The Woodson Family


On May 23, 1609, the London Company was granted a new charter which gave them all the land two hundred miles north and south of Point Comfort and extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, the distance being entirely unknown to the King or any of the Company.

During the year 1609, the London Company fitted out nine ships with five hundred emigrants and a great quantity of supplies of all kinds needed by the Colonists in Jamestown, Virginia.  Within the next year a great many of these people died, so that at the close of 1610 there were less than one hundred white persons alive at Jamestown.

The council at London had appointed Lord De la War, governor of South Virginia, and he arrived at Jamestown in the summer of 1610 with a considerable number of emigrants and a large cargo of supplies.  He immediately assumed charge of colonial affairs.  The charter was amended from time to time and new governors frequently appointed, as the terms of service were usually of short duration, owing to resignation, death or other causes of removal.

Emigrants were constantly being sent over from England to Virginia until the white population increased to about one thousand in 1617.  The office of governor had changed hands often, sometimes being occupied by men of no talent for leadership; at other times by men of marked executive ability. 

When Governor Dale returned to England in 1618, Sir George Yeardley was appointed to succeed him.  The colony at that time numbered nearly two thousand men of high character. Many of these men, owing to the law of primogeniture, lived at home under a great disadvantage, and could accomplish something for themselves, only by going to some part of the world where that law was not operative in its strictest construction.  On the 29th day of January, 1619, the ship George sailed from England and landed the following April at Jamestown, Virginia, nearly a year before the more famous ship, the Mayflower, came to Plymouth's shore. This vessel brought the new governor, Sir George Yeardley and about one hundred passengers; among whom were Dr. John Woodson, of Dorsetshire, and his wife Sarah, whom he had married in Devonshire.  Tradition has it that her maiden name was Winston, but no documentation has been found to prove this.  Dr. Woodson came in the capacity of surgeon to a company of soldiers who were sent over for the protection of the colonist against the Indians.

It was during the administration of Governor Yeardley that the settlements were divided into eleven burroughs, each of which was allowed two representatives.  These representatives were called burgesses, and when assembled, constituted the house of burgess’s, which, with the governor and council, formed the general assembly or colonial government.  This general assembly convened at Jamestown, June 19, 1619, and was the first legislative assembly to perform its functions in Virginia.

Dr. John Woodson was a man of high character and of great value to the colony.  He was born about 1586, in Devonshire, England, matriculated at St. Johns' College, March 1, 1604, at the age of eighteen. 

Like other gentlemen of his time, he, no doubt had a desire to see the new country in which the Virginia Company of London had planted their colony a dozen years previously, so at the age of thirty-three he, with his wife, Sarah, embarked on the ship George.

Sometime in 1620 a vessel landed at Jamestown, having on board about twenty negro captives whom the Dutch skipper had kidnapped somewhere on the coast of Africa. These were sold to the colonist as slaves and found to be quite profitable in the cultivation of tobacco which was the staple crop at that time.

Dr. John Woodson, at this time or shortly afterwards, bought six of these Africans who were registered in 1623 as part of his household, but no names were given.

It was also during this year, 1620, that the London Company sent over about one hundred maids, respectable young women possessed of no wealth but of irreproachable character, who desired to seek their fortunes in the new world.  The young men of the colony eagerly sought their hands in marriage. 

Dr. John Woodson located at Fleur de Hundred, or, as it was sometimes called, Piersey's Hundred, some thirty miles above Jamestown on the south side of the James River in what is now Prince George County.  He and his wife, Sarah, and their six negro slaves were registered at Fleur de Hundred in February 1623   Their two sons John and Robert were probably born at Fleur De Hundred.  John was born in 1632 and Robert in 1634.  There was also a daughter named Deborah.

The colonist lived in constant dread of an Indian uprising against them.  There had never been any real peace or confidence between the two races since the great massacre of 1622.

