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The Branch Family
John Braunche | John Branch [3]
Richard Branch | Lionel Branch | Christopher Branch | Thomas Branch | Thomas Branch, Jr. | Elizabeth Branch

Christopher Branch
(1598-Abt. 1682)

17th Century English shipChristopher Branch was one of my earliest English ancestors in America, arriving in the Virginia Colony, with his wife, in March 1620 (1619 Old Style). Unlike many of the first settlers, who found only hardship and all-to-often an early death, Christopher, through luck and his own hard work, was able to attain the success that all English immigrants surely hoped for when they boarded some tiny wooden vessel and set sail for the so-called "New World," never, in most cases, to ever see England again. It was not an easy thing to do because there was no guarantee that the ship would ever reach port, nor was there any guarantee that the immigrant would find what he or she was looking for in what was then a largely unknown land. Thanks to the daring and hardiness of Christopher and his wife, along with others like them, I can truly say that our family was there at the very beginning of what would eventually become the United States of America. Or, to put it another way: The seed-bed of modern America and the seed-bed of our family are one and the same.

All available sources regarding Christopher Branch agree that he was born on September 2, in London, England, but some disagree as to the year. One source says 1598, another 1600, a third says 1602. Only the first is possible though, because his mother died in August 1600. All sources agree, however, that his parents were Lionel Branch, previously of Abingdon, Berkshire, England. and Valentina Sparke, who were married at St. Martin Church, Ludgate, London, on July 8, 1596. Although a church still stands on the site, which is close by St. Paul's Cathedral, the original, the building in which Lionel Branch and his bride said their vows, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Construction of the present building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was completed in 1703. (See St. Martin Ludgate for more information.)

Christopher Branch's mother, Valentina, died on August 4. 1600, when he (Christopher) was nearly two years old. The parish register of St. Margaret's Church, Westminster (adjacent to Westminster Abbey), records her death and burial.

Christopher's father, Lionel, died in 1605, leaving him an orphan at age seven. The identity of the person or persons who raised him to adulthood is unknown.

According to the parish records of St. Peter, Westcheap, in London, Christopher Branch was married on his twenty-first birthday, September 2, 1519, to Mary Addie, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Francis Addie of Daron, Yorkshire, England. (See St. Peter Westcheap for more information.)

Map of Tibury Hope

Above: Detail of a 1588 map, showing Tilbury-Hope, just below Gravesend, from where Christopher and Mary Branch boarded the London Merchant, for their voyage to Virginia. In this view, the south side of the river is at the top and west is to the right.Here is what the area looks like today. (Google Maps)

English ships at Deptford
Ships on the River Thames at Deptford, just a few miles above Tilbury-Hope.

Part of a map of colonial VirginiaOnly a few months after their marriage, Christopher immigrated, with his wife, to the Virginia Colony as one of several indentured servants of Captain Thomas Osborne. In March 1619 (O.S.)-1620 (N.S.) they were among the 200 passengers who sailed from Tilbury-hope, below Gravesend, to Virginia, aboard the ship London Merchant, a vessel of 300 tons, arriving probably sometime in April 1519 (O.S.)-1520 (N.S.). Upon arrival, they settled at or near Henricus, in the area known as the College Land--about fifty miles due west of Jamestown, on the north side of the James River. This was the second oldest settlement in Virginia, having been established in 1611 by Sir Thomas Dale on a neck of land called Farrar's Island (by coincidence, I am also a Farrar descendant). At that time, Sir George Yeardley (portrayed in the popular PBS "Jamestown" television series by British actor Jason Iain Flemyng), was governor of the colony, which had been established in 1607 as a business enterprise of the Virginia Company of London-and would remain so until June 1624, when King James I annulled the company's charter, at which time Virginia became a royal colony.

The College Land was an area set aside by law at the first meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619, for the establishment of a college at Henricus.

In 1622, the Pamunkey Indians, led by their chief, Opechancanough (brother of Powhatan and uncle of the famous Pocahontas), attempted to drive the English out of Virginia by ferociously attacking settlements up and down the James River. Fortunately, Christopher Branch and his bride escaped the slaughter, which resulted in the deaths of 347 colonists, about one-quarter of the English population of Virginia at the time.

