By observing Halifax County, North Carolina deeds and seeing how the land acquired by James Mathews Sr. seems to have wound up in the hands of James Mathews Jr. it appears that we can conclude that he was the eldest child of James Sr. Estate law varied among the colonies during the colonial period, but most, if not all, colonies followed some variation of the right of primogeniture which was an English custom that real property (land) passed into the hands of the eldest son automatically upon his father's death. This right was such a standard procedure that wills and estate papers generally do not even mention it or that it has been carried out, it is just accepted as the way things were done. The will of James Sr. makes no provisions for the distribution of any land that he owned except for 100 acres that went to his grandson Charles (son of Thomas). In turn, the will of James Jr. makes little provisions for the distribution of land in his will aside for some set aside for his son Richard. James Jr's eldest son was likely James III and by the time land tax records were being kept we find James III in possession of 1600 acres at one point whereas no other Mathews had anywhere near this much land in Halifax County.

Primogeniture ended after the Revolution as the newly formed states realized that this custom was not democratic. Estate laws were eventually rewritten to distribute land equally among all male heirs, or fractions thereof if a male heir with issue before his father (the inclusion of daughters took a few more years) although the changes that took place were different from state to state. Keep in mind that primogeniture only covered real property. Personal property was generally split equally among all heirs, both male and female.

Since all of James Sr's land seems to have been funneled from him to James Jr. to James III with no other mention of the divestiture of their land in the deed books the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the land was being passed own via primogeniture hence James Jr. must have been the eldest son of James Sr. Even without the recognition of primogeniture other records seem to strongly imply that James Jr. was the eldest. He was the first of his siblings to obtain land in Virginia. He was the first to obtain land from his father and what he received was more than his siblings. He was far more prolific in obtaining land either via outright purchase of land or acquisition via patent or grant.

Now that an argument has been made for James Jr. being the eldest son we can turn our attention to when he might have been born. Short of any undiscovered or unpublished family bible records I doubt we will ever know when James Jr. or any of his siblings were born with any precision. That said I believe we can make a fairly close estimate of the birth year of James Jr. based on when he received his first land patent in Virginia. James Jr's first patent is dated Sept 1728 and was for 850 acres is southern Brunswick County, Virginia very near the North Carolina border on the south side of the Roanoke River.77 Temper the fact that he received such a large amount of land with the realization that this patent lied virtually out in the middle of nowhere, likely with only Indian paths for roads and rabbits and squirrels for neighbors. To retain this property James would have had to work the land, improve it and continue to pay his tithes each St. Michaelmass. Due to its remoteness at the time there would seem to be much doubt that he actually lived there, and he possibly employed an overseer and/or his younger brothers to help out with working the land so he could hold onto it. If we take into consideration that James Jr. died in 1775 he would have been fairly young in 1728 when he received his first patent. In lieu of any other guidelines we can at least establish the latest date at which he would have been born. James Jr. would have had to have been at least 21 years of age to receive a patent. The process could take up to a year to complete and sometimes even longer than that. So, for the sake of having a starting point if we presume that he was 21 at the beginning of 1728 James Jr. would have been born at the very latest around 1706 or 1707. The 1707 date is used here as the maximum in the event that his application process was fairly short.

As was discussed briefly under the section on James Sr., James Jr. followed his father to North Carolina in the early 1740s settling along Little Fishing Creek (called Conoway Creek at this time) in that part of Edgecombe County that would later become Halifax County (in 1758). The move occurred possibly as early as 1743, but definitely no later than 1745. In 1743 a James Mathews obtained 450 acres via a Crown Grant in Edgecombe County78 which appears to have been James Jr. In 1744 Edgecombe County deed records show James Jr. selling 150 acres to his brother Thomas.79 In 1745 a Surry County, Virginia deed states that "James Mathews Jr. of Edgecomb[e] County North Carolina and wife Ann" sold 450 acres that James Jr. had received via patent80 so he was certainly a resident of North Carolina no later than this 1745 deed.

