So many of my ancestors are now just a name or blank space on a branch of my family tree. While it may be impossible to bring them back to life or know their real story, we can use still-existing documents to weave together a fraction of who they were. I have compiled a records timeline of my seventh-great-grandfather, John Harper, who called Southampton County, Virginia his home.
While I am repulsed by some of his actions, namely owning slaves, I believe it is important to be transparent in presenting all the documents we find regarding an ancestor’s life.
1733 – Approximate birth year of John Harper. Birth place and parents are unknown. This assumption is based on the timeline entry for 1754, when John Harper served as a witness. This would make his minimum age 21 in 1754.
1734 – Nottoway Parish was created in 1734, originally a part of Isle of Wight. When Southampton County was formed in 1749, Nottoway Parish became part of it until after 1785. (Parishes of Virginia compiled by Freddie Spradlin)
1754 -“On the notion of John Harper and Christopher Foster witnesses for William Watkins agst [against] Jacob Newsom. It is ordered that the said William pay there respectively twenty five pounds of neet tobacco for one days attendance each of them on this court.” (Southampton, Virginia Court Order Book 1754-1759, page 111)
1759 – “Ordered that the road from the county line to Mrs Ridleys mill be divided by Mrs Fosters path from her house to John Fosters plantation and that James Pulley be appointed overseer of that part from the mill to the path and that he with the hands of Thomas Holt, Bagley Graves, William Jelks, Benjamin Hale, David Newsom, David Smith, Benjamin Barkham, Jacob Newsom, John Harper and John Phillips do repair and keep the said road according to law that Thomas Gilliam be appointed overseer of the other part and with the hands of of Charles Mabry, John Gilliam, Arthur Gilliam and John Webb do repair and keep the same according to law. “(Southampton, Virginia Court Order Book 1754-1759, page 523)
1759 – “”A Indenture of feoffment between Thomas Gold of one part & John Harper was acknowledged by the afore named Thomas Gold (ordered?) to be recorded.” (Southampton, Virginia Court Order Book 1759-1763 page 11)
13 Nov 1759 – Thomas Gold gave 120 acres adjacent to the north side of Hornet Swamp to John Harper. This land was patented to Nicholas Bush on 23 Sep 1728. John Harper and Thomas Gold were both of Nottoway Parish. Thomas Gold gave the land “in consideration of the natural love and affection which he hath and beareth unto the said John Harper”. The deed is signed Thomas Gold with no witnesses. Both of Nottoway Parish, (Southampton, Virginia, Deed Book 2, page 301)
7 Jul 1760 – Joseph Larke sold land to James Westbrook. The 200 acres were adjacent to Edward Matthews, school house branch, William Johnson and George Branch. It was signed by Joseph Larke. It was witnessed by Thomas Moss, John Harper, and David Newsum. (Southampton, Virginia, Deed Book 3, pages 66-67)
1761 – “An Indenture of feoffment between John Harper and Mary his wife of the one part and Jacob Newsum of the other part and the memorandum of livery of seisin theron end as’d were acknowledged by the within named John Harper and Mary his wife she being first privately examined as the law directs and ordered to be recorded” (Southampton, Virginia Court Order Book 1759-1763 page 97)
1761 – “An Indenture of feoffment between John Harper & Mary his wife of the one part and Elizabeth Gould of the other part and the memorandum of livery & seizen and the receipt thereon en das’d were acknowledged by the above named John Harper and Mary his wife she being first privately examined as the law directs and ordered to be recorded.” (Southampton, Virginia Court Order Book 1759-1763 page 97)
11 March 1761 – John Harper and wife, Mary, sold to Jacob Newsum 75 acres for 20 pounds on the south side of Ready Branch and the north side of Three Creeks adjacent to Thomas Newsum, Stephen Vaughn and the new road. Witnessed by John Larke, John Matthews and Ephraim Gilliam. (Deed book 3, Southampton, Virginia, Deed Book 3, pages 24-25)
11 March 1761 – John Harper and wife, Mary, sold to Elizabeth Gould 75 acres for 5 pounds on the west side of Ready Branch and the north side of Three Creeks adjacent to Thomas Phillips, Christopher Robertson, the new road, Watkins and John Harper. Witnessed by John Larke, John Matthews and Ephraim Gilliam. (Deed book 3, Southampton, Virginia, Deed Book 3, pages 25-27)
1762 – St. Luke’s Parish is formed in Southampton County until after 1785. It’s formed from Nottoway Parish. (Parishes of Virginia compiled by Freddie Spradlin)
1762 – “An Indenture of feoffment between John Harper and Mary his wife of one part Watkins of the other part and the memorandum of livery and siezen and reception dos’d were acknowledged by the within named John Harper & Mary his wife she being first privately examined as the law directs and ordered to be recorded.” (Southampton, Virginia, Court Order Book 1759-1763, page 175)
4 Feb 1762 – John Harper and wife, Mary, sold 75 acres on the north side of Three Creeks to John Watkins. The land was adjacent to the new road and Robertsons. Witnesses were David Newsum and Jacob Newsum. (Southampton County, Virginia Deed Book 3, page 126-127)
