For some years the name of Col Thomas Turner’s very large, multi-structured plantation, Walsingham, has vexed me. What did this name refer to? Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham? The chapel in England known as Little Walsingham? Did this name somehow infer a vague notion of Thomas Turner’s religious inclinations or a boast of sorts that he was privy to high level secrets? Why not call it Turner’s Folly or Turner’s Hundreds or some such fancy moniker so fashionable in the day? Whenever I get around to writing a book about my Colonial ancestor I had always thought that various people who molded William’s very being – friends, peers, benefactors – should leap from obscurity into the pages of his life’s account. And foremost amongst the cast of characters to eventually grace this work would be Col Thomas Turner – Clerk of the Court for many of William’s working years, Burgess, Church Elder, and all around very wealthy and influential denizen of King George County, Virginia. Tracing T. Turner’s pedigree was, and is still, not an easy affair. Initially, in my sleuthing strategy, the name Walsingham was going to be the key which unlocked the door. And so I broke out the mini shovel and began digging into a very large mound of uncertainty. And in doing so I have unearthed some fascinating details which may solve more than one mystery and open the door to others.
I decided to poke around T. Turner’s marriages as a starting point. This led me to consider the parents and known associates of the Taliaferros first. In this case I start with the will of Sarah Taliaferro, widow of Richard “the pirate” Taliaferro, found in Will Book 4 – Richmond County, Va. It so happens that Col Turner married 2 daughters of Richard Taliaferro, Martha and Sarah. So in looking at the widow’s will proved in Aug 1718 a couple of items caught my eye. One in particular, the first line which reads “son Richard money in the hands of Maj (Terrin) Trott of Bermudas”, of which I will expand upon here. The Major Trott referred to by the widow, Sarah, was none other than Perient Trott whose family was instrumental in the early history of Bermuda in several fascinating respects . And it so happens that one Richard Taliaferro also had a hand in affairs nearby at Barbados. Getting back to the Trott angle let’s preface by saying that this Perient descended from Perient Trott of London who was a Director of the Somers Island Company and that Bermuda was originally known as the Somers Isles. Perient owned many parcels of land in the various “Tribes”, otherwise known as districts, throughout Bermuda. His son, Samuel, was later Attorney General of Bermuda (the same post held by Richard at Barbados) and in the early 1660’s lived in a mansion house known as Walsingham. Hmmm, what an interesting coincidence! In looking back at where this house name originated we find ourselves immersed in the very earliest history of Virginia and Bermuda. But how does this relate to Col Turner’s plantation in King George County and what is the actual link to the name Walsingham?
Most people well versed in Colonial Virginia’s earliest beginnings are quite aware of the 1609 voyage of the Sea Venture – as was William Shakespeare back in the day whose play “The Tempest” was most likely inspired by this venture and has thrilled many a generation since. The Sea Venture was a very large, single timbered ship of 300 tons outfitted by the London Company as part of the “Third Supply” mission to resupply the starving colony at Jamestown. She was the flagship of a 7 (and two pinnaces) vessel fleet bound from Plymouth, England. Unfortunately she ran aground the rocks of eastern Bermuda in July of 1609 during a likely hurricane. The Admiral of this fleet was none other than Sir George Somers, whose namesake, the island where they would wreck upon, would grace the maps for many years before Bermuda became the accepted designation. Among the many notable persons on board were Sir Thomas Gates, Governor of Virginia, William Strechey, Secretary-Elect of Virginia, Stephen Hopkins – later of the Mayflower expedition, Capt Mathew Somers, Robert Rich – brother of Sir Nathaniel Rich, major shareholder in the Company, Christopher Newport who captained Sea Venture, John Rolfe who would marry Pocahontas 5 years later, and a coxswain by name of Robert Walsingham. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. And though some elaborate on the heroic actions of Admiral Somers in saving the crew and passengers whilst it listed amongst the dangerous shores of Bermuda, it had actually been relayed later by several on board the quick actions of Robert Walsingham which spared them. Perhaps it is no wonder then that the area where the two ships, Patience and Deliverance, built from Bermuda timber and the remains of Sea Venture, were constructed along the shores of Walsingham Bay. These salvaged vessels eventually made it to Virginia and the rest is history …
But what about the rest of the Walsingham story, you might ask? Well, I must admit that I should probably locate some Turner or Taliaferro descendants to chat about some of this but I will add in some interesting details for the time being. One item that seems to be under the radar somewhat concerns the Governor of Bermuda back in the late 1640’s. It just so happened that the Somers Islands Company decided to stamp out the Congregationalist Church movement taking hold in Bermuda in favor of a Presbyterian settlement. And the man they picked for the job was none other than a Captain Thomas Turner. What an interesting coincidence … And possibly another avenue of future research. Returning to the narrative this no doubt places Governor Turner into the circles of influence on the Islands and probably face to face with the Trotts. The question then becomes was this Thomas Turner a relation to Col Thomas Turner’s ancestors? Perhaps a cousin or uncle to T. Turners father? Governor Turner did leave a will which might prove valuable in follow up. He owned several parcels of property on the island and did have children. Another item that caught my eye was the name of one of his overseers: John King. Hmmm, I wonder if this fellow was an ancestor of sorts to the merchant John King who found himself in the King George County Court on several occasions. Incidentally this latter John King would be the same fellow who was an owner of the Rappahannock Merchant ship in which William Longmire was transported from London to Virginia way back in 1726.
Waltzing right along … I will follow up on more of this in a later post.