Sarah Thorowgood: Virginia’s First Cougar

 

When I moved into the house I now call home, it was a fixer-upper. It was 1988 – and there was no air conditioning and the kitchen was the original one put in when the house was built in 1954. But it was near the beach, and that was all my family and I cared about.

The backyard was good in size, but not one weed had been pulled in about 5 years, since the woman who built the house had died, so it was overrun with poison ivy and kudzu. That first summer we did not have the money to put into air conditioning just yet, so I took to pulling weeds in the backyard. This also helped to deal with the fact my husband had been sent to sea that summer when he was not supposed to be sent to sea. I pulled and pulled and pulled some more only to unearth a beautiful garden of boxwood, azalea, camellia, rhododendron, hydrangea, and tulip trees. This garden had been planted by the couple who had built the house in 1954, the Heaths.

But the following year I thought to add color and decided to plant some impatience. So I waited till May 1, and then went out with my spade and started digging. Pieces of blue Delft dishes and teacups and various shades of glass bottles began to appear. The pipe stems and pipe bowls turned up, along with lots and lots of enormous oyster shells.

With time, I did some investigating, and came to find out that Adam and Sarah Thorowgood had lived in a wooden house that once stood where my house now stands. Since then, I have read about Sarah from most every source available to me. I still have more research to do about her, but today I would like to share with you what I have learned so far about this remarkable woman.

But I am going to tell you about Sarah in first person, as I feel her story is best told in her voice. So please allow me this poetic license. So now we will hear from Sarah…

My father was a successful man in London, where I was born and grew up. He had a trading business and most of his trade was with Turkey. But the year I was born, in 1609, he invested in the Virginia Company and was a stockholder in the company by 1619, when I was ten.

My mother’s father, and her grandfather, were into politics, as both had served as Lord Mayors of London. My mother had beautiful things in our London home and knew many important people in London: I had a privileged life – you might say. My father, however, was not a politician, but a merchant at heart and intent on his business with the Virginia Company.

 Often at dinner in our house my parents entertained colonists who were in London on business and soon to return to the colony. Their stories fascinated my father, but these dashing daring young men also fascinated my sister, Anne, and myself.

 In retrospect, I think it was inevitable that one of us would marry one of these men – but that we both married colonists was unexpected.

 Adam Thorowgood was not a Londoner; he had been born and raised northeast of London in a place called King’s Lynn. He was the youngest son of a vicar which meant he was pretty much on his own to make something of himself. So, he left King’s Lynn in 1624 (when he was 18) to be an indentured servant to a successful colonist in Virginia. Adam had done well as after only two years there, he managed to buy 150 acres.

When he came back to England in 1626, I first met him through my father’s business acquaintances. Adam was totally engaged in recruiting people to do as he did; sign on as indentured servants in the new world. Adam was very persuasive, as he signed on 105 to return to the colony with him. He would get a further 50 acres of land per person be brought over, but for this to happen, he had to pay the passage for each of the 105 people.

 I had not only a sizeable dowry, but an interest to experience the life in the colony that up to then I had only heard stories about over dinner. As I said earlier, Adam himself was very persuasive.

We married in the summer of 1627 and arrived in Virginia in 1628.

By 1633, in my first five years of marriage, I had given birth to three little girls, Ann, Sarah, and Elizabeth. Adam and I were living in Kiquotan – the Indian name for the place now called Hampton. But in 1634 Adam got all that land he was due for bringing over all those indentured servants (with MY dowry) – (5350 acres) – (can you imagine!?) – so we moved onto this land which was on the other side of the water from Kiquotan.

 Adam had been working over there from time to time, as corn was being grown on that land for the colonists, so he had knowledge of the area which was helpful. He built a wooden house on our land – situated on one of the highest spots (known as Indian Hill) in the area, yet near fresh water. We moved in before Adam, my only son, was born in 1638.

 For two years we lived very happily in our wooden house. Adam was not home much, as he had to travel his land to oversee the goings on, and as he was serving in the House of Burgess, he had to attend meetings in Jamestown from time to time as well. I was pretty good at looking after things, though. Between taking care of the children and taking care of our land, we got to know our neighbors and established a good upstanding community on our side of the water.

 Adam was appointed the presiding justice of the area, and when it came to be that the first church service in the area was to be held, it happened in our wooden house on that hill overlooking the freshwater lake.

 

But then in 1640, returning from a meeting in Jamestown, Adam caught a fever and died. At 31, I was a widow with 5350 acres of land, a good house, and four children – Ann was 9, Sarah was 8, Elizabeth was 7, and Adam all of 2 years old. At age 31, I was no spring chicken for those times, I tell you. But I had property and I was a woman of means.

 Women were rare in the colony, so a widow was not to be a widow for long. Within a year, I married John Gookin, my neighbor who had about 1000 acres of his own. John’s father had come to the colony from Ireland, and they had two sons. John’s older brother was quite religious and went up to Massachusetts where there were many more like him. John stayed put here in Virginia, but had never married…due to a lack of a suitable bride – till I became a widow.

