When did RICHARD NANCE arrive in America?                                             

Introduction --

The databases of many Nance family genealogists include the information that Richard Nance arrived in America from Cornwall in 1620, aboard the ship "Jonathan", and that in 1624 he was listed in London Company records as a 20-year old servant of Sgt. William Sharpe.  

That information is not just of intrinsic interest because of what it may tell us about the life of an ancestor --  it also has significant implications for the question of the Cornish ancestry of the American Nances. 

Many Nance family researchers have adopted  "Pete" Nance's theory, that the Richard Nance who we find in Virginia in 1639, is the same person as the Richard Nance, baptized 1610, who was the son of John Harry Nance, grandson of Richard Nance and Alice Harry, etc.  What they may not be aware of, is that this theory depends on the belief that the American Richard Nance was the 20-year-old servant of Sgt. Sharpe in the 1624 London Company records.

If in fact the person in that record was not Richard Nance, then that means that our Richard could have been born before, or after, 1604. That opens up possibilities that it was another Richard Nance of Cornwall who came to Virginia.  

This article explores the question of whether the 20-year old servant of Sgt.William Sharpe in the 1624 record was really Richard Nance -- and it concludes, that it was not.

(For more about this, see my article, "A Farewell To Illogan" - Are we actually descended from the St. Clement Nances?").

Where the arrival-in-1620 idea came from --

The story of Richard Nance's arrival in 1620 was first advanced by the author of the "Nance Register", Martin L. "Pete" Nance, after his publication of that work. In a December 4, 1968 letter (a copy of which was kindly provided to me by Michael Nance), he stated:

RICHARD NANCE (b. ca. 1604, probably St. Ives, Cornwall) arrived on the Jonathan May 1620, apprentice planter (servant) age 16, on a neck of land in Corp of Chas. City 1623 &1624 (single) under Sgt. William Sharp (Ancient london Co. ) planter of the London Co.

The information was also contained in the report on Cornish Nance Genealogy which "Pete" Nance prepared (also after publication of the "Nance Register"), and in which he stated:

According to the London Company records: in January 1624 we find the following concerning a company farm called "ye necke of lande" in the corporation of Charles City, Virginia:

William Sharp on the starr (year?) Research shows he came in 1610.

Elizabeth Sharp, age 25 on the Bonaventure, August, 1620, sons, Samuel 2 years & Issac 6 months.

Servant Richard Nanse (Nance) age 20 on the Jonathan, May 1620.

The boat Jonathan was in Plymouth, England, February 1620.

The boat Bonaventure was in Padstow, Cornwall May/June 1620.

Plymouth is separated from Cornwall by the river Tamar. It is always possible that Elizabeth (?) was related to Richard Nance or had some previous contact in Cornwall.

As shown above, "Pete" made repeated references to the source for this information having been records of the London Company.  It is all but certain that the source "Pete" was referring to was a document called "Musters of the Inhabitants in Virginia 1624/1625" ("Muster").

However, despite what "Pete" Nance reported, though, the "Muster" does not in fact show the name as "Nance" or "Nanse".   In addition, other records from around this time raise questions about the name of the person who was in Virginia in 1624 as a servant to William Sharp.


What the early London Company records actually show--

There are actually two important early documents which identify the residents of Virginia in the 1620's.  Both were "Musters", i.e., lists or censuses of all of the inhabitants.  They were taken by the London Company to be sent back to London as part of the reports on the state of the colony following the Indian Uprising which killed so many in 1622.  The first  "Muster",  the   "List of the Livinge & Dead in Virginia, Feb. 16, 1623",   included information not only about the living residents, but also about the persons killed in the 1622 uprising.  Another, more detailed, "Muster" was taken about a year later, in January, 1624, and it is referred to as the "Musters of the Inhabitants in Virginia". 

These "Musters" have been transcribed in a number of sources, including "Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia 1607-1624/5" by Meyer and Dorman, the "List of Immigrants to America" by John C. Hotten, and an article, "Henrico County, Virginia: Beginnings of its Families", by W. C. Torrence, in William & Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, Vol. 24 No. 2 Oct 1915, pp. 116-142).

The first clue I ran across that there was a problem with "Pete" Nance's citation of London Company records as support for the 1620 arrival of Richard Nance, was the fact that none of the transcriptions show a Richard Nance.   On the contrary, they show someone else where "Pete" Nance said Richard Nance was supposed to be.

Transcriptions of the  "List of the Livinge & Dead in Virginia, Feb. 16, 1623"   show  William Sharpe and his wife at "Neck of Land",   with no one named Richard Nance there, but with someone whose name is shown as Richard "Rawse".  See,  Settlers living at "Neck-of-Land" in Virginia, February 16, 1623/4,  a page at the "English-America" website, which shows the transcribed names of this part of the 1623   "List of the Livinge and Dead".

Transcriptions of the 1624 "Muster" also show Sgt. William Sharpe and his wife, at "Neck of Land", and they show a servant of Sharpe,  whose name is shown as "Richard Vause". See, Settlers living at Neck-of-Land, Corporation of Charles City, in Virginia, January 24, 1624/5,   another page at the "English-America" website.

