Gramma Watkins was Wanted by the Sheriff

Sea Shell At Assawoman, Virginia pencil sketch by Wendy Harty September 20231

Elizabeth’s knobby knees were aching after her hike. A warm wind lifted a strand of grey hair from her forehead. The air this day was moist and clean. When she was sure the sheriff had gone she moved down onto the beach where the packed sand was easier to walk on. Elizabeth let the watery warm waves cross her ankles as she walked barefoot on the cool, moist sand. A horseshoe crab scuttled out of her way and she saw the tiny bird prints left where they had flown away. Elizabeth didn’t know how much longer she had to live. As the sun was lowering itself over the Chesapeake Bay, Elizabeth left the beach and climbed the dunes to her plantation. Tomorrow, June 17, 1697 she had decided to write her will, just in case.

Little Assawoman Bay

Elizabeth Watkins was born in 1633 in Accomack County, Virginia. The Watkins family were the 1st Planters coming in the 2nd or 3rd supply ships that founded Jamestown. The Watkins and Woodman family were known to each other at Corsham, Wiltshire, England when Richard Woodman married Elizabeth Marie Watkins who were parents to Elizabeth Woodman married to John Stockley Sr., so these 8th great grandparents of mine were probably second cousins.

Accomack County was one of the original shires or counties of Virginia. The word means, “the other shore” a native word from the Accawmack tribe. Nine years later, in 1642, England changed it to Northampton, as it was the northmost shore of the Virginian Eastern Shore. The English eliminated “heathen names” in the New World, by changing them. By 1663, populated with tobacco plantations the county was split into two and her home assumed the original name of Accomac and Northhampton. Then in 1670, the Virginian Colonial Royal Governor, William Berkeley abolished Accomac County, but it was recreated in 1671. in 1940 the General Assembly added a “k” and has since been called Accomack.

In 1648, Elizabeth Watkins, my eighth great grandmother married. She was 15; he, John Stockley Jr. was 27. The plantation was near the small town of Assawoman. Oh, her John was a wild one paying the fine for not observing the Sabbath Day, with his brother, Francis, and being hauled into court. She was heavy with their twins when a great storm and tide destroyed their tobacco already taken to the rolling house to be stored and inspected. The children came on a regular basis; the first seven all boys, William and Francis, twins, Woodman and John twins, Joseph, Charles and Thomas. The last four were girls, Jane, Hannah, Elizabeth and Ann.

In 1653 John was called to Old Planation Creek to witness his brother Francis’s will. It was a very sad day, when Francis, John’s brother died January 1, 1655, they had been very close. John’s father, John Stockley who was the first of the Stockley’s to come from England with his wife Elizabeth Woodman, died the next year. Francis’s widow Joane Hall Stockley remarried William Custis, the Sheriff of Accomack County. Francis and Joane Stockley’s daughter Ann, married Thomas Bagwell in 1661. This cousin and her husband would have a huge impact on the John and Elizabeth Watkins Stockley family.

John Stockley was away to England several times during the babies years. On September 2, 1664 John transported 52 people from England and was granted 2700 acres at Assawomen, Accomack County, Virginia. Page 187 of the Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants give this description: bounded E. With the seaboard side, N. by Corrattawaman Cr,, S. by Stokeleyes branch and a right lyne parting this land of Col. Edmnod Scarburgh followed by the names of the 52 people. The colony was becoming viable and enthusiastic men and women boarded the ship, willing to become indentured servants and laborers. For every person John brought 50 acres was given.

Elizabeth was heavy with twins the year of 1667, Hannah and Elizabeth. On September 6, a dreadful hurricane struck the outer bank of southeast Virginia. John lashed the small children to the upright beams in the barn, during the eye of the storm. All the family survived but the wind howled for twenty four hours coming northeast, turned due south and finally came at them out of the west. There was no thunder but a confused noise of the wind and falling trees. 10,000 houses were blown over and the area crops of corn and tobacco were beat into the ground. The cattle drowned as the rivers overflowed with the 12′ storm surge. Their barn on high ground survived but they heard about the graveyard at Port Comfort that was swept out to sea and First Lynnhaven parish tumbled into the water. The storm wasn’t over; 12 days of rain followed. When finally a morning sun came, it lit the ruination of their plantation. The tempest was so furious it made a general desolation. Their tobacco fields were torn to pieces, food had perished and fences around the corn fields had blown down or been beaten by falling trees. Whole woods had been blown down making it so John couldn’t go plantation to plantation for days. They rebuilt.

