Henry & John Woody:
 An Analysis of the Vestry Books of St. Paul's, Henrico and St. James' Northam Parishes

The Long and Complicated Story of the Henry Woodys of New Kent, Hanover & Henrico

We have known about the Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish, Hanover County, Virginia for at least fifteen years and it has always been a mystery to us why the name Henry Woody does not appear one time. Along with John and Samuel, Henry was one of the most popular of the Woody given names. The index of the Chamberlayne transcription shows the name Woody/Wooddy/Wooddey listed over one hundred times with the given names of John, Samuel, Simon, Martha, Micajah and James. "Mrs. Wooddy" is indexed twice, although the term "Widdow Wooddy appears in the book. In fact, all the "Widdow/Widd." entries in the book are indexed as "Mrs.". This was a strange decision for the indexer to make, since these particular entries are very significant.

The Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish, Hanover County, Virginia 1706 - 1786 was transcribed by Churchill Gibson Chamberlayne and published by the Library Board of Richmond in 1940. Mr. Chamberlayne was an authority on the early Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia and had previously  transcribed and published three other volumes of early Virginia parish records. He "discovered" the book in 1907 while doing research at the Alexandria Theological Seminary. The original book is now at the Library of Virginia, but a microfilm copy is available from the LDS Family History Library as Film # 33858. The Chamberlayne transcription is also in the LDS Family History Library as Film # 982197.  Images of the complete Chamberlayne transcription are also online at the Stories, Memories and Histories section of Ancestry.com. It is important to know that Hanover County was formed from New Kent County in 1721, so the pre-1721 events described in the vestry book occurred in New Kent County.

In his introductory comments, Mr. Chamberlayne states that many of the pages of the original document are "so badly mutilated that less than half the record they once contained remains." Just as importantly is the fact that "the volume is for the first two hundred forty-one pages merely a transcript, of an older and long since disappeared, manuscript volume, which was ordered to be made in the year 1754".  What's more, there is some evidence that the record up to 1742 is still another transcription. So, over half of the book is missing and the oldest part of the remaining book is a transcript made by a vestry clerk or even a transcript of a transcript. My experience with other transcriptions indicates that transcribers introduce many errors into the record. Professional genealogists estimate the magnitude of these errors to be 10% or more.

By far, the most useful genealogical records in the vestry book are the processioning orders and returns. Mr. Chamberlayne's introduction gives an extensive and interesting description of the  history and recording of processioning in early Virginia. The processioning process consisted of two phases: The appointment of the processioners and the processioning results. The vestry official appointed the processioners (two to four land owners) and assigned a deadline for completion. Later, the processioners reported their results to the Vestry officials. Suffice it to say that the records of the practice of processioning have resulted in a semi-complete record of the landowners in St. Paul's Parish. Semi-complete because "less than half the record... remains." By statute, processioning was preformed every four years and, in general, nearly all parish officials endeavored to follow the law. However, the method of recording of the processioning orders and results varied from parish to parish, as did the amount of information that was recorded. Our experience has shown us that the readable portions of the St. Paul's record are more complete than most other parish records.

But the question remains: Why isn't a Henry Woody mentioned one time in the book? Sometimes the fact that information is not where we think it should be is, in itself, a significant genealogical clue. The quit rent rolls of 1704 New Kent County list Symon, John and James Woody. Early Virginia quit rents were paid by landowners, particularly owners of land that had been acquired by government patent. The typical rent for patent (grant) land was 40 shillings (1 = 20 shillings).  So, Symon, John and James are almost surely the same people found in the St. Paul's Vestry Book, starting in 1708. But why isn't Henry with them? There are at least three possibilities: (1) Henry was not a landowner.  (2) Henry's name was on the mutilated and unreadable pages of the book.  (3) His name was very infrequently recorded, but was mis-transcribed as Henry Wood.  A Henry Wood was recorded at least 44 times in the index of the book. The book and other sources provide ample evidence that there was, indeed, one or more men named Henry Wood in Hanover at this time, but could the transcribers have made one or two errors? In our experience, we have seen Woody transcribed as Moody and Waddy a few times. We have also seen Woody transcribed as Woods once or twice, but never Wood. There is some evidence that this may have happened, but we will never know the answer for sure. However, even Mr. Chamberlayne had trouble at least once, when he could not decide on James Woody or James Wood. Since other Woodys are mentioned numerous times, mis-transcription seems like a very long shot to me, but it might have happened, especially if Henry Wood was mentioned a lot and Henry Woody was mentioned very infrequently.

