Extract from a book on early settlers in Virginia in the 17th Century

AS I WAS TOLD by Rubyn Reynolds Ogburn 1958



To the readers who remain with me, a personal incident that occurred at Ogbourne Saint George, Wiltshire, England, in 1936 will be interesting. In the summer of that year William Fielding Ogburn, whose ancestor Symon Ogbourne, came to Virginia with the early settlers, visited that village. Unannounced he called at the Manor House. At his request the lady came to the door, but a short wait had given time enough for the strange young American to make provision for keeping the door open in case the English lady was prejudiced against Americans and wished to end the interview too soon. Ogburn had put his foot in the door-no small obstruction.

As could have been expected, the Ogburn charm won out. After a few soft words and a smile he was invited to see the house from wine-cellar to attic. Over the teacups it was agreed that the forebears of the first of his name in Virginia came from the village of Ogbourne. He had the right answer to his hostess’ objection to Americans because they lived in cities rather than in the country. His brother lived in the country in Westchester County, New York and when he referred vaguely to the horses and dogs in Westchester there was a perceptible rise in his stock. His hostess rode to the hounds as do many of the English country families in Wiltshire and she did not have a high opinion of denizens of the city, an attitude characteristic of English landowners in the eighteenth century and earlier.

To see the sixteenth century Manor House was a pleasant experience. At the time of this visit it was owned by Cambridge University and rented to the lady who loved country life. When my husband and I were in Oxford during the winter of 1953 a mutual~friend told the young couple who had bought the Manor House about us and we were invited to dinner. They were a charming young couple and seemed to take pleasure in showing us the house, especially the improvements they had made in it.

The entrance hall was as large as a room. A large drawing room and larger drawing room were entered from each side of the hall, and beyond the latter was a library. The impression was one of spacious luxury. The alterations had left it comfortable even to central heating, but the heat was not on the day we were there even though it was quite cold. As we huddled over the small fire our hostess mentioned the new heating system but said they had not felt the need of it yet. The English seldom feel the need of heat, apparently even in winter.

In 1275 when we first know of it, the name was spelt Okebourne. It was compounded from “oc” meaning oak and “burn meaning stream or forest-the stream flowing through the oak trees or forest. The “k “preceding the “b ” was not euphonious and the name early became Ogbourne.

It is a rare name in England now but from the early thirteenth century through the sixteenth there were many Ogbournes both in London and in several other places. By that time they had already spread out from Ogbourne, Wiltshire. In Wiltshire there was a second village, Ogbourne Saint Andrew, and there seems to be little doubt that the earliest of the family came from one of these two villages.

Walter de Okebourne lived in Wiltshire in 1273. Some Ogbournes with the French “de” preceding the last name are found in English literature and at least four with the English “Sir” preceding the first name.

It was 1652 that Symon Ogbourne, the first of the Virginia Ogbournes, came to the new English colony, just a year later than Robert Wynne, the progenitor of the other branch of our Georgia family had come to Virginia. The wave of adventurers migrating to Virginia at that period was largely due to the lost cause of the royalists in England. Many of the soldiers and officers of King Charles’ army fled to the colonies when Cromwell took over. Doubtless, both Lieutenant Symon Ogbourne and Captain Robert Wynne preferred and chose new adventures in the young colony to the puritanical era of the Commonwealth.

Within a year after his arrival in Lancaster County, Lieutenant Ogbourne had married and very soon afterwards he went south to the Isle of Wight County, not far from Jamestown, where he made his home, lived, and died. One evidence of his living in the southern county at that early date is a court record which says, “Lt. Symon Ogbourne was security for Lt. Baker.”

That Lieutenant Ogbourne was a “gentleman” there is no doubt since all officers were of that class, and we know that he possessed a rapier, the arms of the gentry. Symon seemed to have a certain wistful respect for this weapon. In his will he left it to his eldest son, no doubt as a token of his past days as a young officer. A more practical item, his indentured servant, he left to his wife.

Others mentioned in his will were his daughter Mary and his son Nicholas, also his wife Lucie and their four children, Symond, Elinor, Elizabeth, and Katherine. He died in 1669, so his life in the Virginia Colony was short-seventeen years only. From the wording of his will it is evident that Lucie was Symon’s second wife and that Nicholas and Mary were children by his first wife. The will gives several suggestive items about his life and times.

