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Table of Contents
The Surveyors
JTR's Colorful Families: GENN
Joanne's Genn Research Notes

The Genn Family
of Canada
A family history researched and compiled by David Genn and his cousins


1. Northumberland County Record Book, 1710-1713, 217. Even though the will was probated in London, a copy is in the Northumberland County records.

2. Northumberland County Record Book, 1662-1668, 109.

3. Northumberland County Order Book, 1652-1665, 361.

4. Northumberland County Order Book, 1678-98, Part 1, 56.

5. Northumberland County Order Book, 1699-1713, Part 1, 322.

6. The original document is in the Library of Congress. It was sent from England to Thomas Jefferson and was first printed in the Richmond Enquirer, Sept. 1, 5, 8, 1804.

7. The Bulletin of the Northumberland Historical Society, vol.XXXI, 51.

8. Northumberland County Order Book, 1699-1713, Part 1, 207.

9. Northumberland County Order Book, 1699-1713, 572.

10. Northumberland County Record Book, 1726-1729, 6.

11. Northumberland County Order Book, 1719-1729, 37.

12. Northumberland County Record Book, 1726-1729, 149.

13. Northumberland County Order Book, 1737-1743, 77.

14. Beverley Fleet, comp., Virginia Colonial Abstracts, vol. 3, Northumberland County Records of Births 1661-1810 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1971), 55-57.

15. E. F. Horsey, Origins of Caroline County, Maryland, (Printed by the author), 135, 140, 141.

16. Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, Liber C B, No.23, 187.

17. "Family Record of Nathan Genn son of Thomas the Blacksmith", hand written copy by Reverend Nathan Genn of Greensboro, MD, Great-grandson of James-3 (Thomas-2, James-1) Genn, 1883, personal family collection.

18. Northumberland County Order Book, 1743-1749, 71.

19. Fleet, Northumberland County Birth Records, 65.

20. Northumberland County Record Book, 1738-1743, 73.

21. Prince William County Deeds, D:377, 379.

22. Prince William County Deeds, L: 1-2

23. Gertrude E. Gray, Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, vol. II, 1742-1775, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988), G-93, G-94, G-95, F-244, F-285.

24. Fairfax Harrison, Landmarks of Old Prince William, (Richmond: Old Dominion, 1924) vol.2, 306.

25. Fairfax Harrison, Landmarks of Old Prince William, vol.2, 507.

26. Gray, Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants.

27. Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington, a Biography, Volume One (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1948), 202-223.


James Genn

A family history researched and compiled by David Genn and his cousins. If you wish to contact us regarding this story or any other family connection that we may be heir to, please write to:
David Genn, 7894 East Glen Place, Sooke, BC, Canada V9Z 0J8
Phone:  250-642-3750
Email: davgenn(at)


JAMES GENN arrived in the colony of Virginia from England sometime after 1660 and established himself at Cherry Point on the Northern Neck. James Genn's place of birth and his residence before arriving in Virginia are still shrouded in some mystery. In Northumberland the name is sometimes spelled Genn, sometimes Ginn. It may have been Ginn rather than Genn when James left England. It is also possible that it was Jenn.

Our most informative clue concerning James Genn's presence in Virginia comes from the will of Thomas Mathew, dated 6 May 1703, probated by Canterbury Court, London, 28 February 1706-7 and proved in Northumberland County, Virginia, 20 August 1712. It reads as follows:

I, Thomas Mathew, formerly of Cherry Point in the Parish of Bowtracy in the County of Northumberland in Virginia, Merchant, ... my body I desire may be buried and if I die in or about London as near to my dearly beloved son William as it can be had in the church of St.Dunstan's-in-the-East... From as for what remains real or personal... in the County of Northumberland, Cherry Point ... I bequeath one half my dear son John... and the other half... to my dear children Thomas and Anna ... my loving Brother-in-Law Capt John Cralle and my old and faithful servant, James Genn and Mary his wife have manifested every great faithfulness and industry in the management of my affairs both whilst I dwell in Virginia and since I came thence I desire and will that my said brother Cralle and the said James Genn and his said wife may quietly remain and reside in and upon and in the peaceable posession of the houses and lands now in their respective tenures during their respective lives and I leave to all my children to be their heir gratefull ...1

Thomas Mathew seems to have arrived in Virginia sometime around 1660 to join his father, also Thomas Mathew. In February 1662 Thomas Mathew, Jr. witnessed a document for his father.2 A land claim in the name of Thomas Mathew, Sr. dated 20 October 1663 indicates that Thomas Mathew, Jr. had travelled to Virginia five times.3 The Will of Thomas Mathew, Jr. (above) discloses that James Genn managed the affairs of Thomas Mathew, Jr. since he arrived in Virginia. The will also established that Mary was the wife of James Genn. On the 18 February 1679/80, a certificate was granted to Mr. Tho. Mathew for 3800 acres of land for the transportation of 76 persons to Virginia.4 Among the names was a James Jenn, given that we are correctly interpreting the hand written original. Jenn may have become Genn after he arrived in Virginia.

