A History of the Atkins – Paynter and Allied Families
Researched by R. MILTON AND LUCY W. ATKINS
Written by R. MILTON ATKINS
(From 1980 to 1989)
I can remember, many years ago, my grandmother, Adelia Jackson Paynter Atkins, taking me on her lap and telling me stories. Her favorite beginning: was, “A LONG TIME AGO”. It is to her memory that I dedicate this book.
Researching the Atkins family and its numerous branches has been very time consuming and tedious undertaking but, at the same time, a most rewarding experience. It all began in 1980. With a total lack of family records, handed down from one generation to the next, it was begun with an absolute blank. I had previously talked with my father, Rev. Robert A. Atkins, before his death in 1977, at which time I asked if he would, as he could recall, make notes of anything he could remember concerning the older members of the family. All he knew was that his grandfather was called Pat and that his grandmother was known as Pliny. He thought she was Pliny Watkins. This we later found to be incorrect. We definitely know she was Paulina (Pliny) Lawson. This lack of information made me more determined than ever to solve the mystery of who we were and where we came from.
Knowing that before Joseph Henry Atkins moved his family to Richmond in 1912. Mecklenburg County, we began to retrace the Atkins footsteps. What we were able to learn in Mecklenburg County led us over into Charlotte County. Charlotte County records proved to be a goldmine of information. It was at this point that we decided to follow wherever the trail led. This meant following the trail from Charlotte County to the counties of Amelia, King and Queen, Gloucester, Charles River (York County) and eventually James City County and Jamestown itself.
Only after we had gotten into our research did we realize how ill-prepared we were in “know how” for the job that lay ahead. As a result we entered into a learning process which entailed the study of old laws, legal terminology, the use of unfamiliar words and phrases used in the early days of Virginia, as well as how to find and use old court records. Some of the difficulties we encountered were the lack of some records in all counties, and in the case of “The five burned counties” (New Kent, William, King and Queen, Hanover and Caroline) there were very few records prior to 1864, all early records having been destroyed during the Civil War. Therefore, in these counties we had to rely on Minister’s marriage, death and baptismal records.
Then we discovered other problems: There were no official requirements for marriage, birth and death records prior to 1853. Census records did not give names other than that of the person giving the information, before the 1850 census. In very early wills the first son was considered the lawful heir, therefore, names of other children were often omitted. Very often the wife’s name was not used, only to be referred to as “my wife”. Therefore, it was necessary to reconstruct families from wills, deeds and other court records involving other members of the family. We often found names of members of our family by studying other family lines. Early ship passenger lists were used. Hundreds of books were searched for the slightest clue. Old church cemeteries were also visited.
As a result of this research the various branches of the family began to emerge and fall into place. When we had finished, we had traveled approximately sixty thousand miles here in Virginia and North Carolina. Searched the records in forty-three counties, returning to as many as ten or twelve times, and spent seventy or more days at the Virginia Historical Society Library and the State Library in Richmond. Not only have we searched for our family lines, but, in addition, have located the lands they owned and many of the houses they lived in, as well as the graves in which they were buried. One of the greatest rewards was being able to personally visit many of these places.
Along the way we discovered many relatives we never knew existed. The real delight was in meeting these people, visiting in their homes and forming new family ties.
In all, there have been twenty-eight branches of the family researched. Each will be dealt with in separate chapters. All came into the Colony in the very early stages of it’s formation. Many were actively involved in this formation. In a letter from John Rolfe to the King in 1615/1616 are found listed as among the first families of Virginia, the names of Atkins, Myrick, Rivers and Graves. Not included in this letter, but according to record, the Yeardleys, Buckes and Lawsons were also here. All of these were in our direct family lines.
The early colonists endured many hardships. In 1609 a group of nine ships, which made up the third supply, sailed from England. They were caught in a terrific storm at sea. Some ships were lost. One, the Sea Venture, was so badly battered by the heavy seas that it ran aground on the reefs of the Bermuda Islands. Ten months later, after having converted the material salvaged from this ship to two smaller ships, it’s passengers finally reached Jamestown. While waiting for the third supply to arrive, this period became known as “the starving time”. The settler’s crops had been poor. The Indians were a constant threat. Disease was prevalent. In some instances some of the settlers had resorted to cannibalism.