11 Jul 1765 – John Watkins and wife, Lydia, to James Speed Jr., carpenter, 260 acres on the north side of Three Creeks. 180 acres were given to John Watkins by his father, William Watkins, on 6 Oct 1747, 75 acres were purchased from John Harper on 4 Feb 1762. Document is signed by John Watkins and witnessed by Benjamin Simmons, Benjamin Exum and Benjamin Simmons Jr. Lydia Watkins didn’t sign the deed or appear in court. (Southampton County, Virginia Deed Book 3, pages 357-359)
19 Mar 1767 – Newit Foster’s will mentions wife Anthany and daughter Dolly. Executed by Anthany Foster and Moses Foster. The will was recorded 9 July 1767. Witnesses were George Rawlings, John Harper, Tabitha Newsom. (Wills and Administrations of Southampton County, Virginia, 1749-1800, page 212)
10 Sep 1767 – Land was granted to Nathaniel Tatem / Tatum: 34 acres on the south side of Nottoway River adjoining John Harper and David and Nathan Newsom. (PlanetMurphy.org Tatum Family Research; Southampton County, Virginia; Library of Virginia Land Grants)
9 May 1782 – Anselm Harper buys land from Drury Parker and unnamed wife. Land was by John Harper [his father] and Richard Marks. (Southampton County, Virginia Deed Book)
7 June 1782 – “The jury summoned to ? and examine the damages that might be occasioned by Zadoc Bell’s erecting a water grist mill on the north branch of the raisons swamp. This day made their report in the following words to wit: ‘By virtue and in obedience to the other of court hereunto annexed we the subscribers a jury of freeholders of the vivinage being duly summoned and sworn before John Simmons Gentl. a magistrate of the commonwealth of Virginia have diligently viemed and examined the lands in the said order mentioned and do report that the acre of land petitioned for is of the value of twenty five shillings to Arthur Gilliam and that the building the said mill will be to the damage of Arthur Gilliam twenty five shillings, and not to the damage of prejudice of any other person or persons whatsoever. Given under our hands and seals this seventh day of June one thousand seven hundred and eighty two.’ William Hines, SDhff?, James Barkham, Howell Harris, Solomon Beleark, James Battle, Richard Johnson, Benjamin Lewis, Benjamin Butts, Miles Cary, John X his mark Harper, Richard Marks, Joseph Marks, Randolph Newsom. Whereupon it is ordered the said Zadoc Bell be permitted to erect the said mill according to law. (Southampton County, Virginia, Court Order Book 1778-1784, pages 200-201)
23 Dec 1785 – Perry Jordan (or Jurden) married Bathsheba (or Barshabah Harper). John Harper listed as father of Bathsheba. Security and witness: John Rodgers, Sam Kello, Hansel Harper, John Harper Jr. (Southampton, Virginia Marriage Registry)
1790 – Southampton County, Virginia census lost. (Source)
6 April 1792 – Germany (or Jarmany) Ellis married Edith (or Eady) Harper. Consent of John and Edith Harper. Security and witness: John Harper, John Haussmann (Southampton, Virginia Marriage Registry) John’s wife Mary must have died and he remarried a woman named Edith. I don’t know which children were Edith’s.
1800 – Southampton County Virginia census lost. (Source)
23 Feb 1803 – John Harper writes his will. No wife is mentioned, likely indicating Edith had passed away. Children mentioned: Celah Rose, Lucy Rose, John Harper, Shaba Jordan, Edith Ellis, Howell Harper, Thomas Harper, Anselm (deceased), Heirs of Anselm: Joseph and James Harper; Lucy and Nancy R. Harper (Southampton, Virginia, Will Book 5, pages 408 – 409)
In the name of God Amen – I John Harper of the County of Southampton and parish of St. Lukes being in Tolarable health at present sound mind & memory thanks be to almighty God for the same but calling to mind the frailty of man do make & ordain this my last will & testament in manner & form following (as to wit) after recommending my soul into the hands of almighty God who gave it to me my body to the earth to be ___ ___ at the discretion of my Executors how? named & as to what worldly Good it hath pleased almighty God to bless me with, I do bestow in following manner —
first it my will & desire that all my just debts and funeral expenses be paid. —-
Item I do give and bequeath to my daughter Celah Rose all which I have let her have the use of now in her possession & one n*gro boy named Feny at my death to her and her heirs forever —
Item I do give & bequeath to my Daughter Lucy Rose all which I have her have the use of now in her possession & at my death one n*gro boy named Author to her and her heirs forever —
Item I do give & bequeath to my Son John Harper all which I have let him have the use of now in his possession & at my death one n*gro man named Sam to him and his heirs forever. –
Item I give and bequeath to my Daughter Shaba Jordan all what I have let her have let her have the use of now in her her possession & at my death one n*gro man named Ben to her and her heirs forever. –
Item I give and bequeath to my daughter Edith Ellis all which I have let her have now in her possession and at my death one n*gro girl named Fenniey with her increase from the date there of to her & her heirs forever.