The names of James Genn, Mary Genn and Thomas Genn would later be used as "head rights" in a land grant to George Eskridge dated 22 February 1704/5.5 Eskeridge may have obtained these head rights from the Mathews.

The Thomas Mathews', Sr. and Jr., professional endeavors include planter, rancher, merchant, manufacturer of agricultural implements, miller, captain, attorney, trustee, bondsman, justice and sheriff. It is not clear what aspects of the business was managed by James Genn but his bequest of life tennancy would suggest that he may have managed the plantation.

A most illustrious event in the life of Thomas Mathew began in July 1675 when Doeg Indians stole some of his hogs. English settlers avenged the event by killing some Indians. The Indians returned and killed Thomas Mathew's herdsman, Robert Henn and later returned and killed Thomas Mathew's son. The English settlers were outraged and avenged the killings by slaughtering more Doeg and Susquehannock Indians. The Indians retaliated with more attacks. Governor Sir William Berkeley made no attempt to protect the settlers so Nathaniel Bacon, Jr. was chosen by the settlers to lead an attack on the Indians; he proceeded to do this without a commission from the Governor. Nathaniel Bacon died in October 1676, ending the conflict; Governor Berkeley proceeded to hang all those that had supported him. In 1804, with the help of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Mathew published, The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon's Rebellion, 1675-1676.6

A 1798 Plat of Cherry Point, included in an article on Thomas Mathew by J. Motley Booker, M.D.,7 identifies the land occupied by Cralle and Genn (in this case spelled Ginn). The plat identifies Ginn's Island Acres as the eastern end of Cherry Point, the present site of the village of Lewisetta. By rough measure Ginn's Island scales off to be about 300 acres. Capt John Cralle's land is shown to the south-west on the other side of Kingscote Creek. A sign at the present intersection of roads 624 and 625 reads "Cralle Cove, Private." One source reports that the land that Mathew left to Cralle was never reclaimed by Mathew's heirs but was included as part of Cralle's estate. The same may have happened to Ginn's Island.

From 1684 to 1705 James Genn's name appears repeatedly in the Northumberland County Court orders and records. These involved witnessing wills, jury duty, and minor disputes over finances.

On 17 June 1702, John Claughlin (or Cofflin) was released from being servant to James Genn (spelled Ginn), having completed his term of five years.8

On 20 April 1709, a probate of the will of James Genn was granted to Thomas Genn and James Genn 9. A courthouse fire in 1710 destroyed wills and deeds between 1672 and 1710. Because of this his will was destroyed. It was not rerecorded at a later date by a member of his family. As there are no other Genns in the county records, we will assume that Thomas-2 Genn and James-2 Genn are his sons.

The first reference to land in Virginia being held in the Genn name is a purchase by James2 Genn from John Conway, 17 December 1718, of 150 acres near the Great Wicomico River for the sum of 5000 pounds of tobacco.10

The first reference to Thomas Genn employing servants is dated 15 March 1720. On this date Jane Sallaway, servant to Thomas2 Genn, voluntarily agreed to serve one year beyond indenture, on condition that Genn use his true endeavor to cure her of ailments she is now troubled with, by salvation or otherwise if thought justified.11

Thomas-2 Genn first acquired land on 12 October 1728 when he purchased from William Hill 100 acres in St. Stephens Parish. By its description, this land may have been along the Coan River.12

Thomas-2 Genn's success with servants continued to falter. On 12 March 1738, Mary Doland, servant of Thomas-2 Genn, was convicted of delivering a bastard child at the house of her master. She was ordered to serve an extra year of indenture. Mary Doland refused to pay a fine and the sheriff was ordered to give her 20 lashes at the common whipping post.13

The third generation of Genns is comprised of the children of Thomas2 Genn and James-2 Genn. The children of Thomas-2 Genn were Griffethell, Mary, James, Thomas and Jonathan. The children of James-2 Genn were Judith, Mary and James Genn.14

