English American Ancestry: Playing Genealogical Hide and Go Seek with Col. Thomas Pettus (abt. 1598-1663)

If I have learned one thing researching my ancient English American ancestry in the British-held American colonies, it is this: Do your own research. Time and time again I have found that English-descended American genealogists tend to claim ancestry from famous men who bore the same name as an ancestor or the easiest-to-find man who bore the same name as a colonial immigrant ancestor. I have found that more often than not these claims are incorrect.

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 depending on who you want to believe). His lineage has sparked fierce debates among American genealogists for two centuries. One of the problems is the sheer volume of Thomases in the Pettus family. It is incredibly easy to get them confused. Some of them have not been researched. Others have been incredibly difficult to research for one reason or another.

Then there is the debate about whether he married Ka 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 Ka 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 a bias toward the Native Americans’ claim. Who would have better knowledge of their Native American history than Native Americans? This has also been supported by Bill Deyo, the tribal historian of the Patawomeck tribe. He is a man who knows the history of his people during the early colonial history of Virginia.

Putting that contentious Jane Powhatan issue to one side, the next question that surrounds Thomas Pettus is straightforward: who were his parents?

One camp claims 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, is 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:

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?

Pettus Pedigree
Pettus Pedigree2
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, a Pettus family debate has occurred among British genealogists. You can see where the name John has been scratched out, and the name Thomas has been added. There are still discussions about whether this man was named John or Thomas. The majority view is that his name was Thomas. That, however, may not be correct. The only way to resolve this issue is by reviewing the original birth and christening registries where this Pettus was born. I mean, if the English are sure who this Pettus man was…what makes Americans think they do?

A quick glance at this tree can see why the name Thomas can easily cause confusion. There were 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.

john-pettus_portrait
Portrait of Sir John Pettus, Norwich Museum & art Gallery

I needed to know who was born around 1598 in the pedigree above. Sir Augustine Pettus became my anchor. His life was well documented. He was born around 1582. His father, Sir John, whose life was 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:

Thomas Pettus of Lincoln's inn 2
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 were 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 was 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 Thomas Pettus, 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 my 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? Marriage patterns in the old world and new world can sometimes be a research clue.

There was also the names Col Thomas Pettus and Ka Oke used for some of their children:

Thomas Pettus Ancestry Page
Please click for larger image

Three names leap out: Christian, Augustine, and Cecily…three traditional and long-standing names used within the Norwich Pettus family. Specifically speaking, these names were 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. Like marriage patterns, family naming conventions can also provide ancestral clues.

There is one wrinkle in confirming that my Thomas was the same man as the son of the Thomas who was the son of Mayor Thomas Pettus and Christian Dethick. There was another Thomas born around the same time and living in the same place who was 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. This is why it is crucial to find and document each and every Thomas Pettus who was born in Norwich or London in the time frame I am researching.

What I believe is that Col. Thomas Pettus does have a connection to the Norwich 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 Mary Gleane. They too had a son named Thomas, born in 1610. This Thomas was 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 all 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/


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29 thoughts on “English American Ancestry: Playing Genealogical Hide and Go Seek with Col. Thomas Pettus (abt. 1598-1663)

  1. If you’re a descendant of Ka Okee, then we must be cousins! I bumped into Bill Deyo’s work a while back and suddenly I was reading a bunch of family names (their kids moved to E. Kentucky in the 1700’s). I’m from the Fugate and Martin families that both descend from the Pettus/Ka Okee family. I look forward to reading more of your blog. The deeper I go into the DNA, the more fascinating it gets. I’m 1/2 Greek as well as 1/2 Hillbilly, but in the Hillbilly family I have found links to the Patawomecks, Sephardic Jews who migrated through Jamaica and Barbados, as well as your standard Scotch-Irish and English folks. Most of it has been confirmed by the DNA matches in Ancestry. 23 and me shows some W. African as well as NA ancestry but both are very small. GEDmatch comes up with a little East African (not unexpected…there are connections between Greece and Ethiopia going way back).

    The biggest surprise for me was some South Asian ancestry as well as some Central Asian (Pashtun) according to some DNA tests. GEDmatch even matched me with as a cousin to some Tajiks and North Indian folks. That was wild.

