In the previous section we explored the few records that mention James Mathews Sr. as a young boy up to his early adulthood covering the years 1688 to 1704.

A summarized description of his early years would show him likely growing up in Charles City County and/or Surry County and serving in the Charles City County militia as early as 1701/2. When Prince George County was formed in 1703 out of the majority of what used to be Charles City County James found himself in the new county. He owned at least 100 acres of land in Surry County for which he was taxed in 1704, possibly purchased while living in Prince George County, most likely in the time period of 1700 to 1704. I say "possibly purchased while living in Prince George County" because Surry County records, which are mostly complete, show no record of him obtaining the land; whereas the majority of Prince George County records are lost. There is also the possibility that he received the land from an inheritance of his wife or even from his own parents.

Between the years of 1704 and 1708 James is absent from the records. Starting in 1708 James begins to appear in more and more deed records. While there are many questions about James Mathews and his family that are unanswered we are still blessed with a large number of Virginia deed records that mention not only James Mathews but also five (possibly six) of his sons as well as a couple of men who might have been sons-in-law.

Most likely the 100 acres of land for which he was taxed in 1704 was the same 100 acres that James sold in 1708 to Timothy Rives of Prince George County.41 This 1708 deed is also the first record of the wife of James Mathews. His wife Jane, who appears in only a handful of Virginia deed records, released dower on this plot of land. Very little is known of Jane Mathews although I offer a bit of theory on who she might have been in this section.

Prior to James Mathews Sr. acquiring patents for land in Virginia from the British Crown extant records do not show that he owned any other land besides the 100 acres that he sold in 1708. The records of Surry County, Prince George County to the west nor Isle of Wight County to the east do not show him in possession of any land after selling the 100 acres to Timothy Rives. It wasn't until 1716 that he appears to have obtained more. It is quite possible that he owned more property in Prince George County, but if he did we may never know due to the vast loss of records from that county.

Between 1716 and 1728 James acquired four separate tracts of land, all via royal patent:

  • The first of the four patents was in 1716 for 140 acres in return for importing three people: John Bruce, Elizabeth Plain, and Thomas Stafford.42 The land fell within Surry County on the north side of the Nottoway River and was adjacent to Marmaduke Brown and Mr. Benjamin Harrison, dec'd. The normal procedure was to receive 50 acres for each person imported, although it is possible that this plot was "locked in" by surrounding plots leaving only a total of 140 acres available in this particular spot. Since this plot of land was the first acquired by James after selling his original 100 acres in 1708 and it was the last piece of land that he sold before removing to North Carolina it would appear that this 140 acres was his homestead and all other land acquired was for agriculture or simply acquired for the sole purpose of passing on to his children. The current location of this piece of land is Sussex County, Virginia (see below maps).
  • The second patent received by James was for 350 acres in 1722/3.43 This time he bought the land outright for 35 shillings as the headright system was no longer in use. Patentees could no longer receive land for the importation of others due to the corruption that the system engendered. The property adjoined Hinshiah Mayberry (various spellings of his name are found in different records) and was on the south side of the Nottoway River in Surry County a little to the WSW from the 140 acres received in 1716. In 1732 the part of Surry south of the Nottoway River where this land lay was added to Brunswick County.
  • James Sr. received his third patent for 380 acres in 1724/5, paying 40 shillings for the land.44 The plot was adjacent to the south side of his 1722 patent and had Rocky Run as its southern boundary. The land adjoined John Williamson on Williamson's western boundary. Rocky Run was a common name for streams and this particular run should not be confused with the Rocky Run that was a boundary of his 1728 patent. Both this patent as well as the 1722 patent are in modern day Greensville County, Virginia.
  • The fourth and final patent that James Mathews received in Virginia was for 935 acres of land in Brunswick County in 1728.45 The best description of where this land lay is to say that it was on the south side of the Nottoway River between Rocky Run (a different Rocky Run than that found in the 1724 patent) and Wildcat Creek (the original patent does not include the reference to Wildcat Creek). The land also bordered that of [John] Davis. This plot of land currently lies within the Fort Pickett Military Reservation in Brunswick County, Virginia and was a few miles to the west of the earlier patents.

Click on below links for location of Mathews patents in Lunenburg, Brunswick and Surry Counties.

How did James go from being a small-time property owner of 100 acres of land in 1708 to a large scale property owner of nearly 2,000 acres 20 years later? Was he a talented carpenter who gained valuable skills from the Coleson family? Did he gain wealth from a marriage to a wife from a prominent family? Or, did he simply make shrewd investments in cheap land?

Working almost 2,000 acres of land would have been very labor intensive and by law he was legally obligated to work the land in order to retain it. The British Crown was not in the habit of allowing people to acquire land if they weren't going to do anything with it. If you didn't work the land you received via patent then the land was forfeit and it would be awarded to someone else. Even if only a third of the land was in use at any given time all farming and clearing of forests would have been done manually with horse or ox drawn plows tilling the soil and men with axes clearing the trees. In my opinion all this work could not have been carried out by James and his sons alone and as has been pointed out already James was indeed a slave owner. He possibly had houses (also called plantations, but these were not your extravagant "Gone with the Wind" style monstrosities) on the two plots on the southside of the Nottoway and on the 935 acre plot to the west. In these houses may have lived overseers (although possibly his sons could have served as such). The houses, the labor force and the money required for such bring home the question of where the finances came from to be able to afford to own and keep this much land.

Starting in 1735 James Mathews Sr. began to divest himself of his 1,805 acres. By the early 1740s he would sell or give away to family members all of this property. The 350 acres that he received via patent in 1722 was sold to "John Brown of the Parish of St. Peters in James City County" in 1735.46 Of the 380 acres he received in 1724 he gave 280 acres to his son James Mathews Jr. via deed of gift also in 1735.47 He either retained the other 100 acres or the deed books are in error about the total acreage he gave to his son. The 935 acres he obtained in Brunswick County were given to other sons or sold off over the course of several years. First, 200 acres were given to his son Isaac via deed of gift in 1741.48 On the same day, he gave 235 acres to his son Charles via deed of gift.49 Later that same year he sold 100 acres (the deed book does not show a price so perhaps it was also a deed of gift) to Griffen Humphris.50 In December of 1741 he sold 200 acres to John Morton,51 and, finally, in 1743 he gave the remaining 200 acres to his son Matthew Mathews via deed of gift.52 Presumably the 140 acres he received via patent way back in 1716 was his homestead, where James Sr. actually lived and where his children grew up. That original patent was the last parcel of land to be sold and it went to Valentine Bostick in 1742.53

By the time the last 140 acres had been sold James Mathews Sr. was already living in North Carolina. By 1742 James had to have been at least 60 years old. Why, at that late stage of life, well past the average life expectancy for someone of that era, would he move?