President Thomas Jefferson was the namesake of his paternal grandfather and great-grandfather. In other words, they were also named Thomas Jefferson. I, too, am a direct descendant of these two men since my ancestor John Robertson Jefferson was the President’s first cousin. The President’s father was Peter Jefferson, and John’s father was Field Jefferson, Peter’s brother. I’ve always had two predominant feelings about being related to Thomas Jefferson. First, I’m proud of his brilliant leadership in the founding of our country. Second, I’m thrilled about being related to a President because someone else has already done most of the hard research!
There was a lot of intermarriage in these early Virginia families. For example, the President’s wife, Martha Wayles, (pictured) is also descended from some of my ancestors, the Eppes and Ishams, about whom I will write at another time.
My ancestor, John Robertson Jefferson, was also a patriot and is listed with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). His recognition came about because he was prosecuted in August 1777 for not paying his assessed levy to the local parish. His reason for not paying was that the minister, Rev. Christopher McRae, was a Loyalist. Many of John’s Cumberland County neighbors who wanted independence also refused to pay. All of the President’s immigrant ancestors mentioned below were also the forebears of John Robertson Jefferson.
It is believed that the President’s great-grandfather Thomas Jefferson immigrated to Virginia via the West Indies, but he was originally from either England or Wales. There is some evidence for both origins, but it is generally accepted that this family is not connected to the Jefferson who was at Jamestown. Great-grandfather Thomas was living at Osbornes, Henrico County, Virginia, in 1677, when his first son, Thomas, was born. He had married Mary Branch, a native-born Virginian, and was a planter and surveyor. In 1682 he purchased 157 acres in Henrico County from William Byrd, and in 1692 he purchased a town lot. By 1697, he was living near the James River below present day Richmond. Genealogists have determined that the family had a respectable standing and comfortable estate but they were not part of the wealthiest class of plantation owners. An inventory of Thomas’s estate was entered into public record in 1698, and his heirs were son Thomas and daughter Martha. There was no mention of daughter Mary.
As previously stated, Mary Branch was born in Virginia; however, her grandfather, Christopher Branch, and grandmother, Mary Addie Branch, were immigrants from England. They had married in London in 1619 at the age of 17. Christopher was part of a prominent family descended from several signers of the Magna Carta. He and his wife and small son arrived on the ship London Merchant. By 1625, they were settled in Henrico County, Virginia, where they eventually had six sons. Unfortunately, Mary Addie Branch passed away in 1630. In 1639, Thomas served as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. His will is dated June 20, 1678, and was proved in February 1681/82. In the will he makes a bequest to his granddaughter, Mary Branch Jefferson. Several of his sons had preceded him in death.
The paternal grandmother of both President Thomas Jefferson and John Robertson Jefferson was Mary Virginia Field Jefferson (pictured), wife of Capt. Thomas Jefferson. She was born in Virginia, but her mother and paternal grandfather were born in England. Her mother, Judith Soane, was born in Sussex County, England, in 1646 and immigrated to James City County, Virginia, in 1651. She was the widow of Henry Randolph when she married Peter Field in 1678, Henrico County, Virginia. At the time of her death, her name was Judith Soane Randolph Field. The paternal grandfather of Mary Virginia Field Jefferson–father-in-law of Judith Soane–was the English immigrant James Field. He arrived in 1624 on the ship Swan and settled in Elizabeth City, where he was listed with the militia. It is unknown if his wife, Ann Rogers Clark, was an immigrant.
Both the President and his cousin John had other immigrant ancestors, but the ones listed above are the only ones they shared unless there is an as yet unknown connection, which is quite possible. I’ve always wondered how close John (b. 1742) was to his cousin Thomas (b. 1743) since they were almost the same age. I have a feeling that is one question that will never be answered.
Sources for Pres. Thomas Jefferson and John Robertson Jefferson Coldham, Peter Wilson. The Complete Book of Emigrants. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997. The Colonial Virginia Register. Accessed at www.newrivernotes.com. Findagrave.com “Genealogies of Virginia Families.” William and Mary College Quarterly, Vol. III, Heale-Muscoe. Historical Southern Families, Vol. 1. Accessed at Ancestry.com Hoff, Henry. English Origins of American Colonists. Accessed at Ancestry.com. Hopkins, Garland Evans. The Story of Cumberland County, Virginia. Privately published, 1942. The National Society Magna Charta Dames and Barons. Accessed at www.magnacharta.org. Roberts, Gary Boyd. The Royal Descents of 500 Immigrants. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2002. Weisiger, Benjamin B. III. Henrico County, Virginia, Deeds, 1706-1737. Privately published, 1985-6. Richmond, Virginia. Wimberly, Vera Meek. The Branch Family. Self-published, 1990.
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