Vestry Books of St. Paul's, St. Peter's, Henrico and St. James' Northam Parishes
 
 

            Because of the incredible loss of pre-Civil War records in the counties near Richmond, we have researched some of the Vestry Books and Registers of the Protestant Episcopal Church that have survived from Colonial America. The books and registers that we have examined vary greatly in usefulness to the family historian. The only such references that has provided significant Woody information are the Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter's Parish and The Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish.

 

Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter's Parish

            The Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter's Parish New Kent and James City Counties, Virginia 1684 - 1786 was transcribed by Churchill Gibson Chamberlayne and published by the Library Board of Richmond in 1937.  This transcription can be viewed online a Hathitrust.org, Archive.org and Ancestry.com. On 4 May 1689, a Vestry Processioner Order list shows the adjacent entries for James Woody and Jn Baughan. John Baughan was also noted several times as a processioner in the St. Paul's Vestry Book after that parish was created from Sr. Peter's in 1704; however, James Woody was never appointed a processioner in St. Paul's. We suspect that James was converted to Quakerism sometime between 1689 and 1704 and therefore was not eligible for the position of processioner. In 1699, the Register of St. James Parish baptismal record lists James Woode as the son of  James and Elisheba Woode. In 1703, the same record lists Rebecka as the daughter of Simon Woode. Although Mr. Chamberlayne suggests that Woode is a variation of Woode, we have found old English records that use Woode as a variation of Woody. Our research shows that although Wood is found in many other records of this time, Woode is not used once. Additionally, the will of Simon Woody names Rebecca Woody as a daughter. So we have assumed that both James and Simon were Woodys.

 

Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish

            St. Paul's Parish was created fom St. Peter's Parish in 1705. The Vestry Book of St. Paul's Parish, Hanover County, Virginia 1706 - 1786 was transcribed by Churchill Gibson Chamberlayne and published by the Library Board of Richmond in 1940. This transcription can be viewed online at Hathitrust.org and Ancestry.com. Mr. Chamberlayne was an authority on the early Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia and had previously  transcribed and published three other volumes of early Virginia parish records. He "discovered" the book in 1907 while doing research at the Alexandria Theological Seminary. The original book is now at the Library of Virginia, but a microfilm copy is available from the LDS Family History Library as Film # 33858.  It is important to know that Hanover County was formed from New Kent County in 1721, so the pre-1721 events described in the vestry book occurred in New Kent County.

            In his introductory comments, Mr. Chamberlayne states that many of the pages of the original document are "so badly mutilated that less than half the record they once contained remains." Just as importantly is the fact that "the volume is for the first two hundred forty-one pages merely a transcript, of an older and long since disappeared, manuscript volume, which was ordered to be made in the year 1754".  What's more, there is some evidence that the record up to 1742 is still another transcription. So, over half of the book is missing and the oldest part of the remaining book is a transcript made by a vestry clerk or even a transcript of a transcript. We have examined the processioning records with care. The 1719 records are completely missing and only a few of the 1727 records have survived. So, nearly all the records for period from 1719 until 1731 have been lost forever. Undoubtedly, the entries for this period have been lost. Additionally, my experience with other transcriptions indicates that transcribers introduce many errors into the record. Professional genealogists estimate the magnitude of these errors to be 10% or more.

            By far, the most useful genealogical records in the vestry book are the processioning orders and returns. Mr. Chamberlayne's introduction gives an extensive and interesting description of the  history and recording of processioning in early Virginia. The processioning process consisted of two phases: The appointment of the processioners and the processioning results. The vestry official appointed the processioners (two to four land owners) and assigned a deadline for completion. Later, the processioners reported their results to the Vestry officials. Suffice it to say that the records of the practice of processioning have resulted in a semi-complete record of the landowners in St. Paul's Parish. Semi-complete because "less than half the record... remains." By statute, processioning was preformed every four years and, in general, nearly all parish officials endeavored to follow the law. However, the method of recording of the processioning orders and results varied from parish to parish, as did the amount of information that was recorded. Our experience has shown us that the readable portions of the St. Paul's record are more complete than most other parish records. Over one hundred entries for Woody, Wooddy, etc are found in the processioning records.

Vestry Books of Henrico and St. James Northam Parishes

            Robert Alonzo Brock transcribed The Vestry Book of Henrico County Virginia  1730 - 1773 in 1874. This transcription is online at Archive.org. It is also available from the LDS Family History Library as film # 928068, Item 4.

            William Lindsay Hopkins transcribed The
St. James Northam Parish Vestry Book, 1744 - 1850, Goochland County, Virginia in 1987. Because of copyright restrictions, we have not found an online copy of this book; however, it may be found in many libraries. A microfilm of the original vestry book is available from the LDS Family History Library as film # 33855.