We married in 1641, and John moved into my wooden house by the lake. We had a daughter in 1642, but then John died in 1643, thirty years old. I liked John, I really did. In fact, when it came time to make my own arrangements, I asked to be buried next to him as he was my favorite husband. However, I suspect some might say he just was not around long enough to annoy me. Apparently, I was easily annoyed.

 So, I was a widow again at 34, but now with 5 children. But this time I stayed a widow for a while. I knew it would be hard, but I was a hard woman in a good place that I vowed to hold onto. I lived in a house with five rooms, one being the only dining room in Virginia at the time!

 There was a large cellar under the house, as well as a tobacco house, a goat pen, and a cow pen. I had an orchard, a pond, and an enclosed barnyard. But one of the best things I had was the malt house…also one of the first in Virginia and here I could make our own beer and whiskey. I guess I should mention, so you understand, that everyone else in Virginia at the time lived in a two-room house with one other building used for general purposes.

 When Adam died, his will deemed that I inherit the Manor House Plantation for life. Adam had a lot of confidence in me to do this, and I was determined. After his death, I was ordered to court several times to account for the estate, bit I ignored those papers, and finally wrote them that I would not be coming to court. My husband’s estate was none of their business…they were just being nosy. I was fined 1,000 pounds of tobacco for not showing up, which I paid and that put an end to it.

 By this time I was running an ordinary at the Manor House, and this ordinary was prosperous for me. Travelers coming through the area would stay for a few night’s rest and food before proceeding on their journey. This also kept me informed of all the comings and goings of people in the area. This was useful information, and as long as I kept the ordinary respectable there was no trouble.

 There was just that one incident in 1647 when a Mr. Perrigrene Bland, who was bound for the Eastern Shore, was found dead in the barn on a morning in June. There was an inquest, but it was determined that there had been on foul play.

 

I was one of the first independent women to live in these parts, and I had to diligently guard my position. Only six months after I had buried Adam, I sued Elizabeth Causon – a woman of these parts – for declaring that my husband had paid his bills “slowly, or not at all.” I won in court, and Elizabeth had to beg my pardon publicly on her knees in the church in front of the whole community.

 They tried again to bring me down shortly after my second husband – Mr. Gookin – died. Two women made a scandalous remark about one of my daughters – one had to apologize publicly, and the other one, well, she received 50 lashes on her back.

 I maintained diligent guard on my family and my reputation till I thought to marry again. I was 38, and my three daughters had married and moved away – two to Maryland and one to Northumberland. It was just me and my boy, Adam, who was 13, and my daughter Mary by my second husband. Mary was just 9 years of age. It was 1647 when I married Francis Yeardly, who was 18 years old the day I married him. Francis came from good stock; his parents were shareholders in the Virginia Company as my father was. George Yeardly – his father – was knighted!

 However, this son, Francis, had caused some trouble for his family, serving only a few months on the Maryland Council and found guilty in court of illegally seizing 3,000 pounds of tobacco. He also got into trouble with the Maryland government – called “contemptuous in carriage and demeanor.” This young man and I married.

 This was not love, but an arrangement. Francis served as a burgess in Lower Norfolk. He was a lawyer, and from time to time, I needed a lawyer. If you recall it was June 1647 that Mr. Bland was found dead in the barn. Having a lawyer in house – even if he was only 18 – was certainly to my benefit. So, I married him in the summer of 1647.

Roundabout 1650 William Mosely arrived in our area with his wife and two sons. The Mosely’s arrived with very little but come from well-to-do families in England. In need of livestock to get their place going, they consulted with Francis, my young husband, and a deal was made. I gave them two oxen, two steers, and five cows. I got one gold hat band, a gold buckle set with diamonds, a diamond necklace and earrings, a ruby, a sapphire, and an emerald. I wore these jewels most every day around the ordinary as I loved them.

I enjoyed the power that I had – to do what I wanted – as time went on. When the Emperor of the Roanoke Island Indians was visiting our area, he came to my ordinary. We spent some time together, and I got to know him, I took the Indian Chief to church with me, in spite of the protests of the congregation that he was a savage. He was not. I knew this from the time we spent together.

 It was then in May of 1654 that I allowed not one but 45 Indians into the church to witness the baptism of the chief’s son. This young man then stayed to live with me and my son Adam and my daughter Mary, to be raised a Christian at the request of the Chief.

My third husband, the lawyer Francis, died in 1654, only 27 years old. It was not until August 1657, three years later, that I passed. Upon reading my will, my children were directed to send my jewelry to England to be sold and that the money used to buy six mourning rings and two black marble tombstones. The black marble tombstones were for me and – well, you can tell from the inscription below:

 “Her lyeth ye body of Capt. John Gookin and also ye body of Mrs. Sarah Yeardley, who was wife to Capt. Adam Thoroughgood first, Capt. Gookin second, and Colonel Francis Yeardley, deceased August 1657.”

 But those six mourning rings…one for each of my five children, and the last for…well, who do you think the sixth one was for?

 

I would like to end with a quote from George Tucker, a noted Virginia journalist and local historian:“Sarah’s death at age 48 left a temporary lull in Lower Norfolk County feminine belligerency.”

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