Based on the information currently at hand James Mathews Sr. was born about 1680, possibly in Virginia, and if so then probably in either Charles City County or what was then next door Surry County. It is possible that he was born in the British Isles and came to Virginia as a young boy with his parents, or even alone as an orphan imported to serve out a term of indentured servitude, but as will be illustrated below we find a good candidate for his father was living in Virginia at least as early as 1671.

To be clear, the suspicions about the identity of the father of James Mathews Sr. are based purely on circumstantial and indirect evidence. This "evidence" is a combination of observations made not only about the suspected father of James Mathews Sr., but also observations made about who his wife possibly was. Only by discussing both topics can all of the circumstantial and indirect evidence lead to sensible ideas about the identities of both his father and his wife. This page will address the father of James Mathews Sr; for the discussion on the wife of James Mathews Sr. see this section.

To hopefully prevent confusion as to whom is being discussed when I say "James Mathews" keep in mind that I always stipulate "James Mathews Sr." when referring to the individual who was the patriarch of the Matthews family that this website focuses on. Any other mention of "James Mathews" on this particular page without the Sr. on the end refers to the man who may have been the father of James Mathews Sr.

The two counties in which we find the earliest records of James Mathews Sr., Charles City County and Surry/Prince George County, are the two logical places to look for potential parents. Charles City County has suffered horrendous losses of records over the years and relatively few survive today from the 1600s, primarily court order records from varying disconnected spans of years in the 1600s. Looking through the 17th century Charles City County court orders we find only a single reference to a James Mathews who was likely the patriarch of the Matthews family discussed on this site.1 Beyond that there are court documents that mention various Mathews men, but none conclusively point to anyone who might be James's father or some other relative.

From 1680 to 1688 Charles City County was vastly larger than it is today. It stretched west and southwest from the head waters of the James River sharing its eastern border with Surry County. When Brunswick County was formed in 1720 much of its territory was formerly Charles City County. James Mathews Sr. appeared in land records in the first half of the 18th century in both Surry and Brunswick with patent records showing that he owned land in both counties. The oldest traceable record for land that James owned was just north of the Nottoway River in what was then Surry County (approximate location on the map below was just to the left of the "S" in Surry near bottom center). If we assume his father lived in the same general area then it would be understandable to look for his father in the records of both Surry County and Charles City County.

Fig. 1 Virginia County borders in 1688 overlaid on modern county borders (shown in white)

As it turns out there is one individual in Surry County records between 1673 to 1680 who looks like an extremely good candidate for the father of James Mathews Sr. Before finding this individual Volumes I and II of Cavaliers and Pioneers, which cover the years following the founding of Jamestowne to 1695, were searched extensively to find any Mathews who had landed in Virginia who might be the father of James Mathews Sr. Cavaliers and Pioneers is an exhaustive collection of patents issued to those who imported themselves and/or others (generally those wanting to emigrate to Virginia and work off the cost of their import in indentured servitude) in exchange for land via headrights.2 The focus in particular was on men named either James or Thomas Mathews since those are the two most common names in the early generations of the family (this is NOT to say that other first names were ignored). There was no one in either of those volumes who sufficiently satisfied my criteria for being the father of James (ie. date of arrival being roughly 1640 to 1680, receiving patent in Surry or Charles City County). It should be noted that trying to use land patents in genealogy can be frustrating or misleading if the system of headrights is not properly understood. Getting land via patent was an easy system to manipulate and finding several imports and grants of land for the same person multiple times is quite common. Since the headrights could be sold it is definitely worth noting that it is possible to find the importation of a person listed in a county much removed from where they actually lived. For more information read the summary on headrights from the Library of Virginia.

Turning to the lists of tithables from Surry County (1668 to 1703) we find a man who in my opinion is the best candidate for being the father of James Mathews Sr. First, he's obviously living in Surry County since he's being taxed and secondly his name was James. Obviously we can't make the claim that this man was in fact the father of James Mathews Sr. simply because someone was found who met a pre-conceived set of criteria. More details would be needed.

