Peter Elder of Virginia

Elder Notes – Generation 1 – Peter Elder


Peter Elder first appears in a Virginia court record of 1664. He acquired land in the Farnham Creek area of now Richmond County in 1666. Peter Elder died in 1674, leaving his minor son Peter in the care of friend Richard Peacock. The Elder family remained in the area for about 100 years.


Traditions of the Elder family of Virginia can be found on the Internet and elsewhere. The first version I came across was published in 1937-1938; here are the first two paragraphs:

The first history we have of the Elder family, they were living in Scotland in the 15th century. They finally emigrated to England and Ireland on account of their religious liberties and viewpoints. John E. Elder, with two other brothers, came to this country, landing at Norfolk, Virginia, in 1669. John E. Elder, born in 1650, came over as a stowaway, working out his passage with a rich merchant, which required several years. His two brothers, in after years, went on to other parts of the country, one to Ohio, and the other to Michigan. John E. Elder was a fine specimen of young manhood, but was poor and uneducated. In the meantime, he fell in love with the merchant's only daughter, but on account of their standing socially and financially, he long hesitated to make known his love for her, but she did not shun or spurn him. So their romance finally terminated in their elopement and marriage at Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, and is on record there until this day. From this marriage were born several boys and girls, one of whom was John Elder, the Second, around whose history and family our story will be written.

John Elder II was born in 1735. He married Mary Mathews, of Brunswick County, Virginia. George Mathews, a brother of Mary Mathews Elder, raised a regiment of soldiers, became Colonel, and fought in the Revolutionary War. He afterwards came to Georgia, and was elected Governor of Georgia, two terms, then represented us in Congress, died in Georgia, and his remains now lie in a cemetery in Augusta, Georgia. The records and date of marriage of John Elder and Mary Mathews Elder were destroyed by fire in Virginia in the war of 1861 to 1865. They raised a family of five boys and two girls as follows: Ephram, Joshua, David, John and Edmund; Elizabeth and Nancy Elder. Most of these boys served in the Revolutionary War, and after living in Virginia to young manhood and middle age, scattered to different parts of our new United States. Joshua and David came to Georgia, arriving in Clarke County (now Oconee) on January 11th, 1807. Joshua tarried in Georgia for a few years, and history says that he went on to Mississippi. David remained in Georgia and died there. The balance of our story will be built around the history, family and descendents of David Elder ...

There's a copy of this document in the DAR library in Washington, DC., headed: "History of Elder Family, As Published in Oconee Enterprise, Watkinsville, Georgia, September 24, 1937 – January 14, 1938, by W. Shannon Elder."

Following the advice of genealogist Val Greenwood, I have not taken this tradition as a starting point. He says:

Family tradition … tells us much about family origins; however, such traditions, on the whole, are notoriously unreliable and no tradition should ever be accepted at face value…. Work first with the information that you already know—FROM THE KNOWN TO THE UNKNOWN. [Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Genealogical Publishing Company, 1977, page 51]

There are several obvious problems with the version of the Elder family tradition presented above; here are four:

Other problems will be addressed as the occasion arises.

I recently saw another version of the Elder arrival story – its three brothers are John, David and Daniel and they arrived in 1656. Peter Elder was not one of the three according to this version.

What we can know is what's in the historical records (apart from recording errors!).



Three records have been found for Peter1 Elder:

  1. Peter Elder witnessed the Power of Attorney of Mary Samford to Thomas Freshwater in 1664 in connection with a deed from James and Mary Samford to Quintillian Sherman [record | abstract]
  2. Peter Elder obtained land from Capt. David Mansell in 1666 [record | abstract]
  3. Peter Elder made a will on 28 April 1674; it was proved 5 August 1674 [record | text]

In addition there's mention of Peter Elder's dwelling house in a 1675 deed from William Wheeler to Robert Wood [abstract].

Click on a link to see an abstract or copy of the record.