On February 16, 1623 (O.S,) or 1624 (N.S.), Christopher was included in a list of twenty-nine men, including Thomas Osborne, who had survived the Indian attacks and were then living "att ye Colledg Land." A little less than a year later, following the annulment of the Virginia Company's charter, Christopher, his wife, Mary, and their nine-month-old son, Thomas, born in April 1624, were included in a "muster of the inhabitants in Virginia." This muster, ordered by King James I, is dated January 23, 1624 (O.S.) or 1625 (N.S.), The originals of both the 1623/4 census and the 1624/5 Muster are in the Public Record Office, London, England.

Presumably, Christopher spent the years of his indenture (from five to seven, most likely) helping to raise tobacco, the leading commodity of the Virginia Colony, for his master, Thomas Osborne, for whom present-day Osborne's Landing Park, on the north bank of the James River, is named.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, so to speak, I present the following account of the life of Christopher Branch, although imperfect, which comes from Branchiana, Being a Partial Account of the Branch Family in Virginia, by James Branch Cabell, published in 1907:

Christopher Branch of "Arrowhattocks" and "Kingsland," in Henrico County, the founder of the Branch family in Virginia, was born in England--and, presumably, within the County of Kent--about the year 1600; and he married there very early in life. With his wife, Mary Branch, whose maiden name is unknown [not true, it was Addie], he emigrated to Virginia in the March of 1619-20, so that in the February of 1623-4, according to the first census ever taken of the inhabitants of Virginia, Christopher Branch was living in Henrico; and the muster of January, 1624-5, names Christopher Branch, his wife, Mary Branch, and their son, Thomas Branch, then nine months old, as resident "att ye Colledg Land."

They had come to Virginia in the London Merchant, of 300 tons, which vessel was despatched from Tilburyhope, in England, by the Virginia Company, in the March of 1619-20, with 200 colonists on board, and reached Virginia some time during the spring of the same year, after a prosperous voyage, during which but one passenger had died.

The precise location of the Branch home at this period is indeterminate, as the College Land was a rather extensive tract set aside by the company, whereon "to erect and build a college in Virginia, for the training and bringing up of infidel's children to the true knowledge of God and understanding of righteousness."

The company designed, in fact, both to Christianize and educate the neighboring Indians; and to this intent it was decided (26th May, 1619), that "a certain piece cf land be laid out in Henrico, which should be called the College Land, and for the planting of the same to send presently fifty good persons to be seated thereon, and to occupy the same according to order, and to have half the benefit of their labour, and the other half to go to setting forward the work and for maintenance of the tutors and scholars."

The scheme, at first enthusiastically taken up by the King and "the several bishops of this kingdom," was abandoned after the Great Massacre of 1622, when the Indians, under Opechancanough, very nearly succeeded in exterminating the Colony, and the assigned lands were thrown open to the public; but it was as one of these "fifty good persons" that Christopher Branch came to America, and he and his wife were among the scant sixty settlers of the College Land who, somehow, survived the massacre; and their oldest son was born upon the heels of it.

It was ten years before Christopher Branch--on the 20th October, 1634--patented a hundred acres of land at "Arrowhattocks," in Henrico County, which then comprised the present Chesterfield. (see picture below) This "Arrowhattocks" appears in Captain John Smith's map on the north side of James River, a short distance above the present Dutch Gap; but the eventual and permanent home of Christopher Branch was at "Kingsland," a plantation almost immediately opposite "Arrowhattocks," on the south side of the river, in what is now the County of Chesterfield, where, on the 14th of September, 1636, he patented another hundred acres of land.

Part of Christopher Branch's first land grant in Virginia
A portion of Christopher Branch's first land patent, 1634.

A successful tobacco farmer, he subsequently augmented this modest tract both by purchase and by the taking out of other patents, until he had acquired a rather large plantation in the extreme northeast of Chesterfield, bounded upon the east by James River and upon the south by Proctor's Creek. The present Kingsland Creek ran through his property and takes its name from the former home of Christopher Branch.

