Early Mayfield Settlers of Virginia
By Phil Norfleet
In recent years,
historians of Colonial America have recognized that the settlement of British
North America before the Revolution was not a uniform process but rather was
accomplished by many highly differentiated immigrant groups. These historians,
including Bernard Bailyn, T. H. Breen and David Hackett Fischer, have contended
that even the English-speaking groups were culturally very different, even
though they were all came from Britain and/or Ireland. Fischer, in his book entitled
Albion's Seed (published in 1989), tells us that
the principal British migration groups were:
Puritans, mostly of the middle class, from the eastern counties of England to
Massachusetts Colony during the years 1629-1640.
A very small number of families from the Cavalier elite, a few middle-class
people who paid their own way, and a very large group of mostly
lower-middle-class, indentured servants (whose passage was paid for by others),
from the southern English counties to the Virginia Tidewater area during the
A group of mostly Quakers from the Midland counties of England and Wales to the
Delaware Valley (mainly to Pennsylvania Colony) during the period 1675-1725.
English-speaking people from the northern counties of England, from Scotland and
from the Province of Ulster in Northern Ireland (the Scotch-Irish), to the
Appalachian back country of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas during the
earliest known Mayfield immigrant to Virginia, Robert Mayfield, settled in
Glouster County, Virginia as an indentured servant in about the year 1652. He
probably was of a lower middle class social status and came from the south of
England, perhaps from Surrey or Sussex County. Accordingly, the Mayfields are
clearly associated with migration group b. above.
Initially, Virginia was colonized under royal charters issued
by James I to the London Company. However, in 1624, the London Company was
dissolved and Virginia became a royal colony under the direct rule of the King.
The basic doctrine of land tenure throughout the colonial period was that all
land was held immediately by the King, to be dispensed by the royal officials of
the colonial government in accordance with the wishes of the King. Patents
(grants) to land in Virginia were issued in accordance with the "headrights"
system. Under this system, every person (or headright) who paid his own way to
Virginia would be assigned 50 acres of land, and if he transported, at his own
cost, one or more other persons/headrights, he would, for each person whose
passage he also paid, be awarded an additional 50 acres of land.
After patenting and surveying a tract of land, a patentee was
required to settle the land within three years of the date of the patent and pay
an annual "quit-rent" of one shilling for every fifty acres. Title to previously
patented land could be returned to the King in the following two basic ways:
1. The land had not been settled within the three year period
2. When the landowner died without heirs or he was convicted
of a felony (escheat land)
Throughout most of the seventeenth century, land was granted
almost exclusively on the basis of the headright system. However, as the
population of the colony increased and as the labor supply became more
plentiful, there arose a demand to permit the granting of undeveloped land,
particularly land adjacent to developed tracts, without having to provide
additional headrights. Accordingly, by the late seventeenth century, custom
permitted and laws were eventually modified to permit land grants issued upon
the payment of a fee in the secretary’s office, usually at the rate of five
shillings for each fifty acres of land so granted. (See W. Stitt Robinson,
Junior, Mother Earth - Land grants in Virginia 1607-1699 (1957), page
Immigration to Virginia Colony Based on Headrights
Most of the Colonial Virginia land patent records have
survived in a series of fourteen patent books which have been abstracted by Nell
M. Nugent; her abstracts have been published in a series of volumes issued by
the Virginia State Library. The land patent books provide the date of the
patent, number of acres of land granted, general location of the land, and (when
granted upon a headright basis) the individual names of the headrights/persons
for whom the land was granted. Accordingly, these records provide an excellent
source upon which to estimate the rate of immigration to Virginia Colony during
the 17th Century. Professor Wesley Frank Craven of Princeton
University used these land records to calculate the number of Virginia
headrights recorded by year from 1636 through 1699. (See Wesley Frank Craven,
White, Red, and Black (1971), pages 15-16.)
I have summarized this information by decade in the following
Number of Headrights
Historical Events during
|English Civil War; Charles I
|England Ruled by Parliament
|Restoration of Charles II (May
1660); Second Dutch War
|Continued Reign of Charles II;
Third Dutch War
|Reign of James II (1685-1688);
The Glorious Revolution (1688)
|Reign of William III and Mary
The first Mayfield immigrant to Virginia was probably Robert
Mayfield who arrived in Glouster County as an
indentured servant in about the year 1652. As the above table shows,
during the decade in which Robert arrived (the 1650’s), Virginia Colony was
experiencing its largest migration from England.
Mayfield (d. 1692) - The First Mayfield Immigrant
This Robert Mayfield was probably born in England
in about 1630. He seems to have migrated to Virginia Colony, as an indentured
servant, in about 1652. A few years after his arrival in Virginia, in about
1654, he married; unfortunately the name of his wife is unknown. He seems to
have had at least two sons who survived into adulthood:
Robert Mayfield (died 1715)
Edward Mayfield (born circa 1660)
My notes concerning what little information that
I have been able to glean from the records of Colonial Virginia concerning this
Robert Mayfield, the first Mayfield immigrant, are as follows:
The earliest entry mentioning a person with the Mayfield surname in Virginia, of
which I am aware, is found in a list of headrights supporting a 350-acre land
grant in Gloucester County to a certain Richard Longe in the year 1652.
