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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thomas Row

Detail of Orange County, Virginia c. 1863

     In 1621 the Elizabeth slipped her moorings and turned west to the New World, leaving England behind. Among its passengers on this voyage was a "person of quality," thirty two year old Nicholas Rowe. Nicholas came from the village of Lamerton in Devon. On April 1, 1620 Thomas Astley paid for his passage to the still new colony of Virginia. Nicholas was accompanied by his wife, Ann Lacy, when they arrived in America.
     A census taken February 14, 1623 showed that Nicholas and Ann lived at Buckroe, near modern Hampton, Virginia. This land was part of the vast holdings of the Virginia Company, which had organized the Jamestown expedition in 1607. In 1625 the Rowes had established a household with John Haney and his wife as well as two indentured servants. Rowe and Haney owned a palisaded dwelling and three storehouses and were well provisioned with food and weapons.
     The next four generations of Rowes were born in Abingdon Parish in Gloucester County. During his lifetime William Rowe (1722-1755), the great great grandson of Nicholas, moved to Saint Stephen's Parish in King and Queen County. William and his wife Mildred Carlton brought with them from Gloucester their five children. The youngest of these was Thomas, born March 7, 1754.
     Thomas married Rachel Keeling (1754-about 1829) in 1774. The first of their thirteen children, William, was born the following year. Whatever plans Thomas and Rachel Row may have had at this point were put on hold as Virginia joined the rebellion against British rule.

Muster roll from the 5th Virginia Regiment dated 1 September 1777

     On February 23, 1776 Thomas Row enlisted in Captain Thomas Gaskins' Company of the Fifth Virginia Regiment of Foot. Spelling conventions of the eighteenth century were a relaxed affair. Thomas spelled his name Row or Rowe, although he came to prefer the version without the 'e'. To complicate matters further, the company scribe spelled Thomas' last name 'Wroe' on the company muster rolls. During the two years he served in the Fifth Regiment, Private Row drew a pay of 6 2/3 dollars per month. Thomas was apparently granted leave during the Christmas holidays of 1776, as his son Edmund was born nine months later in October 1777. Thomas did not re-enlist when his time was up and he was mustered out of the army on March 5, 1778.
     In 1779 Thomas began buying land in Orange County and moved his family there that same year. Over the next fifty years Thomas bought more than 400 acres on both sides of Mine Run and on both sides of modern Route 20, the Constitution Highway. In the Civil War era map at the top of this page the Rowe property is clearly shown at the right center of the image, indicating where three Rowe descendants were living at the time. Thomas' farm and grist mill were located, I believe, on the north side of the road. The road sign below is located on the south side of Route 20.

Row's Mill Road at Route 20

Mine Run, possible site of Thomas Row's mill

     During the sixty one years he lived in Orange Thomas Row was a man of many dimensions and was well respected by the community. He was, of course, a farmer, grist mill operator and slave owner. At various times over the years Thomas served as High Sheriff, justice of the peace, magistrate and school commissioner. He was serving as High Sheriff when he died at the age of eighty six. Thomas' two youngest sons, Elhanon and Absalom, emulated his example of public service.
     Rachel Row died sometime before early 1829. By then seventy five year old Thomas was preparing to marry a second time. The object of his affection was the widow Sarah Shadrick (also spelled Shadrach, Shadrack), twenty years his junior. She was a daughter of Reverend Nathaniel Sanders, Baptist minister of the old St. Thomas Parish. On January 29, 1829 Thomas and Sarah signed a prenuptial agreement. Since each of them brought considerable wealth to their marriage they wisely decided that they would leave their respective estates to their blood relatives. Sarah and Thomas were married on March 3, 1829.
     Ten years later Thomas wrote his will on December 14, 1839:

Will of Thomas Row

Will of Thomas Row

Will of Thomas Row

     Thomas Row died on March 23, 1840. Sarah left the Row farm and moved in with her daughter Frances and son in law John Tinder.
     On February 3, 1853 Congress enacted legislation allowing all widows of Revolutionary War veterans, regardless of the date of marriage, to apply to the Bureau of Pensions for widow's benefits. Sarah Row, by now seventy eight years old, hired the Washington law firm of Lloyd & Co. to assist her in preparing her application, dated May 21, 1853.
Page one of Sarah Row's application

     As seen from this first page of the application they prepared for Sarah Row, Lloyd & Co. did not perform well for their client. All the pages that followed were as illegible as this one. Sarah's claim was further hindered by the fact that no record could be found proving that Thomas Row(e) had served in the Continental Army. There was no way any of the parties involved could have known that seventy five years earlier the company scribe had spelled Thomas' last name 'Wroe.'

Reply of Bureau of Pensions 7 October 1853

     In its reply to Lloyd & Co., the Bureau wrote: "Upon diligent search the name of Thomas Rowe does not appear on any of the pension rolls of Virginia on file in this office." They then proceeded to rebuke the quality of the lawyer's handiwork: "Were there such a pensioner so found, however, the papers filed are not in a condition that would justify the allowance of the present claim. They are defective in form and substance and illegible from the frequent erasures and interlineations..." Sarah Row's claim was "suspended."


  1. I loved finding this blog! I descend from William Rowe, the 1st son of Thomas Rowe & Rachel Keeling. My branch of this Rowe family arrived in Greene & Monroe counties of Indiana by 1830. Thanks so much for posting!

  2. Thank you, Beth. I am glad to see that you are posting for your branch of the family. I will be checking out your blog as well.

  3. I descend from Thomas and Rachel's son Thomas K Row (Rowe) who migrated into Kentucky and added the "e" to the end of Row. I do have a question though, are the stories above from books or research that you have done? It is great to find more about that family and I thank you for sharing.
    Dawn Jump Seip

  4. I'm a descendant of Thomas and Rachel, Thomas Keeling Rowe and Sarah (Overton), Thomas Wesley Nunn and Narcissa Nancy Rowe. I have really enjoyed your blogspot. Dale Nunn