In the name of God, Amen; I Simon Ogbourne of the Isle of Wight Co. in Virginia being very weak in body but of sound mind and memory do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner form following (viz) : Imprimia: I bequeath my soul into the arms of Jesus Christ hoping through his merits and mercy to obtain everlasting life. And for my worldly goods I dispose of as follows:

Item: I give and bequeath to my son Nicholas all my wearing apparell in general as linen, woollen, shoes, stockings, hats or caps, and my rapier-to be delivered him after my decease.

Item: I give and bequeath to my daughter Mary Ogburn a cow and calf to be delivered by this spring and in case my said daughter depart this life before she be fourteen years of age or married then the said cow and calf to return to my son Nicholas, above sd., or his heirs. And in case no just heirs of my son Nicholas then sd. cattell to return to my son Simon Ogburn.

Item: I give and bequeath to my loving wife Lucie Ogburn my plantation during her lifetime. She paying the rent and performing according to agreement, and also my servant named Thomas Davis during his life time of indenture and also the best bed and furniture I have. And for the remainder of my whole estate my debts being first paid, as cattell hoggs household goods or chattells of whatever nature, condition or quarter soever, they are to be equally divided between my loving wife Lucie and her children by her viz., Simon, Elinor, Elizabeth, and Katherine Ogburn. And in case of mortality of any of my last four children herein expressed, their parts to return to the survivors of them and their heirs. And my will is that my four last children be brought up out of their mother’s part of my estate. And I do hereby confirm this to be my last will and testament. Set my hand and seal this 24th day March 1668. Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of Tho. Taberay, Elizabeth and Merritt.

We can note that while his son Nicholas and daughter Mary are mentioned independently, the last four children are to be brought up out of their mother’s part of the estate. Nicholas, who received the rapier, and who was the eldest son, turns out to be the ancestor of the Georgia Ogburns.

Upon Symon’ s arrival in Virginia in 1652 the price of tobacco was on the decline and the big money once made by the earliest planters was a thing of the past. Tobacco was still the main exporting crop but trade restrictions had decreased its price. For the amount the planter received for his annual crop very little English goods could be bought. In fact, prices of English products had gone out of reach and the colonists who formerly had not done so were beginning to weave their own cloth and make their own shoes. Of an abundance of food there was never any question, for each plantation, no matter what size, produced all the grain, fruit, meat and poultry the household could consume.

Great unrest was the result of the distressing decrease in the price received for the colonists’ largest crop and it eventually led to the rebellion of the small plantation owners, known as Bacon’s Rebellion. Though Lieutenant Ogburn did not live to see it he lived through the period of its development. The protest led by Bacon concerned ostensibly the Indians and also the price of tobacco. Planters living in the back country counties thought the government was giving them insufficient protection from the Indians, who invaded their territory too often. But there was another cause; an underlying cause for revolt. It was a revolt of the small farmers against the big land owners who were favored by the government; a war between democracy and the old British landlordism. Ironical as it may seem, the revolt against the rich landlords was led by the scion of just such a British family. Educated at Cambridge, a European traveler at nineteen, married into one of the oldest and wealthiest families, Nathaniel Bacon was only twenty-seven when he and his wife came to Virginia, but we do not know the underlying reason for his great sympathy for the small landowners. After only two years in Virginia and at the moment he had been appointed to the State Council, young Bacon took up the cause of Virginia’s democracy. Though he lost his cause and his life he became the people’s her6 and ultimately, as time went on, his ideals of democracy for Virginia were realized.

It was a tough period (1652 to 1675) for the young Englishmen who had come to the colony with high hopes of reward. While the “favorites” or those with influential relatives were receiving thousands of acres of land as gifts, others, less fortunate, were having a desperately hard time making ends meet. Had Symon Ogburn come ten years earlier his prospects would have been much brighter. The low price to which tobacco had sunk occupied the minds of all the planters and it was heatedly discussed at all gatherings, at weddings, funerals, cockfights and horse-races. Fortunately, though the times were hard there were diversions. They were high spirited people and the amenities of life were not neglected because of poor economic conditions.

