Early Gadberry Colonists

In America

By Russell Gadberry

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and then not much happened for over a hundred years. This was distressing to the English crown, at war with France and Spain, and desirous of increasing its taxable base. America was a tax plum ready to be picked, but to tax, you need tax payers.

Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1585, had been commissioned to set up a colony in the New World. He sent two ships led by Sir Richard Grenville to establish a settlement on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. Two years later in 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh then sent three ships with 117 men, women and children to populate the colony. The settlement leader John White sailed back to England for supplies only to return three years later and find the colony missing. Men women, children, all had vanished without a clue. No trace of them has ever been found. This was not the best start for a new tax base.

King James I chartered the London company in 1606 to settle the new world. In 1607 the London Company sent Capt. Christopher Newport with three ships, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery, and men to establish a community in the James River in Virginia. This settlement suffered terribly, famine and disease took a grave toll, by the time Capt. John Smith arrived in 1608 with 105 new settlers and provisions, only 38 men of the original three ships survived, and they were quite ready to leave. Captain Smith convinced those original citizens who had lost so much to stay. Unfortunately the story repeated itself with starvation and privation in the winter of 1609-10 which became known as the ‘starving time’.

Lord De La Warr sent Sir Thomas Gates in early 1610 with more men and provisions. The situation they found was desperate, of those early colonists they found, "three score persons within, and those scarce able to goe alone, of welnigh six hundred, not full ten months before," with the assistance of Sir Thomas Gates preparations were begun to abandon the site.


Quitting was not to be an option though, the new governor Lord De La Warr arrived on June 10, 1610 with men and supplies and prevailed (if not ordered) upon the colonists to stay. Death would continue to haunt the colony into the 1660's. Mr Garroway a member of the House of Commons in 1667 stated that, "the English at their first arrival lose a third part at least," in speaking about the "consumption of people", in the Virginia colony.

During the years the London Company controlled the Virginia colony (1607-1624) 7,289 English men and women were sent to America, out of that number 6,040 died, an 82% death rate. Blaming the London Company or the New World for these deaths would not be entirely appropriate either. British ships of the time were known as ‘hungry ships’ because of their ability to inadequately provision them. Merchants also looked upon colonists not as passengers but as merchandise to be packed in as tightly as possible. This practice was called ‘pestering’.

A ‘pestered’ ship carrying a cargo of English convicts would soon become a nursery of infection and disease. Most convicts were from the poorer classes of England with only a modicum of health care to begin with, and they had been ill treated in the cold damp prisons in Britain. Packed into the cramped unsanitary conditions of ill-equipped ships, spreading disease and infection among the passengers, most colonists arrived in the New World weak and ill. Hot humid temperatures common to Virginia with the added vexations of mosquitos, the isolation of the wilderness, and being far from country, family and friends, all added to the terrible toll exacted upon the ‘adventurers’. As ships returned to England with the stories of starvation, illness and death in the New World, it became imperative that the crown and the London Company find a powerful incentive to draw new ‘adventurers’. This incentive was the land patent.

On a small island with a growing population and feudal society, owning property in England was limited to the wealthy and only a dream for the rest. The promise of free, fertile land in the New World was an incentive worthy of the risks involved.

The London Company was authorized by the crown to patent 100 acres of land to any adventurer who would buy a single Company share for 12l. 10s., or for the transportation of any individual to the New World, 50 acres. The individual that was transported under this system was also to receive 50 acres for his use. This second system of basically trading land for bodies was called the ‘headright’ system. Henry Hartwell, James Blair, and Edward Chilton in 1697 wrote of abuses of this system and described the situation.


When the master of a ship, "made oath that he had imported himself and so many Seamen and Passengers at divers Times into the Country, and that he never elsewhere made Use of those Right; he had presently an Order granted him for so many Rights, (i.e., so many Times 50 Acres of Land and these Rights he would sell and dispose of for a small Matter). . . The Masters likewise that bought the Servants so imported would at another Court make Oath that they bought so many Persons that had ventur’d themselves into the Country, and upon this so many Rights were order’d them: So that still the land went away, and the Adventurers [i.e. immigrants] themselves, who remain’d in the Country, for whom it was originally designed, had the least Share."


