Open main menu

William Farrar (April 1583 – c. 1637) was an early settler, landholder, and legislator of the Colony of Virginia. He was a subscriber to the third charter of the Virginia Company who emigrated to the colony in 1618. After surviving the Powhatan surprise attack of 1622, he moved to Jordan's Journey. In the following year, Farrar became involved in North America's first breach of promise suit when he proposed to Cecily Jordan. In 1626, Farrar was appointed to the Council of Virginia where he served as an advisor to the royal governor, a judge of the highest court in the colony, and a member of the Virginia General Assembly of Colonial Jamestown. He was also appointed magistrate of the upper James River community. In both these roles, he served as a voice of the early planters' interest as the colony transitioned from being managed by the Virginia Company and becoming a royal colony under Charles I of England. Farrar was also on the Council when it arrested Governor John Harvey for misgovernance and forced his temporary return to England. By the time of his death around 1637, Farrar had sold off his remaining assets in England and established rights to a 2000 acre patent on Farrar's Island, located on a curl of the James River.

William Farrar
BornApril 1583
Diedc. 1637
OccupationCouncillor - Council of Virginia and Virginia General Assembly
Spouse(s)Cecily Jordan
Coat of arms and crest for William Farrar's father, John Farrar of Croxton and London, Esquire.[1]



William Farrar was born before April 28, 1583,[2] the date of his christening, in Croxton, Lincolnshire, England.[3] He was the 3rd son of John Farrar of Croxton[1] and London, Esquire, a wealthy merchant and landowner with various holdings in West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Hertfordshire.[4] Alexander Brown states that while in England, William Farrar received an education in law.[5]

Relation to the Virginia Company and emigration to the New WorldEdit

Facsimile cover of "Nova Britannia", a tract from Farrar's time used to recruit people to Virginia.

When Farrar went to Virginia, it was still part of the Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company, sanctioned by Royal Charter.[6] Farrar was a subscriber to the Third Charter of the Virginia Company,[7] where his name appears as "William Ferrers".[8] His subscription consisted of three shares that were bought for a total of £37 10s.[note 1].[5] Farrar also had family interests in the Virginia Company as two of his second cousins,[10] the brothers John Ferrar and Nicholas Ferrar, played key roles in the managing the company's interests.[11]:60

Farrar left London on Neptune[12] on March 16, 1617/18 [note 2][13] along with Virginia's governor, Thomas West, Baron De La Warr. De La Warr had been commissioned by the Virginia Company to return to the colony with fresh people and supplies to help it achieve political and economic stability,[14]:375–384 but he died en route.[15] When Farrar arrived in August 1618,[12] news of the governor's death threw Jamestown into turmoil, Deputy Governor Samuel Argall, who was already unpopular with many colonists, was accused of mismanagement and the unauthorized misappropriation of Neptune's passengers and cargo.[16] After a prolonged series of accusations from both the Virginia Company and colonists against Argall's governing, he finally stepped down in April 1619.[17]

In June 1619, the Virginia Company instructed that 40 indentured servants be put at the disposal of Farrar when they arrived in Virginia.[18]:145 The payment for the cost of transporting these colonists would have resulted in a 2000 acre headright at 50 acres a head.[19] However, Garland never arrived in Jamestown because it was damaged in a hurricane while en route.[20]:6 Instead of proceeding to Virginia, the Garland's captain, William Wye left the remaining passengers in Bermuda and sailed the repaired ship directly back to England.[11]:325

As his personal headright, Farrar did receive a land patent for 100 acres on the Appomattox River close to where it flows into the James River, near what is now known as Hopewell, Virginia.[21]:554 In the meantime, the resultant legal suits between Wye and the Virginia Company regarding the financial responsibility for the Garland fiasco were not resolved until the end of 1622,[20]:5[11]:701–702 when Farrar had already quit residence at his patent as a result of the Powhatan surprise attack of 1621/22.

Move to Jordan's Journey and marriageEdit


De Bry's engraving of the Powhatan surprise attack of 1622, in which 10 people at Farrar's patent were killed.

