Back to the Beginning
Since we skipped ahead for Father’s Day, we need to return to the beginning to fill in the first part of the story. The history of this land that would become Belle Grove started hundreds of thousands of years before the arrival of English settlers. This land was inhabited by primitive people known by the artifacts found in the surrounding area. On the plantation next door to Belle Grove, primitive tools, shear heads and pottery have been discovered. One of these items has been examined and is considered to be over 10,000 years old.
In 1608, Captain John Smith, explorer and soldier, sailed up the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers searching for areas to expand the new colonies. In his log, Captain Smith spoke of weather, the waterways and land around him.
“The temperature of this countrie doth agree well with English constitutions.”
“There is but one entrance by sea onto this country and that is the mouth of a very goodly Bay, the wideness of which is near 18 or 20 miles.”
“Within is a Country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places of Europe, Asia, Africa or America for larger and pleasant navigable rivers’ Heaven and Earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s being of our Constitutions were it inhabited by industrious people.”
Captain Smith also noted the many Indian Settlements along the river banks. These Indians were part of the Powhatan Nation. This was a confederation of Indian tribes within Virginia. At the time of the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, it is believed that there were about 14,000 to 21,000 people in this nation. Wahunsunacawh, also known as Chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas had brought together this nation of 30 tribes within the eastern side of Virginia in an area call Tsenacommacah (“densely-inhabited Land”). Each tribe had its own chief, but all tribes paid tribute to Chief Powatan.
It is believed that the Nanzemond Indians were the tribe that inhabited the land, but I have not been able to confirm this. Since we have never had any archaeological digs at Belle Grove, I can only go with what has been passed down through local lore. The closest tribes I do know that were in the area were the Potabago Indians of Essex County, Rappahannock Indians of Tappahannock and the Nanzatico Indians of King George. In my research, it looks more likely that it would have be one of these tribes that inhabited the land. The Nanzemond Indians seem to have been primarily located in and around the present day cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, Virginia. Maybe the name Nanzemond got confused with the name Nanzatico as it was passed down from generation to generation.
The next mention of this land came when a royal land grant was given by Governor Sir William Berkeley to Thomas Chetwood and John Prossor. Under the Royal Charter of 1649 on September 28, 1667, 5275 acres of land, known as “Nauzem” was granted to Chetwood and Prossor in consideration for transporting 163 persons from England. Of these 5275 acres, it is said that the land that would become Belle Grove was the heart.
On April 13, 1670, John Prossor sold a 1,000 acre tract to Anthony Savage. I have found two names for this tract, one being “Mangecemuzen” and the other being “Mongoheocala”. Anthony Savage was thought to be the son of John Savage of Castleton, Debyshire, England. His birth date is unknown. The earliest record of him places him in Gloucester County, Virginia in 1660, when he was commissioned as a Justice or Sherriff. Anthony Savage (died 1695) was married to Alice Stafford Savage (died 1701). The Savages had two surviving children, daughters Dorothy (1635-1702) and Alice (1653-1692). By the time, Anthony had purchased this tract, his daughter; Dorothy was already married to William Strother I and was living next door on a 500 acre plantation that they had purchased just six months before. His other daughter, Alice would marry Francis Thornton (1651-1726/27). Dorothy and William had six surviving children. Alice and Francis had seven surviving children. Two of these children, Margaret Thornton and William Strother II would marry.
One small note, I have been told that Lawrence Washington, grandfather of George Washington, grew up at Mattox Creek, just 9 or 10 miles from Belle Grove and he was childhood friends with William Strother II and Margaret Thornton.
At the death of Anthony Savage, the 1,000 acre tract was divided into 700 acres for the Thornton family and 300 acres to be given to Margaret Thornton Strother and William Strother II. By this time, Alice Savage Thornton had passed and Francis Thornton had remarried. Francis Thornton, an attorney and land owner, was a very prominent attorney. In my research of archived items, I came across a large number of items with his signature. He also increased his land holding into Stafford County. At his death, most of his Stafford County land holdings went to his sons, but the 700 acre tract went to his eldest child, Elizabeth Thornton Gibson Conway (1673/74-1732). I believe she was already living on the tract prior to his death. She first married Jonathan Gibson (1672-1729) and had two surviving children. At Jonathan’s death, she married Edwin Conway (1653-1698). With Edwin, she had one more child, Francis Conway I (1696-1736).
(To Be Continued Tomorrow – the Conway Family)