Here is a reproduction of how the 1624 "Muster" is transcribed in "Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia 1607-1624/5", which I have prepared from my own inspection of that book:


William Sharp aged 40 yeres in the Starr in May
Elizabeth his wife aged 25 yeres in the Bonaventure August 1620
Isack his sonn aged 2 yeres
Samuell his sonn aged 2 Months
Servants Richard Vause aged 20 yeres in the Jonathan May 1620

Provisions: Corne, 8 barrells; Pease, 2 bushells; Fish, 1/4 of a hundred.
Armes and Munition: Powder, 3 lb; Lead, 12 lb; Peeces fixt, 2; Coats of Male, 2 and a headpeece; Swords, 2.
Cattell & Poultrie: Cattell, 3; Poultrie, 14.
Houses: Houses, 2.


I was concerned about the fact that all of these authoritative transcriptions of the early London Company records did not show what "Pete" Nance reported.   After putting these concerns aside for a time, I finally  obtained and inspected (on microfilm) an image of the original of the "Musters", which are contained in the Royal Papers in London.  (A microfilm copy of the original, which is in the Royal papers in London, is available from the Library of Virginia, which will lend it out on inter-library loan). 

Inspection of images of the originals clearly confirms the published transcriptions.   They do not show the name of Richard Nance.

The page of the original of the "List of the Livinge & Dead in Virginia, Feb. 16, 1623" which contains the names of William Sharpe and wife is in very bad shape, and I was unable to obtain a photocopy of it that was legible.  However, in my inspection of the film I could see quite plainly that there was a name, "Richard Rawse", close to the names of William Sharpe and Mrs. Sharpe.

The film of the original of the 1624 "Muster" was in much better shape, and was quite legible. Here is a scanned reproduction of the part of the document which describes "The Muster of William Sharp" (i.e., the "mustering" or listing of the persons and resources at his settlement), reflecting the part of it transcribed above, up through the "Lead ...12 lb" in the "Armes and Munition" line:

Here is an enlargement of the name of his "servant" as it appears in that document.  The part of the  line reproduced here shows the name of the "servant":

As hard as it may be to recognize, the first name of this person is indeed "Richard".    However, the  surname of this person, is clearly not "Nance" or even "Nanse".   The final two letters of the name are "se" (the letter that looks like an 'f' is actually a "leading s", an old form of the letter 's') -- but the first letter is the characteristic upper case V  in use at this time, and the third letter is also clearly a "u" (to see a lower-case '"n", just look at the name of the ship, "Jonathan") .  

"Where do you get "V" from?",  I hear you ask.  Good question.  The answer:  many letters were written very differently at this point, almost 400 years ago.   I found the following illustration at a helpful website (Examples of Letters of the 17th Century Found in Parish Registers) which provided examples of old handwriting,  reproduced from parish registers from the 1600's:

These examples show the very distinct configuration of the "V"/"U" (as well as the "W"), which frequently involved a characteristic final loop with a dot inside.  (You can see this in the upper-case "W" in the name "William Sharpe"). The difference from the commonly-used forms of the upper-case "N" are very apparent.   [Note: The History of "U" and "V"]

There is not much room for doubt, that the name of the servant of William Sharpe as it is actually written in the original of the 1624 "Muster" is Richard Vause (or Vavse). 


Confirmation that the name in the "Muster" is Richard VAUSE --

Other documents from around this time appear to confirm that the name of the servant of William Sharpe was Richard VAUSE. 

A  patent to Sgt. William Sharp's widow Elizabeth Packer (or "Parker") dated 12 July 1636 described certain land she had become entitled to

"in right of her late husband Serjeant William Sharpe whoe, as by certificate from the Ct. of Henrico dated 25 Apr. 1636, transported 9 servants and 2 Negroes into this Colony whose names are under this pattent mentioned..."

The very first "servant" mentioned in the list of names at the bottom of the patent is "Rich. Vase".(Patent Book 1, Part 1, p. 373).   The other servants' names are are John Thomas, Louis James, Leonard Laughton, Nich. Cooks, Peter Whidsoy (?), Edward Jones, Jon. Naud, Wm. Woollsy (in that order).

Another patent to the same Elizabeth Packer, dated 17 Aug. 1637, described certain land she had become entitled to "in right of her late husband Serjant William Sharpe" for transportation of servants including "Rich. Vase", as well as all of thos mentioend above, and others. (Patent Book 1, Part 1, p. 454). 

I have inspected the digitized versions of the entries in the Patent Books which are available at the Library of Virginia website.  It was quite clear that the transcriptions of the names as written in both patents were accurate.  The name shown for the servant of Sgt. William Sharp in these deeds was clearly "Vase".


Records suggesting who the real Richard Vause may have been --    

There is  an entry in the International Genealogical  Index which is particularly interesting in light of the evidence I have discussed above about the Richard "Vause" (or "Vavse") who was the servant of Wm. Sharpe.  