The first tithable list we find this earlier James Mathews in is dated 10 Jun 1677 and is the list of Lt Colonel George Jordan. In that list we find "Rich: Hogwood & James Mathews a Servt."3

The second tithable list in which we find the earlier James Mathews is dated 7 Jun 1678 with the enumerator's name omitted.4 This time James is listed alone so presumably his period of servitude had ended. The names in this list are virtually identical to the previous year's list so it should be safe to assume that this is the same James Mathews as found in 1677.

The third tithable list in which James Mathews is found is dated 6 Jun 1679.5 His entry in this list, and the one following, are the most intriguing. In 1679 he is listed as living with a Jno Browne. Again, many of the names in the list are identical to those found in the 1677 and 1678 list so this is probably the same James Mathews.

The final poll list is dated 17 May 1680 and this time we finding him living in the home of an influential man: Wm Browne.6 William Browne was a member of Virginia's House of Burgesses and his family was related via marriage to several other prominent families in the area. It is this William Browne who is the basis for a very intriguing link to the woman who I posit was the wife of James Mathews Sr.

Aside from these four tithable listings there is one final place found thus far that mentions this James Mathews. In the records of Surry County wills and administrations is found the estate papers of a Thomas Wall whose nuncupative will (verbal, not written) was recorded in 1673. The two witnesses for this will were Richard Hogwood and James Mathews.7 Note that this 1673 will was four years before the first mention of James Mathews in the tithable lists.

Other names mentioned in the Thomas Wall will were Francis Hogwood, heir to Thomas Wall, and Lt Coll [George?] Jordan who was owed money by the estate of Thomas Wall. Checking Hogwood estate papers we find that Francis Hogwood died in 1676 and that Richard Hogwood, in whose home James Mathews was living as a servant in 1677, was one of his sons.8 Further, we find that Richard Hogwood's estate was administered in 1679 and that the two witnesses were Wm. Browne (in whose home James Mathews was living in 1680) and Benj. Harrison.

Whether or not Wm Browne was related to the Jno Browne with whom James Mathews was living with in 1679 is debatable. What is not debatable is that we find James Mathews Sr. living beside Benjamin Harrison, one of the witnesses to Richard Hogwood's estate administration, and his descendants at least as early as 1716 up through the 1740s.9 As to the Browne family we also find them to be a common neighbor to James Mathews Sr. starting as early as 1716. Not only are they neighbors in Virginia, but we also find them as neighbors to the Mathews family once they moved to NC all the way up to the 1800s. To be clear though, I have not tried as of yet to determine whether any of these later Brownes were related to either Wm Browne or Jno Browne.

These ties between the early James Mathews to the Hogwood family who had an apparent relationship (not to necessarily imply that it was familial) to both the Browne and Harrison family is especially intriguing when we consider that the younger James Mathews Sr. lived right next door to these same families a generation later.

If we know that the earlier James Mathews was in Virginia as early as 1673 when did he arrive in Virginia and where was he in the intervening years between then and his first appearance in the tithable lists in 1677?

It appears likely that James Mathews started out as an indentured servant in Virginia. He probably came to the colony with his passage paid by someone else. To pay off the cost of his importation he would have served a period of time in indentured servitude lasting, typically, between 3 and 7 years. If the imported servant were under the age of 21 then they would have to serve until they were 21 regardless of the time of service. Since he is listed alone in the 1678 tithables then he could have arrived in Virginia as early as 1671. Correspondingly, he must have been at least 21 in 1678 placing his date of birth at no later than 1657.

The first tithable list in which we find Francis Hogwood is 1668 and between that year and 1670 he is tithed only for himself (his surname is spelled "Howgood" in 1668 and 1670). The poll lists for the years 1671 and 1672 are missing from the records. In 1673 Francis shows 3 tithables, but no names are given for the other two men. The 1674 poll lists "Francis Hogwood Junior and his Servt". Was this servant James Mathews? The 1675 list again shows Francis Hogwood with three tithables, but no names given. Finally, the poll for 1676 is also missing, typically attributed to the unrest caused by Bacon's Rebellion.10

So, what conclusions can we draw from this data? Since we know James Mathews was in Virginia at least as early as 1673 (from the Thomas Wall will) and that year is the first in which Francis Hogwood is shown with more than a single tithable we can guess that the James Mathews from the 1677 to 1680 Surry County tithables was first in Virginia as early 1673 and possibly as early as 1671 since the polls for 1671 and 1672 are missing. It would seem quite possible that James Mathews was first the servant for Francis Hogwood then after his death in 1676 James's servitude passed into the hands of Richard Hogwood, son of Francis.