During the Powhatan surprise attack, ten settlers on Farrar's land on the Appomattox River were killed.[18]:566 However, Farrar survived and got to Samuel Jordan's settlement at Beggars Bush,[22]:4 part of the plantation known as Jordan's Journey. After the attack, William Farrar stayed at Jordan's Journey[23]:290–291 as it had become a relatively safe fortified rallying place for the survivors.[24]

Samuel Jordan died before June 1623.[25]:46 Sometime afterward, Farrar proposed marriage to Jordan's pregnant widow, Cecily, which involved him in the first breach of promise suit filed in North America.[5]:218–220 Reverend Greville Pooley claimed he had first proposed marriage three or four days after Samuel Jordan had died and Cecily had accepted.[21] However, Cecily denied his proposal and accepted Farrar's, which resulted in Pooley filing the suit.[26] The case continued for almost two years. During the suit, Alexander Brown suggests that Farrar may have acted as Cecily's legal representative.[5] Eventually, Pooley signed an agreement in January 1624/5 that acquitted Cecily Jordan of her alleged former promises.[27]:42

Even as the case was ongoing, William Farrar and Cecily Jordan continued to work together at Jordan's Journey. In November 1623, Farrar was bonded to execute Samuel Jordan's will regarding the management of his estate and Cecily Jordan was warranted to put down the security to guarantee Farrar's bondage.[27]:8 During this time, "Farrar assumed the role of plantation 'commander' or 'head of hundred'"[28]:10 for Jordan's Journey. A year later, the Jamestown muster of 1624/25 lists "fferrar William mr & Mrs. Jordan"[sic] as sharing the head of a Jordan's Journey household with three daughters and ten manservants.[12] During this time, Jordan's Journey prospered.[29]:67–68 By May 1625 Farrar and Jordan were finally married, as it was then that Farrar was released from his bond to Jordan's estate.[27]:57 They had three children together: Cecily (born 1625), William (birth year uncertain), and John (born around 1632).[2]

Roles in the governance of the royal colonyEdit

On March 14, 1625/6, William Farrar was appointed councillor to the Council of Virginia by Charles I of England,[30] a position he held until at least 1635 when Governor John Harvey was deported.[25]:212–213

Seal of "His Majesties Council of Virginia", [14] the symbol of Farrar and the other councillors' role in the Virginia's government.

Farrar became a councillor during a period of uncertainty for the colonists.[23]:13,35 The 1619 Great Charter of the Virginia Company had established self-governance through the Virginia Assembly, but James I dissolved the charter in 1624, and put the colony under direct royal authority. Just before James I died in March 1625, Charles I announced his intention to be the sole factor of his royal colonies.[31] To this end, he commissioned a new structure, consisting of a governor, George Yeardley, and 13 councillors, including William Farrar, to govern the royal colony on behalf of the Crown's interest.[30] Because the assembly was not included in the commission, the Council was the only legal body representing the interests of the Virginia planters.[32]:180 This state of affairs continued until the petitions of the colonists allowed the continuance of the House of Burgesses and the re-convention of the Virginia Assembly in 1628.[33] The Council also functioned as the highest court in Virginia and as the advisory board to the governor regarding the creation of legislative acts. Just as importantly, the members of the Council could determine the fate of the governor: William Farrar was on the Council when it elected John Pott as governor in 1628[32]:182 and he was on the Council [34] when it arrested and temporarily deported Governor Harvey.[35][36]

In August 1626, Farrar was also appointed commissioner (i.e., magistrate) of the "Upper Partes"[sic], which lies along the James River west of Piersey's Hundred in the approximate area of Charles City and Henrico Counties today. Farrar was one of six commissioners appointed, however he was the one given the right of final judgement when present and allowed the discretion to hold monthly courts at either Jordan's Journey or Shirley Hundred.[37]

Sale of inheritanceEdit

When William Farrar's father, John the elder, died sometime before May 1628, he willed his various landholdings in Hertfordshire to William. In addition, John Farrar also stipulated that William and his family receive a £20 annuity from his older brother from rents in Halifax Parish, Yorkshire and that William receive £50 upon his return to England.[4] In 1631, William Farrar returned to England to claim his inheritance.[23] He then sold the assets from his inheritance to his brothers, including his annuity for £240 and his landholdings for £200, for a total of £440[note 3][38] and returned to Virginia.

Farrar's IslandEdit

At the time of his death sometime before June 11, 1637, Farrar established his headright to a 2000 acre land patent at the former site of Henrico. This headright was given for the transport of 40 indentured servants, who were named in the patent.[note 4] After Farrar's death, the patent was received in his oldest son's name,[note 5] also named William, from John Harvey, who had returned from England and resumed his role as governor of the colony. The patent was issued for land that included the entire curl of the James River now known as Farrar's Island and extended north to abut the glebe lands of Varina.[39]


  1. ^ This is equivalent to the annual wages of approximately five skilled journeymen in London during 1588, when those wages were authorized to range between £4 and £10. [9]
  2. ^ Dual dating is given because the English new year did not begin until March 25 during the time Virginia was colonized. See article on dating English historical records for details.
  3. ^ Farrar's liquidation of his English assets earned the equivalent value of the annual wages for approximately 60 skilled London journeymen at 1588 prices.
  4. ^ At least nine of the names on the patent match the names of survivors in the Muster of 1624/25; five being listed as part of William Farrar and Mrs. Jordan's household.
  5. ^ William Farrar's son was less than 12 years old at the time the patent was given.