With the possible exception of his brother Charles, James Mathews Jr. was the most land wealthy of all of the children of James Mathews Sr. As seen above he first obtained a Virginia patent for 850 acres in Brunswick County. Other Virginia land acquisitions were 280 acres received via deed of gift from his father in 1735; a 450 acre Virginia patent in Surry County in 174581 (I would think he started this patent application prior to knowing he was going to remain in North Carolina); possibly a 450 acre Crown Grant in Edgecombe County, North Carolina in 1743 (the records make it unclear as to whether this grant was to James Sr. or James Jr.); a 365 acre Granville Grant in Halifax County, North Carolina.82 There were several other grants to a James Mathews (under various surname spellings) in Halifax County, but the records make it difficult to determine which James, father or son, was the recipient of these grants. Considering that later tax records show James Mathews III having approximately 2000 acres in Halifax County with few records showing James III personally obtaining the property it is likely that James Jr. had more land acquisitions than can currently be attributed to him with the information we currently have.

While living in Virginia the records do not reveal much that give us any indication as to the type of man James Mathews Jr. was. Virtually all records he is found in outside of the deed books point to his participation in civic obligations such as working on a road crew with his father and brothers; or, serving at the court's behest in determining the value of estates of neighbors. Given the amount of property he owned we cannot even be certain as to precisely where he lived in Virginia so there's no way to know what types of neighbors he had.

After moving to North Carolina we get a slightly less opaque view of the man. We find him (as well as his brothers and father for that matter) living in an area surrounded by what we would today probably describe as an upper middle class neighborhood. Keep in mind though that for this time period such social distinctions as "middle class", etc. did not exist. A discussion on the particulars of social standing is far outside of the scope of this website so we can simplify and say that there were the haves and the have-nots. In particular the Mathews families was living in an area where the neighbors were typically in professions that were profitable and not simply farmers living hand to mouth. Additionally, records indicate that James Jr. was an officer of militia, he was a jurist and possibly a judge. He was responsible for the upkeep of the road near his home, an obligation that may seem a bit ordinary, but was very much necessary in communities and typically assigned to the more "respectable" members of the local population.

The name of the wife of James Jr. is revealed in several deed records in Virginia. Although her name is shown to be Ann we do not know what her family name was. There are some who have suggested that she was a Lindsey, but to date I have found nothing that remotely suggests that there is any truth to this. We first find Ann's name on a Sept 1733 Brunswick County, Virginia deed where James Jr. and his wife Anne sell 200 acres that were part of the 850 acre patent he received in 1728.83 Ann appears sporadically in several Virginia deeds up through 1745 releasing dower on land that her husband sold. Curiously her name is not included in any land transactions in North Carolina after the family had moved there in the early 1740's yet she is named in her husband's will which was written in 1773.84 I have found this curiosity to be the case in many other Mathews transactions (not just those of James Jr.) in North Carolina so perhaps it was not as common to include a written release of dower in NC deeds.

From the will of James Jr. recorded in Halifax County, North Carolina we know that he had the following children: Richard, Susanna (unmarried at the time the will was written), James and Jeremiah. The will also gives the names of a few other close family members: a granddaughter Delilah Mathews, son-in-law William Pulley [sic -- should be Pullen] and grandson Thomas Pulley [sic -- should be Pullen]. Halifax County deed records give us the name of William Pullen's wife-- Charlotte. Although Charlotte was not named in her father's will she did survive him as she is named in a Sept 1775 Halifax County deed.85 She and her husband William Pullen sold 300 acres that Charlotte's father had sold Pullen in 1769. The parents of Delilah Mathews have not been identified. Perhaps she was the daughter of a son of James Jr. who had died prior to his father.

Sometimes wills list the children of a decedent in the order in which they were born. I am not 100% certain that this is the case with the will of James Mathews Jr. although it is certainly possible that he did write it out that way. The exact order in which the names are given are: Richard, Susanna, granddaughter Delilah, and son-in-law William Pulley. The names are reordered at the end of will to James [III], Susanna, Jeremiah, Richard, and Delilah. It is because of this reordering at the end that leads me to believe that we cannot trust the will to give us the names in the proper order of birth. That said, we do know the specific date of birth of at least one child and approximate dates for a couple of others.

We learn from the Albemarle Parish records of Surry and Sussex Counties in Virginia that Susannah Mathews was born 20 Aug 1739.86 Richard Mathews appears in the Halifax County census records for 1790, 1800 and 1810. Using the age brackets for those censuses we can at least determine that Richard was born prior to 1755. We know that James Matthews III's oldest child, John, was born 21 Apr 1766 so it is likely that James III was born no later than 1745.