Discussion of Records

What can one learn from these records?


Peter Elder witnessed a Power of Attorney in October of 1664 (record 1). This does not prove that he was at least 21 in 1664 [legal age], but this and his acquisition of land in 1666 suggest as much. If he was at least 21 in 1664, he was born before 1644. Incidentally, Richard Peacock, "loving friend" of Peter and godfather of Peter2, was born about 1631.


I've found no documentation of Peter Elder's arrival, with or without brothers, or of his family origins.


The name of Peter Elder's wife is unknown.

Some apparently have assumed the family tradition to be true and have concluded that it was John Elder who married the merchant's daughter (e.g. see the version quoted above). There was a John Elder in Lower Norfolk County around 1669; more information on him is presented below.

Others, apparently on the basis of tradition, have concluded that it was Peter Elder who married a merchant's daughter and that Capt. David Mansell was the merchant. Recall that Capt. Mansell is the one from whom Peter Elder obtained land (record 2). However, David Mansell's will dated 24 Jul 1672 does not name Peter Elder or Peter2 Elder; it only mentions daughter Mary, grandchild Mansell Blagrave, godchild David Fristo and well-beloved friend and nearest neighbor William Wheeler [Sparacio, Deed & Will Abstracts of (Old) Rappahannock County, Virginia (1665-1677), page 45]. Peter Elder Senior and Junior were both alive at the time Mansell wrote his will. David Mansell's daughter Mary married Henry Blagrave (see Mansell data - 1686). I've seen no record identifying Capt. David Mansell as a merchant.


Peter Elder died between the date of his will, 28 April 1674, and the date that it was proved, 5 August 1674 (record 3). Thus he died in 1674.

Wife's death

Peter Elder's wife is not mentioned in his will. She probably died before it was made on 28 April 1674.


Peter Elder's will entrusted his son Peter2 to the son's godfather, Richard Peacock. It mentions no other children.



Capt. John Smith explored the Rappahannock River in 1608. Col. More Fauntleroy received a land patent for 5350 acres on the North side of the river on 22 May 1650. He named it the "Farnham Grant", after the Fauntleroy family home in Surrey, England.

Here's an annotated USGS map of the Chesapeake Bay area:

Chesapeake Bay topographical map

The Farnham area was originally part of Chickacoan, an Indian district on the Northern Neck, lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, which are tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. As Virginia counties were created and modified, the area was first in Northumberland County from 1648 until 1651, then in Lancaster County until 1656, then in Rappahannock County until 1692, and thenceforth in Richmond County.

The deed from Mansell to Elder (record 2) gives no details on the amount or location of the land, other than that it was in Rappahannock County and adjoined Mr. Luke Billington and Mr. Baylis (spelling of Baylis varied). Other deeds help to pin down the location and identify other neighbors:

From these records it appears that Peter Elder's neighbors included Elder Aldrige, John Arnell, Robert Baylis, Luke Billington, Robert and David Fristo, Samuel Griffin, George Howell, John Jacob, David Mansell, Richard Powell, William Wheeler, John Williams, and Robert Wood.

Here's a map of the Farnham Creek area showing key features:

Farnham Creek area of Richmond County, Virginia

Northern branches of Farnham Creek are numbered 1 through 3. The second Northern branch is near a branch of Richardson Creek (numbered 4; earlier called Richard's or Jackman's Creek). The third Northern branch is near a branch of Totuskey Creek (earlier called Cross Creek; numbered 5).  Col. Moore Fantleroy lived between branches 2 and 3 (Warner, page 173)

Here are some of the early owners of land on or near the waterways of Old Rappahannock County (Warner, pages 172-173):

From the map one can see that land could be on or near both Farnham and Richardson Creeks (see 2 and 4): this probably was where the land of Robert Baylis and Luke Billington was located. Peter Elder's land bordered theirs. Calvary Church Road (RT613) now passes through that area.