This system was even more onerous when you consider that the immigrant was required to pay his own passage to the ships owner. Unable to finance this kind of venture themselves most were required to sign an indenture contract. This was a labor or service contract for a specified period of time usually three to seven years. Theoretically after serving your contract, you would receive your 50 acres, provisions, and some clothing. Anne and John Gadbury were not so fortunate. The indenture as described was called ‘free will’ or ‘redemptioners’, but there was a more ominous indenture, the forced one.

Many were forced into servitude by kidnaping, religious pressures (the Quakers) and criminal convictions (Anne and John). These individuals were basically sold at auction on arriving in the New World and the conditions could be harsh. The Records of the Virginia Company, Vol 1, pg 373 said:


"A little before the departure of Sir Thomas Gates many of the Ancient planters (by the instigation of Sir Thomas Dale), upon promise of an absolute freedom after three years more to be expired (having most of them served the Colenye six or seven yeares in that general slavery) were yet contented to serve in the buildings of Charles city. . . with little allowance of clothinge and victuals."


Written from a company standpoint these individuals were content to serve three times their original indenture with little clothing and food. Would you be?

The book JAMESTOWN 1544-1699, states: "Human abasement did not begin at Jamestown in 1619 when the first blacks arrived; it commenced in 1607 with the landing of the first white colonists from the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. For nearly two decades (1619-38) this outpost of empire served as a market for the sale of white Englishmen and Irishmen into servitude before it became a mart for black slaves."

In all fairness it must be stated that by the mid 1600's almost half of the colonists were or had been indentured servants. The House of Burgesses of Virginia in 1665 was half made up of former indentured servants.

By the late 17th century health conditions in America had greatly improved. The establishment of a central colonial government and an agricultural infrastructure assured that starvation was no longer a threat. Improved living conditions had greatly improved life expectancy. Indentured servitude would continue to be practiced through the 18th century and would play an instrumental part in bringing the Gadbury/berry family to America.

Bryan, Edward and Thomas

By 1699 the Virginia Colony had grown considerably. The population was about 75,000 and growing rapidly. It was in

this year that Bryan Gadbury came to America.


Bryan is the first Gadbury whose arrival in America we have been able to document so far. On Sept 6, 1699, William Jones, Junr. was granted 700 acres for the transportation of 14 individuals from England. Bryan was the second individual listed on that transaction.

Following the practice of the time, after Mr. Jones had petitioned the Colonial Court for his land patent (50 acres X 14 persons transported) he would then have the opportunity of using the transportees as his workers or servants (the patent was his reward from the crown for bringing them, they still must fulfill their indenture to him for passage), selling them by personal transactions or selling them at auction. We do not know what happened to Bryan, at this time no further records of his life and activities have been found.


The next recorded individual in early America is Edward Gadbury. Edward’s arrival in America is not dated, but on the 23rd of October 1703 he received 48 acres in King and Queen County in St. Stephen’s Parish, Virginia for the transportation of Ducksell Browne from England. His options concerning Ducksell Browne would have been the same as Mr. Jones with Bryan. He could use Mr. Browne’s services himself, sell or auction him. Whatever his choice it does point to a major difference in circumstances between Edward and Bryan. Edward was financially able to pay his own passage and that of others, and Bryan was forced to sell himself into an indenture contract.

In 1704 Thomas Gadberry shows up on the Kent County Virginia Rent Rolls. Thomas at this time controlled 200 acres. The fact that he had acquired that much land may indicate that his status was above that of a former indentured servant and would place him on an economic level with Edward. According to the English charter a patent recipient would not have to pay taxes on his property for the first three years. This would indicate that Thomas had been in America at least since 1701 or earlier. A land patent for this land has not been found to date, nor have any transportation records for Thomas.


