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Colonial Indentured Servants Project Updates

The research associated with this project has brought such joy and adventure. We imagine ourselves on a ship with the roaring waves all around us. The records keep piling up as we seek additional storage, and we find ourselves acting as if we are among the indentures. After reading the court records, we only began scratching the surface with these newfound friends of long ago. With each detail, we add character, facts, and personality to a name. The joy of this process is watching the research transform from notes on paper to an actual person. The project not only represents the colonial indentured servants, but it also speaks openly about our determination to let them never be forgotten. Join us for a trip back in time. Journey with us to the 17th century in Virginia as we introduce some exceptional people to all of you today.

John Kelly became the servant of Hugh Lee in October of 1651. Ironically, his servitude would require one year of service, ending November 20th, 1652. But stipulations appear in the court records permitting John Kelly to wed Susan Watson if he chose to do so. Susan Watson was already an indentured servant bound to Hugh Lee. If the marriage took place, John and Susan would agree to serve two 1/2 additional years each. They promised to serve faithfully. Susan was already responsible for the cooking, washing, and lodging for Hugh Lee’s plantation. John and Susan married before the end of the year 1651. In fact, we have reason to believe that John and Susan were married the same day the court rendered its decision, October 28th, 1651. The project has discovered additional notes on John and Susan’s relationship. One could assume that a son may have been born to this couple before marriage. That would explain John’s appearance at court with Hugh Lee and the agreement presented and agreed with both parties. John Kelly was to pay Hugh Lee the equivalent of two thousand pounds of merchantable tobacco and three barrels of corn which had to be paid by, you guessed it, November 20th, 1652.

John and Susan Kelly lived and served on the plantation belonging to Hugh Lee for seven years after their marriage. Their first son, Joseph, was a young child when they finally left, and by the following winter, another son was born, John Kelly, named for his father. Notes indicate that Susan Kelly was still a servant serving Hugh Lee in 1658. It is possible that soon, the project will unravel this mystery and explain why the couple stayed on the Lee plantation for more than the original two 1/2 years. Several children were born after the birth of John Kelly, Jr. until Susan died in 1669. John, Sr, continued to live in Virginia until his death, circa 1686. Young Joseph, the boy who left Lee’s Plantation with his parents, grew up quickly and assumed responsibility for his younger siblings after his father’s death.

What we do know; is that John Kelly and Susan Watson were both born in Ireland. The project is continuously researching how John arrived in America and when. We know that Susan was sixteen when she married John, and the Kelly surname survives today in the immediate coastal area of Virginia where this couple once lived. As for Susan, we can find her arrival date in the court records as she and John Haies became the property of Hugh Lee on January 10th, 1650. Others who arrived with Susan in Virginia were Thomas Cockrill, Thomas Tillitt, and Susan Cale, all sold to Rice Maddox. Additional people were Thomas Atwell, Susan Scerry, Robert Elliott, Daniel Dollor, Martha Cottell, William Threader, and Devorax Goreing, all sold to Edward Grymes. Eliza Milner, William Cravener, William Wood, Thomas Green, and Richard Alford were all sold to Edward Grymes on the same date.

What other information have we gathered about Hugh Lee? Through records, we find Lee leaving England as a single man near 1635. He marries a woman who is born in present-day Maryland, a widow named Hannah Huett. Lee first appears in Virginia records during 1650 as a 100-acre land grant documents his name. He has at least one son and dies in Northumberland County circa 1662. It’s interesting to note that John and Susan Kelly leave Lee’s plantation just a few years before his death.

We will be sharing more details such as this soon. Until then, enjoy your journey to the past.


  • Deeds, Orders, and Record Books 1649-1749 by Northumberland County Court, Virginia 5 microfilm reels
  • Records of Indentured Servants and of Certificates for Land Northumberland County, Virginia 1650-1795 by W. Preston Haynie published by Heritage Books 2008

3 replies »

  1. Edward Grymes and his wife Margaret are part of our family. They were married in 1646. He was her third husband. The first was Hezekiah Raughton and the second husband was Thomas Attowell. Her children with Hezekiah were William and Anne, children with Thomas were Mary and Frances. In Edward’s will he left everything to Margaret if she remained in widowhood.

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  2. Attn. Carolyn Hughes
    We responded back to your message submitted to Piedmont Trails, but your email placed our response in your spam folder. If you have any questions, you can reply here or on our contact page.


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