The Life and Military Service of George Walker I

George Walker I (1659-1732) was a life long resident of Strawberry Bank on the north bank of the James River in the Kecoughtan area of Elizabeth City County, about 1 mile upriver from the mouth of the James. He was the son of George Walker Sr., a Scot who was first documented in Virginia as a James River pilot in 1660, and Elizabeth Oldis, great-granddaughter of Thomas Oldis, one of the earliest settlers of Elizabeth City County.

Like his father, George Walker I was a river pilot and ship repairman. He married Anne Keith, daughter of the celebrated Scottish Quaker Rev. George Keith (1638-1716) and Elizabeth Johnston. In the late 1690s, Rev. Keith renounced Quakerism and embraced Anglicanism. His daughter followed in this conversion, leading to religious strife in her marriage to George, who was a life-long Quaker. The strife resulted in a legal case outlined below before the Elizabeth City County Council in 1708.

George Walker I and Anne Keith had at least 3 children: George Walker II, Elizabeth Walker who married the well-known attorney Stephen Dewey, and Margaret Walker who married Thomas Wythe. The Wythe couple's son, George Wythe, was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia. Wythe studied law with his uncle, Stephen Dewey.

George Walker I meets the criteria as a qualifying ancestor for the Society of Colonial Wars based on his appointment by Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood as Naval Officer of the Lower District of the James River in 1718, and his appointment as Gunner & Storekeeper of the fort at Point Comfort in 1721.

Brief History of the Fort at Point Comfort

Established in 1609 by the Virginia Company, the fort at Port Comfort served as a military base for more than 400 years until it was decommissioned in 2011. The fort is sited on the southern tip of the Virginia peninsula at the mouth of the James River. Capt. John Smith's map at the time showed "Poynt comfort" adjacent to the Kecoughtan Indian village that was the site of the Walker home several decades later. The fort was named Fort Algernon from 1609 until 1823, and Fort Monroe from 1823 to the present.

The first documented military action at Fort Algernon was in June 1611 when British soldiers under Sir Thomas Dale confronted a Spanish reconnaissance ship and captured 3 Spanish sailors, including the commander Don Diego de Molina. Two years later de Molina smuggled a letter out of Virginia in a spy's shoe describing the Jamestown settlement's defenses. He described the fort at Port Comfort as "… a structure of boards ten hands [40 inches] high with twenty-five soldiers and four iron pieces"1.

Fort Algernon is not known to have seen action during the Revolutionary War, although Lafayette may have visited there. In the summer of 1813 the British landed at Point Comfort and captured the lighthouse, which they used as an observation post. They used Point Comfort at a base from which they attacked and burned Hampton on 25 Jun 1813, and later moved on to attack and burn Washington D.C. on 14 Aug 1813.

During the Civil War, Fort Monroe remained in Union hands throughout the war, and was used to stage attacks on southern targets including Richmond. After the war, Jefferson Davis was imprisoned at Fort Monroe for several years.

Fort Monroe was the site of the Army Coastal Artillery School following the Civil War until the end of World War II, and then became the headquarters for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The fort was decommissioned in 2011, and is now a National Monument site comprising more than 170 buildings on 200 acres.

Proofs

The will of George Walker I does not survive. Two documents from the 1700s, summarized below, establish that George Walker II (bef. 1740-bef 1773), husband of Jane Curle, was the son of George Walker I (bef 1672 – btw 1728 & 1732) of Elizabeth City County, and Anne Keith (bef 1683 – aft 1728). Additional supporting documents are quoted, including proof of the military service of George Walker I.

First proof document

The first proof document is an indenture in Elizabeth City County records, dated 1760, between "George Walker the younger" and John Jones2,3. The deed states that the 1,000 square feet of land involved was "Granted to the said George Walker's Grandfather, George Walker," in 1720. The actual year of the referenced grant was 17184. The original 1718 deed granted 1,000 acres to George Walker, and was signed by Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood.

In Elizabeth City County records in 1760, "George Walker the younger" referred to George Walker III, son of George Walker II and Jane Curle, and future husband of Priscilla ______. The relationship is evidenced by one more deed, this from 1762, wherein "George Walker Sen. and Jane his wife of the county of Elizabeth City of the One Part" sold land to their son, "George Walker Jun. of the said County of the Other Part"5, confirming the parent child relationship.

Thus the 1760 indenture establishes that the father of George Walker II, Senior (as he was referred to in 1760) was George Walker I, resident and landowner in Elizabeth City County in 1718.