He must have come to Virginia very little better than a pauper; but that he subsequently became a man of means, as means then went, and of prominence in at least his county, is evinced by the frequency with which his name occurs in the scant records of the time and the many honorable offices which he occupied. He was, in 1639, to cite an instance, with his immediate neighbor, Captain Thomas Osborne of "Coxendale," one of the viewers of tobacco "from the World's End to Henrico,"--it having been decided by an act of the Assembly that "there be yearly chosen and appointed Men of Experience and in dignity for the Carefull Viewing of each Man's crop of Tobacco"; and he had represented his county in the Virginia House of Burgesses in the year 1629; and was in 1656 appointed one of the justices of the peace for Henrico.

A glance at the various land patents taken out by Christopher Branch is not without interest.

On the 20th of October, 1634, as recorded, Christopher Branch--then of "Arrowhattocks"--leased a hundred acres of land "adjoining the land granted to John Griffin and John Sheffield, and abutting easterly on the main river."

On the 8th of December, 1636, Christopher Branch patented 250 acres at "Kingsland," bounded on the east by the Main river and westerly by the Second creek,"--this being the land formerly "granted to John Griffin, fifty acres for his personal adventure, and 200 for the transportation of four persons." It is interesting to note that within the year Christopher Branch has in some inexplicable fashion acquired and annexed all of his immediate neighbor's land.

Again, on the 14th of September, 1636, as recorded, Christopher Branch patented a hundred acres "in Henrico County, bounded on the east by the river, over against 'Harrow Attocks,' and on the west by the head of Proctors' Creek. Due: by exchange with James Place, and due Place for the transportation of two servants, Richard Pierce and James Hunt."

This looks as though Christopher Branch had traded his hundred acres at "Arrowhattocks" for an additional hundred at "Kingsland," and had finally cast his destiny upon the south side of the river; and there is no further definite record after this date of his ever owning property upon the northern side of the James. This patent, by the way, was subsequently renewed by Sir John Harvey, when Governor of Virginia, and 300 acres added.

17th Century Virginia tobacco plantation
A 17th century Virginia tobacco plantation.

It is thus fairly apparent that Christopher Branch met with good luck in his Virginian venture, and achieved success and prominence; but it is unlikely that his life was ever one of luxury. Indeed, it is salutary, in passing, to consider the then condition of Virginia, as recorded by an eye-witness:

"I found the plantations generally seated upon meer salt marshes, full of infectious boggs and muddy creeks and lakes, and hereby subjected to all those inconveniences and diseases which are so commonly found in the most unsound and most unhealthy parts of England...

"The Colony was this winter in much distress of victual...

"Their houses are generally the worst that ever I saw, the meanest cottages in England being every way equal (if not superior) with the most of the best, and, besides, so improvidently and scatteringly are they seated one from another, as partly from their distance, but especially by the interposition of creeks and swamps, as they call them, they offer all advantages to their savage enemies, and are utterly deprived of all sudden recollection of themselves upon any teYms whatsoever...

"I found the ancient plantations of Henrico and Charles City wholly quitted and left to the spoils of the Indians, who not only burnt the houses, said to be once the best of all others, but fell upon the poultry, hogs, cows, goats and horses, whereof they killed great numbers...

"There having been, as it is thought, not fewer than ten thousand souls transported hither, there are not, thro' the aforementioned abuses and neglects, above two thousand of them to be found alive at this present--many of them in a sickly and desperate estate."

In such unenviable circumstances Christopher Branch lived for sixty years, dying at a very advanced age either in the December of 1681 or in the January of 1682.

Immediately previous to his death (2nd November,1681), he had confirmed a former deed of gift to his eldest son, Thomas Branch, of 300 acres of land in Henrico, "which Thomas Branch now lives on," the action being necessitated by some irregularity in the earlier deed. This land faced upon James River, and adjoined the land of John Branch--presumably the same John Branch who was the youngest son of William Branch.

It should be borne in mind, however, that Christopher Branch of "Arrowhattocks" and "Kingsland" was not the only Branch who emigrated to Virginia. There was a John Branch who owned land in Elizabeth City County as early as 1636, was a viewer of tobacco for Elizabeth City in 1639, and represented Elizabeth City in the Virginia Assembly in 1641; but who was apparently unrelated to Christopher Branch of "Kingsland," and, so far as is recorded, left no descendants.

