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 Virginia ancestor, William Longmire, I had always thought that various people who molded his 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. Who was this man that played such a large part in employing William as a court scribe, later, secretary under the Clerk of the Court, and simultaneously as a store clerk/double entry accountant for his own merchant accounts? 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. There had to be something “there”. 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 particular case (more to follow later) 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. It would be neat to discover when and how this money was eventually passed between Richard and Perient as the will dictates. Definitely something to research later … 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 (basically the same post held by Richard Taliaferro at Barbados) and in the early 1660’s lived in a mansion house known as … you guessed it, Walsingham! Hmmm, what an interesting coincidence. And suddenly, looking back at where this house name originated we (you and I) find ourselves immersed in the very earliest history of Virginia and Bermuda. Suffice to say my exuberance level kicks up a notch. But how does this relate to Col Turner’s plantation in King George County and what, if any, 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 (definitely) 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 – after wading through that most impressive cast of characters … 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. More interesting notes regarding the Walsingham Plantation and some of it’s historical components and some other tid-bits I promise. An interesting document written by the hat thief himself regarding Mr King (above) and a small correction upcoming soon. And more on the Taliaferros once I dig up my notes on a “treasure chest” sent from New England to Virginia – the details of which found in a 1720’s document emanating from a Mrs Taliaferro directing said trunk be handed over to one Nocholas Smith, a fellow I write about in another page here, and which said document had such witnesses as T. Turner and John Lomax – a fellow whose widow, Elizabeth, was known to Wm Longmire through a document oath/witnessing later in 1737/8. Heck, I might even get around to offering up an alternative reason for why Richard Taliaferro was called the “Pirate”. Even though he was an Admiralty Judge of sorts and came from a most interesting family whose history back to London and Italy earlier is worth a read … Boy, I got my work cut out for me. And I told cousin Jack that I would get around to my theory of Wm Longmire’s wife possibly being a German servant girl of that Taliaferro fellow from Essex County who decided life up in the Northern Neck area was better near Richard Taliaferro’s digs. This Virginia history stuff has so many twists and turns. Maybe I should start a blog with the word Twistory included in it’s name. Ahem.