I have carefully examined the original of this document from the microfilm at
the Library of VA. The grant is found in Patent Book 3, page 135 and I abstract
it as follows:
06 Dec 1652: Grant to Richard Longe of 350 acres of land on Milford Haven on
westward side of a branch dividing from George Billops. Headrights: Edward
Dymont, Henry King, Robert Maiyffelld, Hannah Cotton, Mary James, Thomas Hale,
Lt. Col. Griffith, his wife Anne.
The "Robert Maiyffelld" so listed is probably a variant spelling of "Robert
Mayfield" as creative spelling is a hallmark of 17th century writing.
It should be noted that while I have transcribed the name as Robert Maiyffelld
other researchers have read the name differently. In the old script, when the
letter "s"appears in the middle of a word, it was written in a manner very
similar to the letter "f." Hence, it frequently is very difficult to determine
whether an "s" or an "f" is intended.
Nell Nugent, who abstracted all the early land patents of VA, read the name as "Mansfelld"
[see "Cavaliers and Pioneers Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants"
(first published 1934), Volume One, page 267]. Furthermore, Polly Cary Mason,
who compiled the "Records of Colonial Gloucester County Virginia" (published
1946), at page 49, read the name as "Maysfield."
The identification of Robert Mayfield as a headright, indicates that he probably
entered the colony as an indentured servant sometime in the year 1652 or shortly
before. Studies of VA headrights indicate that the most common age for male
headrights was the 18-25 age group. Assuming Robert was in this age bracket, his
year of birth would be somewhere around 1630.
The Colonial VA law, in effect in 1652, concerning the terms of indenture was as
Under 12 years of Age - 7 Years
From 12 to 20 Years of Age - 5 Years
Age 20 Years and Over - 4 Years
Accordingly, the most probable period of indenture for Robert Mayfield would
have been four or five years. Thus, it is probable that he would have completed
his indenture in about 1656/57. I have not been able to find any record of a
Mayfield having received a land grant in Colonial VA during the period
1635-1750. In fact the earliest record of any Mayfield land acquisition was a
Rappahannock County deed from Daniel and Robert Gaines to Robert Mayfield for
105 acres of land in the year 1677. My best conjecture is that this Robert is
the son of the Robert Mayfield noted as a headright in 1652. My reasons for this
conjecture are as follows:
1. There is evidence that a certain Robert Mayfield of Henrico County VA
had died about the year 1692 or perhaps a little earlier. Henrico County Record
Book Number 2 (Orders and Wills, 1678-1693), page 429 states the following:
"Com: Henrici pr:o die [torn] 1692 ... Capt Will Farrar being by ye Last Court
Appointed to see ye delry of Cattle belonging to Robt Jones an Orph late in ye
Wardship of Will Blackman wch were given unto ye said Orph per Rob't Mayfield
decd doth Return Acc't That ye sd Order is performed & that ye said Jones hath
received in full one Cow, one Calf & one Bull."
I interpret the above statement to mean that the orphan, Robert Jones, was
bequeathed or otherwise due some cattle from the estate of Robert Mayfield, now
deceased; the orphan was given one cow, one calf and one bull to satisfy said
court order. Most certainly this Robert Mayfield was dead by the year 1692, the
year of the court order.
No will of this Robert Mayfield is known to exist; however, the extant probate
records of Henrico County are not complete and the records of the adjacent
County of New Kent have been completely destroyed for the relevant time period.
Also, if this Robert Mayfield died intestate, then under the Law of
Primogeniture, Robert's personal property, including cattle, would have been
equally divided among all his children. It is quite possible that the orphan,
Robert Jones, was a grandson of Robert Mayfield by one of his daughters who had
married a member of the Jones family. The later (1720's) Essex County records
show a certain Robert Jones associated with the Mayfields in various lawsuits.
2. There is evidence that a certain
Edward Mayfield was living in New
Kent County in in 1695. He almost certainly was at least 21 years of age at the
time as he was a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit tried in the Rappahannock
County Court. I believe Edward is probably a son of the Robert Mayfield who was
an indentured servant in 1652 and a brother of the Robert Mayfield who acquired
land in Rappahannock County in 1677.
Robert Mayfield who acquired land in 1677 is almost certainly the
same Robert whose will, dated 3 December 1714, was probated in Essex County,
Virginia on 16 August 1715. Thus, the year of death for this man was almost
certainly in 1715. The will names a wife Sarah; sons Robert, Abraham, John,
Isaac and Jacob; and daughters Catherine, Jane, and Anne. All indications are
that these children were born in the 1680's and 1690's, i. e. after the 105-acre
land acquisition in 1677. If their father was the Robert Mayfield, who was an
indentured servant in 1752, he would have been in his fifties or sixties when
all his children were born; I consider this to be a highly unlikely scenario.
4. All demographic studies conducted for 17th century England and
Virginia indicate short lifespans. The typical age of death for women was in
their forties, and for men, it was in their late forties and early fifties. A
recent study done for Colonial Middlesex County VA, a county directly adjacent
to Essex County, indicates an expected age at death for men, who had already
reached the age of 20, to be only 45 years of age! [see "A Place in Time
Explicatus" by Darrett and Anita Rutman, published 1984, page 52] Accordingly, I
consider it highly unlikely that the Robert Mayfield who died in 1715 was the
same Robert Mayfield who entered VA in 1652.
5. The Robert Mayfield who acquired land in 1677 is not designated as
Junior or Senior or some other differentiating label. This indicates to me that
there was no other Robert Mayfield living in Rappahannock County at that time.
Robert's father and namesake was probably still alive at this time, but was
residing in either Henrico or New Kent County.