Chowanoke Descendants Community


    The Bennett family of the Chowanoc Nation was one of the influencial members of the tribe. We continuously see them named as one of the Chief Men of the nation, in one instance giving an independant voice in the face of injustice.

     It is of course to speculate where the Bennet surname came from, though living on Bennet's Creek, it certainly would appear obvious, however it must be remembered also that natives often took the names of those whites that were well known or respected, and there certainly was a prominent Bennet family living in the southern Virginia settlements, as well as a Robins family. Site member and Bennet descendant Shoshone submitted the following infornation on this family:

     "Upon the 24th of October, 1621, a patent was granted to Edward BENNETT, “a gentleman who had deserved singularly well of the company before he was a member thereof,” who now joins with Robert BENNETT, his brother, Richard BENNETT, his nephew, Mr. WISEMAN, Mr. AYERS, and divers other associates, and they engage to transport one hundred persons to Virginia. They came over in the Sea Flower, in February, 1622, with one hundred and twenty settlers, among whom were the Rev. William BENNETTand George HARRISON, relatives of Edward BENNETT, and Ralph HAMOR, one of the Council.

The plantation of Christopher LAWNE and his successors extended from Lawn’s Point along the shore of James river for six miles to Burwell’s Bay; thence along the same shore for four miles to “The Rocks.” The Plantation of Edward BENNETT extended from “The Rocks” along the shore of the same river for two miles including all of the land now known as Day’s Neck. In this Neck, made by the waters of the James river on one side and Pagan creek on the other, and on that portion of Pagan creek called now Tormentor’s Bay, was “Basse’s Choice,” then and the choice portion of that Neck of some twenty-five hundred acres. Population increased in the county so rapidly between May, 1619, and March the 22d, 1622, that it extended from “Lawne’s Point” to and inclusive of “Day’s Neck,” a distance of twelve miles. On that day there was killed in the Indian massacre of March, 1622,onEdward BENNETT’s Plantation alone, fifty-four people, among whom where Ensigne HARRISON and Mistress HARRISON....(The first settlers dispatched by Bennett arrived on the Sea Flower in February, 1622. There were 120 settlers, led by Captain Ralph Hamor, a member of the Virginia Council who had previously come to Virginia in 1609. Also in the group were George Harrison and Rev. William Bennett, kinsman of Edward Bennett. The Indian Massacre of Good Friday, 1622, occurred barely a month after their arrival. Fifty three persons were killed at Bennett’s Plantation. A total of 347 were killed of the twelve hundred and forty inhabitants of Virginia. Bennett’s plantation was abandoned.)

Warrosquoyake was resettled after the Indian Massacre of March 22, 1622. The census of 1623 and a similar count in 1625 show the presence of settlers at both Basse’s Choice and Edward Bennett’s plantation which came to be known as Bennett’s Welcome.

Chief among the Puritans who were among the first to settle in Isle of Wight County was Edward Bennett, former elder of the Ancient Church at Amsterdam, son of Robert Bennett, a tanner of Wivelscombe, Somerset. He was christened in the Parish Church of Wivelscombe in 1577/78 being the fifteenth and last child in the family. Bennett married into the Bourne family of Somerset and is often described in the records as being a wealthy London merchant.

Edward Bennett fled to Holland during the Puritan migrations and became “by his wealth” a principal pillar of the Ancient Church.

Edward Bennett had a hand in settling over 600 people in Isle of Wight County. Bennett and his associates, Richard Wiseman, and Thomas Wiseman, were members of the Virginia Company in London and often sided with the faction led by the Earl of Warwick. The Wisemans were from the County of Essex and owned the manor of Rivenhall in Witham Hundred on the Blackwater River. The Blackwater River in Isle of Wight County may have derived its name from the Essex River since both flow generally east and southeast. Richard Wiseman was the leader of the Puritan uprising in London in 1641.

In addition to his position as a wealthy London merchant, Edward Bennett was the owner of a large fleet of ships which traded with Virginia. He was also Commissioner of Virginia at the Court of England. He came to Virginia at times but apparently did not become a resident, leaving the management of his lands to his nephews, Richard and Robert. Edward Bennett also had two brothers to die in Virginia, Robert and Richard. The brothers and nephews are often confused. When Edward Bennett returned to England shortly after 1628, his nephew, Richard, became the leader of the Puritans in Virginia. Richard Bennett and the Puritan colony moved to Nansemond which was largely populated by Puritans.

In 1635, Richard Bennett patented 2,000 acres on the east side of the Nansemond River on a creek still called Bennett’s Creek. Robert Bennett, cousin of Richard, and Philip Bennett, brother of Richard, also patented large tracts in the vicinity.