The appearance of these three men within such a short period of time has led many to believe that they were brothers, but economic circumstances may indicate otherwise. If Edward had the resources to transport others from England, why would he not transport Bryan himself instead of leaving him to the whims of others? If Edward and Thomas were brothers why was their name spelled differently? The common reasons for a spelling change would not appear to apply here.

This leads to the first of several Gadberry/bury mysteries. What was their relationship one to another? What were these mens origins? Why can we not find them on immigration and passenger indexes? Why can we find no records of offspring? What happened to them?


Anne Gadbury


After her conviction in London for the theft of clothing and money from the home of Richard Guest, where she had worked as a nurse, Anne was placed in the custody of Capt. Thomas. Wrangham on the ship the ‘ANNE’ on Feb 21, 1724, and sailed from Newgate. Anne was sent to the Carolina colony and arrived there the same year. Anne was nineteen years old. Because of her involuntary indenture Anne faced an uncertain future, at this point in her life she no longer had any control over what happened to her. As discussed earlier the rights of an involuntary indentured servant were little more than those of a slave, was she to be treated cruelly or kindly, we may never know. Anne, like her earlier male predecessors disappeared into the New World without a trace (at least, so far).

We do have one clue perhaps. Anne was also listed in the book ‘Brides from Bridewell’. Unfortunately a copy of this book has not been located so far, but it does hold the promise that Anne married and continued to build a good life in America, in spite of her reasons for being here.

John Gadbury


When we last left John he had been convicted of stealing coal in one of the coldest recorded winters in England. He was transported to America in the ship ‘TRYAL’, Captained by John Soherveil. The ship left England in January of 1767 and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in March of the same year. Like Anne, John faced the uncertainty of his involuntary indenture in America. What happens to him at this point is lost for now, probably residing in some dusty volume in the basement of some ancient courthouse.

An interesting thing happens though when you review historical records. Bill and Robin Gadbury of Burns, Ore. spent many hours in the dusty reaches of the Fluvanna County Courthouse searching for records of their ancestor John Gadbury. Their goal was to determine if their ancestor John was the same as John the transportee. While they failed to make such a connection what they did find is of interest to us.


Starting as early as 1780, they found references to their ancestor John Gadbury in Fluvanna Co. Va. when John Gadbury married Nancy Adams. This John died on Nov 10, 1828 in Ross Co. Ohio. John was about the age of 73 when he died. If this is John the convict then he would have been 12 years of age when tried, convicted and transported, and he would have been about 25 years of age when married to Nancy Adams.

Twelve years of age may seem very young for criminal conviction and transportation for stealing coal, but for those familiar with the story of ‘Oliver Twist’, and the legal conditions in mid-eighteenth century England, not altogether unrealistic. But references to another John were also found to help cloud the question.

In 1769 and 1770 in Spotsylvania Co. Va. a John Gadbury witnessed land transactions. If this was Bill and Robins John he could have been only 14 or 15 at the time. If he was John the convict ( and John the convict is not Bill and Robins ancestor) he would most likely still have been under his indenture which commonly was three to seven years long. Would a convicted criminal in servitude at any age have the freedom to witness land deeds?, seems to be the operative question here. The answer isn’t that simple either.

In 1779 a John Gadberry was listed in the Vestry Bk. of Blisland Parish as receiving , ‘the half 21/for two ditto ditto 10 shillings 6 pence.’ Just exactly what this means we do not know, but it appears that he was out of the parish during the years of 1777 and 1778 (possibly to fight in the Revolutionary War??) and received a tax credit in 1779 for his absence. Who was this John? Could he have been the son of Lydda and or William Gadberry (see next chapter)? And there are more John references. (notice the different spellings).


In Rockbridge Co. Va. in 1791 a lady by the name of Phoebe Guthrie married a John Gadbury. We know that this is not the ancestor of Bill and Robin, but could it be John the convict, or John the land deed witness? It is unlikely that there were four or five John Gadburys in this area at the same time.

So we stumble onto the next of the Gadbury/berry mysteries. What happened to John Gadbury the convict? Is he the ancestor of William and Robin Gadbury? How many John Gadburys were there in Virginia during this period? What is the common tie among these references?

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