Second proof document

The will of George Walker II, husband of Jane Curle, was recorded in Prince Edward County in 17736. The will was filed in Prince Edward because George Walker III lived there, but the second line of the will states that George Walker II was a resident of Elizabeth City.

In his will, George Walker names his deceased "sister Dewey". This is George Walker II's sister Elizabeth Walker, daughter of George Walker and Anne Keith. Elizabeth Walker was married to Stephen Dewey, an attorney who resided in Charles County at the time the couple married; they later moved to Prince George County. The indicated sentence mentions Walker's "sister Dewey" and suggests that she did not have children:

"Item. I give my part of property formerly belonging to my Sister Dewey and ordered by my Father's Will on her dieing without Children to be divided among his surviving Children…"

Stephen Dewey and Elizabeth Walker are known to have had no children who survived to adulthood. Stephen Dewey was a notable and well-recorded historical figure. He was the legal mentor of his and Walker's nephew, George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence. George Wythe was the son of Thomas Wythe and Margaret Walker, another daughter of George Walker and Anne Keith. Margaret, Elizabeth and George Walker II were siblings7,8,9.

The two proof documents above establish that the father of George Walker II was George Walker I, resident of and landowner in Elizabeth City County in 1718, and that this George Walker I was also the father of Elizabeth Walker Dewey.

The next set of documents support the fact that this George Walker I, resident of and landowner in Elizabeth City in 1718, was the husband of Anne Keith.

Supporting documents

The Quit Rent Roll in Elizabeth City County in 1704 shows only one George Walker, ruling out the presence of other landowners by that name in 170410.

The are four documents that establish that the couple George Walker and Anne Keith resided in Elizabeth City County respectively in 1699, 1704, 1705, 1708, and 1728.

1) Thomas Story was a Quaker minister who visited Kecoughtan twice, in 1699 and in 170511, and visited the Walkers on both occasions. Story kept a journal of his travels and visits. The journal was printed in 1747 through the efforts of one of his sons.

In 1699, Thomas Story describes visiting George Walker (Senior) in Kecoughtan, and meeting with "the Wife of George Walker the younger, who was one of the Daughters of that unhappy Apostate George Keith"12. This sentence establishes several facts:

  • George Walker I, husband of Anne Keith, was referred to as "George Walker the younger" in this journal and other records of the time, including legal records of the 1690s detailed in the chronology below;
  • The father of George Walker the younger (George Walker I) was still alive in 1699, and was named George Walker;
  • Anne Keith had renounced Quakerism, as had her father, George Keith, by 1699, setting up the legal case described below in 1708.

In 1705, Thomas Story again visited Kecoughtan, and again describes visiting George Walker13. This time, however, the George Walker he is visiting is the husband of Anne Keith, and George is no longer referred to as "the younger", suggesting that George Walker Senior had died by 1705. This conclusion is further supported by Quit Rent Roll of 1704 cited above, that showed just one George Walker alive in Elizabeth City in 1704, presumably being the younger George Walker I.

2) The travel diary of Reverend George Keith, father of Anne Keith, recounts that on May 2, 1704, he arrived at "Keketan by James-River, and staid some Days at the House of my Son in Law there"14. This entry confirms that the George Walker I who was a resident of Elizabeth City County in 1704 was the husband of Anne Keith.

3) In April 1708, Anne (Keith) Walker filed a complaint with the Elizabeth City Council that her husband, George Walker, was not permitting Anne to take their children to Anglican church services, because George was a Quaker, and wished to raise the children as such15. Given the choice between supporting Anglicanism, or supporting a husband's right to determine his children's church attendance, the Council sided with the latter.

4) The diary of a third Quaker minister, Samuel Brownas, recounts a visit to Hampton in 1728, where he stayed with George Walker for 4 nights16. He discusses "his [George Walker's] wife being more loving than I expected: she was the daughter of George Keith".

Documented Chronology and Proof of Military Service

]The following documents further establish George Walker I's residence in and land ownership in Elizabeth City from 1692 until his death by 1732, and establish his military service in 1718 and 1721.

1692 - On 29 Apr 1692, George Walker the younger and his brother, Jacob Walker, were deeded 125 acres of land in Elizabeth City County on Mill Creek17. The deed states that 25 acres of this land was first patented by Thomas Oldis in 1642, and was devised to George and Jacob Walker by Oldis's grandson, Thomas Oldis.

The land involved was known as the "Strawberry Bank"18. George Walker I lived on Strawberry Bank during his entire adult life.