So, if the earlier James Mathews was first in Virginia ca. 1671-1673 what happened to him after 1680? It is highly doubtful that someone could elude being taxed for very long. People were rewarded for reporting intentionally erroneous counts reported by their neighbors and penalties for giving false counts were stiff. With this in mind there are only two possibilities: either James moved to another county (ideally Charles City County which would not have been that far away from him) or he died. If he moved to Charles City County then we probably have no hope of finding him due to the lack of records from this time period. Given that the 1688 Charles City County court record that first mentions James Mathews Sr. indicates that his mother (unnamed) had remarried there is not much doubt that the earlier James, if he was the father of James Sr., was indeed dead by 1688 at the latest.

To make the search for the father of James Mathews Sr. as exhaustive as possible the records of surrounding areas have been searched reasonably well, but this may not pass the Genealogical Proof Standard of what is referred to as a "reasonably exhaustive search". There were other Mathews families in surrounding counties that have been investigated and I firmly believe they were completely unrelated to James Mathews Sr. Of these other Mathews were one each from Henrico County and Isle of Wight County. See Figure 1 above for locations for both of these in relation to Charles City County in the late 1600s. The Mathews family in Henrico County in the late 1600s were the children of a Capt. Edward Mathews who died before 1677 and left two sons and a daughter.11 It appears that only the eldest son survived to have issue. This family group is fairly well documented and there is no James Mathews during the time period James would have been born or even for his early childhood. The family group from Isle of Wight County was settled there before 1687 when a Ralph Mathews died. His son Hugh Mathews left a lengthy will and there is no James Mathews to be found any where in the records pertaining to this group. Another good reason for dismissing this family group from any relation to James Mathews Sr. is that there are several names used repeatedly in each family that are not used in the other. Aside from these two families there are many scattered one-off records that mention various Mathews in Charles City County, Prince George County and Surry County in the 1600s, but there simply is not enough information given to make any remotely logical conclusions from those disconnected individuals. Additionally most of these records refer to men whose names are not used in the James Mathews Sr. family through the Revolutionary War period at least.

While I would like to state that it is my firm belief that James Mathews from the tithe lists was the father of James Mathews Sr. I'm not quite prepared to say "firm". I would definitely say that he is certainly the best candidate of any known Mathews from the latter half of the 17th century. To summarize, here are the bits of data in his favor:

  • The earlier James has the first name of "James" which is the most common name in the extended family of James Mathews Sr. through the early 1800s.
  • The earlier James was alive at just the right time to have been the father of James Mathews Sr.
  • The earlier James was living in the approximate area that James Mathews Sr. lived. Note that James Sr. lived further south at the edge of Surry County and into Brunswick County, but that was at a time when those areas would not have been open to settlement by people of the earlier James Mathews's generation.
  • The earlier James Mathews either lived with or lived in the same community of several members of the Browne family. Also in his community, as seen in the tithable lists he is found in, his neighbors or near neighbors, were members of the Jordan family. James Mathews Sr. was a neighbor of several Brownes in both Surry County and Brunswick County. Additionally, in the very earliest deeds in which James Mathews Sr's name appears are several people who were either Jordans or married into the Jordan family.
  • The earlier James Mathews disappears from the records in 1680 prior to the 1688 Charles City County court order that mentions James Mathews and Thomas Charles Mathews (more on him here). Their mother had remarried giving a window of opportunity for the widow of the elder James Mathews to have remarried.

Each of these bullet points taken individually are slim evidence of anything. However, taken together I believe that they indicate a good possibility that James Mathews Sr. could have been the son of this earlier James Mathews.