    The world is getting smaller.

  2. I’m another descendant of this Thomas Pettus. I can’t figure out if there is evidence which children belong to which women he married. As far as I can tell, my 9th ggfather is Thomas Pettus (b. 1656) who married Mary Dabney. But maybe Thomas Pettus is the child of “Jane” Powhatan?
    Is it possible that Thomas Pettus and Jane Powhatan were never married, but had children together?
    My point is not that some of these people are “sinful,” but that it’s naive to think that everyone was ALWAYS playing by the common religious and cultural rules.
    I’m also curious if Thomas (the mysterious one) Pettus might be illegitimate but still using his father’s name (someone named Pettus obviously) or maybe his mother could be a Pettus and he took her family name.

    1. Sorry, I don’t think I made by question clear, Thomas Pettus (b. 1656) is supposed to be the child of Elizabeth Durrent … but how would I know if he was really the child of Jane Powhatan? My DNA doesn’t show any evidence Native American ancestry, but that alone wouldn’t prove that I didn’t have Native American ancestry going that far back.

      1. Hello. I heavily relied on information from the Powhattan nation with regards to Thomas’s parents. It is one of the things the genetic genealogy team would like to trst via dna. At the moment, they’re wrapped up with another long term project.

        My advice, for now, would be to reach out to the Powhattan elders. I’m sure they would love to hear from you. They’re pretty accommodating to those doing research that connects with the tribe.

    2. Thomas Pettus, immigrant son of Thomas Pettus and Cecily King married Elizabeth (Freeman) Durrent, widow of Richard Durrent, in Virginia. She was born in 1606 in England. Thomas received a patent for 886 ac. of land in 1643. Part of the land was by right of intermarriage with the widow Durrent. Patents require several years to process. Thomas II was an orphan in 1672, which means that he was born no earlier than 1651. These considerations prove that Thomas II was not the son of “Powhatan Jane.”

  3. When you reference William Strachey, historian of Jamestown, are you speaking of the William Strachey who lived in Jamestown in 1610, or is there a modern day William Strachey who is a current historian.

  4. Actually, the identity of Col. Thomas Pettus is no longer a mystery. He was the son, bp. 1598/9 of Mayor Thomas Pettus of Norwich and his wife Cecily King. Previous genealogists overlooked a key record in the Norwich archives that refers to Thomas in Virginia as the uncle of a known family member in England. That relationship pins down which Thomas came to Virginia. My book has a complete explanation with citations.

    1. Thank you for the comment, cousin. I remember coming across Thomas Pettis and Cecily King. I recall believing they were the most likely candidates, but couldn’t find anything to prove it. My researcher in the UK was on the same page, however she couldn’t find anything either. If you have a digital copy of the record, could you email it to me? I’d like to add it to Col. Thomas’s page as proof. My email is: briansheffey (at) gmail (dot) com.

      Many thanks from a very grateful cousin!

      1. Sorry, I missed your question until just now. I don’t have a digitized copy of the record in question, but you can find my analysis of it and a citation in vol. I of my Pettus book.

      2. I’m a descendant of the Pettus family that you are. I live in Canada. My great grandfather came from Mecklenburg county in the 1920’s

  5. This Thomas is my 8th great-grandfather. I can’t imagine the sheer number of folks who are descended from him.

    1. My forthcoming book will show that the line of descent from Col. Pettus and his English wife (in Virginia) ended in 1700 upon the death of his unmarried granddaughter Elizabeth, who may also have been a minor. Soon after her death, her plantations, including Littletown, were sold to Elizabeth’s stepfather, James Bray, Jr. The grantor in the sale was Stephen Pettus, His identity is the real puzzle. The tribal historian, Bill Deyo, believes that Stephen was the son of Col. Pettus and his first wife, Ka-Okee. Maybe so, but there was an SP of the right age on record in London who may have been the SP named as a Virginia headright in 1637. I think he was the progenitor of the family in America. There is no real question about the identity of Col. Pettus. One of his nephews in England went to court in Norwich to prove his relationship. He had witnesses, including a family member, appear on his behalf. There is only one solution to the question of identity, given the testimony of witnesses and the parish registers he subnitted as evidence. He used the St. Simon and St. Jude register which has the baptism in 1599 of TP, son of TP, mayor of Norwich in 1614 and his wife Cecily King. Others have claimed that Col. Pettus was the son, baptized in 1610 at St. Peter Hungate Church of William Pettus and his wife Mary Gleane. The St. Peter Hungate parish register was not even mentioned in the evidence submitted to the court.

