Misinformation on the Pettus family

After researching records on both sides of the Atlantic, I learned that early books on Pettus family genealogy contain many erroneous statements, particularly with regard to the early generations of the family in Virginia. Most of the errors were due to two reasons: (1) early family historians, faced with gaps in the records in the Tidewater Virginia counties where early Pettuses lived, jumped to unwarranted conclusions, and (2) insufficient research or misinterpretation of extant records. Most later authors simply copied the mistakes of previous writers. The problem has now proliferated on the Internet as well-meaning writers relied upon earlier publications for their websites. Sadly, one website refuses to correct obvious errors despite the author’s advice.

In view of the situation the present author has decided to create a new website in the hope that it will motivate others who have compiled websites on their Pettus ancestry to make whatever corrections are appropriate or that will help others in the future.

Many of the questionable or incorrect statements involve Thomas Pettus who immigrated to Virginia and became a member of the Governor’s Council (also known as the Council of State). For example:

1. Thomas was the son, baptized in 1610 at St. Peter Hungate Church in Norwich, England, of William Pettus and his wife Mary Gleane of Norwich, England.
  Thomas was the son, baptized in 1599 at St. Simon and St. Jude parish in Norwich, England, of Thomas Pettus and his wife Cecily King.
2. Thomas was the grandson of Sir John Pettus, Kt.
  Thomas was Sir John’s nephew. Sir John did have a grandson named Thomas, who was made a baronet, but he died in England in 1654, while Thomas Pettus was still a member of the Council in Virginia.
3. Thomas Pettus served under Sir Thomas Dale in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years War.
  Thomas Pettus was only 10 years old when Dale’s service in the Low Countries ended in 1609. 
4. Because of his relationship to Sir John Pettus, Kt., who was a member of the London Company, Thomas Pettus was selected and sent to the colony with the rank of captain in charge of 40 men. 
  Thomas’s emigration to Virginia followed his acquittal of a murder charge in England in 1629. By 1631, Thomas had disposed of his future interest in certain estates and departed for Virginia.
5. Thomas married in England before coming to Virginia.
  No record of the marriage exists. This statement is probably based upon the fact that a Thomas Pettus, Jr., was in Virginia by 1644. He probably was the son of William Pettus and his wife Mary Gleane, but other candidates mentioned in English records should be considered.
6. Thomas married Elizabeth Mouring in Virginia.
  Thomas married Elizabeth (Freeman) Durrent, a widow, after arriving in Virginia. The name Mouring is similar to Mourning, the name of Thomas II’s wife.
7. Thomas married, as his first wife in Virginia, Ka-Okee, daughter of Pocahontas and Kocoum, an Indian brave.
  After learning that the seat of the Patawomeck tribe, of which Pocahontas was a member, was located on Potomac Creek where Thomas held 1,000 ac.,  and after hearing from Pettuses in other branches of the family about a “Pocahontas connection,” I have now come to accept supposed marriage as true.
8. Thomas and Ka-Okee had children who were the ancestors of persons living today.
  I have communicated with at least two members of the Patawomeck tribe who trace their descent from the marriage of Ka-Okee to a Pettus.
9. Thomas and Elizabeth’s son Thomas was born in 1644.
  Thomas and Elizabeth’s son Thomas was an orphan in 1672.
10. Thomas, Jr., held the rank of captain.
  Extant records refer to Thomas as “Mr. Thomas Pettus” or simply as “Thomas Pettus.”
11. Thomas II married (1) Elizabeth Dabney and (2) Mourning Glenn.
  No Elizabeth Dabney is mentioned in 17th C. Virginia records. The Dabney name was linked to the Pettus family through the marriage of Stephen Pettus to Mary, daughter of William Dabney after 1700. Thomas Pettus II married Mourning Burgh, daughter of William Burgh. A Mourning Glenn married a Harris in Louisa Co., Va., in the 18th C.
12. Thomas and Elizabeth had a son, John Dabney Pettus, who married Ann Overton.
While a John Pettus may have married Ann Overton before 1712, he was not a party to the sale of Thomas’s estate in 1700. The name, John Dabney Pettus, was contrived by an early family historian who couldn’t decide whether the name was simply John or Dabney. The name Dabney did not come into the family until the 18th C.
13. Thomas died in 1698 while serving as a vestryman for Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg.
Thomas died in Holland in 1687.
14. Thomas was buried in Bruton Parish Church.
No supporting evidence.
15. Thomas Pettus, immigrant, was the progenitor of the Pettus family of Virginia.
Only one line of descent meets the requirements for the Genealogical Proof Standard. Many Pettuses who lived in the 18th C. are not in that line, even though records suggest that they were all related. For example, John, son of Stephen Pettus, sold land in Charlotte Co. to another John Pettus. Also, the first-mentioned John became the guardian of two orphan children of John Pettus, sheriff of Louisa Co.