Gambling was a universal amusement of seventeenth century Virginia but no more popular than dancing and drinking. All houses of that period that laid claim to any hospitality had stocks of liquor, at least wines and beers, which were often made at home. It has been said the young adventurers simply brought over the custom of drinking along with others from their English homes. However, the climate of England was more suitable for hard drinking than was the climate of Virginia. In any case, drinking has been held partly responsible for the high death rate
among the early colonists.

Just as most of the well-to-do planters provided the best of liquors many of them also had musical instruments. The two together provided much sociability and gaiety. Both the young and old joined in dancing and horse-racing. Later in the 1700’s when the houses were larger and more spacious there were bigger and better dances but during the lifetime of Symon Ogbourne there were very few large houses. Even the rich usually lived in what was known as the typical Virginia house. It was one and a half stories high with dormer windows, and chimneys at each end. Contrary to popular opinion log cabins did not exist in Virginia. They were introduced later by Scandinavian settlers.

A popular form of entertainment in the young colony was horse racing, and Virginia race-horses became famous. Naturally racing led to betting and as the Virginia gentlemen supplied finer horses, the betting became higher, too. Stakes became fabulous at times, young men sometimes putting up their entire tobacco crop.

One of the Wynne family bred famous horses. He lived at Raceland and became known as “Racer Billie.” He had the Wynne blood, but found his adventure in racing rather than in expeditions into unknown territory as many of that family did. However, a little later he gave up racing and went out to Arkansas where he became a public figure in politics. The town, Wynn, Arkansas, was named for him when he was a member of the state legislature.

Southern planters, so many of whom were royalists, were not dominated by the moralistic views of the Puritans further north and they enjoyed in the colony the same forms of entertainment they had enjoyed in England, if they could get them. The theatre, for instance, which experienced much popularity under the influence of Queen Elizabeth, and the amazing talent of Shakespearian plays of the late 1500’s, were enjoyed whenever possible by the Virginia colonists. The theatre was never frowned upon in that state, and amateur theatricals were also part of the life of the time.

Plays were banned in New England by the Puritans who considered them wicked; however, charades became very popular there. The only difference in the two was that the former were performed by experts and the latter by amateurs.

It was good to have the release provided by games and races in those hard times through which Symon Ogbourne lived. In addition to the economic problems facing all, the colonists’ life often was short. Even as late as Symon’s last days-1667-there were many sicknesses common among the settlers. The infant mortality rate was extremely high. Had the babies who were born lived, the London Company that was so deeply concerned with the rapid decrease of the young colony would have had little to worry about. The Englishmen had not yet learned how to live in the climate of their adopted country. Doubtless Symon Ogbourne’s life was cut short by the “Virginia sickness,” a general term to cover all the unfamiliar illnesses that plagued the seventeenth century colonists.

While Symon Ogbourne would have prospered more rapidly had he come earlier he, perhaps, would have lived longer had he come later. Conditions improved as the colony progressed, and by the last of the century Virginians had learned how to provide more healthful conditions. Nicholas, Symon Ogbourne’s eldest son, probably was born in Lancaster before his parents moved to Isle of Wight County, about 1654. He outlived the Long Parliament which ran from 1661 to 1775, which Governor Berkeley, through fear of the reactions of a new one, maintained for about seventeen years, and also the subsequent rebellion which was followed by a confused era during which the government tried to identify and punish participants.

Not until the turn of the 18th century did Virginia enjoy comparatively peaceful political and economic conditions and their effects. By that time great changes had been taking place in the labor situation. When the first group of blacks from Africa were landed in the colony by the Dutch and were sold by them to the planters for labor in the tobacco fields, it signaled a momentous economic change. The blacks were more suited to work in the fields than the whites and the planters thought they had at long last found the solution to their labor problem. And so they had for raising tobacco. However, as the blacks came in increasing numbers the small farmers who could not afford to buy them began to move out and thereby the Virginia yeomanry was very nearly destroyed. The small farmers could no longer compete with the rich planters whose fields were tilled by many blacks and they began to look elsewhere for more favorable conditions. They sold their land and left Virginia for other colonies in large numbers.

The economic historians of the period tell us that England, not realizing the small landowners would leave Virginia when the blacks came in, were delighted to have found the answer to the labor problem and were glad to see more and more blacks shipped to the colonies. The poor settlers in Virginia finding that tobacco culture was based upon cheap labor of African slaves which they could not buy moved away to other localities where intelligence still brought an adequate reward, says Mr. Wertenbaker, in his Planters of Colonial Virginia.