This was not the only trying time the colonists experienced. It is said, that from the time the first ships left England in December of 1606, to February of 1624, that out of a total of 7,298 immigrants to Virginia, 6,040 had succumbed, or six died for every one that lived. There were only 1249 persons left in 1624. As late as 1633 it is estimated that only twenty percent of new arrivals survived the first year.
In may of 1610, when the third supply finally reached the mouth of the James River, the small band of colonists had abandoned Jamestown and were headed back to England on crude ships they had built. Upon meeting this group of ships, laden with new supplies, they returned to Jamestown with new hope and determination, never to turn back again.
From the time the first settlers landed at Jamestown in 1607 the threat of the Indians had been constant. Because of their treachery, the colonists had to be continually on guard. The leader of the colony did much to educate and convert the Indians to Christianity. One of the leaders of this movement was George Thorpe, one of our direct ancestors. For awhile it appeared the Indians were accepting this new-found peace. They worked closely with the settlers, showing their friendship in many ways. Feeling safe, the Indians were allowed to roam freely about the plantations and villages, such as Jamestown and Berkley Hundred, often sharing meals in the white settler’s homes.
Then on Good Friday. March 22, 1622, tragedy struck again. This was the day of the great Indian massacre. In many instances seemingly friendly Indians, in the act of eating breakfast with the colonists, suddenly rose up, with table knives, kitchen utensils, the settler’s own guns, or anything else they could lay their hands on, murdered men, women and children as they ate. Before the massacre, there were only 1240 people living in Virginia. Of these, 347 were killed, leaving only 893. At least six of those killed were our ancestors. It is possible there were more but these are all we have been able to find record of. These six are named in section three in military records. For awhile, after the massacre, peace prevailed once more.
In 1644 another massacre occurred. This time it was centered on the next peninsula to the north in the present counties of Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex. There had been settlers on the north side of the York River for some time but after the massacre, they were moved to safer areas. Only after 1649 was it safe to renew the settlement of this area.
Our ancestors, having survived the hardships and playing the part they did in the formation of this country, have left us a heritage of which we can be justly proud. The chapters which follow, of the various lines of our family will give, in detail, the place each member occupied and the part they had in the total story.
Until we began this research, I had no special feeling about our family. It was as if our particular segment of society was just drifting around in space. A feeling of being unattached, living in our own small world. After losing yourself, which you actually do, in the hours upon hours of research and study, the miles of travel, the searching through records dealing with the intimate parts of their lives, discovering and talking with members of the various branches, you come to feel that you know each person mentioned in this history personally. When you walk on the soil they tended, visited the houses in which they lived and even stood beside the graves in which they were buried, over three hundred years ago, a feeling of awe surrounds you. Such was the experience of looking down upon the tomb of George Yeardley in the church at Jamestown, or standing beside the graves of Patrick Atkins, Paulina his wife and Dosha his mother, in the little cemetery at Mt. Auburn Church. It gives one a feeling that is indescribable. A feeling of attachment, of belonging. There is no better way of describing such feeling than to use the one word, “Roots”.
Every effort has been made to bring to the reader a true and accurate account of the history of the Atkins and related families. It has been our policy, from the very beginning of our research, not to accept anything which could not be proved. Information on numerous other branches of the family has been discarded due to the lack of recorded and sufficient proof. Any discrepancies which may be found in this writing would be due to errors in the records we searched or in previously published accounts concerning the various branches of the family. Several mistakes have been discovered and corrected as a result of our research.
This book will be divided into three sections. Using the marriage of Joseph Henry Atkins and Adelia Paynter as the dividing point. Section ONE will deal with the Atkins side and its branches. Section TWO will be devoted to the Paynter side. This has been done in order to make it less confusing to the reader in the event they are interested in only one side of the family.
After our research was completed, certain groups of statistics began to emerge. They are included in the individual family lines. However, it is easy to overlook them as you go from one line to another. We felt it would be more interesting and meaningful if they were grouped in one separate category. These will be presented in Section THREE.
NOTE – The wording, in some instances, as well as the spelling, throughout this book, may seem to be incorrect. However, it is purposely being used in this writing just as it appeared in the original documents, or of the time this information was written.