Farnham Creek terrain view

The land acquired by Peter1 Elder seems to have stayed in the family until 1753, when it was sold by his grandson, William3 and wife Ann Elder [notes]. The property they sold was 50 acres.



I identified Peter Elder associates in searching for potential family connections and in tracking family land. Ten to twenty households in a rural area like Rappahannock County were close enough to consider themselves neighbors [Fischer, pages 392-393]. These fifteen people are mentioned in the three Peter Elder records: James and Mary Samford; Thomas Freshwater; Giles Webb; Quintillian Sherman; Francis Sethe; Capt. David Mansell; Luke Billington, Robert Baylis; John Roberts; Gregory Buispoole; Richard Peacock; George Howell; Richard Appleby; and John Arnold. Other neighbors were identified in the Land section.

I looked for wills from these people and found no Peter Elder connection (but not all left wills). Further notes on some associates are given here.


Other Elders

Virginians were able to acquire 50 acres of land for every person whose transportation to Virginia they financed. Nell Marion Nugent’s Cavaliers and Pioneers (C&P) lists land patents and the persons whose transportation supported the patents. Here are Elders found in the first two volumes (up to 1695):

Peter Elder's name is not included as a patenter or as one transported. Incidentally, caution is required in interpreting data in land patent records [background].

Three contemporary Elders are mentioned in the records of Old Rappahannock County and nearby Lancaster and Northumberland counties:

There's only one apparent connection among these Elders and Peter Elder: Thomas Freshwater appears in two of the three Peter Elder records, and Thomas Freshwater and others took credit in 1664 for transporting a William Elder (see first patent).


Contemporary Events

Peter Elder lived in very difficult political and economic times.

In the civil war in England, King Charles I was defeated by Cromwell in 1645; the King surrendered in 1646 and was beheaded in 1649. These events resulted in an influx of royalist refugees to Virginia. Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 after nearly 5 years as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland. His son Richard succeeded to power. England's Civil War ended in 1660, when the son of the late Charles I was proclaimed King Charles II.

The Anglo-Dutch wars in 1652-1654, 1665-1667, and 1672-1674 were caused by disputes over international trade. They disrupted exports from Virginia.

The Navigation Act adopted by Parliament in 1751 forbade importation of goods into England or her colonies except by English vessels or by vessels of the countries producing the goods. The Navigation Act of 1660 declared that certain "enumerated articles" from England's American colonies could be exported only to the British Isles. Included was tobacco, Virginia's primary crop. A third Navigation Act in 1663 forbade English colonists from trading with other European countries.

There were disasters in England. The Great Plague (1665-1666) was a massive outbreak of disease in England that killed 75,000 to 100,000 people, up to a fifth of London's population. The Great Fire of London occurred in September 1666. It gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall, consuming 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities.

The worst storm of the century hit Virginia in 1667. The hurricane is said to have destroyed more than 10,000 buildings, many livestock, and a large proportion of crops.

A virulent plague killed some 50,000 cattle in 1673.

Also in 1673, the great Northern Neck peninsula was given to Lord Culpepper in spite of bitter protests by pioneers owning land within the area, and land values were thrown into a chaotic condition (Warner, page 100).

As a result of these events (Navigation Acts, wars, natural disasters, etc.), "many Virginians were living in poverty and rags." [Dabney, page 56]

In 1661 the General Assembly legalized Negro slavery.



Virginius Dabney, Virginia: The New Dominion, Doubleday & Company, 1971.

David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, 1989. [Describes in great detail the nature and sources of early Virginia culture; compares four colonial regions.]

Robert R. Harper, Richmond County Virginia: 1692-1992, A Tricentennial Portrait, O’Donnell Publications, 1992.

Thomas Hoskins Warner, History of Old Rappahannock County, Virginia, 1656-1692, 1965.

Library of Virginia, (Old) Rappahannock County microfilm list