One of my seventh great grandfathers was named William Clopton. He was born in Eastwood, Essex County, England in 1655 to Rev. Robert Clopton and Mary Sutcliffe. A preacher’s kid, the Clopton Chronicles suggests that he left home first for London, to escape the Puritan atmosphere of home, and then on across to Virginia.
In Virginia, about 1680, he married a widow, Ann Booth Dennett whose father was Dr. Robert Booth, an early resident of Jamestown. In her book, Jamestown Brides, Jennifer Potter describes how marrying a wealthy widow was desirable to the “planters” arriving in Virginia from England because they came with their late husband’s wealth. They generally got snapped up before the maidens.
Ann and William had five children; Anne, Elizabeth, Robert, William and Walter. Ann’s first husband, Thomas Dennett left a will that names four children that Ann had with him; Anne, John, Sarah and Elinor – it’s kind of weird to me that those don’t aren’t mentioned again in any Clopton records. Was eschewing her Dennett children part of the marriage bargain? I guess supporting four children would put a dent in whatever wealth she brought to their alliance. Did those kids stay around but not get mentioned because they weren’t bloodline Cloptons? Did they stay with their father’s side of the family? Does that reflect badly on William? On Ann? On the Dennetts? Whose decision was it?
William and Ann lived in New Kent County, in St. Peter’s Parish. William was a vestry man at St. Peter’s Church and served as the clerk of the Vestry for many years until he begged off due to debility. He was appointed “surveior of the highwayes” and authorized to collect “tithables” from people to defray the cost of the work. He also collected the tithes for the church – apportioned at one time as 84 pounds of tobacco from each head of household – I think tobacco was commonly used as currency. The church budgets list various costs, including paying parishioners to keep people who could not provide for themselves, like “ancient” people, the sick and lame, or “a Bastard child” and it’s mother.
William Clopton enslaved people, I assume to grow tobacco and work in the house. The St. Peter’s Parish Register, records births, deaths and marriages. Many enslaved babies are included with a first name, their birthdates and baptism dates like this list:
Nane, negro of Wm. Clopton born 29 April, 1704
Jno, negro of Wm. Clopton baptized June 25, 1710
—-bin, negro of Wm. Clopton born June 6, 1706
——, negro of Wm. Clopton born May 8th, 1707
——, negro of Wm. Clopton born May 30th, 1713
——, negro of Wm. Clopton ———–
(Of course this Wm. Clopton is also in the right time frame to be his son, William Clopton.)
There are two main farms that were owned by this part of the Clopton family. The original Clopton home place, which at some point came to be a plantation called Callowell, was west of Crump’s Mill, which is on the southern branch of Black Creek. According to Malcolm Harris there were remains of a stone and brick cellar in the 1970s. Apparently there is a large cemetery there but the stones are hard or impossible to read. Here is a real estate ad from 1857:
The other property associated with this immediate family was called Roslyn. It was farther west and near the border of Hanover County. In the mid 1800s it was the site of a mission church called St. James, established there by St. Peters Parish. The St. Peter’s Parish website describes it as being between present day Orapax Farms (Dispatch Road) and the Chickahominy River. There are large ancient oak trees but no buildings. In Old New Kent County, Harris describes it as having been half a mile east of where Cattail swamp comes off Black Creek. My excellent Google Maps skills show these two do coincide.
William and Co., for a few generations, (I’m mostly following the descendency of his oldest son Robert, my sixth ggggggreat grandfather) kept buying up more land and the 1850 census shows that the ante bellum Cloptons living at Roslyn, or “Clopton Estates,” owned about 4,000 acres. William Clopton, the immigrant, died about 1732 and is buried with Ann Dennett Booth in the churchyard of St. Peter’s.
Here finally is my punchline: You know the Clopton men were not out there hoeing and harvesting 4,000 acres, or even the 400 they held at Roslyn. Marx said that workers create all wealth. Would that wealth have been created without the Clopton bosses, bossing it into being? What kind of twisted koan is that? If William Clopton and his descendants had not been so determined to keep giving everyone in the neighborhood the same couple of names, over and over and over, it would be more possible to determine which ones enslaved how many people. But I think it is fair to lump all those Williams and Roberts who lived in the same decades together and say that as a group they owned the people whose names I shared here. According to the 1850 Slave Schedules the Cloptons in New Kent County enslaved 42 people, and one of those owners was a four year old boy. In 1860 it was 29. I figure that represents the people enslaved at Roslyn and Callowell.
- Jamestown Brides; The Story of Englands “Maids for Virginia,” by Jennifer Potter 2019
- Old New Kent County (Virginia); Some Account of Some of the Planters, Plantations, Places, by Malcolm Harris 1977
- The Clopton Chronicles, a Project of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society. rootsweb.com
- The Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent and James City Counties, Virginia, 1684-1786. Richmond, Virginia Library Board, 1937.