Few of my ancestors’ genealogies are as contentious as my 10x great-grandfather, Colonel Thomas Pettus, born abt 1598 in England (either London or the County of Norfolk). His lineage has sparked fierce debates among American genealogists for two centuries. One of the problems is the sheer volumes of Thomases in the Pettus family. It is incredibly easy to get them confused.
Then there is the debate about whether he married Ko Oke “Jane” Powhatan, a daughter of Matoake (better known as Pocahontas) and her first husband, Kocoum. While there is a European-descended researcher group who have challenged the marriage between Ko Oke and Thomas Pettus, 3 different Virginian Native American tribes have not only claimed this lineage down the ages, it verges on the sacred among them. I’m going to admit bias towards the Native Americans’ claim. For who would have better knowledge of Native American history than Native Americans? This too has been supported by researchers William Strachey, historian at Jamestown, and Bill Deyo, the tribal historian of the Patawomeck tribe. These are two men who know the early colonial history of Virginia.
Putting that contentious issue to one side, the next question that surrounds Thomas Pettus is straightforward: who were his parents?
One camp claim his parents were William Pettus, Mayor of Norwich, England) and his wife, Mary Gleane. A second camp claims his parents were Thomas Pettus, another Mayor of Norwich, and his wife, Christian Dethick. Neither, I’m afraid, are correct.
So let’s start from the beginning.
When it comes to tracing my ancestors back in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, I use a handful of trusted and reliable sources:
- The Harlean Society’s series of Visitations of series of English antiquarian lineage and pedigree books (available on Google Books;
- Coleman’s General Index of Printed Pedigrees (available on Google Books);
- British county antiquarian pedigree books (available on Google Books);
- The History of [British] Parliament via http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/member/pettus-sir-john-1613-85 ;
- Burke’s Peerage via www.burkespeerage.com; and
- Burke’s A genealogical history of the dormant, abeyant, forfeited, and extinct peerages of the British empire via https://archive.org/details/agenealogicalhi00burkgoog; and
- Scottish and Irish equivalents for the above.
These resources have stood the test of time. They have been poured over, argued over, vetted and reviewed since their respective publication dates. Just as with Native American history and ancestry, who is going to know their own historic lineages and pedigrees better than the English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish?
Source: The Visitacion [Visitation] of Norfolk, made and taken by William Hervey, Clarencieux King of Arms, anno 1563, enlarged with another visitacion [sic] made by Clarenceux Cook : with many other descents, and also the vissitation [sic] made by Rye, Walter, 1843-1927; Hervey, William; Cooke, Clarenceux; Raven, John via https://archive.org/details/visitacionievisi32ryew. Please click on the upper and lower images for a larger image view.
As you can see from the pedigree above, this debate has occurred among British genealogists. You can see where the name John has been scratched out, and Thomas added. There still discussion around whether this man was a John or a Thomas. The majority view is that his name was Thomas.
A quick glance at this tree can see why the name Thomas can easily cause confusion. There’s a number of them. And, of course, there are precious few dates provided in this pedigree. Years of birth have to be estimated and then cross-referenced with additional heraldic, county-level, or British Parliamentary records.
I needed to know who was born around 1598 in the pedigree above. Sir Augustine Pettus became my anchor. His life is well document. He was born around 1582. His father, Sir John, whose life is also well documented, was born around 1550. With these two estimated years of birth established, my 10x great-grandfather Thomas Pettus would have been a generational contemporary of Sir Augustine Pettus.
Augustine did indeed have a brother named Thomas, known as “Thomas of Lincoln’s Inn” in London. This Thomas was quickly ruled out:
Source: Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900, Volume 1, p.353. Via https://books.google.com/books?id=yIwSb9UO–cC&lpg=PA353&dq=thomas%20pettus%20of%20lincoln’s%20inn&pg=PA353#v=onepage&q=thomas%20pettus%20of%20lincoln’s%20inn&f=false
There are additional college and Lincoln’s Inn records. However, that seems like a bit of overkill. Suffice to say that my 10x great-grandfather Thomas Pettus is not the same man as the son of Sir John Pettus – whose son never left England.
So if my Thomas wasn’t the son of Sir John, who were his parents?
I can easily rule out the Thomas Pettus who was the Mayor of Norwich and his wife, Christian. If anything, this couple might be my Thomas’s grandparents. It’s impossible for them to be his parents. Mayor Thomas and Christian did have a son named Thomas. Very little is known about him. This man is of interest for the sole reason that he was born at the right generational level and time-frame to possibly be the father of my 10x great grandfather’s father. Possibly. This would make Mayor Thomas my ancestor’s uncle, and Sir Augustine would be his first cousin.
The Thomas born to Mayor Thomas Pettus and Christian Dethick remains out strongest lead. This branch of the Norwich family married into the Rolfe, King, and Dabney families in Norfolk, England…just like Col. Thomas Pettus and Ka Oke Jane Powhatan’s descendants did in Virginia. Why break with a family tradition of marrying cousins?
There is also the names Col Thomas Pettus and Ka Oke named some of their children:
Three names leap out: Christian, Augustine, and Cecily…three traditional and long-standing names used within the Pettus family. Specifically speaking, these are names regularly used within this family. I’m discounting the name of their son Thomas for now. You would expect at least one of their sons to carry this name.
There is one wrinkle in confirming that my Thomas is the same man as the son of the Thomas who was the son of Mayor Thomas Pettus and Christian Dethick. There is another Thomas born around the same time and living in the same place who is a contender for the Thomas born to Mayor Thomas and Christine. Until I can distinguish between these two conflicting Thomases, I won’t know for certain.
What I believe is that Col. Thomas Pettus does have a connection to this family group in some way, shape or form.
I’ve mentioned so many Thomases, I am really reluctant to mention any others. However, there is one more. Mayor Thomas and Christian had a son named William, who married a Mary Gleane. They too had a son named Thomas, born in 1610. This Thomas is fairly well documented. He arrived in the colony of Virginia around the same time as Col Thomas Pettus. However, William and Mary’s son settled in a different part of Virginia. Looking at colonial records, you can see both men at the same time. My Colonel Thomas eventually settled in Littletown, James City, Virginia. The son of William Pettus and Mary settled in New Kent, Virginia. Simply put, they are not the same man
If tall of these Thomases are giving you a headache? Be me. I have to keep them all straight in my head. And, hopefully, you can see why this lineage has caused all manner of conflict and confusion. It’s a puzzle I will solve.
Naturally, towards the end of this phase of research, I found a site whose findings echoes what I have found independently. While I haven’t verified all of the information it contains, so far, our research is in tandem. With the usual caveats, it’s an interesting site to review: The Pettus-Pocahontas Connection via “Southern-Style
A Downhome Perspective on All Things Southern”: http://www.southern-style.com/Pettus.htm
There is also: Misinformation on the Pettus Family via https://pettusheritage.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/misinformation-on-the-pettus-family/