Christopher Branch married, as has been said, Mary--, who died at an early age--apparently before 1630.

By Mary--, Christopher Branch of "Kingsland" had issue:

I. Thomas Branch of Henrico, the oldest son, born April, 1623, and the only child to survive his father. Thomas Branch died in 1693. He had married Elizabeth--, and by her had issue:--Thomas, who married Elizabeth Archer, daughter of George Archer of Henrico, and died in 1728; Matthew, who married , and died in 1726; James, who died without issue in 1737; Elizabeth, who married Melchizadeck Richardson; Martha; a daughter, name unknown, who married Richard Ward of Henrico; William; Margery and John.

II. William Branch of Henrico, born about 1625, presumably the second son, and presumably a namesake of the Protestant fanatic, who died in 1676. William Branch married Jane (she married, second, Abel Gower, in his time justice of the peace and sheriff for Henrico), and by her had issue:-- William, who died young, post 1678, and without leaving issue; John, died in 1788, who married Martha Jones, the daughter of Thomas Jones of Bermuda Hundreds; Sarah; and Mary, who married, first, Thomas Jefferson of Henrico (grandfather of the President), and, second, Joseph Mattox.

III. Christopher Branch of Charles City County, born about 1627.

Christopher Branch of "Kingsland" died, as has been said, between the 1st of December, 1681, and 1st of February, 1681-2.

An inventory of his goods and chattels, too long to be here cited, was recorded 13th of April, 1682, and vividly illustrates how solely was the wealth of Virginia's earlier inhabitants confined to the possession of lands and of slaves, and of so many pounds of tobacco, since their total value, as fixed by the appraisers, is no more than thirty-eight pounds, seven shillings and ten pence. It should be remembered, however, that the purchasing power of money was then, roughly speaking, about nine times that of the present day.

There are no luxuries in this enumeration; it contains, for the most part, only the bare necessities of life; and the library of Christopher Branch consisted of three volumes, one of which, having an undecipherable title, he bequeathed to his oldest and only living son, Thomas Branch; and for the rest Christopher Branch possessed:

"One old Bible, valued at 5 shillings.

"One old ditto, valued at 5 shillings.

And here is his modest list of live stock:

  • "3 cows, valued at 35 shillings each.
  • "1 Oxen, one 2 years old, 5 shillings ; and one 5 years old at 30 shillings.
  • "2 bulls, one 2 years old at 15 shillings, and the other 6 years old at 25 shillings.
  • "1 yearling calfe.
  • "5 barrowes (gelded pigs), at 15 shillings each.
  • "4 sowes, at 15 shillings each.
  • "2 shootes (shoats), at 6 shillings each.
  • "1 boar, valued at 6 shillings.
  • "1 parcel of pyggs, to be divided amongst themselves."

The will of Christopher Branch is recorded at Henrico Court-House. It is dated 20th June, 1678, and was recorded 20th February, 1681-2.

Previous to the making of this will, he had conveyed to his son, Thomas Branch, by various deeds of gift, the entire northern portion of the "Kingsland" plantation, consisting of at least 540 acres, and probably of more; and it is not an outrageous flight of fancy to presume that the second son, William Branch, had been provided for in similar fashion, since the will ignores the heirs of this William Branch precisely as Thomas Branch and his heirs are therein ignored.

It is possible that to William Branch was allotted the "Arrowhattocks" plantation on the north side of the river, inasmuch as the will makes no mention of this property, which Christopher Branch had unquestionably owned and had unquestionably parted with by the year 1678; but as has been recorded, the lease of 14th September, 1636, would seem to indicate that he had made over at least a portion of "Arrowhattocks" to James Place of Henrico, in exchange for an additional hundred acres at "Kingsland."

By ordinary, it was the custom of our early colonists thus to provide for their sons as they reached manhood; and it is deducible that Christopher Branch of "Kingsland," cannily desirous that as little as possible of his estate be squandered upon taxes, had in his lifetime deeded to his elder sons and to their heirs such lands as he intended to leave them. But his youngest son, Christopher Branch of Charles City County, had died young, leaving three boys, all under age when Christopher Branch of "Kingsland" drew up his will ; and it is for them, and for them alone, that the will of their grandfather provides.