            The  vestry books for both Henrico and St. James Northam Parishes seem to have survived the centuries in much better shape than that of St. Paul's, described above. An examination of the records reveals that some aspects of the processioning process are mentioned nearly ever four years. That is, very few of the processioning records seem to be missing. The compilers of these two books do not mention any mutilated or missing processioning records, as the compiler of the St Paul's Parish record did.  The same general processioning process was used in all three parishes; however, in general, the details that were recorded are far fewer in Henrico and St. James Northam, than in St. Paul's. All three parishes recorded the appointed processioners, but Henrico and St. James Northern omitted recording all of the processioned landowners as St. Paul's did. In fact, many of the processioning results in Henrico and St. Paul's Northam did not include any of the landowners names. Sometimes, even though processioners were appointed, no returns were recorded. In general, the land owners names were recorded only when controversy arose over the property boundary lines. In summation, Henrico and St. James Northam Parish records do not provide the complete list of processioned landowners that is found in the St. Paul's record. So, in general, we are left with the names of the processioners. We have also examined the processioning records for the names of individual that were neighbors or associates of Henry and John Woody.
 

Henrico Parish - Henrico County

            A Henry and a John Woody are both recorded as owning land in Henrico County. It is not clear that John ever actually lived in Henrico, but Henry almost surely did because on 21 September, 1745, a Henry Woody of Hanover County purchased, for 40, 170 acres from Nicholas Pryer in Henrico County at the head of Drinking Hole Branch of Tuckahoe Creek.  His will was probated in Henrico in 1766. So why wasn't this Henry recorded in the processing records of Henrico Parish?

            The Henrico County Vestry Book of one hundred and ninety-one manuscript leaves was accidently discovered in the Henrico County Court House by Peyton Rhodes Carrington in 1867. It had probably been stored in the courthouse for safe keeping during the Revolutionary War and had subsequently been forgotten. The transcriber, R. A. Brock, describes the manuscript as being "entirely legible" and missing only a few leaves "devoted to a registry of the births and deaths in the parish".  The first vestry record was made on October 28, 1730 at Curle's Church. The first precincts were defined and processioners appointed on September 27, 1731; however, if the processioning was indeed performed, the results were not recorded. Processioners continued to be appointed every four years until the end of the record in 1773; however, the results of processioning were very sketchy.  Unless there was a boundary dispute, the names of the land owners was seldom recorded. Sometimes, as in 1731, no results were recorded at all. Unfortunately, the is not one entry for a Woody, etc in Vestry Book or Register.

            However, we found several Vestry Book entries for the neighbors and associates of Henry Woody mentioned in other records. In 1735, Nich's Prior was appointed a processioner. In 1739, Nich's Pryor, Thomas Ellis and  Richard Cottrell were appointed processioners. Richard Cottrell, Samuel Shepherd and Thomas Ellis also appraised the Henrico estate of Henry Woody in 1766. Also, Richard  was the father of the Elizabeth Denis Cottrell that married Samuel Woody in 1785 Henrico.  In 1768, Thomas Ellis and Richard Cottrell were processioners for the same precinct; however, their return reads "we have proceffioned all the Lands within our Precincts, all the Parties agreed".  In 1772, Samuel Shepherd and Rich'd Cottrell were processioners for the same precinct and, again, the return fails to mention any landowners names. Henry Woody purchased his property in Henrico from Nicholas Pryor in 1755.  The names of Richard Cottrell and Nicholas Pryor seem to be unique in the records of Henrico. Richard Cottrell is recorded as a processioner through 1772. Other names of Woody neighbors/associates were more common, but some of them also seem to have been processioners (e.g. Thomas Ellis, Samuel Shepherd & John Martin).
 


St. James Northam Parish - Goochland County


            The Vestry Book of St. James Northam Parish in Goochland County was transcribed by William Lindsay Hopkins in 1987. The author included very few introductory comments. The processioning records of St. James Northam Parish resemble those of Henrico Parish described above. Processioners were appointed every four years, but very few landowners are mentioned. One of the vestry officials mentioned several times was Arthur Hopkins. Except for the 1738 appointment of John Woody as a road surveyor, there is not another entry for Woody, etc. in the Vestry Book.

            In 1740, John Woody was granted land on Byrd Creek in Goochland County. His grant mentions his adjacent property, so he had previously acquired land on Byrd Creek. In 1741, he purchased more property on Byrd Creek from Abraham Venable. John's first acquisition was before February 20, 1738, the date the Vestry appointed him a road surveyor for a section of the Mountain Road. The surveyor for the adjacent road section was William Martin.

            With regard to the neighbors and associates of John Woody mentioned in the Vestry Book. In 1751, William Banks and William Martin replaced Thomas Massie and John Moss as processioners. Thomas Massie, William Banks, John Moss and William Martin were all recorded as neighbors in deeds and/or surveyor road orders associated with John Woody. In 1771, John Howard was appointed as a processioner. John Woody sold some of his property to John Howard in 1751. Arthur Hopkins, the vestry official,  was a witness to this transaction. In 1762, John Woody was mentioned in the probate of the estate of William Banks and again, in 1767, in the probate of the estate of Arthur Hopkins.

            We conclude that John Woody and many other landowners of Goochland were never recorded in the St. James Northam Parish processioning records.

            Apparently, the parish did not keep a Vestry Register until William Douglas started one in 1756, about five years after he became the minister of Dover Church. He continued this record until his resignation in 1777. Several Woody marriages and births were recorded by Rev. Douglas. However, Rev. Douglas did acknowledged that several pages had been torn from the book, so the record is not complete.


To be continued

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Revised Oct 19, 2018