To try and answer the Henry Woody question, we have compared the meager facts that are available from other sources with the information in the vestry book. One of the few records of Henry Woody in early Hanover County can be found in the images of original land patents that are online at the Land Office Grants section of  the Library of Virginia website. This patent clearly names Henry Woody of Hanover County and is dated February 18, 1722. It was for 400 acres on the South side of the South Anna River in Hanover County. Land owners adjacent to the Woody patent were: Edw'd Trotman, John Glen, Nich'o Johnson, Rich'd Johnson and Cap. Thomas Massie. The March 24, 1725 patent of John McQuerry of New Kent further defines the location of Henry's property as being on Turkey Creek. McQuerry's adjacent land owners were: Henry Woody, Cap. Massie, Peter King and William Bourn. Some of the surnames in these two patents appear in the Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish, but Henry and several others are missing. Close examination of the vestry book is very interesting. From 1719 until 1731, no Woody names appear in the vestry book. The next processioning after 1719 should have been about 1723/1724, but there are no records at all that cover this period. The next record is for 1727 and it does not appear to be anywhere near complete. There are far fewer precincts recorded and these precincts are not numbered as they are in most other processioning records. Unfortunately, the pages that recorded this period appear to be among the mutilated pages described by Mr. Chamberlayne. The next processioning record with what appears to be the full complement of numbered precincts is in 1731. So it appears that one processioning (c1723) is completely missing and that the Woodys that were in 1727 record were on the mutilated pages. Based on Henry Woodys land patent of 1722, these are the years that we would most likely expect to see his name in the processioning records. The last listing for James Woody was in 1719, so he probably died between 1719 and 1731.

Henry Woody was probably not an early landowner and thus would not have been processioned in the years of 1709, 1711, 1715 and 1719.  However, many of the deeds of this period were lost, so we cannot be sure that he didn't own land. As mentioned above, there is a hint  that his name was in the original book, but was mis-transcribed as Henry Wood.  For instance, the record for 1719, Precinct 10 shows Henry Wood next to Abraham Venable. Abraham Venable was a very wealthy landowner that purchased large tracts of land all over Virginia. In particular, he owned much of the land in the branches of Byrd Creek in Goochland County. The significant point is that in 1741 John Woody purchased some of his Byrd Creek property from this Abraham Venable. John had also been granted land on Byrd Creek  in 1740 where he had been appointed as a road surveyor in 1738. Also in 1719,  John Wooddy, James Wooddy and Edw'd Trotman were processioned in Precinct 19.  Edw'd Trotman owned land next to the Henry Woody patent of 1722.  Only John and Simon Woody are listed in the 1731 processioning records. There is no Henry Wood or Henry Woody listed. In 1739 Henry Wood is listed in the same precinct as the Widdow Woody. Here is another indication the Henry Woody might have been transcribed as Henry Wood. The widow was almost surely Martha, the widow of Simon, who died in 1734. She was so named in several succeeding processionings. Simon and Martha had four daughters and a one son named Moore, but the son also died in 1734, leaving no heirs. John Woody and David Johnson provided the required security at the Moore Woody estate probate.  Rebecca, the daughter of Simon and Martha, was born in New Kent on November 21, 1703.

On September 21 , 1745, a Henry Woody of Hanover County purchased, for
40, 170 acres from Nicholas Pryer in Henrico County at the head of Drinking Hole Branch of Tuckahoe Creek. This land was originally part of John Martin's patent. Witnesses were: Benjamin Johnson, Sarah Johnson and Wm Street. The question is: Was this Henry the same Henry that patented land in 1722 Hanover? If so, where was has he hiding for 23 years? If he owned land in Hanover, he should have been in the vestry book.  The vestry records for 1731 through 1744 seem to be complete. It is difficult for me to believe that Henry Woody could have been mis-transcribed as Henry Wood in all those years and this leaves open the possibility that this Henry was not the Henry of 1722 Hanover. 40 was a very substantial sum of money to pay for property, so he may have paid for this land with a recent inheritance, possibly from John Woody (see below). At any rate, this was probably the Henry Woody whose will was probated November, 1766 in Henrico. The will was proved by Webby Woody (mis-transcribed as Westly) and William Woody was an executor.  Henry's father was John or James, but most likely John. If we had a better estimate of James' death date, that might help a little. The connection to William Woody is unknown, but he may have been the William recorded as a landowner in Bedford County as early as 1778.


