A Widow at 25, A Widow Again

From Sidbury, Devon County, England to New Hanover County, 1714, North Carolina

My ancestors on my mother’s side settled in the New Hanover County of North Carolina. New Hanover County is 857 square miles, along the Atlantic Coast. The major towns are Bargaw, Atkinson, Rocky Point, Watha, Scotts Hill and Hampstead. About 30 miles up the coast is Stump Sound and Topsail. And Wilmington down the coastline, prospered because of its proximity to the Cape Fear River. The Cape Fear River was named for its rough waters and treacherous shoals along which Wilmington wasn’t settled until 1725. By this time, Elizabeth Stockley, my 6th great grandmother was a widow, not once but twice!

But before I tell you Elizabeth’s story, I’m going to take you back to a picturesque village in the county of Devon, England underneath an Iron Age hill fort built during the 4th century, where perhaps I could walk among the carpet of bluebells and ancient oaks and have a spot of tea with my picnic. It is in the Sid Valley, the village of Sidbury and Sidmouth are Saxon in origin and were fishing villages, which became market towns. It became known for its wine exports and a fort was built in 1628 due to fear of a French naval attack.

Was Sidbury, England named after my Sidbury’s? And looking up the recent newspaper titles November 2021, for Sidbury, England, where I am taking you it reads, “Heavy rains and flooding last week caused a fair bit of chaos in and around Sidmouth”. It was, “wetter than an otter’s pocket!” And perhaps if the child of Thomas Sidbury (my 8th great grandfather) would have stayed put, I’d be listening to the loud bang of a cannon heralding the start of the rolling of the flaming tar barrels which celebrate the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Gunpowder, treason and a Roman Catholic plot to blow up the House of Lords and kill the King, James I, and replace him with Elizabeth, his nine year old daughter. James firmly believed in the divine right of Kings. The conspiracist’s planted the barrels of gunpowder but then an outbreak of plaque delayed Parliament until November 5th. Guy Fawkes was discovered with lantern in hand and matches and the game was up. He was tortured to give up the other’s names, then jumped from the gallows escaped being hanged and quartered or disemboweled, castrated and beheaded as his comrades were. Lovely place England, but my John Stockley Sidbury, (my 7th great grandfather) born in 1615 at Sidbury, Devon, England, left and came to the shores of Norfolk, Virginia.

There he married an Elizabeth Stoakley in the year of 1660. And my 6th great grandfather of the name of Woodman Stockley Sidbury Sr. was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1664. In 1670, a royal decree directed the building of storehouses to receive tobacco for export. Norfolk became an important port city. From Norfolk Virginia, Woodman went to Maryland where he wed my 6th great grandmother Elizabeth Stockley.

If you’ve been reading my previous Stockley blogs, the names of Woodman and Stockley were used by many of that family so I am assuming there is some relatively between my 6th grandparents when Woodman Stockley Sidbury Sr. married Elizabeth Stockley, daughter of Woodman and Jane Rogers Stockley of Sussex County, Maryland.; son of John and Elizabeth Watkins, Accomack, Virginia; son of John and Elizabeth Woodman, Jamestown, Virginia. Elizabeth Stockley was much younger than her Woodman Stockley Sidbury, probably 25 years his junior, and by the time her parents died in 1713, she’d left her Maryland home. Elizabeth and Woodman had their first child born, James Sidbury 1712 and were living in New Hanover County, North Carolina. And then in 1714 two things happened to Elizabeth: Woodman Stockley Sidbury Jr. (my 5th great grandfather) was born and his father, her husband, age 50, Woodman Stockley Sidbury Sr. died!

What was life like for a young 25 year old widowed Elizabeth Stockley Sidbury with two young children, one just a baby? Colonial women were expected to marry young, as she did. Most woman were pregnant or nursing during most of their reproductive years, the average family was over seven children. Her chores on a farm would be preparing food, making soap to wash the handmade clothes she’d spun the thread and woven, clean, butcher and prepare the fresh game hunted, and keep the home clean. While in the colonies for the first 100 years woman started out on an equal footing as they were needed to come to the colonies to help work and create a stable population. Without a will, she would receive 1/3 and the children 2/3. Elizabeth would have been taught the skills of running a household by her mother. The men believed to educate the woman was a waste of time and energy. As a girl, she was taught that marriage was the only worthwhile adventure.

So when Woodman died, I’m sure suitors appeared with undue haste to bid for the services of the widow Elizabeth, through marriage. Further if you were a man, and your wife had just died, leaving you with small children, the haste and urgency to find a helpmate, made George Bishop Sr. come knocking on her door. Within a few years, they were a blended family of his, hers and theirs. George Bishop Sr children from his first wife were Elizabeth 1699 and George Jr. 1710-1743 and Woodman Stokeley (or Stoakley) Bishop born 1710. Her children were James 1712- 1749 and Woodman 1714 -1752 They had together a daughter named Margaret Elizabeth Bishop 1716-1765., George and Elizabeth Stockley Sidbury Bishop lived on New Topsail Sound on Waters Point lying between Woodman Sidbury and William Waters land. (I am assuming Elizabeth didn’t have far to move if the Sidbury and Bishop plantations were side by side as referenced above?) George Bishop expanded the plantation; in June 1736, 100 acres were listed on Alexander’s Creek; again in July of 1736 another 500 acres and 640 acres on Topsail Sound; again 400 acres on New Topsail Sound Feb 15, 1737. George was Justice of the Peace on Mar 6, 1739 at Onslow. Other purchases were 50 acres made in Onslow County on Topsail Sound in 1745.

Sloop Point North Carolina today

When George Bishop aged 59, died in 1722, her right of dower, as a married woman, was designed to provide her with support during widowhood. It comprised of 1/3 of a life estate that she could use but did not mean actual ownership. Even though Elizabeth would pay the same taxes she was not allowed to vote. For the next 43 years of her life Elizabeth Stockley Sidbury Bishop my 6th great grandmother remained a widow having outlived both husbands Woodman Stockley Sidbury and George Bishop Sr.

Which one of the children named the Avenue at Topsail Beach?

Topsail is now a vacation beach destination. This wasn’t always so especially when Elizabeth lived in North Carolina. From the 1600-1700’s the coast was used as a hiding spot for pirates like Blackbeard. His ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge was found up the coast from Topsail Island. Legend says Blackbeard buried his gold treasure on the island in a spot known as the Gold Hole. Or perhaps in 1750 the El Salvadore, a Spanish Flota of five ships, went broad-side to the sea at New Topsail Inlet. There is land now there, and when the ship was torn apart from a hurricane, was the treasure left? If I were to visit I’d go check out “Operation Bumblebee”. It was a secret missile program right on Topsail Island. And my favorite would be a day at the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehab Center. I’d walk the beaches and think about Elizabeth 1689-1765 and Woodman Sidbury 1654-1713 my 6th great grandparents, living close by and find a spot of serenity and beauty and write their names in the sand and remember them. In my dreams a piece of gold washes up at my feet.

2 thoughts on “A Widow at 25, A Widow Again

  1. Wendy, thank you so much for all your research and storytelling. You write so well, I find myself in the very times you describe in your blog ♥️

    Liked by 2 people

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