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CAPT. THOMAS NANCE: Did he exist at all?

A number of genealogists from whom I have received information about the Nance family include in their data a "Captain Thomas Nance" said to have been about in Virginia in the latter part of the 1600's. At first I just accepted this information at face value, but as I accumulated more and more data on early Nances without running into any trace of Captain Thomas Nance, I became more and more curious about him. Finally I determined to take a good hard look and try to arrive at some conclusions.

The first step, was to try to pin down where the information was coming from.

With respect to "Capt. Thomas Nance", the "Nance Register" states, in Part 2, Part II (THE NANCE FAMILY; FAMILIES), that:

"There has been no proof that the following Nances are brothers, nor that they are the sons of Richard; but these three are of near the same age. All lived along the James River and have the most popular names found in all four of our old established Nance lines.

I - John, wife Sarah (living descendants can be traced to this family.)

II - Captain Thomas Nance - 1688 in Elizabeth City, VA.

III - William Nance - 1667 in Surry Co records.

Thomas Nance was on record as a land owner in Prince George Co in 1737. There being no further records, it is assumed he died shortly thereafter. This may be Capt. Thomas or a son, Thomas, and it is believed that the William & Ann family and the Daniel & Elizabeth family connect to this Thomas Nance as the name "Thomas" was most popular in these two lines."

What is the source for this reference to "Capt. Thomas Nance" in Elizabeth City, VA records in 1688? As it turns out, this is not actually stated in the "Nance Register" (although later on, the book repeats the assertion that "There was a Captain Thomas Nance on the James River in 1688", without citation to a source). However, it is fairly clear that the "Nance Register" simply carried the information over from the "Nance Memorial", which states, as a sort of afterthought following all the materials attached as appendices at the end, "Have the name, only the name, of Captain Thomas Nance, of Elizabeth City County, in 1688". But in this work, too, there was no source cited.

Thus, Capt. Thomas is asserted by -- but not supported by -- the major Nance genealogies. Is there, in fact, any support to be found?

I, for one, have found none -- and after having reviewed hundreds of genealogical and historical reference works on 17th and 18th Century Virginia and locating many hundreds of references to all of the other early Nances identified by the major Nance genealogies, I am ready to say with some degree of confidence that there is no such support. There are, as far as I know, simply no records which confirm or even suggest a "Captain Thomas Nance", either in Elizabeth City or anywhere else in Virginia, in the 17th or the early 18th Century.

The closest thing I found to a "Captain Thomas Nance" in 17th Century Virginia was in a record (abstracted in at least two works I have looked at) of the will of a Daniell Hopkinson in 1637. "Virginia Colonial Records Project" (Library of Virginia), Survey Report No. 4175/03976. He was evidently a resident of Elizabeth City County (as shown by his request to be buried at the Kicquatan Church, this being the name by which Elizabeth City was originally known). One of the witnesses to his will is shown as "Thomas Nant". However, the will itself names a "Mr. Hart" as a friend and legatee, and in a number of works it is noted that the name interpreted as "Nant" may well have in fact been this same Mr. "Hart".

Another reference I found was to a "Captain Thomas Nuse" who was described as an overseer of certain properties of Capt. John Willcocks, "of Accomack in Virginia". The will of Willcocks was on file in the probate registry in London; "American Colonists in English Records", Geo. Sherwood (1932). It is unclear if "Captain Tomas Nuse" was to be an overseer of lands in Virginia, or in England.

Both of these, however, are too early by far to be the source of the "Captain Thomas Nance" found by the "Nance Memorial" in Elizabeth City in 1688.

The earliest reference I have ever found to a Thomas Nance, is to a survey in 1726 of 200 a. of Thomas Nance, on the N. Side of Gravelly Run, in Prince George County. If he was a landowner in 1726 he must have been of age, and thus born by about 1705, but beyond that, the reference tells us little.

A 1737 Prince George Co. patent to Isham Epes (Patent Book 16 p. 297) notes that his land is bordered by land of Thomas Nance. Presumably, this is the same Thomas Nance.

However, contrary to the indication in the "Nance Register" that there are "no further records", as to this Thomas Nance, there is a 1747 Prince George Co. patent by Thomas Nance (Patent Book 28 p. 105). (The Bristol Parish Register also shows that in 1745 a daughter (Sarah) was born to a Thomas Nantzs (sic) and his wife Priscilla).

Thus, this Thomas seems too late to have been the same person who (supposedly) had already achieved the rank of "Captain" in 1688.

I am ready to relegate "Captain Thomas Nance" to the category of "mistake". I do not believe that he existed. However, if anyone out there has any information which tends to show that he did exist, I would welcome it, as it could only help in the task of "knitting together" the first generation of American Nances.

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