Item I do give and bequeath to my son Howell Harper One horse now in his possession and at my death two n*groes namely Peter and Jinny with their increase from the date there of to him and his heirs forever. —
Item I give & bequeath to my son Thomas Harper three n*groes namely Patt, Jim, and Tonah & one horse to him and his heirs forever. –
Item I do Give & bequeath to my two Grandsons namely Joseph & James Harper Sons of Ansolim Harper when they shall come of lawfull age Twenty one pounds to each of them to be paid by my son Howel Harper to them and their heirs forever. But provided both or all of my GrandSons should die before they come of lawful age it is my Will and desire that, that estate which I have left them in this will may be equally divided ?? these sisters namely Lucy and Nancy R. Harper. —-
Item It is my will and desire at my death that my land & plantation together with my stock of horses & stock of all kinds crop household & kitchen furniture plantation ?? with all the residual of my estate which I have not given away within my will may be equally divided between my two sons namely Thomas & Howel Harper and that my said two sons for the be unfit of the above estate shall furnish my Daughter Shaba Jordan with a house to live in during her Widowhood & that my said son Howel Harper out of his part of estate left him pay to my two grandson the legacy left them in this my will. ” —“—-“—-
Lastly I do constitute & appoint my two sons Howel & Thomas Harper whole & sole executors of this my last will and testament revoking and disanuling all wills here to for by me made discharging this this only to be my last will and testament In witness where of I now here unto set my hand and affirmed My Seal this 23rd day of February 1803.
Signed sealed and delivered in the presents of Wm Chambless, Robt. MCyrike, Robt. Hastey
John his X mark Harper (Seal)
10 May 1803 – John Harper’s will is proven in court. See above entry on 23 Feb. 1803 for original will. (Southampton, Virginia, Will Book 5, pages 408 – 409)
1 Jul 1803 – Howell Harper provided the bond and security in court for John Harper’s will. (Southampton, Virginia, Court Order Book 1802-1803, page 305)
1803 – A list of men ordered to appear appraise the estate of John Harper. (Southampton, Virginia, Court Order Book 1802-1803, page 310)
22 Mar 1804 – Thomas Harper was in debt $250 to Thomas Mason of Sussex County, Virginia. The sum plus one dollar was paid by John Massenburg and John Myrick. Thomas Harper sold unto them sixty acres of land in Southampton County bordered by Joseph Markes and Howell Harper, his brother. He also sold to them three slaves: Jim, Pat and [unreadable]. The deed is signed “Thos. Gold Harper“. Witnesses were David Mason and John Nicholson. (Southampton, Virginia, Deed Book 10, page 314)
Southampton County, Virginia records are thanks to the Southampton Project by The Brantley Association of America.
John’s Wife, Mary
We have limited information about Mary, John’s (possibly first) wife. In 1759, Thomas Gold gives John Harper land “in consideration of the natural love and affection which he hath and beareth unto the said John Harper”. In 1761, we see that John’s wife, Mary, is listed in deeds where he sells land. I believe Thomas Gold (also spelled Gould) is likely Mary’s father.
Also in 1761, Mary and John sell 75 acres of land to Jacob Newsum and Elizabeth Gould. Jacob pays 20 pounds while Elizabeth pays 5 pounds. Elizabeth may be the sister or other relative of Mary.
Finally, in 1804, John’s son, Thomas, signs a deed “Thos. Gold Harper”. This leads me further to believe that Gold was Mary’s maiden name.
Children of John and Mary
I am speculating that Mary was the mother of all John’s children. Thomas appears to be the youngest and was named “Thomas Gold Harper”, likely after Mary’s maiden name. John did have a second wife, Edith. It appears he lists his children in birth order in his will.
Anselm “Hansel” Harper, abt. 1761 – 1803, married Elizabeth Rose
Here’s a link to my blog post about Anselm.
Celah Harper Rose, ? – aft. 1803, married ? Rose
Lucy Harper Rose, abt. 1766 – bef. 1830, married Benjamin Rose
John Harper, ? – 1834, married Anne Wiggs
Bathsheba “Shaba” Harper Jordan, ? – aft. 1803, married Perry Jordan
Edith Harper Ellis, ? – aft. 1803, married Germany Ellis
Howell Harper, ? – aft. 1807,
Thomas Gold Harper, ? – aft. 1804,
Originally posted March 12, 2020