According to the "Muster", Richard "Vause" (or "Vavse") was 20 years old at the time the Muster was taken, which was in 1624.   Thus, he was born about 1604 -- and obviously in England.  

And sure enough, the "Vavse" name appears there -- and it is a very good fit.  Specifically, a  Thomas VAVSE married to Mergrett Davyson on 20 January 1604 in York, Saint Crux, Yorkshire, England.   Batch No.  M011011.  This date of marriage is almost exactly right for a child -- surnamed, of course, "Vavse" -- to be born later that year or next, and to thus be 20 years old in 1624.

Indeed, there was a "Vause" family in early colonial Virginia.   Robert Vause, August 10, 1642, county not given, 1000a., "in Poropotancke Creek als Freshwater Creek (Patents 1 p. 806); Robert Vause, February 17, 1647, York Co., 400a., upon Queens Creek, Hartwells Creek (Patents 2, p.86); Thomas Vause and Burwell Lewis, April 18, 1648, County not given, 2300a. (Patents 2, p. 119); Thomas Vaus, Oct 18, 1650, Northumberland County 500a., s.s.Potomac R., (Patents No. 2, p. 283); Robert Vaus, July 10, 1651, York Co., 150a. s.s. Queen Cr., adj. another tract of said Vaus and land of Capt. Taylor (Patents 2 p. 323);  Robert Vaus, June 25, 1654, York Co., 550a., Queens Cr., Hartwell Cr. (Patents 3 p. 238). The dates for these two (Robert and Thomas) Vaus/Vause men would be consistent with their being one generation descended from the Richard Vause who was 20 years old in 1624.

Considering all of the evidence discussed above, it is much more reasonable to conclude that the person who was mentioned as a servant of William Sharpe in the 1624 "Muster", was a Richard Vause in this family -- possibly the son of Thomas and Mergrett (Daviydson) Vavse of Yorkshire, England.


Conclusion --

We know that Richard Nanse (Nance) was in Virginia by no later than 1639, when he took patent to land based in part on his importation of persons including Alice, his wife. (Patent Book 1, p. 715). Furthermore, it seems likely that he was there for some time before 1639, since by that point he had acquired the wherewithal to pay for the transportation of 6 persons.

However, it is clear that it was not Richard Nance who was the 20-year-old servant of Sgt. William Sharpe mentioned in the 1624 "Muster", but rather Richard Vause.

The real significance of this is not that we can't place Richard Nance here in 1620 or 1624 -- after all, we know he came here eventually, and not long after that.  No, the real significance of this is that it takes away what was thought to be evidence of his approximate date of birth (since the servant of Sgt. William Sharpe was 20 years old in 1624).

That is significant, because it affects the theories as to which line of Cornish Nances our Richard Nance was descended from. While it does not "rule out" the Richard Nance who was baptized 1610,  was the son of John Harry Nance, grandson of Richard Nance and Alice Harry, etc., it does allow us to consider another Cornish Richard Nance, who "Pete" Nance appears to have ruled out based on the idea (shown here to be unreliable) that the Virginia Richard Nance was b. 1604.  That other Richard Nance was b. 1596 in St. Clement to Clemo (Clemence) Nance.  For more about this possible Nance ancestor, see: Nance of St. Clement -- Was this the line of our ancestor Richard Nance?


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At one point, I told myself that perhaps it was an error of some kind that showed the name of Sgt. William Sharpe's servant as  "Vause" in the "Muster" -- and that it was an error of some kind, or just a coincidence, that a 1636 patent refered to Sgt.  Sharpe having imported servants including a man named "Richard Vase" -- and that it just an error, or a coincidence, that another patent from 1637 also referred to Sharpe having imported a servant "Richard Vase".     I think now, that this was just wishful thinking.  This same process of wishful thinking was, I suspect, at work when "Pete" Nance got around the problem of a 1610 baptism date for a Richard Nance who he thought would have to have been born in 1604,  by suggesting that there were unstated reasons to believe that this was not a problem ("I have had some correspondence with our Cornish cousins regarding the six years lapse from birth to baptism, and have been informed that quite often such a delay occurred for many reasons too numerous to give in this report.").   I think this is just too many



NOTE: The History of "U" and "V"

The way this example lists "U" and "V" together shows how they were not distinguished as they are today. In the early 17th Century, when the "Muster" was being prepared, " 'U' and 'V' were distinguished, not by phonetic value, but by position within a word: V was used word-initially and U elsewhere. During the 17th Century, U and V were assigned their modern phonetic values and the rounded shape of captial U was developed . . ." American Heritage Dictionary (2d College Ed., 1982). They were, in effect, not two different letters, but only one. This can be hard to conceive of, to those of us who have "learned our ABC's" and distinguish the two, but if you look at very old renditions of the alphabet you will see that there is only one letter between "t" and "w" (which, incidentally, is part of the confusion -- it is, of course, actually "double-v", but its name still reflects the early connection).      [Back]