A Colonial Court

My 8th Great Grandmother (mother’s maternal ancestors) Elizabeth Watkins made her last will and testament on June 17, 1697. She was known as Elizabeth Stratton the widow of John Stratton. Her first husband was John Stockley Jr.

During the 17th century times Grandmother Elizabeth lived in, there were colonial court systems with the magistrate or more commonly called the Justice of the Peace. This judge mostly dealt with petty crimes, was usually a religious or political leader. The court rarely used juries since the settlements were so small and far apart. These local courts heard thousands of cases and kept very meticulous records.

I was surprised to find my fiesty grandmother ordered to be taken into custody. Here’s her story.

Elizabeth Watkin was born before 1633 in Assawoman, Accomack Co. Virginia. She married John Stockley Jr in 1648 being a young girl of 15. John would be a plantation owner having transported people to the new colonies from England and in exchange was given large land grants. In December of the year they married Elizabeth’s husband John Stockley was called before the grand jury of Virginia in Accomack County and fined for violating laws of “failing to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” His accuser was John Stratton whose testimony said John talked and made loud noise at the service. He and his brother, Francis Stockley were fined for “profaning God’s name”. On July 19, 1664 Elizabeth Stockley is listed in a headright, with her husband. The headright system was used by the Virginia Colony and was a grant of land of 50 acres. It was a way to attract new settlers to the region and address the labor shortage.

The couple prospered on their 2700 acre plantation. They raised 7 boys and 3 girls: William, Francis, Woodman, John, Joseph, Charles, Thomas, Jane Ann, Hanna, Anna, Elizabeth. All were named in his John Stockley’s will written February 3, 1670. His will was probated by 1673 and Elizabeth sold her inherited land in 1674 at Accomack, 100 acres from the Neck of Land to the North of Christopher Stanley’s. (tract A140), In 1680 Elizabeth Watkins Stockley married John Stratton of Northampton County, Virginia her husband’s Church accuser. She sold the balance of her land of 250 acres according to records to James Powell.

In Virginia, Elizabeth lived at Accomack with John Stockley and then lived at Pocomoke Sound with John Stratton

For 16 years Elizabeth was married to John Stratton and he named her in his will of May 1, 1696 at Accomack County, Virginia and she remained on his plantation, when he died the next year. And here begins the court case.

On February 3, 1697, Alexander Massey petitioned that John Stratton had bequeathed “his” wife, Eliner, the plantation that John and Elizabeth Stratton lived on and the widow had detained the will. He asked she be ordered to produce it, come to court and show why she detained and didn’t probate it! On April 6, 1697, ordered that Elizabeth Stratton, widow of John be cited for detaining Stratton’s will and not having it probated. Failed to appear. Sheriff ordered to take her into custody til posted a bond for her appearance in court. She was to give will immediately into the hands of the sheriff. Elizabeth didn’t comply!

On June 17, 1697, Elizabeth made her will. She called herself Elizabeth Stratton and left to her children: John, Francis, Thomas, Joseph, Charles and Hannah and left her cattle to her grandchildren: Joseph, Matilda and John Atkins, children of daughter Ann, grandson Woodman Stockley, and the Towles grandchildren Henry, Stockley, Thomas and Job, children of Elizabeth.

Finally, on February 1698, her son Charles appeared in court on her behalf because his mother was blind. She couldn’t come and had retained Mr. Henry Custis attorney, who couldn’t appear because his wife was dangerously ill, so he couldn’t be present. The case was referred to the next court. I do not know how this ends but Elizabeth’s will presented some challenges for the court also. She died before June 4, 1706 when her son John Stockley of Somerset Co. Maryland and Edward Bayle were granted administration of the estate of Elizabeth Stratton, who they said died intestate. Then on August 6, 1707, Thomas Stockley another son presented the will of Elizabeth Stratton, dec’d. It was proved by the oaths of Mary Sample and John Bradford who had witnessed it. Upon the request of Thomas Stokely, the administration was granted to John Stokely and Edward Baly was made void.

Elinor Stratton Massey (Elizabeth and John Stratton’s daughter) and her husband Alexander had to wait nearly 10 years to inherit the plantation while her mother Elizabeth Watkins Stockley Stratton out ran the sheriff!

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