Those Places Thursday: The Virginia Lands of Thomas Murrell

Westover Church, built in the 1630s, Charles City County, Virginia. Taken circa 1930. Wikipedia, public domain.
Westover Church, built in the 1630s, Charles City County, Virginia. Thomas Murrell had likely known this church. Image taken circa 1930. Wikipedia, public domain.

Land records are a good resource to help place a person in a specific time. Like many other aspects of genealogy, they do not always help us to know which person of that name, if there are multiple people with the same name in the area. We often must use them in conjunction with other sources to verify the correct man (or occasionally woman, though that is usually easier since few women were listed as landowners as compared to men). And just because someone owned land in a place does not mean that they lived there- they could have lived there previously and rented it when they moved on, they could be purchasing for a future home, it could be bounty lands they never intend to move to, an inheritance, or an investment. But it does give some clues and land records may give more information such as family names and relationships, so they can be a good resource if we do not read too much into them.

Today we review the books Early Virginia Families Along the James River: Their Deep Roots and Tangled Branches, compiled by Louise Pledge Heath Foley, Vol. 1-3, searching for information on the Murrells in early Virginia. We know of a Thomas Murrell (b. 1675, d. betw. 1754-1790 per some trees; others state he was b. 1690) who married Elizabeth Oliver (1690-1734 or 1758), and some of our DNA matches indicate this couple as being related. However, this Thomas was born too late to be one and the same as the man listed in the following land records. Could the Thomas of the land records be his father? Uncle? More research will be needed, but these books do give us some information about other Murrell families for our one-name study.

Charles City County

We start with Volume 2 of Early Virginia Families…, Charles City County – Prince George County, Virginia, because that gives us the earliest record of Murrells within this series of books. This is logical since Charles City County is the easternmost of the counties in which we find Murrells in these books,  and the Murrells would have settled near the ocean initially after immigration, then moved farther west as land/economic opportunities (and adventure!) beckoned.

Charles City County highlighted on a map of Virginia, via Wikipedia, public domain.
Charles City County highlighted on a map of Virginia, via Wikipedia, public domain.

Page 72 of these land abstracts list a Thomas Murrell receiving a grant on 16 Feb. 1663 of 850 acres. On 29 Oct. 1696, he had added 688 ac., “being the King’s land, beginning on Seller Run, crossing Collings’ Run, to Mr. Bray, up Naman’s Run & Copley Branch.” The entry goes on to note the importation of 13 persons. These 13 included a family group of 3, presumably a husband, wife, and daughter, 1 woman (“Sus. Daniel”- Daniel is another family name associated with the Murrells and we know they lived in Rockbridge County, Virginia many years later), plus 9 men. Thomas had a total of 1538 acres to utilize by 1696. [See Note. 3. below for more information about importation, headright, and indentured servants AKA ‘white slavery.’]

That same page mentions Thomas’ land as a border in the land description of the 975 acres of Richard Cocke. Mr. Cocke imported 20 persons, including one husband and wife, 3 other men, and “15 Negroes.”

Page 73 mentions “…along STOREY’s Br., by Chickahomony Rowling Path, by MURRELL’s path…along THOMAS MURRELL’s land…”

Page 88 has a listing for Thomas Murrell but it cannot be viewed on GoogleBooks.

There is also an Edward Murrell listed on page 100 which also cannot be viewed.

Goochland County, Virginia, highlighted, via Wikipedia, public domain.
Goochland County, Virginia, highlighted, via Wikipedia, public domain.

Goochland County

Goochland County is further west than Charles City County, so it would be logical for these lands to have been acquired by Thomas Murrell at a later date.

The following entries can be found in Vol. 1, Henrico County and Goochland County.

Thomas Murrell, 400 acs. (N.L.), Goochland Co., on the Little Byrd Cr., adj JONAS LAWSON & GEORGE PAYNE; 28 Sept. 1730, p.146. 40 Shill.