Two of the sons of Thomas-2 Genn, James-3 and Thomas-3, are well documented. James-3 (Thomas-2) Genn appears in Queen Ann County, Maryland and is on record as purchasing 200 acres of land at the head of the Choptank River.15 His subsequent land acquisitions totalled many hundreds of acres. On 30 August 1780 he was appointed inspector for Choptank Bridge under the Act for the Regulation for the Staple of Tobacco.16

Thomas-3 (Thomas-2) Genn apparently followed his brother to Maryland in 1752 and took up building ships on the Choptank River.17 He had developed his skills as a boatwright before leaving Virginia, evidenced by an order issued on 8 July 1745 whereby a Northumberland County orphan by the name of John Carty was bound to him for the purpose of learning the trade of a boat wright. On completion of his training, Carty was to be given one broad axe, one hand saw, one mall, a chisel, one gimlet and a set of caulking tools.18

James-3 Genn (James-2, James-1 ) was born 27 August 1718.19 On 19 December 1739 he sold the land in Northumberland County that he had inherited from his father20 and moved to Prince William County. He purchased 400 acres in Hamilton Parish on 29 April 174021 and lived there with his wife Hannah. On 21 August 1746 he purchased 110 acres on Falmouth Road and Walnut Branch and on 21 May 1748 he purchased an additional 150 acres adjacent to the 400 acres acquired in 1740.22 Between 1746 and 1748 he was granted five blocks of land in Prince William and Orange counties by Right Honorable Thomas Lord Fairfax, a total of 1415 acres.23

James-3 Genn's (James-2, James-1) profession was that of a surveyor. The Hamilton

The South Branch Manor, next in importance to the Manor of Leeds, contained 54,596 acres. It was surveyed by James Genn, 31 March 1747 and in Thomas Bryan Martin's patent, 21 August 1767, is described as lying on the Wappacomo, or Great South Fork, of the Potomac River in Hampshire County.

There are also recorded between 1747 and 1749 some 40 land surveys carried out or supervised by James Genn.26

A more interesting episode in the life of James Genn, the surveyor, was the occasion during a surveying expedition in March and April of 1748 on which James Genn was accompanied by George Washington. It was during this expedition that George Washington, age 16, not only learned his surveying skills but experienced his first exposure to life in the wilderness. The story is well presented in George Washington, a Biography, by Douglas Southall Freeman27. While the subject of the story is George Washington, we are provided some insight into the skills and character of our James Genn.

The following extracts from Freeman provide interesting information of our early ancestor:

A surveying party was about to start for the remote South Branch of the Potomac. James Genn, a veteran Surveyor, was to be in charge; the Proprietor was to be represented by George William Fairfax (age 23, son of Col. William Fairfax). If George Washington cared to do so, he could go with the party. After gaining his mother's permission, he elected to go along.

The other members of the party were identified as: Henry Ashby and Richard Taylor as chainmen, Robert Ashby as marker and William Lindsey as pilot. The 11th of March, 1748, was fixed as the date for leaving Mount Vernon and Belvoir.

The next morning, March 12, 1748, up rode James Genn, the commisioned county Surveyor of Prince William, who lived on the road to Falmouth. (Near the present Catletts, Landmarks, 507.) Genn had been one of the men responsible for the survey in 1746 of the boundaries of the proprietary and had been employed, also, on other works for Lord Fairfax. A more experienced Surveyor than Genn for drawing lines in the frontier woods it scarcely could have been George's good fortune to find in Virginia.

Under Genn's guidance, the two young gentlemen left Neville's "Ordinary" (an inn) and passed over the round hills of what subsequently was Fauquier County.

On Monday morning, March 14, the baggage of the surveying party was sent to the house of Jost Hite near Frederick Town; Genn, Fairfax and Washington proceeded on their own mounts along the river bank where early settlers had cleared some of the finest land and had planted it in grain, in hemp and in tobacco.

By the 15th, Genn probably had finished recruiting his chainmen and other assistants and had prepared to run a line around parts of Cates and Long Marshes. The party set out eagerly but soon encountered a rain, which increased so much in severity that the surveyors had to seek shelter. They waited and chafed and, when the sun finally came out again about 1 o'clock, they decided to resume their work. Much ground was covered before darkness sent the entire party back to Pennington's (home of Isaac Pennington).

George, being inexperienced, did not make an examination of the beds. His weariness led him to disrobe as if he were at home, and then to seek rest. He was horrified, when he went to the sleeping quarters, to find that his "bed" was matted straw with nothing over it except one threadbare blanket..... He soon discovered that blanket and bed were an independent establishment of vermin so numerous that they seemed to weigh as much as the blanket itself..... When the light at last was carried out, George jumped up,..... put on his clothes and lay down, fully clad, on the floor with the other members of the party. (This incident gives new meaning to the declaration that, "George Washington slept here.")

