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Northampton Historic Preservation Society: Lecture on the Lawn at The Eyre Rectory

Welcome to our Lecture on the Lawn here at The Eyre Rectory. I want to thank the Northampton Historic Preservation Society for sponsoring this event and our hosts, Arnie Fuog and Maureen Welch for allowing us to visit their historic home.

As always, I want to talk about the history of this land as well as the story of this house. The lecture will be in two parts. I am going to discuss some history and then Arnie and Maureen are going to talk in more detail about his home and share some interesting details about its restoration.

I want to go all the way back to the beginning of our colony. The early years of Jamestown were difficult for the early settlers who ventured here from England. They discovered an unforgiving wilderness with insects and disease that they were ill prepared to deal with. They also encountered the rather unfriendly Indians whose territory they were invading. Much has been written about the early struggles of Jamestown and the settlement came very close to failure, but survive they did.

By 1622 the colony was growing and getting on its feet and then the Indians coordinated an attack on the English settlements and killed scores of men, women and children. It was called the Massacre of 1622 and it was a huge set back. By 1622 there were some colonists living on The Eastern Shore. The Indians who inhabited our Eastern Shore were much more friendly and peaceful. It has been said that they even warned the English when they heard that the Indians on the western shore were preparing an attack. The chief of the lower Eastern Shore Indians has been known by various names such as Debedeavan, The Laughing King or Esmy Schickens. Whatever his name, he gave a large piece of land to an early settler named Thomas Savage who had lived with the Indians on the western shore and learned to speak their language. Today this is known as Savage’s Neck and includes the land that we are standing on. The Indian Chief also gave a large piece of land to George Yardley who was then Governor of the Colony. This land is still called “Old Town Neck”, with a creek called the Gulf to the south and a creek called Mattawaman to the north. The early settlers of our Eastern Shore were truly blessed by these friendly native Americans who really never raised their hands against them. The Indian massacre on the western shore in 1622 was a catalyst to induce many of the English to move here from the western side of the bay.

Governor Yardley never lived over here, but he did visit at least once for several weeks. He died in 1627. His land was inherited by his son, Argoll Yardley who did come here to live about 1640. At this time there were native Americans living on both sides of Mattawaman Creek. It seems that Argoll Yardley found it inconvenient to have these people living “on his land”. Being the son of the former governor and a member of the current governor’s council made him a powerful person, someone who could get what he wanted. With the help of the government in Jamestown and our local court, this land, about 650 acres, was set aside for the Indians and they were moved to this site, an early form of a reservation.

I have wondered how these Native Americans felt. Were they happy, indifferent, angry or just resigned to their fate? One question is why was this spot chosen? When the Indian chief gave land to Thomas Savage and the Governor, he was a little vague on the boundaries so Yardley may have believed that this was his land. However, it is generally considered that this was part of Thomas Savage’s land. By this time Thomas Savage was dead and this land belonged to his young son John Savage who was about 16 in 1640. Perhaps the older more influential and powerful Yardley simply outmaneuvered the younger John Savage. My theory is that maybe John Savage shared his father’s affinity for the Eastern Shore Natives and was more than willing to share what was a small portion of his inheritance with his friends. At any rate, this was unsettled land and the Indians proceeded to live here as they had been living for generations. In the mid 1600’s, this place became known as Gingaskin.

The Indians continued to live here for the next 1 ½ centuries. During this time, they interbred with poor landless whites and free blacks. By the end of the 1700’s there was an opinion that no full-blooded Indians remained, so it was no longer necessary to hold this land for them.

1769 - A petition of the vestry of Hungars Parish of Northampton County was presented to the House of Burgesses that read, “that the Gingaskin Indians, amounting to about 30 men, women and children, are possessed of and inhabit 600 acres of valuable land which they neglect to cultivate and cannot dispose of and the tithable persons of the parish are burdened with maintaining such of the Indians as become sick and disabled, which expense the petitioners think it just and equitable they should be relieved of.” They proposed that a portion of the land be leased out to provide revenue to support the inhabitants.

In 1813 this land was surveyed and found to contain 690 acres and it was divided into 27 lots and distributed to the remaining members of the tribe, each to own his or her lot outright. Here is a survey which shows this land and can be compared to this modern Google map. The survey shows the seaside, the seaside road, the cross road (now called Willow Oak Road) and the road down to Indian Town Landing.

Road to Eastville (See Eyre Rectory Lecture docx for arrows to these map identifiers (Willow Oak Road) Lot 16

Ann Drighouse Seaside County Road

Eyre Rectory Lecture
Download DOCX • 278KB

Lot # 16 which was assigned to Ann Drighouse is the one on which the Eyre Rectory was later built. Notice the names of Edmund Press and Molly Press. That is a name which has continued in Northampton County. Did any of you follow the women’s US soccer team that played in the World Cup this summer in France? One of them is named Kristin Press and there was an article about her in the paper. She is a descendant of the Press family of Northampton County.

Over the next 20 years, these lots were gradually purchased by men such as, Nathaniel Holland, Peter S. Bowdoin, John Adams, George Outten, James Travis and Elijah Brittingham. Eventually, most of it was owned by John Adams and Miers Fisher and a woman named, Maria Robins.

George Outten bought several of these lots in 1831. The next year he sold an irregularly shaped piece containing 112 acres to Elijah Brittingham and then he sold to Maria Robins.

Now, Maria Robins was the same woman who lived in the Maria Robins house on the west side of Court House Road. In 1853, she sold 6 acres to the trustees of Hungars Episcopal Church for $200.

As most of you know, Hungars Episcopal Church had been in existence since the late 1600’s. It fell into disuse during the period of the Revolutionary War when the official church of England was dissolved. The Episcopal church was gradually restored about 1820. Up until then Hungars Parish had been using a home known as “The Glebe” in Church Neck for the ministers. Through a complicated process, the church lost control of “The Glebe” and it was sold in 1840. So Hungars Parish needed a home for their ministers who served the old Hungars church in Bridgetown and the newer Christ Church in Eastville. This place was selected and Mr. John Eyre, of Eyreville, donated the funds to build this home. The inscription above reads: Presented to the Protestant Episcopal Church in Hungars Parish by John Eyre 1853. The Reverend John Chevers was the first resident.

This rectory continued in use until 1908 when a newer home was constructed in Eastville across Courthouse Road from Christ Church. That served until about 1940 when the current rectory was obtained.

Powatan and Pocahontas

In the 1850’s about 105 acres in the easterly direction was land accumulated by Mr. John Adams and was called “Powatan”

To the northeast was another plantation accumulated by Mr. Miers Fisher and that was called “Pocahontas”. The house burned many years ago.

In 1908 it was sold to Edward Holland Sr. and it remained in the Holland family until 1931. It was then sold to Upshur R. Drummond and then, in 1940 to Louise J. Nottingham. She and her husband, Robinson, sold to Emma Gunn in 1944. She was the daughter of Mr. Otho Mears and a member of the Holland family.

In 1959 it was sold to Dr. Raymond Brown who was a general practitioner and family doctor for Eastville for many years.

If you ride into the park all the way to the office building, you will see a plaque that was put up in 2013. Accomac Indian Nation Gingaskin Reservation 1640-1813. Commemorating the bicentennial of your closure which was the first termination of reservation lands and detribalization of its owners in United States History together with the quadricentennial of the capture in April 1613 of Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, paramount chief of the Algonquin speaking Indians

Article submitted by Mike Ash

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