The Short and Straightforward Story of the John Woodys of New Kent, Hanover & Goochland

The story for the John Woodys seems to be much clearer. A John Woody was on the 1704 New Kent quit rent rolls. The St. Paul's Vestry Book records the processioning of John Woodys in 1708, 1711, 1715, 1719, 1731, 1735, 1739 and 1744.  In addition, a John Woody was appointed as a Hanover road surveyor in 1731 and a John Woody was appointed as a Hanover precinct processioner several times. In particular, he and John Howard made the  processioner's report for Precinct 16 on March 29, 1744. In a vestry order of 1747, officials specifically appointed Samuel Woody to replace John Woody as a processioner. The land patents at the Library of Virginia show the September 28, 1732, 400 acre patent for a John Woody on both sides of Peter's Creek, by Little Creek and on the low grounds of Poor Creek in Hanover County. Adjacent property owners were: John Smething, Capt. Clark and Gilbert Gibson. It seems impossible to know which John Woody this was. On September 16, 1740, a John Woody obtained a patent for 375 acres on Byrd Creek in Goochland County. Adjoining property owners were: James Johnson, Francis Baker and said John Woody. This patent indicates that John already owned adjacent property. On December 15, 1741, John added to his property with a purchase from Abraham Venable, a recent resident of Hanover County. Most importantly, John was appointed a Goochland road surveyor on February 20, 1738. John was included on the 1744 Goochland tithable list of Arthur Hopkins. Dr. Hopkins was another recent resident of Hanover. We obviously don't think these John's were the same person. Although John could have owned land in both counties, he would not have been a road surveyor in Goochland in 1738 and a processioner in Hanover in 1744. I believe that the reason that Samuel Woody replaced John Woody in 1747 was because John Woody in Hanover was infirm or died. He was probably the 1704 New Kent John. John's 1741 land purchase in Goochland seems to have occurred before the death of John in Hanover, so the payment probably did not come from an inheritance. However, it was not uncommon for an aged father to give his son a substantial gift before the father's death. John of Goochland/Albemarle did not die until after March 31, 1767 and may have lived until 1776. John's father could have been John or James, but most likely John. If we had a better estimate on James' death date, that might help a little.


Henrico and St. James Northam Vestry Books

Robert Alonzo Brock abstracted The Vestry Book of Henrico County Virginia  1730 - 1773 in 1874. Most of this book is online at Google Books. It is also available from the LDS Family History Library as film # 928068, Item 4.

William Lindsay Hopkins abstracted the
St. James Northam Parish Vestry Book, 1744 - 1850, Goochland County, Virginia in 1987. We have not found an online copy of this book; however, it may be found in many libraries. A microfilm of the original vestry book is available from the LDS Family History Library as film # 33855.

The  vestry books for both Henrico and St. James Northam Parishes seem to have survived the centuries in much better shape than that of St. Paul's, described above. An examination of the records reveals that some aspects of the processioning process are mentioned nearly ever four years. That is, very few of the processioning records seem to be missing. The compilers of these two books do not mention any mutilated or missing processioning records, as the compiler of the St Paul's Parish record did.  The same general processioning process was used in all three parishes; however, in general, the details that were recorded are far fewer in Henrico and St. James Northam, than in St. Paul's. All three parishes recorded the appointed processioners, but Henrico and St. James Northern omitted recording all of the processioned landowners as St. Paul's did. In fact, many of the processioning results in Henrico and St. Paul's Northam did not include any of the landowners names. Sometimes, even though processioners were appointed, no returns were recorded. In general, the land owners names were recorded only when controversy arose over the property boundary lines. In summation, Henrico and St. James Northam Parish records do not provide the complete list of processioned landowners that is found in the St. Paul's record.