This change began gradually in the middle of the seventeenth century, increasing as the new century appeared. Mr. Wertenbaker says this inflow of blacks to Virginia “transformed it from a land of hardworking independent peasants to a land of slaves and slave holders.” Slavery had wrought a far reaching social change.

Nicholas Ogburn died in 1688, just as the large tobacco plantations were becoming larger and the planters richer. He had married Ann Higgins and they had two sons, Nicholas, Jr., who was the progentior of the Georgia Ogburns, and John. Nicholas Sr. was only thirty-five at his death and the care of the two small boys was left to their mother.

Before his death Nicholas Ogburn had bought 480 acres of land in Surry County which Ann Oghurn later gave her sons. From county records we assume that when the two boys grew up, Nicholas, the elder, remained on the plantation in Isle of Wight County while John took over the property in Surry. Nicholas and his father Nicholas were the home-loving type rather than the adventurous and they never left the old place where Symon had originally made his home. For a hundred years these Ogburns remained in Tidewater Virginia, near Jamestown.

The second Nicholas married Ann Smith, the daughter of William and Mary Smith. They had five children, the youngest of whom was John, born about the time of his father’s death in 1713. Nicholas and Ann Smith Ogburn’s children were mentioned in the will of Ann’s mother, Mary Smith, in 1719. She left property to “my three grandchildren Simon Ogburn, Elizabeth Ogburn and Mary Ogburn.”

This will was made in Isle of Wight County, where Smithfield is located. The old Smith house stood on a hill near the present Smithfield, fronting the water and surrounded with beautiful old trees and ancient boxwood. It was known as “Smith’s Mansion” but when this writer saw it some ten years ago the boxwood was being trampled by the cows and the house seemed small indeed for its imposing name. King Charles made this grant of land to William Smith and the town of Smithfield developed on Smith’s fields.

The descendants of Symon Ogbourne intermarried with the old families of Isle of Wight and Surry Counties. One married a Branch, ancestor of our old friend Branch Bocock. Others married Hancocks, Richards, Cabells. Later another Ogburn in North Carolina married a Lanier of the family that later produced the poet Sidney Lanier.

In those early days in Virginia the widowed married again, and with a high death rate a person might be several times widowed. Women were scarce and seldom was a widow with property left to mourn her husband more than the minimum number of days. Nearly always the new husband was an old friend of the family and sometimes he was executor of the deceased husband’s estate. At times when reading the court records one is startled to see the deceased husband’s will was read in the new husband’s home.

Another surprising county record tells us that one Robert Wynne of Prince George County sold some land to John Ogburn, son of Nicholas, a prelude to the Wynn-Ogburn relationships in Georgia, a hundred years in the future.

The younger son of Nicholas and Ann Smith Ogburn claims our interest next. Born in Isle of Wight County about 1710, he was christened John. As he grew up he prospered and added more land to his holdings. At one time John owned land in the counties of Isle of Wight, Surry, Sussex, Brunswick, in Virginia, and in Northampton County in North Carolina. At least that is the way the record stands but those four counties were cut and divided making it impossible to locate his land at a given date without very careful research. However, we know that he lived in Brunswick County for awhile. Probably his stay in that county was in the interest of his work as a surveyor which from time to time took him into several counties. John held the office of Constable in Brunswick, a post of much responsibility and high respect in the early days.

By his first wife John Ogburn had a son named John, Jr., and another son named Nicholas, for his father. From John, Jr., the Georgia Ogburns are descended. We mention in passing a daughter named Sarah who turns up again in the records. Due to the negligence in recording women s names we do not know the name of the first wife of John Ogburn, Sr., but his second wife was Phoebe Mason, the widow of Joseph Mason. They also had several children. John Ogburn was executor of Joseph Mason’s estate and the will was read in the Ogburn home. The widow and the executor lost no time at all; before the estate was settled their two plantations had become one.

John Ogburn, son of Nicholas, lived to be an old man of about eighty. He had lived to see the colonies gain their independence but he had been too old to be in the army. He had lived through the period of trade disturbances preceding the Revolution caused by strained relationship between the colonies and the mother country, a period of hardship for the planters. While he acquired property in several counties in South Eastern Virginia, and even once bought land across the border in North Carolina, yet he spent the latter part of his life in his old home in Virginia.

