Written by Art Hall
The information below is taken from The Edens Adventure, published in 1992. At that time, we relied upon previously published data for some of the information we included about our early Edens family in Virginia. The information appeared to be well documented and we had no reason to suspect that it was flawed. Subsequent research on our part has proven some of this information to be incorrect, particularly with respect to family relationships between several of the Edens men living in the same area at the same time. The following is based upon our additional research and hopefully corrects any flawed information contained in The Edens Adventure.
Early records in Virginia show the name as “Edings, Edings, Eddins, Edins and Edens.” Other phonetic derivations are also found but less frequently, such as the above spellings without the “s”. In a few instances, the name was spelled several ways in the same record. Today, each of these different spellings is still found in various branches of the family. For consistency I will spell the name “Edens” unless a document is being quoted verbatim in which case I will spell the name as it appears in that record.
ENGLISH OR FRENCH?
Other Edens researchers believe (but without proof that I have seen) that our Edens family descended from the Eden family of Durham, England. I doubt this to be true although it is possible that our family came from Durham. From early medieval times, the Eden family of Durham lived in Eden Castle. They were well connected, wealthy and prominent, all the things our Edens family in America was not. Among others, this Eden family produced Sir Anthony Eden, former Prime Minister of Great Britain.
A common practice when surnames first came into common use was for a family to adopt the name of the area, castle, prominent family, etc. located near them. So it is entirely possible that our Edens ancestors lived in the vicinity of Eden Castle and adopted that name when surnames came into general use, but that remains to be proved.
On the other hand, The National Huguenot Society considers our John Edens (great grandfather of our Texas John Edens) to have been a Huguenot, but I don’t believe that to be the case. I believe that our Edens were English. From the early 1700’s in Virginia, our Edens ancestors lived among other English citizens, intermarried with the descendants of English families and did not live near the few French settlements that existed at the time, with the one exception noted below.
Our above mentioned John Edens (the supposed Huguenot) moved from Orange Co., VA, where he and his brothers and sisters and their families were living among English settlers, to the Huguenot settlement of Mankintowne on the James River shortly after 1735. Here he lived among the French refugees who had come to Virginia in 1700 from England after having left France when the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685. John was thee only member of his family to live among the French, and it remains a mystery as to why he did so, unless possible his wife was French. What is known is that there was intermarriage in later years between certain of John Edens’ descendants and known Huguenots. For example, James Edens, brother of our Alexander Edens (father of our Texas John Edens,) married Martha Chastain, and Frances Edens, sister of Alexander, married Isaac Salle. The Chastain and Salle families are well-documented Huguenot families who came with the other French refugees to Mankintowne, Va., in 1700.
OUR EARLIEST EDENS IN VIRGINIA
We believe that our earliest Edens ancestor in America was William Edens (we will call him old William). Thomas Jones imported him into Virginia, along with 65 other persons, sometime in the very early 1700’s. It was common practice for wealthy individuals to pay a person’s passage to America in return for that person indenturing him or herself for a period of time, usually about six years. In addition, the English government granted large estates to these persons based upon the number of individuals they imported. Jones received 3273 acres of “new” land (not previously inhabited), in New Kent Co., Va in 1719 for the importation of these 66 persons. The recording and formal granting of this land typically took many years, so the actual arrival of old William in America would have been much earlier than the grant date of 1719, as shown by an early record he left in Williamsburg.
The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA was established in 1693. By 1705 old William was living nearby and was working as an “overseer” for a Mr. Blair who was the commissary (quartermaster) for the college. In all probability, old William was the slave overseer since Blair would have needed numerous field hands to tend to the crops and livestock needed to provide the food and other provisions required by the college and its students. In 1705 the college (probably housed in one large building) burned and old William, as a witness, gave the following deposition:
“TESTIMONY TO THE BURNING OF THE COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY 1705.
Wm. Eddings, overseer to Mr. Commissary Blair saith: That on Monday, the 29th of October after he was gone to bed he head ye dogs bark in his corn field, and his wife getting up to see what was ye matter, and telling him there were horses in his corn field, he made a shift to get up, tho’ he was very lame and as he comes out he perceived a light in ye air and a great smoke, and (as) ye light increased he perceived the College was on fire and could see clearly the chimneys and the cupulo, between ye two chimneys on ye back part of ye college over the piazzas, but the Deponent being very lame could not go to ye college. And further saith not.”
Williamsburg, of course, is very close to New Kent County where old William may have worked off his indenture on the land granted to Thomas Jones (or Jones could have sold his indenture to Blair).
SPOTSLVANIA COUNTY, VIRGINIA
A few years later, old William left records in New Kent Co. and then left a few records in Spotslvania Co., Va when that part of Virginia was first opened to white settlement. It appears that he died prior to 1732 in Spotslvania when he disappeared from the records. From various land, church, and court records of the area, we know with some degree of certainty that old William had at least the following children:
- William (young William), who married Rebecca Frith. Young William appears to have been the oldest of the sons. He first appeared in the land records of Spotslvania in 1726 when he received the first of his land grants. He was a large landowner and was involved in a number of business enterprises in Fredericksburg, VA. In addition to many other land grants and purchases in Spotslvania, in that part that became Orange Co., Young William remained in this “upper neck” of Virginia (in the fork of the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers) until 1740 when he sold his land holdings and moved to Lunenburg Co., VA. There he remained until his death in 1754.
- Theophilus. First appeared in the records of Spotslvania in 1726 when he received his first land grant. He was in the 1735 tithe list for that area but disappeared from the records shortly thereafter.