On 18, April 1644, the Indians made a sudden attack upon the settlements and killed about three hundred of the colonists.  The following account is family tradition and has been passed down through many generations.  When the Indians attacked in April of 1644, Dr. Woodson was among those killed.  He was returning home from seeing a patient and he was massacred by the Indians within sight of his home.  Sarah managed to hold off the Indians along with a man named Col. Thomas Ligon, b. 1586 Madresfield, England, the cousin of Sir William Berkeley, Royal Governor of Virginia.  He served in the House of Burgesses 1644-1645, was  a Justice for Charles City County 1657 and was Lt. Col. Militia, Henrico County during the Indian wars. Sarah gave Col. Ligon her husband's gun and set about to find a weapon for herself.  Looking for a place to hide the children, she spied a tub nearby; it was the only thing large enough to conceal a boy of ten.  She placed John under the tub, and then managed to securely hide Robert in the potato pit.

While Col. Ligon found a tree notch to brace the eight-foot muzzle-loading gun, Sarah was back in the house.  Two Indians who were in the process of descending inside the chimney met her.  She disabled the first with a pot of boiling water and felled the second with a roasting pit. (The reader must accept this account as given, no explanation has been offered as to why the Indians would risk a smoking chimney with a hot fire at the bottom.  There has been no account of where little Deborah was hidden during the attack).  Col. Ligon had, in the meantime, killed seven Indians as they approached the house. It was not until after the Indians had fled that Sarah and Col. Ligon found that her husband had been killed.

Mrs. Venable, of Chicago, gave the eight-foot muzzle-loading gun to the Virginia Historical Society in 1927.  She was a direct descendant of the Virginia Woodson’s and felt that the prized relic should be back home in Virginia.  The gun bears the name "Collicot" and is said to predate 1625.  It is protected carefully from moisture and scarring by the use of a protective blanket.  Whether the details of the massacre are exactly as related, the gun stands as a stark testimony of the event and the times.

There is apparently no record of whether John and Sarah Woodson were then living at Peircey's Hundred or whether they had already settled on the north side of the James at "Curles".  The Indians under the Powhatan Confederation attacked the English settlements on the outlying plantations, under the leadership of Chief Opechancanough.  Under the new governor, Sir William Berkeley, the colonist retaliated decisively and captured the chief.  Berkeley also imposed a treaty that brought a guarded peace for a generation.

Due to the loss of a great many of the ancient records of Virginia, there is no further record of Sarah and her children.  The presence of John and Robert Woodson in "Curles" in 1679 is certainly compatible with the time frame of the preceding events.  Robert gave a deposition in June 1680 in which he described himself as being "aged about 46 years".  He would have then been born in 1634.  It is believed that his brother, John, was the eldest.  The surname of Woodson is uncommon enough to believe that they were the same family.

There is additional information about the lives of John and Sarah that has been handed down for generations.  The Woodson genealogy written by Charles Woodson (II), the son of Charles and Mary Plesants Woodson was given to Sarah Bates, the daughter of Thomas Fleming Bates while she was visiting her Uncle Charles.  It is thought that Charles (I) the son of Tarleton wrote a part of the genealogy.  It was this information that Dr. R.A. Brock used to write his booklet "Descendants of John Woodson of Dorcetshire, England", in 1888.  The book originally sold for fifty cents a copy.  It was this booklet that has been used as a source material frequently since.  Charles Woodson (I) was born about 1711; his father, Tarleton Woodson, born in the 1680's, died in 1763; Tarleton's father died in 1715, but a short time after the death of his father, Robert.  It would seem that Charles Woodson (I) would have had an excellent opportunity to learn from his ancestors. His account not only supplied details of the lives of John and Sarah, but the link between them and John and Robert, who were living at "Curles" in 1679.

Later information seems to indicate that Sarah married again, which would surely have been reasonable.  There may have been other children, which also seems logical, given the fact that John and Sarah were married before 1620.  There is also supposition that there were two Sarah Woodson’s, the first one that came over from England with John, and possibly died here, and then another marriage to a Sarah who was the mother of John and Robert.  A volume of Henrico County miscellaneous court records, 1650-1807, has been assembled from loose papers from the county records.  An inventory for the estate of Sarah Johnson was recorded. It was, in effect, both a nuncupative will and an inventory of her possessions.  She was identified as Sarah Johnson, widow, deceased and the date it was recorded was 17, January 1660.