Some ten years ago the writer, with a descendant of John Ogburn, was searching the records of Sussex County. After exhausting the orderly kept record books we asked what was contained in the dusty old boxes on the shelves. “Trash, more or less,” we were told. At our request the boxes were brought down and dusted off and each small bit of “trash” was studied. The taxing task paid off. One little scrap of paper proved to be a note written by John Ogburn himself to the county clerk asking for a marriage license to be given the bearer, John Ogburn, Jr., not for himself but for his sister Sarah and her fiance, Aaron Vinson. For us to actually see the old man’s handwriting seemed
to make the connection personal and less remote.

It is strange that John Ogburn, Jr. was not mentioned in his father’s will:

In the name of God, Amen, I John Ogburn of the parish of Albemarle, and county of Sussex, being sick and weak, but of sound and disposing mind and memory do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following, Viz-Item, my will and desire is that my two Negro Women, Hannah and Moll-and their increase they bring negroes, I lend to my daughter Sarah Vinson, wife of Aaron Vinson be equally divided amongst the children that may be now living of my said Daughter, Sarah Vinson.

Item I give the use of my two Negroes Mingo and Sam to my son Nicholas Ogburn during his natural life, and after the death of my said son Nicholas, I give the said negroes, Mingo and Sam to my grandson, Charles Ogburn, son of my said son Nicholas Ogburn and Anne his wife.

Item I give the use of my negro woman, Jinney to my granddaughter Sarah Pleasant during her natural life.

Item I give to my son Augustine Ogburn and to his Heirs all the residue of my estate be it of what kind or quality soever. I desire my Estate be not appraised and that my executor may not be ruled to give security for his executing of this my Will.

Lastly, I appoint by son Augustine Ogburn executor of this, my last Will and Testament hereby declaring all other wills heretofore by me made void.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Twenty ninth day of September, One thousand, seven hundred and eighty nine.

John Ogburn (Seal)
Signed and Published At a Court held for Sussex

in presence of Lucy Massenburg County the 4th day of

John Mason February 1790

The last Will and Testament of John Ogburn was presented into Court by Augustine Ogburn, the executor therein named was proved by the oath of John Mason one of the witnesses thereto, and ordered to be recorded, and on motion of said executor, who made oath thereto, according to law certificate is granted him for obtaining probate thereof in due from

M.Bailey Clerk


The omission of John, Jr.’s name in this will creates something of a mystery. However, it may have been that John, Jr., had already received his share of his father’s estate. We know he owned a large amount of property. Since no real estate is included in the will, it seems probable that John Ogburn had already divided his land among his children. When he made this will in 1789 his eldest son John, Jr., had been living in North Carolina a dozen years. Earlier still Sarah Ogburn, and her husband Aaron Vinson, had gone to North Carolina where they were close neighbors of old friends from Virginia, the Tomlinsons. John, Jr., had married as his second wife a Tomlinson in Virginia before going to North Carolina. At the time of this second marriage he had two small children, James and Sarah. James Ogburn was the one who later went to Georgia. According to the pioneers’ custom of making their move with friends these three families of Ogburns, Vinsons and Tomlinsons had plantations near together as is shown by the description of each in the records. Many county records of that period show the Ogburns, Vinsons, Tomlinsons, Oneals, and Youngbloods as witnesses of one another’s deeds and executors of one another’s estates, and there were several marriages to connect the families.

When little James Ogburn grew up he married the daughter of his neighbor, Thomas Youngblood. In his will Thomas Youngblood left property and cattle to his grandson Littleberry, son of his daughter Edith.

These several families who had gone to North Carolina together must have enjoyed many gatherings at the different homes. A planter often would entertain his guests with a deer hunt. All the men carrying guns, they would enter the woods followed by a negro man carrying lighted charcoal in a pan which would blind the deer and also point out the target for the hunters. Raccoon and opossum hunting was a sport for the young boys. They were always followed by negroes bearing lighted pine torches. In the day time hunting turkeys, ducks and quail was a favorite sport. It necessitated trained dogs, which all the planters had, some as many as fifteen or twenty.