John Stockley was feeling poorly in 1670. He had accumulated a large land base having bought a further 500 acres. On February 3, 1670 he wrote his will. The eleven children, all living, were from ages 21 to the baby Ann. John left the main plantation to be equally divided by the seven boys when they reached age 18. John provided Elizabeth his wife a neck of land for her own use.

The Stockley family were growing up and leaving the nest. Elizabeth waved to the boat carrying her three sons away. She swayed on her husband John’s arm. The boys were going the 50 miles to Delaware up the Bay to join Thomas and Ann (Ann was their cousin being Francis Stockley’s daughter) Bagwell. Her sons William, Woodman and John were leaving home, 1672. John Stockley gave them his blessing and divided his herd of cattle among them, and added a codicil to his will stating thus.

Grandmother Elizabeth with such small children didn’t have long to mourn her husband John Stockley when he died August 18, 1673 at Assawoman, Virginia; they’d been married for 25 years and few women chose to be widows. The records show she remarried John Stratton within the year. That’s an interesting choice. John was the man in court accusing her John Stockley of not being attentive in church and getting him fined. Upon her second marriage, Elizabeth was 40 and he 52 and it also meant a relocation to his plantation at Pocomoke Sound, Accomack Country, Virginia not far to the west of Assawoman. Elizabeth sold her Neck of Land in 1674 at Accomack to Edward Vaughan.

Elinor Stratton was born in 1675 and married Alexander Massey in 1695. This daughter was the reason Gramma Watkins Stockley Stratton was escaping meeting the sheriff. In her mind, she wasn’t being unlawful, I imagine she wasn’t going to let Elinor’s husband, Alexander Massey Jr. win because she just wasn’t done living her life yet!

John Stratton, Grandmother’s second husband made his will May 1, 1696 and soon passed, at the age of 77. They had been married for 16 years. Both his wife Elizabeth and daughter Elinor were named. John Stratton was hardly buried when the son-in-law wanted the plantation and petitioned the court saying John Stratton had bequeathed his wife the plantation where John and Elizabeth lived on. Alexander asked that Elizabeth be ordered to produce it, come to court and show why she detained and didn’t probate it. On April, 1697 the court ordered that Elizabeth Stratton, widow of John be cited for detaining Stratton’s will and not having it probated. Grandmother failed to appear. The sheriff was ordered to take her into custody until she posted a bond for her appearance in court and she was to give the will immediately into the hands of the sheriff. I am assuming Elizabeth Stratton knew the sheriff and with a heads up was inconveniently never home when he came visiting at Pocomoke Sound.

Elizabeth Stratton made her will June 17, 1697 and left mostly cattle to her grandchildren she named Joseph Atkins, son of daughter Ann, also Matilde and John Atkins, grandson Woodman Stockley, To Henry Towles jr., Stockley Towles, Thomas Towles, Job Towles. and to sons, John, Francis, Joseph, Charles and daughter Hannah Balley. She named Woodman and Thomas Stockley executors.

Elizabeth Stratton continued to elude the sheriff! On February 9, 1698 Charles Stockley her youngest son came to court because his mother was blind and she couldn’t come herself. Elizabeth had retained Mr. Henry Custis, attorney, (her nephew, son of her sister-in-law, Joane Hall Stockley Custis) but Mr. Custis was unable to be present because his wife was dangerously ill.

Elizabeth knew that John Stratton’s will said she could have the plantation for the rest of her life before it passed onto Elinor. Elizabeth passed sometime before June 4, 1706 when once again her name appeared in court when her son John Stockley of Somerset Co and Edward Bayle (son-in-law) were accepted as administrator’s of her will which was intestate. (not found). This was later overturned when Thomas Stockley presented the will of Elizabeth which was proved in 1680 on oaths of Mary Sample and John Bradford who had witnessed the will. Administration was granted to her son John Stockley.

I took a little fictional liberty walking Gramma Watkins along the Chesapeake Beach and evading the sheriff, however, the court records are legitimate. For my ancestors who took the ship to the Americas for political, religious and economic reasons I am grateful for your lives to tell about.

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