By 1634, the Virginia colony had grown to the point that the government in Jamestown found it desirable to replace the system where plantations were governed by their owners and sent representatives to the House of Burgesses. The colony was divided into eight shires or counties: Accomack, Charles City, Charles River, Elizabeth City, Henrico, James City, Warwick River and Warrosquoyacke. In 1637, Warrosquoyacke was renamed Isle of Wight County.

The new Isle of Wight County lay on the south side of the James River between Lawnes Creek and Hayes Plantation near the mouth of the Nansemond River. From there, it extended westerly into the wilderness. (Act of Assembly, 1642-43) James City County lay to the North on the other side of Lawnes Creek. That part of James City County lying South of the James later became Surry County. The land to the east later became Nansemond County. The disputed boundary between the latter was not settled until 1674.

In the 1635 census, there were 532 inhabitants of Warrosquoyake and 4,914 residing in Virginia.

In 1642, the county was divided into the Upper and Lower parishes. The dividing line generally followed the Pagan River.

The Puritan migration to Virginia was strong from 1620 to 1640 and a trickle from 1640 to 1650 paralleling the success of the Puritan movement in England. With the onset of Civil War in England, migration to Virginia increased but of a different sort. As the Puritan success in England accelerated, there was a rapid increase in the number of Royalists who left England for Virginia (Cavalier Migration). The names of many who settled in Isle of Wight County included Thomas Woodward, James Pyland, and Colonel Joseph Bridger.

During the English Civil War and its aftermath, both Maryland and Virginia were under the domination of Royalist governors who refused to accept the rule of Parliament. As a result, the Council of State appointed commissioners to “reduce the colonies to obedience.”

The commissioners appointed were Captain Robert Denis, Mr. Richard Bennett, Mr. Thomas Stegge and Captain William Claiborne. Governor Berkeley surrendered Virginia to the commissioners in 1652. Maryland soon followed and on April 30, 1652, the Virginia House of Burgesses elected Richard Bennett (the elder) Governor of Virginia.

Bennett remained active in the government of Virginia even after the Restoration and died in Nansemond in 1676. Before his death, he had become a Quaker and provided generously for several prominent Quakers in his will.

It will be noted that among those mentioned in the will of Richard Bennett were William Kinchen and William Blythe, having surnames still prevalent in Southampton County.

As with Richard Bennett, many of the Puritans who remained in Virginia became Quakers. The Quakers came to Massachusetts and Virginia about 1656 but were welcomed in neither. In fact, under order of Governor Berkeley of Virginia, any shipmaster bringing in a Quaker was to be fined 100 pounds, and the Quaker so transported was to be imprisoned without bail until he abjured his religion or agreed to leave the colony immediately.

Nevertheless, the Quaker movement prospered in Isle of Wight and Nansemond. The Quaker records show a meeting at the home of William Yarrett on the Pagan River in Isle of Wight in 1663. The real turning point for the Quaker movement, however, was the visit to the area by George Fox in 1672. Having converted most of the old Puritan fellowship in Maryland, Fox held a large meeting on the Nansemond River at which Richard Bennett (the elder) and many others were converted. The leading proponents of the Quaker faith in Nansemond and Isle of Wight were the members of the Jordan family beginning with Thomas Jordan who settled in Isle of Wight in 1624/25.

Edward Robins was a London merchant who actively traded with Virginia. In 1635, Edward Bennett filed an affidavit in England to the effect that sometime prior to 1635, the ship “Revenge” sailed to Virginia with goods partially intended for Edward Robins and partially for a firm named “Sir John Lawrence, William Perryn, Ambrose Harmer & Nicholas Reyneberd.” It appears that some of the cargo was also bound for Richard Bennett, the nephew and representative of Edward Bennett in Isle of Wight County.

Accomac County was one of the eight shires or counties created in 1634. Its name was changed to Northampton in 1642/3 and still later in 1663, the northern part was made a separate county named Accomack. The name “Robins” has long been prominent on the Eastern Shore. Obedience Robins was one of the first Justices of the County Court and remained very active and influential until his death. He was a Puritan from Northamptonshire and was primarily responsible for changing the name of the county from Accomac to Northampton. Robins was in the colony at least as early as 1629. The first name listed on the first commission to govern the county in 1634 was William Claiborne who was to serve later as a co-commissioner with Richard Bennett of Nansemond County on the Puritan Commission appointed to bring the two colonies into line during the Cromwell Protectorate.

The Puritans, and particularly Edward Bennett, were responsible for settling Isle of Wight.

The Puritans migrated from Isle of Wight to Nansemond under the leadership of Richard Bennett, the nephew of Edward, and their subsequent migration to Maryland where many settled in Anne Arundel County.