But all such sports came to an abrupt end at the time of the Revolutionary War and in 1777 John Ogburn, Jr. enlisted from Johnson County, North Carolina, when he was in his middle thirties; Like all wars, this one tempted the soldiers to move about. Some received land in payment for services while others learned more of other colonies. From this disturbance came a large emigration from Virginia southward, the destination depending upon the situation of their home county. Those in the eastern part of the state dropped down to eastern sections of the Carolinas and those in the western sections to western North Carolina and Tennessee. This migration was the grand dispersal southward from Virginia, the mother of us all.

The settlement of North Carolina had been slow from the first. The rough terrain of the coast had discouraged ships from England in the early days and the formation of the land and rivers had discouraged settlers from Virginia. The usual transportation of farm produce by rivers in Virginia was hindered by falls and other impediments in North Carolina which made it more practical to haul the produce by wagon to Virginia on the north and that of the south to South Carolina. Also, the forests of North Carolina were more difficult to clear than those of Virginia and South Carolina and the latter, thus, had an earlier and more highly developed culture. It was these conditions that prompted the classic descriptive phrase, “North Carolina is a valley of humility between two mountains of conceit.”

Possibly it was because of these discouraging conditions in North Carolina that James, eldest son of John Ogburn, Jr., did not remain there after the war. Cultivation of tobacco was being discouraged, and that of cotton encouraged by England where the textile industry was being developed, and the soil of North Carolina did not grow the best cotton. So, following his service in the Revolution James Ogburn took his family to Georgia. However, many Ogburns did stay in North Carolina and their descendants are there today. A relative of our John Ogburn, whose name was James, came from Brunswick County, Virginia, and settled in the northern part of the state near Winston-Salem and his descendants are in that vicinity today. One of the early plantations of that branch of the family was located north of Winston-Salem at Ogburn Station. It was a big tobacco plantation and the family later formed companies and built factories for processing their produce. The Ogburn tobacco company later sold out to the R. J. Reynolds Co. A member of this Ogburn family is our good friend Cicero Ogburn, the well-known chemical engineer on the faculty of Bucknell University in the 1930’s who later left the university and became a business executive in the chemical industry.

Mr. Cicero Ogburn has told us that before his grandfather’s death the family used to gather at the plantation (now Ogburn Station) for Christmas dinner. Fifty or more out of the sixty-eight members of the family returned to the plantation every Christmas for a family reunion. Lest so many Ogburns, sixty-eight close kin in one family, lead you to think I may take them up one by one let us return to our side of the fence -or county.

James Ogburn had been born in Virginia in 1770 and at twenty-one he married Edith Youngblood, the daughter of Thomas, a neighbor of the Ogburns. We have an interesting document concerning this marriage which gives an idea of the serious aspects of marriage in those days. Though they were not entirely arranged by their families, property rights were considered important, as shown by their agreement:

Know all men by these present that we James Ogburn and Thomas Youngblood jun. both of the state of North Carolina in the county of Johnston are held and firmly bound into his Excellency Alexander Martin Esqr. Governor of the State aforesaid or his successor in office in the sum of Five Hundred pounds current money to which payment were & truly to be made & done we and each of us bind ourselves & each of our heirs Extors. Admrs. & jointly & severally firmly by these present sealed with our seals, and dated this the 5th day of May A.D. 1791.

The condition of the above obligation is such that where as the bounden James Ogburn both this day obtained a license for a marriage intended to be & solemnized between him & Edith Youngblood of the county aforesaid. Now if in case it shall not at any time hereafter appear that there is any lawful cause to obstruct said marriage then the above obligation to be void else to remain in full force & virtue.

This promise to the Governor is signed by James Ogburn and Thomas Youngblood, Jr., who was either the father or brother of fair young Edith.

James and Edith Youngblood Ogburn’s first child was Littleberry-the first of this branch of the family to be born outside Virginia. He was born in 1792 in North Carolina: in the “Valley of Humility.”

The name of Littleberry is not strange to us for we know that he became the father of Charlton Ogburn who lived in Butler, Georgia. James named his little son for his step-brother who was only two years younger than he, while the step-brother Littleberry named his son for James. The two step-brothers grew up together and showed their devotion by each naming his eldest son for the other.

In the last half of the eighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth, cotton was becoming the most profitable crop in the South. Power-weaving as opposed to hand-weaving, had been developed in England during that half century and the manufacturers increasingly demanded more cotton to make into exportable goods. England was selling machine-made cotton cloth all over the world and the demand for cotton was great indeed. This growing demand for cotton influenced the Virginia and North Carolina planters to seek land more suitable for that product which lay farther south and southwest.