  1. ^ a b Bannerman, W. Bruce, ed. (1899). The Visitations of the County of Surrey: Made and Taken in the Years 1530 by Thomas Benolte, Clarenceux King of Arms; 1572 by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms; and 1623 by Samuel Thomson, Windsor Herald and Augustin Vincent, Rouge Croix Pursuivant, Marshals and Deputies to William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms. London: Ye Wardour. pp. 157–158.
  2. ^ a b Dorman, John Frederick, ed. (2004). Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607–1624/5: Families A-F (Volume 1) (4th. ed.). Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing. pp. 926–928. ISBN 978-0806317441.
  3. ^ "Croxton Parish Records- Marriages, Baptisms & Burials (1583)". Lincs to the Past, Lincolnshire Archives. December 28, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Farrer, Thomas C. F (1936). Farrer (and Some Variants) Wills and Administrations : So Far Discovered by Me in England and Wales, and the Isle of Man Down to A.D. 1800. Dorking, England: Tanner and Son. pp. 126–128.
  5. ^ a b c d Brown, Alexander (1890). The Genesis of the United States, Vol 2. II. Boston, MA Houghton, Mifflin. p. 691.
  6. ^ Wolfe, Brenden (November 16, 2016). "Virginia Company of London". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Archived from the original on August 13, 2018. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Kolp, John, ed. (June 26, 2014). "Primary Resource: Third Charter of Virginia (1612)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities. Archived from the original on May 22, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  8. ^ Bemiss, Samuel M., ed. (1957). "Third Charter". The Three Charters of the Virginia Company of London with Seven Related Documents. Williamsburg, VA: Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation.
  9. ^ Aughterson, Kate, ed. (1998). The English Renaissance: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. New York,NY: Routledge. pp. 201–202. ISBN 9780415271158.
  10. ^ Torrence, Clayton, ed.; Cook, Mrs. Henry Lowell; Bulkley, Louis C. (1942). "English Ancestry of William Farrar (1594-C.1637), of Henrico County, Virginia". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 50 (4): 350–359. JSTOR 4245205.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  11. ^ a b c Kingsbury, Susan M., ed. (1906). The Records of the Virginia Company of London. 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.
  12. ^ a b c Hotten, John Camden (1874). The Original Lists of Persons of Quality, Emigrants, Religious Exiles, Political Rebels, Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices; Children stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700 : With Their Ages and the Names of the Ships in Which they Embarked, and other Interesting Particulars; from Mss. Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty's Public Record Office, England. New York, NY: Empire State Book. pp. 209–210.
  13. ^ Kolb, Avery E. (1980). "Early passengers to Virginia: When did they really arrive?". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 88 (4): 401–414. JSTOR 4248428.
  14. ^ a b Brown, Alexander (1890). Genesis of the United States, Vol. 1. New York: Houghton, Mifflin. p. 57.
  15. ^ Billings, Warren M. (October 27, 2013). "Thomas West, twelfth baron De La Warr (1576–1618)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  16. ^ Coldham, Peter Wilson (1979). "The voyage of the Neptune to Virginia 1618-1619, and the Disposition of its cargo". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 87 (1): 30–67. JSTOR 4248277.
  17. ^ Fausz, J. Frederick (July 8, 2013). "Samuel Argall (bap. 1580-1626)". Encyclopedia Virginia: Virginia Humanities. Archived from the original on January 15, 2019. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  18. ^ a b Kingsbury, Susan Myra, ed. (1933). Records of the Virginia Company of London. 3. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.
  19. ^ Wolfe, Brendan; McCartney, Martha (October 28, 2015). "Indentured Servants in Colonial Virginia". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities. Archived from the original on December 13, 2018. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  20. ^ a b Coldham, Peter Wilson (2002). English Adventurers and Emigrants, 1609-1660: Abstracts of Examinations in the High Court of Admiralty with Reference to Colonial America. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing. ISBN 9780806310824.
  21. ^ a b Kingsbury, Susan M., ed. (1935). The Records of the Virginia Company of London. 4. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.