So, in general, we are left with the names of the processioners. We have examined the processioning records for the names of individual that were neighbors or associates of Henry and John Woody.

Henrico Parish - Henrico County

Henry and John Woody are both recorded as owning land in Henrico County. It is not clear that John ever actually lived in Henrico, but Henry almost surely did. His will was probated in Henrico in 1766. So why wasn't Henry recorded in the processing records of Henrico Parish?

The Vestry Book of one hundred and ninety-one manuscript leaves was accidently discovered in the Henrico County Court House by Peyton Rhodes Carrington in 1867. It had probably been stored in the courthouse for safe keeping during the Revolutionary War and had subsequently been forgotten. The transcriber, R. A. Brock, describes the manuscript as being "entirely legible" and missing only a few leaves "devoted to a registry of the births and deaths in the parish".  The first vestry record was made on October 28, 1730 at Curle's Church. The first precincts were defined and processioners appointed on September 27, 1731; however, if the processioning was indeed performed, the results were not recorded. Processioners continued to be appointed every four years until the end of the record in 1773; however, the results of processioning were very sketchy.  Unless there was a boundary dispute, the names of the land owners was seldom recorded. Sometimes, as in 1731, no results were recorded at all.

With regard to the search for the neighbors and associates of Henry Woody mention in the vestry book: In 1735, Nich's Prior was appointed a processioner. In 1739, Nich's Pryor, Thomas Ellis and  Richard Cottrell were appointed processioners. Richard Cottrell, Samuel Shepherd and Thomas Ellis also appraised the Henrico estate of Henry Woody in 1766. Also, Richard  was the father of the Elizabeth Denis Cottrell that married Samuel Woody in 1785 Henrico.  In 1768, Thomas Ellis and Richard Cottrell were processioners for the same precinct; however, their return reads "we have proceffioned all the Lands within our Precincts, all the Parties agreed".  In 1772, Samuel Shepherd and Rich'd Cottrell were processioners for the same precinct and, again, the return fails to mention any landowners names. Henry Woody purchased his property in Henrico from Nicholas Pryor in 1755.  The names of Richard Cottrell and Nicholas Pryor seem to be unique in the records of Henrico. Richard Cottrell is recorded as a processioner through 1772. Other names of Woody neighbors/associates were more common, but some of them also seem to have been processioners (e.g. Thomas Ellis, Samuel Shepherd & John Martin).

We conclude that Henry Woody and many other land owners of Henrico were never recorded in the Henrico Parish processioning records.

St. James Northam Parish - Goochland County

In 1740, John Woody was granted land on Byrd Creek in Goochland County. His grant mentions his adjacent property, so he had previously acquired land on Byrd Creek. In 1741, he purchased more property on Byrd Creek from Abraham Venable. John's first acquisition was before February 20, 1738, the date he was appointed as a road surveyor for a section of the Mountain Road. The surveyor for the adjacent road section was William Martin.

The Vestry Book of St. James Northam Parish in Goochland County was transcribed by William Lindsay Hopkins in 1987. The author included very few introductory comments. The processioning records of St. James Northam Parish resemble those of Henrico Parish described above. Processioners were appointed every four years, but very few landowners are mentioned. One of the vestry officials mentioned several times was Arthur Hopkins.

With regard to the neighbors and associates of John Woody mentioned in the vestry book. In 1751, William Banks and William Martin replaced Thomas Massie and John Moss as processioners. Thomas Massie, William Banks, John Moss and William Martin were all recorded as neighbors in deeds and/or surveyor road orders associated with John Woody. In 1771, John Howard was appointed as a processioner. John Woody sold some of his property to John Howard in 1751. Arthur Hopkins, the vestry official,  was a witness to this transaction. In 1762, John Woody was mentioned in the probate of the estate of William Banks and again, in 1767, in the probate of the estate of Arthur Hopkins.

We conclude that John Woody and many other landowners of Goochland were never recorded in the St. James Northam Parish processioning records.

As always, we welcome any comments, especially comments that add facts to this narrative.

To be continued

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Revised Aug 5, 2018