Many battles occurred during the Protectorate between the Royalist forces of Lord Baltimore under the leadership of William Stone, an immigrant from Accomac County, Virginia, who served as the third proprietary governor of Maryland and the Puritans under the leadership of Richard Bennett of Nansemond, the Puritan governor of Virginia and one of Cromwell’s Chesapeake Bay Commissioners. At one time, Richard Bennett was the Governor of Virginia and the acting Governor of Maryland.

With the collapse of the Puritan Protectorate in England, Bennett returned the control of the Maryland government to Lord Baltimore and submitted his resignation as Governor of Virginia. He remained active in the Virginia government, however, serving afterwards as a member of Council in 1666 and as a Major General by appointment of Governor Berkeley whom he had displaced as governor years earlier.

With the restoration of Charles II to the English throne, the influence of the puritan movement in England and in Virginia diminished. Most of the remaining Puritans in Maryland and in Virginia became Quakers, particularly after the visit of George Fox in 1672. The new Quaker movement included Governor Bennett and most of his neighbors in Nansemond and Isle of Wight.

*Excerpts from They Crossed the Blackwater - The First Settlers of Southampton County Virginia, by Ulysses P. Joyner, Jr. 2001"

Some of the above non native people moved to the Anson county area around the PeeDee River. They were wealthy planters not apparently related to the Chowanoke Bennets that moved there, although it could be that they were, in fact related in some way, or at least maintained a relationship. As Shoshone states, there seems to be a "connection between the early Bennetts from Bennett"s Creek and their relatives who migrated to Anson County(non native). This may explains the connection of my ancestors who were Chowanoc who came into Anson county with or in the company of them."

     We first see  James Bennet described as a Chief Man of the tribe in a flurry of 1733 land sales. He accompanied Thomas Hoyter, the head chief, Jeremiah Pushing, and Charles Beasley to sell some massive tracts of land to various people for varying amounts of acreage. This was likely because North Carolina in that year gave the Chowans "permission" to incorporate with the Tuscarora, and so there being vacant land, they decided it was logical to sell it. The following year, 1734, found a new flurry of sales, but we don't know if these were sanctioned by James. Between these two years the Chowan land was devided nearly in half, now being only about three square miles on Bennett's Creek.

   In 1744 We see several new land sales to Henry Hill, a conesieur of Chowan Land. He Buys over a square mile from Thomas Hoyter and John Robbins, fully over a third of current Chowan land. For some reason, James Bennet complains about this fully two years later to the Governor's Council, where he states that they had no right to sell the land (i.e they never consulted him, and therefore it didn't have the full sanction of the tribe) Why wait two years?

   According to the oral history and supporting bible records of Shoshone P, member of this site and member of one of the Pee Dee tribes, the Bennetts began moving south to the Anson county area around the mid-1700s, through the beginning of the 19th century. Apparently the Bennets began travelling south with Indian traders to the southern tribes. Based on this, perhap James Bennet was on the trade route during the time the sale was made, and didn't find out about it until his return?

   Needless to say, this caused a sharp disagreement within the tribe. Perhap this is the reason the Bennets began making perminent homes further south among the Pee Dee. Not all left the revervation, though. George and Joseph Bennet are seen on the last land sale in 1790, finally giving up the last portion of their homeland. George and Joseph Bennet are traceable for several decades with their households living in Gates County near the Robbins, but not enough research has yet been done to trace their descendants. The Anson Bennets kept their identy as Indians among the southern tribes of Anson NC and Marlboro SC.  Thanks to Shoshone, we have a photo of one of these early Bennett descendants: 


     According to Shoshone, who was told the story from her mother, the Bennets came down from North Carolina with Indian traders from the middle of the 18th to the beginning to the 19th centuries. Some dropped off along the way to be midwifes, some were detained as laborers on plantations. Some, however, made it to the Anson county area, setting up shop near the Pee Dee river. It appears that Anson county was a collecting point for many Indians in North Carolina and Virginia, and so there was plenty of intermarriage, such as the Chowan Bennets and the Pee Dee, who are the original inhabitants of the Pee Dee river.

      The above story is fascinating because it may represent the only surviving oral history, passed down parent to child about their Chowan roots. And it is totally feasable as well. Albemarle was getting more and more crowded with white, oppresive settlers. The Chowanoke had always lived at a trading crossroads, and knew the trading paths well. According to the Trading Path Association Website, there was a clear route between the Meherrin River and the PeeDee. According to Shoshone "they also in turn had connections to John Alston (Indian Trader), John Colston (Indian Trader)" who according to records maintained a trade relationship with the Meherrin. In going to the Piedmont tribes, who better to guide them than the Chowanoke?

     Many thanks to Shoshone for the above information and the photograph!


 Note - Early Anson county census records shows as "Other Free" Frederick Bass and his descendants. The Bass family is a known early Chowanoke marriage, so this may be another source of Chowan blood among the PeeDee. Unverified but merits more research.