1699 – Visit from Rev. Thomas Story to Kecoughtan, mentions George Walker Sr. and Jr., cited above.

1700 - 24 Apr 1700 deed for Mr. Robert Beverley cites "land of George Walker, Jr."19.

1703 - 23 Oct 1703 deed to "George Walker, Junr." of 25 acres in Eliz. City Co. The provenance of this land from Thomas Oldis is mentioned20.

1704 - Quit rent roll lists one George Walker in Elizabeth City County, as cited above.

1704 – Rev. George Keith visits Kecoughtan, states he stayed with his son-in-law, cited above.

1705 – Second visit from Rev. Thomas Story. George Walker Sr. has died, cited above.

1711 - Deed to "George Walker of Eliz. City Co.", "126 acres in sd. Parish & Co.", 28 Apr 171121 .

1714 – George Walker was appointed as a Customs Officer, Searcher, for the lower district of the James River22.

1716 - George Walker petitioned on 15 Aug 1716 to build a water mill on John's Creek23.

1718 - Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood appointed George Walker to the post of Naval Officer of the Lower District of the James River in 1718. The appointment was documented in "Notes from the Journal of the House of Burgesses, 1712-1726"24. The note of 21 Nov 1718 specifically says that the House of Burgesses complained to the Governor that he had appointed "George Walker, a known Quaker" to the post.

1718 – The poor relationship between Lt. Gov. Spotswood and the House of Burgesses is humorously documented in the same month: a note of 4 Nov 1718 states: "Spotswood offers to bet the House of Burgesses £1,000 that their charges against him would be decided unjust by any impartial person"25.

1721 – George Walker was appointed "Gunner & Storekeeper of the Battery at Point Comfort" by the "hon'ble Alexand'r Spotswood his Ma'tys Lieu't Gov'r and Commander in Chief of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia"26. Walker signed a bond for this post on 1 Nov 1721.

1725 – A land survey in 1725 included George Walker's land27. This land formerly belonged to Thomas Oldis.

1732 –George Walker's estate was appraised on 19 Jul 173228, so he was deceased by this date.

The documents presented in this article comprise a continuum of documentation of the life of George Walker I, from his deed for land in 1692 until his death by 1732. The documents prove his continuing residence in and land ownership in Elizabeth City County, and prove his military service.

Citations

1Tyler, Lyon G. Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1907, p. 223

2Old Kecoughtan. William & Mary Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Oct 1900), p. 128

3Elizabeth City County Deed Book E, pp. 176-177

4Nugent, Nell Marion. Cavaliers and Pioneers, Vol. 3 (1695-1732). Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1979, p. 113

5Elizabeth City County Deed Book E: pp. 325-326

6Will, George Walker Sr., 1773, original copy: Archives Prince Edward VA Circuit Court

7Lewis, William Draper. Great American Lawyers (1907), Vol. 1, pp.51-52 and pp.54-55

8Wulfeck, Dorothy Ford. Marriages of some Virginia Residents, 1607-1800, Vol. 1, page 257

9Weisiger III, Benjamin B., compiler. Charles City County, Virginia Records: 1737-1774, p.86

10Chapman, Blanche Adams. Wills and Administrations of Elizabeth City County, Virginia 1688-1800. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1980, p. 144

11A Journal of the Life of Thomas Story. Newcastle Upon Tyne. Isaac Thompson & Company, 1747, p. 165 & pp. 388-389

12Ibid., p. 165

13Ibid., pp. 388-389

14Collections of the Protestant Episcopal Historical Society 1851. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1851, p. 47

15Miscellaneous Colonial Documents. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Jul 1908). Virginia Historical Society, pp. 72-84

16Journals and Extracts of Journals and Other Writings of Members of the Society of Friends Volume XII. London: Lindfield, 1836, p. 235

17Nugent, op. cit., Vol. 2 (1666-1695), p. 376

18Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. History of Hampton and Elizabeth City County, Virginia. The Board of Supervisors of Elizabeth City County, 1912, pp. 19-20

19Nugent, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 34

20Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 77

21Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 113

22The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 2, No. 1, July 1894, p. 2

23Neal, Rosemary C. compiler. Elizabeth City County Virginia Deeds, Wills, Court Orders, 1715-1721. Heritage Books, Inc., p.109

24William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 21 No. 1 (July 1912), p. 252

25Ibid., p. 253

26The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol 17, No. 2 (Apr 1909), p. 157-158

27Old Kecoughtan, op. cit., p. 128

28Chapman, op. cit., p. 98