My immigrant ancestor John Bristow is listed in some genealogies as John Newton Bristow, but I have not found any document that included the name “Newton”. The Christ Church Parish records from Middlesex County, Virginia, contain many of the births, deaths, and marriages of John Bristow, his children, and grandchildren, so we know they stayed in one place for several generations. Genealogists working on families from Middlesex County will appreciate the efforts of the vestrymen who, in 1663, initiated the creation of the register and then took care to preserve it.
The church now standing was being built before John died, but there had been another building on the same site since 1666. The photo of Christ Church was originally posted by J. T. Cummings at Findagrave.com in the section devoted to Christ Church Cemetery, where John Bristow is buried. I do not know if there is actually a tombstone marking his grave, but his death and burial are included in the church register: “John Bristow dyed October ye 10 & was buried October ye 13, 1716.” There is a Christ Church Cemetery map posted by D. Bevan at Findagrave.com, which indicates that plot 107 is where any Bristows are buried.
John’s origins are mysterious, and any effort to determine his ancestry will result in frustration. However, it seems fairly clear that John, was, indeed, an immigrant. The Bristow Association, which I have not yet been able to contact, previously issued a report saying that John Bristow was “found wandering through the Colony of Virginia in 1663”. This was in Lancaster County, established in 1651. The Lancaster County Order Book mentions him: “John Bristow svnt to John Hughes coming into this country without indenture and appearing to this Cort is ordered to serve seaven years from his arrival.”
It has been estimated that John was 14 years old in 1663, which would put his birth in 1649. Why was he in Virginia without “papers”? How did he get there? Where did he come from? Who were his parents? I am still trying to find satisfactory answers to those questions. Middlesex County was formed from part of Lancaster County in 1669, so John Bristow stayed in the same general area from 1663 until his death in 1716. These counties are on either side of the James River where it empties into Chesapeake Bay, and many immigrants entering Virginia from the Atlantic Ocean likely passed through them.
A Robert Bristow had property in Lancaster County at the time John arrived there, but it is not known what their relationship was. (See Cavaliers and Pioneers pages 340, 505, 536, and 553.) In searching wills, land records, county histories, and parish records for answers, one will find an extraordinary amount of conflicting data.
Here are some examples of the conflicting data: Robert Bristow married Averilla Curtis, and it seems his son Robert married Catherine Woolley in England. This much can be gathered from marriage records and wills. One may be inclined to say that Robert Sr. and Averilla were John’s parents, but one record says Robert Sr. was born in 1625 and another says he was born in 1643. Some records say he immigrated to Virginia in 1660, but he supposedly married Averilla, of Virginia, in 1650. Some records say Averilla was born in 1625, but her sister, Sarah Curtis Perrott, was born in 1657. That seems an unlikely age difference. Sarah Curtis married Richard Perrott, Jr., in 1672, at age 14, but she had already been married to William Halfhide before 1670, which would have made her 11 or 12 at first marriage. The mother of Averilla and Sarah was also named Averilla, so the records are sometimes unclear as to which Averilla is meant. Robert Bristow, the Lancaster County plantation owner, returned to England at some point and remained until his death in 1706/7. His son Robert Jr. apparently lived in England and died just before his father. They both left wills, but they are a little confusing (at least to me). Richard and Sarah Curtis Perrott attended the same church as John Bristow, but it is not known how they were related, if at all. One might guess that Sarah Curtis Perrott was John’s aunt or cousin. However, I have not found any evidence other than proximity that John was the son of Robert Bristow Sr. and his wife Averilla Curtis. I do believe they were related in some way. John did not name any of his children Robert or Averilla, but his son James Bristow did name children Robert and Averilla. James was the only one of John’s children whose birth is not in the parish records, but he was mentioned in John’s will. Clearly, there are many issues involved in trying to pin down John’s heritage, and I don’t believe anyone has been able to do it at this point.
John’s indentured service ended around 1670. Sometime before 1680, he married Mary Michal Nicholls. In 1687, he served in the Middlesex County militia. The births of these children are in the parish records: Johannah in 1680, William in 1682, Michal in 1684, Thomas in 1687, Elizabeth in 1690, Nicholas in 1694, and Anne in 1701. Almost all of these children’s marriages are also in the parish records, as well as the births and marriages of some of John’s grandchildren. My descent is from the daughter Anne Bristow, who married Anthony Seale and moved to Prince William County. John’s first wife, Mary Michal Nicholls, died before 1711, and John then married Mrs. Mary Goodloe Carter, by whom he had three more children. I found birth records for two of them—Jedediah in 1713 and Mary in 1715.
John had a plantation with many slaves that are mentioned in the parish records. He left a will naming some of his children, but daughters Elizabeth and Michal, and possibly Johannah, preceded him in death. The will of John Bristow was probated Nov. 6, 1716, and is recorded in Will Book “B”, p. 51, Middlesex County, Virginia. It reads
“In the name of God Amen I John Bristow being sick and week in body but sound in memory do make this my last will and testamt First I bequeath my soule to God that made it; my body to the earth from whence it came; and all my worldly goods as follows: Item I lend unto my loving wife Mary Bristow one negro woman named Judy during my wifes natural life; then to return to my estate againe Item I give and bequeath unto my son Nicholas Bristow one negro man named Jack to him and his heirs Item I give and bequeath unto my Daughter Anne Bristow one negro woman named Bess with incres to hur and hur heires forever Item I give and bequeath unto my grandson John Bristow sone of Tho: Bristow one negro boy named Majgor to him and his heires Item I give and bequeath unto William Owen sone of Michaell Owen one negro garle named Lotty hur and hur incres forever Item I give and bequeath unto my sone William Bristow one negro garle named Rose hur and hur incres forever Item I give and bequeath unto my two sones Nicholas and James Bristow my land to be equally divided betoined them and their heires forever Item I give and bequeath my hole personall estate to be equally divided betoine my wife and children after my debts first paid and Lastly I appoint my sones Nicholas and James Bristow Executures of this my last Will and Testament as witness my hand and seale this 20 Day of Feb 1716.
(Signed) John Bristow (Seal)
Will Daniell jnr.
Probated November 6, 1716″
Despite his inauspicious arrival in Virginia, John seems to have been successful. I don’t like the fact that he owned slaves, but he was apparently devoted to his family and was a respected resident of Christ Church Parish where he served as lay reader, appraiser, juror, and clerk of the vestry.
Copyright © 2019 K Steele Barrera. All rights reserved.
Sources for John Bristow
Cavaliers and Pioneers. Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1666, Vol. I. Accessed at Ancestry.com on March 15, 2019. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=FLHG-CavaliersPioneers&h=334676&ti=0&indiv=try&gss=pt
Colonial men and times : containing the journal of Col. Daniel Trabue, some account of his ancestry, life and travels in Virginia. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah, 2005. Accessed on March 15, 2019.
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. Published by Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah, 2004. Accessed on March 15, 2019.
The Parish Register of Christ Church, Middlesex County, Virginia, from 1653 to 1812. Printed by W.E. Jones, Richmond, Virginia, 1897. Accessed 15 March 2019 at https://archive.org.
U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900. Yates Publishing, 2004. Accessed at Ancestry.com on March 15, 2019.
Virginia Colonial Militia, 1651-1776, Vol. II. Accessed at Ancestry.com on March 15, 2019. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=FLHG-VAColonialMilitiaII&h=342614&ti=0&indiv=try&gss=pt
Virginia Will Records. Accessed at Ancestry.com on March 15, 2019.