- Thomas. Thomas left few records in the Spotslvania/Orange area. However, in 1730, the widow of Robert Taliaferro petitioned the court to stop a land patent of Thomas, which infringed upon an earlier survey of Taliafarro. The court agreed that Thomas’ land had already been granted to Taliafarro, and ordered that it be granted to the widow and her daughters, but reserving nevertheless the power to Thomas to sue out new patents for a like amount of land in another area. Two years earlier, in 1728, the widow Taliaferro had petitioned the court in Sposlvania to stop a patent to young William, with the same result.
- John (probably our ancestor). John first appeared in the records of Spotslvania/Orange in 1726 when he witnessed a deed for his brother, young William. In 1728 he received a grant of 525 acres, which he sold to young William in 1735. Later land records relating to this tract of land mentioned a “little” mountain known as “John Edens Mountain”. (The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains were known as “little” mountains). It is interesting to note that this land where our Edens lived in Spotslvania/Orange in the early and mid 1700s was where the Battle of the Wilderness and numerous other battles were fought in 1864 during the War Between the States.
AMONG THE FRENCH IN KING WILLIAM PARISH
When John Edens sold his 525 acres homestead to his brother in 1735, he made his way to the French settlement of Mankintowne, located on the James River a few miles up stream from present day Richmond. Here he was found in the tithe list of King William Parish in 1744 living among the Huguenots. Also found in the 1744 list was Alex (Alexander) Edens, probably a son of John. This Alexander, of course, should not be confused with our Alexander who was the father of our Texas John Edens, since he would have been much too old. Alex again appears in the 1748 tithe list of King William Parish, but John does not. John was not found in any subsequent records in VA, so he was probably deceased by this time. No other records of Alex Edens were found after the 1748 tithe list, so he too, may have been deceased by that time.
UP RIVER TO BUCKINGHAM COUNTY
As new lands farther up the James River were opened to white settlement in the 1750s, many of the descendants of the Mankintowne Huguenots moved to what became Buckingham Co. Our Edens ancestors made this move also, and were in Buckingham as early as 1764. It is unfortunate that most of the records of Buckingham were destroyed in a courthouse fire in the 1800s, but a few have survived which allow us to draw a few conclusions about our Edens family while in that area.
In the 1764 tithe (tax) list of Buckingham, we find only one Edens, that being John, in all probability the son of either John Edens or Alexander Edens who were in the tithe list of King William Parish in 1744. John of Buckingham appears to have been our lineal ancestor. He was shown in that 1764 tax list as having two tithes, himself and Dick, probably a slave. There were no other Edens in that tax list, indicating that the sons of John were not yet eighteen years of age, although they were probably still living in their father’s household. The next tax lists of Buckingham were those taken in 1773 and 1774. By then, the three sons of John as well as his daughter were on their own but still living nearby and living near each other. They were:
- James Edens (who married Martha Chastain). He had established his own household but did not own any land at this time.
- Alexander Edens (our ancestor) was living on the large plantation of Thomas Blakey and was working there as a hired hand or possibly as a slave overseer. The Blakey and Edens families had lived near each other for many years in the Spotslvania/Orange Cos. Area and Benjamin Edens, Jr., cousin of Alexander, had married his first cousin, Sarah Blakey.
- John Edens (young John) Young John was living on the large plantation of David Patterson that was located next to the Blakey plantation. As was Alexander, John was probably a hired hand or possibly the slave overseer. The wife of David Patterson was Sarah Blakey, daughter of Thomas Blakey.
- Frances Edens. She married Isaac Salle, jr. in Buckingham and lived the rest of her life there.
Living near his three sons and his daughter was old John, who was first enumerated in Buckingham in 1764. In the 1773 and 1774 tithe lists, old John was listed but without showing any tithes, indicating that he was probably elderly and no longer had to pay taxes.
By 1778, James Edens was in Bedford Co., VA where he and his wife, Martha Chastain, bought 400 acres on Orricks Creek, bordering the line of “Chasteen”, no doubt one of Martha’s Baptist preacher brothers with whom James was associated the rest of his life. James and Martha sold this land the following year and were in Pendleton District, SC in 1790 living near our Alexander Edens. By 1800, James and Martha and her two brothers had move to Carter Co., TN where they remained the rest of their lives.
John (young John) also lived in the area after leaving Buckingham. In 1790, he was one of the “pilots” for a 4275-acre survey for Thomas Patterson, probably a son of David Patterson for whom John had worked back in Buckingham. John later moved to Patrick Co., VA where he died in 1803. His wife was named “Nancy” but her surname is unknown. It is possible that she was a Blakey since their oldest daughter was named Nancy Blakey Edens. As Mentioned earlier, there had been a long association and some intermarriage between our Edens and the Blakey families.
It does not appear that our Alexander Edens made this move to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his brothers. Alexander was still in Buckingham in 1781 when he was mentioned in a militia list during the American Revolution. He probably left Virginia between 1783, when his son Texas John Edens was born, and 1785 when he received the first of his several land grants in the old Pendleton District of South Carolina.
WHO WAS DAVID EDENS?
A mystery surrounds the identity of a David Edens who was living in the same general area of the Shenandoah Valley when James and John Edens were there. He first appeared in the records there in 1781 when he was appointed an Ensign in Capt. Martin’s Company of militia in Botetourt County. He would have been the right age to be another of the Edens brothers, but he left very few records and his identity has eluded us. Interesting that John Edens who died in Patrick Co. in 1803 (brother of James and our Alexander) named a son “David” is not found in any other branches of the Edens family that I am aware of. Later the sons of the older David moved their families into the Kanawha Valley of what was to become West Virginia, and may of their descendants are found there today.