The inventory leaves little doubt that Sarah Woodson married a second time to a Mr. Dunwell, and a third time to a Mr. Johnson.  Her three husbands all dying before her.  It seems unlikely that both John and Robert would have been involved in her affairs, and thus the disposition of her estate, had they not been her sons.  Deborah may have been still under twenty-one at the time of her mother's death since Sarah was concerned about providing for her maintenance.  Even though the daughter Sarah was not mentioned as being one of the children that Sarah hid during the fight with the Indians; she could have been pregnant at the time, delivering the child after her husband's death.

Children of John Woodson and Sarah Winston Woodson:

1.    John Woodson2 b. 1632 m. 2nd Sarah Browne, d. 1684.

2.    Robert Woodson b. 1634 m. Elizabeth Ferris, d. ca. 1707.  Last known to be living in 1707, Henrico Co., VA. when he made a deed to his grandson, William and Joseph Lewis.  He married Elizabeth Ferris, daughter of Richard Ferris, of Henrico, with whom, among others, received a patent, 21, October 1687, for 1785 acres at White Oak Swamp in Varina Parish, in that county.  This man was the direct ancestor of Jesse Woodson James, and his brother, Alexander Franklin "Frank" James, the famous James Boys.  Robert2 Woodson married Elizabeth Ferris: son Benjamin3 Woodson, married Sarah Porter; their son Robert4 Woodson (d. 1748/50) married Rebecca Pryor.  Their daughter Elizabeth married Shadrach Mims (1734-1777) and became the mother of Elizabeth Mims (b. 1769) who married Robert Poor (1763-1801), a cornet in the American Revolutionary War.  Their daughter in turn, Mary Poor, (died 1825) married John James (1775-1827), son of William and Mary (Hinds) James of Goochland County, Virginia.  Their son Robert Sallee James, who died in the Gold Rush area of California, married Zerelda Cole and they had sons Frank James and Jesse James. (See: Background of a Bandit, by Joan M. Beamis and William E. Pullen (1971).

Jesse Woodson James, the bandit, married his cousin Zerelda "Zee" Amanda Mims.  She was also a descendant of Elizabeth Woodson Mims, who married Robert Poor.

3.     Deborah (mentioned in mothers will).


John2 Woodson has been generally accepted as the son of John and Sarah Woodson of Flowerdew Hundred and Piercey's Hundred.  He may have been born about 1632.  John was listed among the tithables living at "Curles" in Henrico County on 2, June 1679.  It is interesting to note that, while the brother, John and Robert, had not been identified as Mister in the list of tithables of 1679, they were so identified in their land patents.  None of the Woodson men of that time were literate; however, they were substantial citizens and respected planters.  He was further listed as one of forty men who were ordered by the court to "fitt out men horse and arms" according to the Act of the Assembly.  He was credited with three tithables and John Woodson, Jr., his son, was credited with two.

John married about 1660, but the name of his wife and the mother of his children is not known. It's possible that Mary Plesants was the mother of his children. He apparently married a second time to Sarah Browne, the widow of John Browne.  When she made her will, she left her personal property to the children of her first marriage. 

John died in 1684.  He made his will on 20, August 1684 and his son, John3, presented it in court on 1, October 1684.   In his will he named his brother Robert's four youngest children.

Mrs. Sarah Browne Woodson, widow, took it upon herself to operate the ferry that her son, Jeremiah Browne, has contracted to maintain.  She informed the court in 1690 that it was she, who had kept the ferry, and she was entitled to the county levy.  She paid 2000 pounds of tobacco yearly until her death for keeping the ferry.  Sarah Woodson, widow, was credited with 650 acres of land in the quit rents rolls of 1704 for Henrico County.  She wrote her will on 24, February 1701 and her daughter, Temperance Farrar, was granted probate of the will on 1, November, 1704 in Henrico County.