Since the Blue Ridge Mountains deterred expansion westward and the deep South provided both favourable climate and soil, planters turned their faces southward. The economic changes that had been slowly taking place in the last half of the eighteenth century were greatly accelerated by the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 and many planters were looking toward Georgia, the only colony then open in the far South. Savannah had been a growing town for some fifty years or more and many cotton plantations had grown up along the Savannah River and inland for a short distance. The news of the beautiful virgin lands lying under the sun and the many rivers for transportation travelled back to Virginia and planters sold their lands and became cotton growers.

In 1782 the whites had gained a strip of the Indian territory lying just west of the Savannah River and as we know, they were to push the Indians westward and eventually entirely out of the state. James Ogburn in North Carolina knew of this open land and also knew that cotton was bringing higher and higher prices. So profitable a commodity and cheap fertile land were tempting indeed and he joined friends in a move to Georgia.

By waiting until about 1810 to make their move to Georgia, the Ogburns fortunately missed one of the most unhappy periods of that state’s history-the period following the Revolution. At the close of the Revolutionary War only the section of the Savannah River was occupied by white planters and in that strip there were approximately 1,900 whites and 1,600 slaves. Some of these people were Patriots and some Tories. They became bitter enemies and what amounted to Civil War was waged between them for about two years. Next door neighbors fought each other with bitter hatred and savage cruelty. Murder, theft, and wholesale destruction of property had left the county almost in ruins. Homes had been burned, farms devastated, and communities broken up. Savannah and Augusta barely escaping destruction. Agriculture was badly crippled and consequently there was little money and much poverty. Quarrelling and duels were frequent and life was held cheap. Not until after the Loyalists’ property was confiscated, sold, and the money put in the State Treasury, and many of the Loyalists had left the state, did the disturbances give way to peace and order.

Hancock County, where the Ogburns planned to make their home, was just east of the strip already under cultivation by the whites and which had been occupied by the Loyalists. Many of the Virginia planters had taken up land there and that may have
been a factor in James’ choice. In any case, he chose Hancock County rather than the section a little farther north usually chosen by the migrants from North Carolina. This settlement of the eastern section of the state was the beginning of the “Cotton Kingdom” which had a spectacular rise to power as it extended westward along a strip of miraculously fertile land with summers long enough for more than one crop of some products.

It was a long journey from the Virginia border of North Carolina to Georgia in that day. There was no way to go but by wagons, carriages or horseback. The household furniture and the agricultural tools were packed into the wagons, the women and children into the carriages or Jersey wagons, the men rode horseback, and the male slaves drove the cattle. Even with no delays along the way the trip always took a month and often longer. We get a conception of the journey being undertaken when we compare the time it took then with the time the same journey can be made today. By air it takes less than two hours. Suppose at the end of their long hot trip with many stops for rest and repairs someone had said to James, “In a hundred years a brave man like you will be able to drive his car over that road from the border of Virginia to Hancock County in one day, and in 150 years your great-grandson, William Fielding Ogburn, will take a plane and make it in two hours.” He would not have believed it; he could not have imagined such a transformation. On their profitable cotton plantation in the eastern section of the cotton belt James Ogburn lived to be an old man.

But the reward of his old age was the success of his son Eldridge as a planter and his son Littleberry who moved to the western border of the famous “belt.” A third son gave him even more happiness by becoming a preacher. Religion had been at a low ebb among the planters and was just then being revived, and a family that produced a preacher was even more highly respected than those who produced successful cotton growers. James died on his land of cotton happy in the knowledge that his son would bring spiritual sustenance to the planters.

2 thoughts on “Extract from a book on early settlers in Virginia in the 17th Century”

  1. So interesting. I recently started researching my family history. I must admit it can be stressful and confusing at times, but anyhow, my paternal grandmother was Laura Jean McLeod -Schultz. I hope to get DNA soon, because I am simply interested in knowing more. I really enjoyed reading about my ancestors. Thank you for your time and research.

    1. I’m sorry, I forgot to say that I was born in Cobb County, Georgia, but currently reside in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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Focusing on the history of the name of Ogbourne, Ogborn, Ogburn and other variants, including the early form of Ocheburne & Okebourne