parish, probably given to him by his father.  He also acquired land in adjoining Petsworth Parish.  The male line of Joseph and Agnes evidently died out.

    Grizzell Coleman was the only known surviving daughter of Robert and Elizabeth.  It is known that she married Benjamin Clements and that they had a number of children.  Unfortunately, many of their descendants have been reticent about sharing their family lines; therefore, little is known about the Coleman-Clements descendancy.

    Daniel was as prolific and adventuresome as his brother Robert.  Daniel also left Gloucester and settled in New Kent County.  After that county was divided, Danielís homestead became part of King & Queen County, but he also owned land in adjoining King William County.  Daniel lived in King & Queen until his death in 1722.  He and his wife, Miss Darby, had several children.

    John Coleman was the youngest surviving child of Robert and ElizabethHe had two wives, Margaret and Ann, and children by both wives.  John remained in Gloucester County, owning land in Abingdon and Petsworth parishes.  Three of his four children left Gloucester and settled elsewhere in Virginia and North Carolina, one of whom was a Richard Coleman.

    A wife and children were valuable assets during the difficult days of establishing colonies in a new world.  Wives were needed to help clear the land, plant and harvest crops, fight Indians, and bear children who would, at a young age, be required to work the fields and care for the farm animals.  Love or passion probably played a minor role in the choosing of a mate, with colonists opting instead to marry for practicality.  Living conditions were harsh, and survival was a priority.  Most of the colonists were experiencing a sense of newfound freedom and they were determined to succeed in the new world.  The possibility of amassing land and establishing homes to leave to their descendants was a new and heady experience for the pioneers.  They were ready and eager to take advantage of every opportunity offered them.

    The year Robert Coleman settled in Gloucester County is unknown, but he was certainly among its first colonists.  If the Coleman brothers and other migrating settlers crossed the York River to what became Gloucester County, they would have built rafts to ferry themselves, their families, supplies and farm stock to Tyndallís PointAn alternate route would have meant traveling by boat down the York to Chesapeake Bay, northward to Mobjack Bay and up the Severne River.  Doing so, however, would have been a monumental task considering the sheer numbers of people and animals who made the migration.

Tyndallís Point was named for Robert Tyndall who explored the area in 1608 as a mapmaker for Captain John Smith.  That area became the major migration route to Gloucester County and the former Indian lands to the north.  The "Great Road" leads northward through Gloucester and was probably first forged by the Powhatan Indians.

The exact Gloucester County location where Robert Coleman settled is unknown, but it would have been along the Severne River, which empties into Mobjack Bay, which in turn empties into Chesapeake Bay.  The waterways were the easiest means of transportation in the early days of the colony; they also provided a source of food and a means of shipping tobacco and other exportable goods.

Historical references indicate "Mock Jack Bay" was the original name of the area in which Robert Coleman settled.  As the story was told, in the early years of the colony, a ship sailed into the bay while on an exploratory expedition.  The sailors, called "jacks", began calling out greetings to the then uninhabited wilderness.  Echoes of their greetings reverberated across the water, thus the name "Mock Jack Bay".

    By January 1663, John Coleman was deceased, Richard Coleman lived in Rappahannock County, and Robert Coleman was firmly established in GloucesterRobert also owned land in Northumberland County, a fact that has caused one of the longest-running Coleman puzzles, that being the mystery of the origins of Thomas Coleman whose wife was Elizabeth Connelly (see article p. Unknown\).

    On 22 Aug 1659, "Francis Carpenter of Cherry Point Neck in the County of Northumberland unto Robert Coleman of Mock Jack Bay in the County of Gloucester, for a valuable consideration, 200 acres in Potomack freshes land of Mr. Randolp...along the river side...into the woods for length of two miles...granted unto Francis Carpenter by patent 5 Jun 1658." \(Westmoreland Co. VA Records 1658-1661, abstracted and compiled by John F. Dorman (1970), pp. 107-108)

The acreage Robert Coleman purchased at Cherry Point Neck was an excellent piece of real estate.  The "freshes" would have been a swift-running stream of fresh water that flowed into the larger, picturesque Potomac River.  The swift-running stream was most likely the Yeocomico River, with both John and Robert Coleman owning river land.

No evidence has been found in existing records to indicate Robert ever lived on, or sold, the 200 acres at Cherry Point Neck he purchased in 1659.  He was apparently well satisfied with his home in Gloucester County, and probably purchased the Northumberland County land at the urging of his brother JohnMore than 100 years after Robert purchased the acreage at Cherry Point Neck, one of his descendants, Thomas Coleman, was living in Northumberland County and paid a tithe on himself and three other men.  The land Thomas lived on at the time could very well have been the same 200 acres purchased by Robert Coleman in 1659.

Robert Coleman may have been one of the planters of mulberry trees in Gloucester County.  The trees had been imported from Italy to enable the planters and farmers of the county to compete in the worldwide silk-producing market.  Historians believe that Gloucester County silk was used to weave the coronation robes worn by King Charles II. Two years after he took the throne in 1660, Charles wrote that the silks from Virginia "were as fine a quality as any other in British possession".  Descendants of those mulberry trees still grow in Gloucester soil today.

Gloucester residents lived according to the traditions of their forefathers.  Although well known for their hospitality, they were little influenced by the outside world, being somewhat isolated from the more populous settlements.  The reasons Robert Coleman chose to settle in Gloucester County will never be known, but there is no doubt he and his wife were among Gloucesterís earliest settlers, and were the progenitors of the majority of Colemans in Virginia

Historians and researchers can debate the issue of whether or not Edward, John, Richard and Robert Coleman were in fact brothers.  More than 365 years have passed since the first mention of Edward Colemanís name in early Virginia records.  Unfortunately, the possibility of finding additional evidence as proof of their relationship is slim. 

Additional sources: Connie Ausec of Houston, TX

        Marjorie Watts of

        James H. Brown of Hurst, TX