      1. William,

        Can you send me an email when you’re book becomes available? Also, if you are up for it, I will probably want to invite you on the show to talk about your book, your research strategy & findings, etc.

      2. What is the name of your book? I’m wondering if Thomas married again to an Elizabeth Mourning who had a son John Pettus who married Anne Overton. Any help would be appreciated.

  6. Thanks for your interest in my forthcoming book. I am now at the stage where I am reviewing and editing the text, adding citations and an index. Then I will consider how best to publish this book, which is now about 140 pages long. I estimate that I will have finished my work by spring of 2020.

  7. Nice thread, thanks for your work. Ever since stumbling back in time, so to speak, to discover my descent from Christian Pettus and Francis Waddington (her 2nd husband) I’ve been obsessed with looking for every possible clue that Christian was half Powhatan. Today I discovered that my ggg-grandmother, Martha Strother, was parented by two cousins-once removed, both of whom descend from that line. It seems that, for a wide variety of reasons, prejudices, and taboos, stories of Native blood were squelched in many family lines…mine for sure.

  8. I am very excited about coming across this site. I recently started digging into the origins of my 4th degree Great-Grandmother Elizabeth (Pettus) Gates. Both Elizabeth and her husband William Henry Gates, Jr. came to Mason County, Kentucky in the late 18th century from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap (according to family lore). Unlike my experience with researching my European ancestors who immigrated in the 1850’s, I’m flabbergasted at the literature/scholarship/written materials available about the Pettus family. At this point, my main objective is to trace Elizabeth back to Col. Thomas Pettus, who appears so far from records on Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch, to be my 8th degree great-grandfather. But I’m heading to the Family History Library in Salt Lake in about six weeks to help verify that. I live in Arlington, Virginia, so a trip to Richmond to visit the Virginia Museum is likely in my future as well. My only regret is that I started this research after my grandchildren and I visited Jamestown and Williamsburg and stayed at the Kingsmill Resort in April.

  9. I am intetested in Stephen Pettus that was in Virginia. I descend from Evan Ragland and Susanah Pettus in Virginia. I haven’t seen the books so I am not aware of his descent and what is true and what isn’t..

    1. Here is some information on a Stephen Pettus in my family. Stephen Pettus (1678-1759) was married to Mary Dabney (1690-1737). Stephen was born in James City, Virginia and died in Hanover, Virginia. Mary was born in New Kent, Virginia and died in Hanover, Virginia. Their son Dabney Pettus (1733-1788) and his wife Elizabeth Turner Rodes (1731-1799) were the parents of Elizabeth Pettus (1754-1822), my fourth degree great-grandmother who married William Henry Gates. Elizabeth was born in Virginia and migrated with her husband to Mason County, Kentucky where she died. I have hundreds of pages of documents I collected at the Family History Library a few months ago which I have yet been able to organize. Once that is done, and if I learn more about Stephen Pettus, I’ll post accordingly.

      1. Thank you very much. The only information I have on my Stephen Pettus is by the Ragland book that has errors in it, I descend from Evan Ragland’s son Stephen.

      2. I’m missing something. Why isn’t Evan Ragland’s son named Stephen Ragland?

      3. Not sure my reply went through so will repeat. Why isn’t Evan Ragland’s son Stephen named Stephen Ragland, not Stephen Pettus?

      4. I’m sorry I didn’t make my reply clearer. I descend from Evan Ragland by his son Stephen Ragland. Evan is the immigrant that came to America.

        Stephen Pettus is said to have married Susanna the daughter of Evan Ragland, the immigrant.

      5. There are a lot of Stephen Pettus’s in my tree and I found one — actually the brother of my 4th degree great-grandmother Elizabeth Pettus Gates — for whom I do not have a spouse. Maybe Susanna Ragland? His Family Search code is LB6T-BVZ.

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