Thus to his eldest son, Thomas Branch, the testator bequeaths Merely "my great copper ceattle," and the book whose title is undecipherable, and explicitly confirms a previous deed of gift of some 240 acres : and to William Branch and to John Branch (the children of the testator's second son, William Branch), merely the liberty to "fish and fowle" in all the creeks and swamps of his big plantation.

To the testator's grandson, Christopher Branch (the oldest child of the testator's son, Christopher Branch of Charles City County, and then nineteen years old), is left all the land between James River and the Long Slash-and "slash" here denotes a low and wet and overgrown piece of ground-beginning at the mouth of Proctor's Creek and "running upwards on the river to the pinetree that parts my land and my son Thomas's, and from Proctor's Creek at the lower end of the Long Slash, on the inside of the Long Slash, running up to my son Thomas's land." In other words, after deeding the northern portion to Thomas Branch, the testator bequeaths to his grandson, Christopher Branch, the eastern third of the remainder of his "Kingsland" plantation.

There is, however, a condition stipulated, "provided the said Christopher Branch help to build for his brother Samuel Branch a house four lengths of boards, every length to be five feet, with the help of the negroe and Joab, if they live till Samuel Branch be of ability to keep it, and help him to clear a cornfield sufficiently fenced to keep out hoggs and cattle.

For to the testator's grandson, Samuel Branch, then fifteen years old, is bequeathed the second third of "Kingsland," "all land between the Long Slash and the bottom called by the name of Jackes Bottome, beginning at Proctor's Creek and running up to Thomas Branch's land; provided that the said Samuel Branch, with the help of Christopher Branch and the negro and Jobe, build for Benjamin Branch a house,"--and so on, according to all the specifications of the house to be built for Samuel Branch when he shall come to years of discretion.

For to the youngest grandson, Benjamin Branch, then thirteen years old, is bequeathed the remaining third of 'Kingsland,"-"all the land between Jackes Bottome and* Proctor's Creek, beginning at Proctor's Creek and running up to my son Thomas's land." It is also stipulated, with meticulous forethought, that when the two houses come to be built, Christopher Branch is to supply both Samuel Branch and Benjamin Branch with ''six locus (locust) posts and two im (elm?) posts, "in event of the lands assigned to either containing none af the time of building; and, curiously enough, that if any of the three die under age his lands and property are to go to "the next brother."

This apparently unfair arrangement is perhaps explained by the fact that Christopher Branch is to have for some years the use of the entire estate: for the testator appoints him general manager of "Kingsland" as a whole, and it is to young Christopher Branch that Thomas Branch is to pay such rent for the recently deeded 240 acres "as may be due his Majesty yearly," as well as to Christopher Branch that Samuel Branch and Benjamin Branch are to deliver their annual rental when these two acquire their several portions of "Kingsland"; and it is stipulated that the latter grandsons are to live with Christopher Branch, and under his guardianship, until "they are grown and able to get their land."

Item, "my part of Jobe's labor (the negro previously mentioned), which is one-half his labor, is to go to the maintenance of Benjamin Branch and Samuel Branch and Sarah Branch." This Sarah Branch, as has been said, was the younger daughter of the testator's second son.

It is then stipulated that a certain "cartway to the woods running through the plantation of "Kingsland" be always free to the public; and more lately, by an obvious afterthought, that if either Christopher Branch or Samuel Branch, for any reason, refuse to take part in building the stipulated houses, and so on, the delinquent is to pay 600 pounds of tobacco to the brother he has declined to start in life.

Finally, to Thomas Jefferson of Henrico (who had married, ante 1678, Mary Branch, the older daughter of the testator's second son, and was by her the grandfather of the President), is left one hogshead of tobacco, of 400 pounds weight, inasmuch as the said Thomas Jefferson is to be, with the younger Christopher Branch, the testator's executor; and all other property of which the testator may die possessed is to be divided equally among Christopher Branch and Samuel Branch and Benjamin Branch and Sarah Branch.