Children of John Woodson2 and his 1st wife (unknown):

1.    John Woodson3, born before 1663 in Virginia

2.    Robert Woodson, whose later whereabouts or children, after he was named in his father's will, are unknown. Had two children: Jane and Samuel.


John3 Woodson, son of John2 Woodson and his wife (name unknown), was born before 1663, in Henrico Co., VA. and died there before 1 May 1700, aged about 37 years.

He married about 1677 to Mary Tucker, daughter of Capt. Samuel Tucker and his wife Jane Larcome.  Mary Woodson died in 1710 in Henrico County.  She is said to have been the orphan of a ship's captain.  The name of Samuel Tucker's vessel was the Vinetree.  He was trading on the Virginia coast and perhaps died at sea.  His widow, Jane (Larcome) Tucker, then married John Pleasants, of Curles, Henrico County, VA.

John's will, was proved in court 1, May 1700.  His widow made her will on 24, September 1709 and it was proved 1, August 1710 in the Henrico Court at Varina.  Her mother, Jane Pleasants had only died the previous year.  Her will is dated 2, January 1708/09 and was proved at the same court in June 1709, it shows she had Tucker and Pleasants offspring, and also names some of her Woodson grandchildren.

Children of John Woodson3 and Mary Tucker Woodson:  

1.    Joseph Woodson married three times, first to Mary Sanburne, second Elizabeth Scott and third Elizabeth Murry.  

2.    Samuel Tucker Woodson, died 1718 without issue, will 1717, proved 7, July 1718, naming brothers Joseph and Benjamin, sister Jane and cousin Tarleton.

3.    Benjamin Woodson, born about 1693, Henrico County, VA.  Married Frances Napier. See Napier Family.

4.    Jane Woodson married her first cousin, once removed, Joseph Woodson, son of Robert2 Woodson (John1) and wife Elizabeth Ferris.


Benjamin Woodson, Sr., was the son of John3 and Mary (Tucker) Woodson.  He was born ca 1693 in Henrico County, Virginia and died in 1778 in Fluvanna County, Virginia, aged about 85 years.

Benjamin Woodson, Sr. married, ca 1720, in Henrico County, VA. Francis Napier, daughter of Capt. Robert2 Napier and his wife Mary Perrin.  Frances Napier was born 5, February 1694/95, in New Kent County, Virginia, and was last known to be living on 25 October 1777 in Fluvanna County, Virginia at the age of 82 years.

The Woodson’s and the Napiers were united for the first time in 1720 when both families dwelt in Henrico County, Virginia.  It would have been impossible for Frances Napier not to know about the Woodson family, and conversely, we find it hard to imagine that Benjamin Woodson was not aware of Miss Napier.  Their prominence in the affairs of the colony and the plantations indicates they may have known each other from some years and had a lengthy courtship.  As facts on Capt. Robert2 Napier reveal, he had dealings at the courthouse at Varina, the old County Seat for Henrico County, as early as the 1690s before his own family was produced.

Benjamin and Frances was the first marriage between the two families, but it was not the last.  Two of their own grandchildren, Elizabeth and Tabitha Woodson were married to two more of the Napier's a couple of generations later.

While Woodson was a lifelong inhabitant of Henrico, until it was subdivided and the plantation fell into Goochland County, Frances Napier was raised in several counties. It is probably correct to say she was born in New Kent, raised in King and Queen, King William and Henrico, and lived her married life in Goochland, Ablemarle and Fluvanna Counties, yet not to have moved from the place of her birth very far.  Certainly, in the years from her marriage until her death in is probable that she never moved at all, living on the same land all the rest of here life.

The Woodson family first appears in the records if Goochland County, Virginia as far as our examination of records goes, in a deed of gift as follows:

To All people ... I, Adam Buttrey of Goochland County, Virginia, in consideration of the affection I beare unto my Godson Bouth Woodson, son of Benjamin & ffrances Woodson of the same County, ... for £10. paid by his ffather Benjamin Woodson ... 120 acres ... Dated 8 June 1734. Signed Adam "A" Buttrey his mark.  Witnesses: Rene Napier, Patrick Napier and ffra: Woodson.  This was proved at Court January 21, 1734/5 by the oaths of the witnesses before Henry Wood, clerk of the court.