This entry is listed under “Abstracts of Land Patents- Goochland County” Virginia, page 82. Looking at other patents on that page, 11 were for 400 acres, one for 500 ac., and 1 for 350 ac. of N.L., or New Land. Only 1 of the  14 listed on that page was for O.L (Old Land) and it was for 600 ac., 200 of which were previously patented. All paid 40 Shillings, except the 500 ac. patent which went for 50 Shillings, and the 350 ac. for 35 shillings.  Interestingly, the 600 ac. parcel went for 40 shillings as well, as 200 ac of it had already been patented, leaving 400 ac.

Goochland County was formed in 1728. As the acting Royal Governor, Sir William Gooch promoted settlement of the Virginia backcountry. This would help to insulate the more eastern Virginia colonial towns from Native American attacks or those from New France in the Ohio Country. The primary crop grown at that time was tobacco, a very labor-intensive crop. Goochland County is now considered a part of the greater Richmond, Virginia area.


In addition to finding ancestors as Grantors or Grantees in land records, we can also find them named as part of the description of land that others owned. With no latitude or longitude references, land was described using the borders of the land of others.

Thomas Murrell's land boundaries used in description of the land of Richard Cock, Henrico County, Virginia, 1696.
Thomas Murrell’s land boundaries used in description of the land of Richard Cock, Henrico County, Virginia, 1696.

Indexes can be useful to peruse too. Page 101 in Vol. 1 lists the creeks by name, and the pages where they are mentioned. This can help us find neighbors of Thomas Murrell along Byrd Creek. Those mentions are on pages 57, 68, 69, 70, 72, 74, 87, 88, 89.


Of course, we have to be mindful of the fact that these lands could have belonged to a number of different Thomas Murrells…

Always more questions with genealogy.




  1. Early Virginia Families Along the James River: Their Deep Roots and Tangled Branches, compiled by Louise Pledge Heath Foley. Vol. 1  pages 35, 82. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1974. Volume 1 can be found on, and also on GoogleBooks Preview; Volumes 2 and 3 are only on GoogleBooks.
  2. “Land Patents, Book 15” on the website “Virginia Genealogy Trails” at The original source was the “Magazine of Virginia Genealogy” published by the Virginia Genealogical Society.
  3. A bit of context: Virginia had a ‘headright system’  which was begun in Jamestown in 1618 and used frequently until about 1732 in a number of colonies. The Virginia Company of London (as did Plymouth Colony) gave land to new colonists. Fifty acres were granted to someone moving to the new colony and paying their own passage, which was about 6 British pounds in the 17th century. One hundred acres were granted by the colony to those who were already living there and who imported an individual (although that math does not seem to work with Thomas’ holdings but he may have sold some of the land received). The person whose passage was paid became an indentured servant- men, women, and children alike- and they were required to work for a specified number of years to pay off the difference between the value of the headright land and the cost of passage. Indentures could be sold like a commodity as well. Indentured servants were basically white slaves- although technically not ‘owned’ like African or Indian slaves, the indenture contract was owned by someone who could make all the decisions for a servant’s life. There were certain things required for the owner of the contract to provide at the end of the contract- generally some clothes, tools, and grain- so it was actually in an owner’s best interest to have a servant serve the majority of their contract, but to die before it expired. (!!) These servants were thus treated terribly by some owners, and many did not survive the ordeal. (In contrast, owners of African slaves had much of their wealth invested in humans, so they wanted them to survive even though they too were treated inhumanely.) There were, however, some indentured servants who were treated fairly, and some who became apprentices and then could open their own business once free. Also, it is estimated that 40% of the landowners in the late 1600s had come to the colony as indentured servants. Some estimate that 40-60% of the white persons who entered the colonies from Great Britain (including Ireland, Scotland) were indentured servants/white slaves.Headrights could also be obtained for importing African slaves in the earliest years of the colony, and this law fueled the rise of slavery in America since plantation owners could receive more land as they imported more Africans to work it.Obviously, the headright system made land a commodity mostly held by the wealthy, and it was the beginnings of the economic class struggles in North America. It also increased tension between Native Americans and the British, as often the headright lands that would be given at the end of an indenture encroached on their traditional lands. The wealthy colonists favored having this good buffer between themselves and the Native Americans too.See White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, 2008, for more information on a completely ignored portion of our history.