Identifying Thomas Pettus, 17th C. Virginia Immigrant

The first known attempt to trace the English ancestry of Thomas Pettus, Virginia immigrant, was by Dr. William J. Pettus in 1890. Dr. Pettus consulted two genealogists in Norwich, England, where the Pettus family had been prominent from the 16th century to 1772, when the last male Pettus, Sir Horatio Pettus, Bt., died. Having traced the Norwich Pettuses and its branches in England back to a certain Thomas Petyous, tailor, who gained the Freedom of the City of Norwich in 1492, the genealogists had constructed a family tree of the Pettus family in England. The genealogists reported that they had found two candidates for the Virginia immigrant, an uncle and his nephew, of the right age and for whom they could find no death record; however, the genealogists did not find any evidence indicating which of the two candidates was the Virginia immigrant.

The uncle, bapt. 1599 at St. Simon and Jude Church, Norwich, was the son of Thomas Pettus of Norwich and his wife Cecily King. The nephew, bapt. 1610 at St. Peter Hungate Church, Norwich, was the son of William Pettus of Norwich and his wife Mary Gleane.

Dr. Pettus never published his findings, though one of his correspondents, Charles J. Colcock did publish a Pettus family history in 1908 that identified the immigrant Thomas Pettus as the son of William Pettus of Norwich (d. 1648). William was the eldest son of Thomas Pettus, mayor of Norwich in 1614, and his wife Cecily King. Among the other sons of Thomas and Cecily was Thomas Pettus, uncle of William’s son Thomas.

The pioneering investigators did discover a major clue, that a Thomas Pettus had been tried for murder in Norwich in 1629, but they did not mention that finding. Evidently, they chose not to reveal what they regarded as a “family scandal.” Because the immigrant Thomas Pettus had been a member of the Virginia Council of State, appointed by the king, the investigators were convinced that the immigrant could not have been the man charged with murder in Norwich. Without further explanation, the first of the pioneering investigators, Charles J. Colcock, concluded that the immigrant Thomas was the son of William Pettus of Norwich. A later investigator, P. H. Stacy, who wrote several articles and a book on Pettus family genealogy during the mid-twentieth century, concluded just the opposite–the immigrant was the uncle! Stacy based her conclusion on the observation that “eldest sons of eldest sons never left England.” The nephew was the eldest son of an eldest son. Because the immigrant was not his father’s eldest son, he must have been the immigrant.

After examining the records in Norwich, which included parish registers and the city records of the trial, this writer concluded that the two candidates identified by the early investigators were indeed the only ones worthy of further consideration. A possible clue pointing to the uncle as the immigrant is that the Norwich court ordered the constables to search for and seize the property of the Thomas Pettus accused of murder. Since the nephew’s father was still living, the nephew probably did not have property subject to seizure. Of course, the wording of the bill of indictment may have been pro forma, even if did not apply in the nephew’s case.

Finally, a breakthrough on this vexing “brick wall” problem occurred when Mr. C. H. C. Whittick of the Norfolk Record Office in Norwich whom the writer had retained to look for further evidence relating to the problem, happened by chance to find a previously overlooked record made in 1699, long after the death of Thomas Pettus of the Virginia Council.  The key record shows that a certain John Pettus appeared before the Mayor’s Court in Norwich seeking to prove that “Capt. Thomas Pettus of Virga in America, dec’d” was his late uncle! To prove his case, John submitted two parish records and brought with him witnesses who knew his relationship to Capt. Pettus. The parish records were from the registers of St. Simon and St. Jude parish and St. Lawrence Parish in Norwich. As previously mentioned, the older candidate was baptized in St. Simon and St. Jude parish. The St. Lawrence Parish register has the baptism of John, son of Henry Pettus. Henry was the younger brother of the elder candidate mentioned previously. John did not offer the St. Peter Hungate parish register in evidence. The only logical conclusion is that Capt. Thomas Pettus of Virginia was the elder of the two candidates; i.e., he was the son of Thomas Pettus of Norwich and his wife Cecily King!

The long-standing “brick wall” problem was finally solved by the chance discovery of a record made years after the death of the Virginia Councilor. Stacy was correct in identifying Thomas Pettus of Virginia as the uncle though for the wrong reason!

Unfortunately, later writers have simply copied the conclusion of one or the other early writers without doing the necessary research in the Norwich records.




Here is a list of unsolved problems in Pettus genealogy. Many fall into the category of “brick wall” problems.

  1. Did TP, immigrant, marry Pocahontas’s daughter, Ka-Okee?
  2. What became of Stephen Pettis/Pettus of London, b. 1629?
  3. Identify the Stephen Pettis named as a headright in 1637?
  4. Identify “Thomas Pettus, Jr.”, named as a headright in 1644?
  5. Identify Stephen Pettus assigned land by Awell and ?? in 16??
  6. Identify Stephen Pettis accused of concealing tithes
  7. Identify Stephen Pettus of New Kent Co. in 1662
  8. Identify John Pettus of King and Queen Co., Va., who paid quit rent on land in Essex Co. in 1704
  9. Identify Stephen Pettus in Hanover in ??
  10. Identify John Pettus in Hanover in ??
  11. Identify the John Pettus and his wife Anne, who were the parents of Thomas Pettus, burgess of Lunenburg Co.
  12. Was Amey Walker, wife of TP, burgess, related to Alexander Walker, Jr., grantee in the sale of Pettus estates in 1700?
  13. Who were the parents of John Pettus, sheriff of Lousia Co., in 1770?
  14. Who was the wife of John Pettus, sheriff of Lousia Co., in 1770?
  15. How was John Pettus, sheriff of Louisa Co., related to John Pettus, guardian of John’s children after 1770?