The land was in trust for Booth Woodson since he was a minor at the time this instrument was written.

The next mention of this couple is in a scandalous case set before the County Court of Goochland in February Term, 1739.  Patrick3 Napier and Rene3 Napier, with Frances, wife of Benjamin Woodson, all of Goochland, were charged with the kidnapping of Martha Claiborne, an orphan minor of Thomas Claiborne.  She was, at the time of the alleged abduction, living with her sister and brother-in-law, Joseph and Frances (Claiborne) Thompson.  Frances Woodson was found not guilty.  Of course, the two Napier's involved where her brothers.  No animosity seems to have resulted. A couple of years later, Martha Claiborne married to Patrick3 Napier, one of her accused abductors.

The Woodson’s lived long and saw many grandchildren.  In his will, Benjamin, Sr. gave property to sons Benjamin, Jr., John, Rene and Patrick, and daughters Mary Perrin Fitzpatrick and Frances Anderson.  He also remembered several grandchildren, including Elizabeth Booth Woodson, Benjamin and Joseph Fitzpatrick, and George and Benjamin Anderson. This will is dated 25, November 1777 and proved 3, September 1778 at Fluvanna Courthouse.  He appointed his wife Frances Executrix and sons Benjamin, Rene and Patrick as Executors.  He must have considered her able to carry out that work, and healthy enough for her age.  However, she did not participate in the execution of the will after all and may have been ill by that time.  Frances Napier Woodson left no will and no administration was taken out.

Children of Benjamin and Frances (Napier) Woodson:

1.    Booth Woodson, born ca 1721, Henrico County, VA. died 1757, Goochland Co.; married Tabitha Cocke sister to Rebecca, wife of Benjamin 5 Woodson, Jr. No issue. Tabitha Cocke is said to have married second to John Winston, and had at least one child, Sarah Winston, Born 14, May 1761.

2.     Benjamin5 Woodson, Jr. born ca 1725-30, Henrico Co., VA. and died 1808, Fluvanna County, VA. Married (1) Rebecca Cocke; married (2) Frances "Franky" Jordan.  

3.    Mary Perrin Woodson, born 1720s, still living in December 1786, married ca 1735-40, Joseph Fitzpatrick, son of William Fitzpatrick who is said to have come from Ireland about 1710. See Fitzpatrick Family for continuation of my husbands line.  

4.    Rene Woodson, born 1730s, Goochland County, VA. died 1817/18, Fluvanna Co., VA., married (1) 1758 Mary Thompson (she died shortly in or after childbirth 1759); married (2) 2, February 1775, St. James Northam Church, Martha Johnson, of Louisa Co., VA; (She survived him.)  He was Commissioner of the Provision Law, Fluvanna, 1780-82.

5.    Frances Woodson, born 1730s, Goochland Co., VA. living in 1778; married about 1752, George Anderson, born 1733, alive in 1800, Fluvanna Co., VA.

6.    John Woodson, born 1740s, Goochland Co., VA. or Ablemarle, living 1800, Fluvanna Co., VA., married 20 March 1760, St. James Northan Church, Goochland Co., VA., Mary Mims.

7.    Patrick Woodson, born 1740s, Goochland or Ablemarle, Co., VA., dead by 30, March 1722 when his estate Inventory was filed in Fluvanna Court.  Married Nancy Cloof, she living 24 November 1823.  His inventory was totaled at $10,788.50, including 47 slaves.  Patrick Woodson, Sr., and Jr. are mentioned, and one Rene Woodson was paid for giving out whiskey at the sale.

Other Woodson Family Researchers:

Woodson Family Genealogy Forum

Thomas C. Woodson Site 

The Woodson Family 

The Woodsonne Family


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