  22. ^ Morgan, Tim; Luccketti, Nicholas; Straube, Beverly; Bessey, S. Fiona; Loomis, Annette; Hodges, Charles (1995). Archaeological Excavations at Jordan's Point: Sites 44PG151, 44PG300, 44PG302, 44PG303, 44PG315, 44PG333. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Historic Resources. doi:10.6067/XCV8H41QBZ.
  23. ^ a b c McCartney, Martha W. (2007). Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers, 1607-1635. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing. ISBN 9780806317748.
  24. ^ Smith, John (1624). The Generall Historie of Virginia, the Fourth Booke (PDF). Madison, WI: Madison Historical Digital Library and Archives, AJ-082. p. 370.
  25. ^ a b Sainsbury, W. Noel, ed. (1860). Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 1, 1574-1660. London, England: Longman, Green Longman & Roberts.
  26. ^ Starrett, Vincent (March 3, 1958). "America's First Breach of Promise Case". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  27. ^ a b c McIlwaine, H. R., ed. (1924). Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia 1622-1632, 1670-1676 with Notes and Excerpts from Original Council and General Court Records into 1683, Now Lost. Richmond, VA: Virginia State Library.
  28. ^ McLearen, Douglas C.; Mouer, L. Daniel; Boyd, Donna M.; Owsley, Douglas W.; Compton, Bertita (1993). Jordan's Journey: A Preliminary Report on the 1992 Excavations at Archaeological Sites 44PG302, 44PG303, and 44PG315. Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University Archaeological Research Center. doi:10.6067/XCV81J98NK.
  29. ^ Hatch, Charles E. (1957). The First Seventeen Years: Virginia, 1607-1624. Williamsburg, VA: Jamestown 350th Anniversary Celebration Corp. p. 68.
  30. ^ a b Stanard, William G., ed. (1906). "Commission to Governor Yeardley and Council, March 14 1625-6". Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 13 (3): 298–302. JSTOR 4242747.
  31. ^ Bancroft, George (1888). History of the United States of America, Vol. I. New York, NY: D. Appleton. p. 135.
  32. ^ a b Campbell, Charles (1860). History of Colony and Ancient Dominion of Virginia. J.Philadelphia, PA: B. Lippincott.
  33. ^ Brown, Alexander (1898). The First Republic in America. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin. pp. 645–648.
  34. ^ Brown, Alexander (1901). English Politics in Early Virginia History. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. p. 100.
  35. ^ Bruce, Philip A., ed. (1894). "Mutiny in Virginia, 1635". Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 1 (4): 419.
  36. ^ Tarter, Brent (March 13, 2017). "Sir John Harvey (ca. 1581 or 1582–by 1650)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Archived from the original on December 21, 2018. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  37. ^ Hening, William Waller, ed. (1809). The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the year 1619. Published Pursuant to an Act of the General Assembly of Virginia. Richmond, VA: Samuel Pleasants, Jr., printer to the common wealth. p. 168.
  38. ^ Sale of William Farrar's Inheritance”recorded at the Public Record Office: London, Calendar of Close Rolls. Vol 54/2904, cited in Holmes, Alvahn (1972). The Farrar's Island Family and its English Ancestry. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press. p. 31. OCLC 499544604.
  39. ^ Nugent, Nell Marion (1934). "Patent Book No. 1". Cavaliers and Pioneers, a Calendar of Land Grants 1623-1800. 1. Richmond, VA: Dietz Press. p. 60.

Further readingEdit

  • Holmes, Alvahn (1972). The Farrar's Island Family and its English Ancestry. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press. OCLC 499544604.
  • Stanard, William G., ed. (1900-1902) The "Farrar Family" Excursus in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
    • "The Farrar Family". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 7 (3): 319–322. 1900. JSTOR 4242269.,
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 7 (4): 432–434. 1900. JSTOR 4242292.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 8 (1): 97–98. 1900. JSTOR 4242320.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 8 (2): 206–209. 1900. JSTOR 4242337.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 8 (4): 424–427. 1901. JSTOR 4242386.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 9 (2): 203–205. 1901. JSTOR 4242430.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 9 (3): 322–324. 1902. JSTOR 4242449.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 10 (1): 86–87. 1902. JSTOR 4242488.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 10 (2): 206–207. 1902. JSTOR 4242519.
    • "The Farrar Family (Continued)". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 10 (3): 308–310. 1902. JSTOR 4242543..

(Note: The Vol. 7(4) entry in the excursus is incorrect on William Farrar's lineage. See "Torrence et al., 1942". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 50 (4): 350–359. 1942. JSTOR 4245205. referenced above.)