 Did Thomas Pettus marry Pocahontas’s Daughter, Ka-Okee?

Information about the supposed marriage did not come to the writer’s attention until 2010, when he read a post by Arthur Mitchell, historian of the Pamunkey Indian tribe of Virginia. Mitchell stated that Pocahontas had previously been married to Kocoum, an Indian brave, before she married John Rolfe of Jamestown. According to Mitchell, Pocahontas had a daughter, Ka-Okee, by Kocoum. Ka-Okee married a Pettus and had a daughter, Christian Pettus, who was the ancestor of many persons living in Stafford Co., Va., and other counties in the vicinity. Mitchell thought perhaps the Pettus who married Ka-Okee was Theodore, who arrived at Jamestown Island, Virginia, in 1623.

This revelation leads to further questions:

1. Did Pocahontas marry an Indian brave before marrying John Rolfe?

2. Did Pocahontas have a daughter named Ka-Okee by her first marriage?

3. Did Ka-Okee indeed marry a Pettus?

4. If so, which Pettus did she marry?

5. Did Ka-Okee have a daughter named Christian Pettus?

6. Did Ka-Okee have other children besides Christian?


Subsequent email exchanges with Bill Deyo, historian of the Patawomeck Tribe. confirmed Mitchell’s claim, describing his clam as “sacred tradition.” Upon further investigation, I pointed out that the last record of Theodore Pettus in Virginia was made in 1626. Theodore’s elder brother, Thomas, was probably in Virginia in the early 1630s and remained there until his death after 1661. Thomas, moreover, held 1,000 ac. on Potomac Cr. which is now in Stafford Co., Va., where many of Ka-Okee’s descendants now live. In 1660, Thomas sold his Potomac Creek plantation to Mr. Henry Meese. Meese was married to one of Ka-Okee’s relatives. Adjacent properties were also owned by Ka-Okee’s relatives. When informed of these particulars, Deyo agreed that Ka-Okee must have married Thomas Pettus.


Partial Table of English Pettuses

J2 T3 W1
A1 T4 W2 T5 T6 Td H Ro J3
T7 J4 J5 T8 T9 J6 T10 W3 S
A2 Ri


  • Partial table is consistent with a pedigree chart drawn by T. R. Tallack c1890 and my own research


  • Each row represents a generation



Rethinking the Ancestral Line of Thomas Pettus, Burgess of Lunenburg Co., 1712-1780

As discussed in the introduction to my book, many records from the Tidewater counties in Virginia during the colonial period were destroyed at one time or another. As an unfortunate consequence, genealogists often have only fragmentary evidence upon which to establish family relationships. Of course, this situation often leads to some degree of speculation.

In the case of Thomas Pettus, burgess of Lunenburg Co. (1712-1780), I knew that his parents were John Pettus and Ann, but their identities have been the subject of considerable speculation on the part of family historians, including myself.

Originally, I thought that Thomas’s father was the John Pettus who settled in Hanover Co. c1711. None of the other family historians mentioned him in their publications. I also thought that John was the son of John Pettis, vestryman of Blisland Parish, New Kent Co., Virginia, in 1704. Thomas had served as clerk of Blisland Parish from 1736 to 1746.

More recently, I started exploring the possibility that John Pettus of Hanover Co. and John Pettis, vestryman of Blisland Parish, were one and the same person. Of course, that possibility raised the question of the vestryman’s identity.

Over the past several weeks, I considered all the known Pettuses in Virginia who could have been John’s father and concluded that he probably was a second son of Thomas Pettus II of Littletown plantation, James City Co., Va. I knew that Thomas had a son Stephen who sold the Pettus plantations in 1700 to James Bray, Jr., of Wilmington Parish, James City Co., but I had not considered the possibility that John Pettis was Thomas’s second son. After considering all the other known Pettuses who could have been John’s father, I concluded that the most likely candidate was indeed Thomas Pettus II.

Once I have made sure there are no loopholes in my rationale, I expect to update this website with a more detailed account of my thinking.

My new trial version of the ancestry of Thomas Pettus, burgess of Lunenburg Co., goes as follows:

Generation 1: Col. Thomas Pettus and his wife Elizabeth (Freeman) Durrent of James City Co., Va..

Generation 2: Thomas Pettus II, d. 1687, of James City Co., Va.

Generation 3: John Pettis, vestryman of Blisland Parish, New Kent Co., Va. and his wife Ann.

Generation 4: Thomas Pettus, burgess of Lunenburg Co., Va., b. 1712.

I have also been rethinking the identity of Thomas’s mother Ann. Was she truly the daughter of William Overton and his wife Mary (or Elizabeth) Waters of Hanover Co., Va.? I hope I will be able to shed further light on the question and post an update to this web site later.