The witnesses of this will are Abel Gower (who had married the widow of William Branch, the testator's second son), and Richard Ward (who had married a daughter of Thomas Branch, the testator's oldest son).

Here's Christopher Branch's will in its entirety:

Will of Christopher Branch, Sr.

In the name of God Amen. The twentieth of June 1678. I Christopher Branch, of Kingsland, in the County of Henrico being in years and memory, praised be to God, do make this my Last Will and Testament as follows:

Item. I give my body unto the Earth from whence it came and my Soul unto my Savior Jesus Christ, who has bought it with his most precious blood.

Item. I give unto my son Thomas Branch my great copper kettle and a book called Ursinis Catucis and I do confirm the two hundred and forty acres of land that I have given him by deed gift formerly.

Item. I give unto my grandson Christopher Branch all the land between the river and the long slash, beginning at Proctors Creek mouth, and run upward on the river to the pine tree that parts my land and my son Thomas, and from Proctors Creek at the lower end of long slash on the inside of the slash running upward to my son Thomas' land unto him and his heirs male forever, provided that he shall help to build for his brother, Samuel Branch a house [with] four lengths of board every length to be five foot with help of the Negro and Job. If they live until Samuel be of ability to help and to seat it, and to help him to clear a cornfield sufficiently fenced to keep out hogs and cattle.

Item. I give unto my grandson Samuel Branch all the land that lies between the long slash and the bottom called by the name Jacks Bottom, beginning at Proctors Creek and running upwards to my son Thomas' land to him and his heirs male forever provided that he, with the help of Christopher and the Negro and Job, if it pleased God they live, do build Benjamin one house of four lengths of board every length of board to be five foot long, clear and fence him a cornfield so much as they do for Samuel, with his help when he shall be able to seat it.

Item. I give unto my grandson Benjamin Branch all the land that lies between Jacks Bottom and Proctors Creek beginning at Proctors Creek and running upwards to my son Thomas' land to him and his heirs male forever. It is my will that Christopher do give unto Samuel and Benjamin six locust posts and two elm posts a piece when they shall build them their dwelling houses if they can find none on their own ground. It is my will that any of these-Christopher, Samuel, or Benjamin-do die before they come to the age of one and twenty years then their land shall return to the next brother and the goods that they shall have out of my estate after my decease. It is my will that after my decease, my son Thomas shall pay unto Christopher the rent that shall be due unto his Majesty yearly for his two hundred and forty acres of land when it shall be demanded. Likewise, Mr. Gower, Samuel, and Benjamin when they shall seat their land.

Item. It is my will that neither Samuel nor Benjamin go off the plantation but to live with Christopher and to have housing and ground and to work together until they be able to seat their own land unless they be willing to go off themselves. It is my will that my part of my Job's labor, so long as he has to serve, shall go to maintain Samuel, Benjamin, and Sarah, and the half of the Negro's labor go to maintain them.

Item. It is my will that the cart way be not stopped up nor altered that now is to go into the woods for timber or for firewood but to have a clear passage. It is my will that William and John Branch shall have liberty to fish or fowl in the creeks or swamp. If Christopher shall refuse to help to build and clear for Samuel and Benjamin as I have set down in this my will, then he shall pay to Benjamin six hundred pounds of tobacco.

Item: I give unto Thomas Jefferson one hogshead of tobacco of four hundred pounds weight whom I make with my grandson Christopher Branch my full and sole executors of this my last will and testament and I desire them to see my will truly performed, my debts and legacies being paid and burial discharged, all the rest of my estate I give unto my grandson Christopher Branch and Samuel and Benjamin and Sarah and Mary Branch, the wife of Thomas Jefferson to be equally divided among them. Witness my hand and seal the day and year above written.

Christopher Branch

Witnessed: Abel Gower Richard Ward

Admitted for probate in Henrico County, February 20, 1681-2.

(See Henrico County, Virginia Will Book One, pp.209-10.)

Unfortunately, the final resting place of Christopher Branch and his wife, Mary, has been lost to history.

The Branch Family
John Braunche | John Branch [3]
Richard Branch | Lionel Branch | Christopher Branch | Thomas Branch | Thomas Branch, Jr. | Elizabeth Branch

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