Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why Immigrate?

In the case of George Mason I [1629-1686] if you were on the losing side during the English Civil War and the new government’s policy was to confiscate the lands of supporters of the Crown, the Americas probably looked like a great opportunity to start again.

The defeat of the Royalist forces in the Battle of Worcester in September 1651 ended the Third English Civil War between the supporters of Charles II and the forces of Oliver Cromwell. Family legend held that George Mason was a colonel but his name was not found among the military rolls. He may have just been a young adventurer caught up in a cause.

George at 22 left Pershore, Hereford, Worcestershire, England and sailed from Bristol on the ship Assurance, and after landing in Norfolk in late December 1651/ January 1652 he settled on the Potomac River. He did not arrive as a stranger but settled in an area held by Capt. Giles Brent, a Catholic recusant; those who refused to attend Anglican services.  Brent had connections with the Mason family in England. George also was able to take up a number of headrights in a land patent, having a claim of land for paying the passage, averaging about £6 per passage per person in the 17th century, for other settlers. The headright earned per settler equaled about 50 acres. 

After paying for the passage of an individual to make it to the colonies, one had to obtain a patent for the land. First, the governor or local county court had to provide a certificate that verified the validity of the importation of a person. The man seeking land would then select the land he desired and have an official survey made. The patent’s claimant would then take the description of this land to the colony’s secretary who created the patent that would then be approved by the governor. Once a headright was obtained it was treated like a commodity and could be bought, sold, or traded. It also could be saved indefinitely and used at a later date. Mason did not acquire patent rights to his land until March 1656/57. Gov. Edward Digges [1620-1674]* granted Capt. Mason 900 acres abutting northwest upon Aquia creek.  With the title ‘Captain’ coming from his appointment to the county militia.

George reportedly brought his younger brother William [1632-1702/7?]. William apparently settled with George on the Potomac then returned to Norfolk to establish his family seat. He married Virginia [?] and had two sons Ralph and John. The family later moved to Southern Virginia which is now known as Pasquotank Co., North Carolina.

George goes on to make a place for himself among the Virginia gentry of the time, serving as a county justice and later appointed High Sheriff of Stafford county and also representing, in the House of Burgesses, Westmorland and later Stafford County. 

 *His tombstone reads To the memory of Edward Digges Esq. Sonne of Dudley Digges of Chilham in Kent Kn t & Bar t Master of the Rolls in the rain of K. Charles the First. He departed this life 15th of March 1674 in the LIII d year of his age, one of his Mag ty Councill for this his colony of Virginia. A gentlemen of most commendable parts and ingenuity, the only introducer and promoter of the silk manufacture in this colony. And in everything else a pattern worthy of all Pious Imitation. He had issue 6 sons and 7 daughters by the body of Elizabeth his wife who of her conjugal affection hath dedicated to him this Memorial.

“Early Virginia Emigrants” 1623-1666, p. 220.
Baird, Robert (2001). "Understanding Headrights".

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