(March 18) ...the Potomac ...was six feet above normal and rising. As Surveyor Genn planned to cross the river and to proceed along a trail on the Maryland side, he was balked.

By the afternoon of the third day on the Potomac, Sunday, March 20, the surveyors reasoned they could swim their horses across the Potomac, could return to the Virginia side and, the next day, could carry their belongings to the Maryland shore in a canoe. It was a bit reckless, perhaps, but it was successful.

Wednesday (March 23) .....After noon the downfall ended and the skies cleared; but the Potomac was too high and the road too wet for Genn to think of riding farther up the river bank to the point where he intended to recross to the Virginia side. There was the prospect of continued boredom when, to the surprise of all and to the particular delight of George, thirty Indians appeared from nowhere. They were a war party, they told their friend Cresap, but they were somewhat chagrined to own that their expedition had been unprofitable. One scalp was all they had to show for their hardships and their journey.

Presently, from the store of liquor the surveyors carried with them, a friendly offering was tendered the redmen..... they stretched a deerskin over (a pot) to make a drum. Another savage brought a it were shot enough to yield a rattle. Other natives ... were clearing a piece of ground and fetching wood. ... they soon had a roaring fire around which they seated themselves in a circle. ...a lithe savage jumped into the circle as if he were dazed with sleep. The comedy was entrancing. Other Indians joined the first performer; the drummer and the man with the rattle began their accompaniment of the dance. George watched closely and later he wrote carefully in his journal a brief account of the whole occurrence.

The next day, Friday the 25th, the current of the river West of the mouth of the South Branch did not seem to be swift enough to endanger a horse that undertook to swim to the Virginia shore. The men, it appeared, could get across in a canoe. ...To reach Patterson Creek, via Maryland, had been Genn's aim from the first. Nightfall found him and his party at the farm of Abram Johnston, fifteen miles up the creek.

On the 29th, eighteen days after the start from Belvoir, the first tract of Rutledge's was surveyed. Then, on the 30th, the principal subdivision was taken in hand near the Stump settlement. The next day, for the first time on the expedition, George himself ran the lines of one of these surveys.

George William Fairfax on the 4th of April left the party temporarily, perhaps to arrange for new supplies. At the moment, there on the frontier, the absence of Fairfax deprived George of most of the fun of the expedition. Apparently, Genn and his assistants were not companionable.

In a wild region on the evening of the 8th, the surveyors pitched camp and lighted a fire. Then each man took out such food as he had, and proceeded to cook it. "Our spits," George recorded, "was forked sticks, our plates was a large chip; as for dishes, we had none."

George previously in his journal had made no mention of impending departure, but now he and Fairfax suddenly decided they had had enough of the wilderness or else their designated time was up. ...headed for the lower Potomac. The first evening they went to John Collins's for an early start the next day; on the 10th the two rode boldly over the hills and mountains that Genn had avoided, and, when they reached the settlement on the Cacapon, they estimated they had covered forty miles. Hard riding on the 11th brought them to Frederick Town by noon.

The two riders intended to make for Williams's Gap and then to proceed along the road to Belhaven. In some manner they lost direction and got as far South as Ashby's Gap before they discovered their mistake. Doubling back to Williams's was a tedious vexation.

When the journey ended the next day, April 13, for Fairfax at Belvoir and for George at Mount Vernon, their expedition to the Valley could not be described as an adventure of frontier hardship unflinchingly borne, but it could written down as compassing the most useful thirty in the open; he had been among Indians, and he had learned as much about their ways as he could in two days. Even if there had been an element of farce in the return ride, he had seen with his own eyes the fine western lands. He had felt the frontier.27

James Genn and George Washington continued to work together as surveyors. In the Virginia Historical Society Archives can be seen a surveyor's field book. It is yellowed, fragile and held together with a red ribbon. On opening it, one finds carefully sketched on each right hand page, a plot of a land survey. On the adjacent left hand page is a carefully hand written description of the survey, with the azimuth of each leg and its distance in poles. A pole is equal to 5.5 yards. Some of these surveys are signed by James Genn, others by G.Washington. Two pages from the field book are included with this article. It is an interesting supposition that with the scarcity of writing material, surveyors had to share their field books.

Descendants of these colonial Virginia Genns can be found throughout the United States, across Canada, this author included, and in Brazil, Australia and in times past, India. These Genn cousins around the world have united to write their story. If you wish to contact us regarding this story or any other family connection that we may be heir to, please write to:

    David Genn
    10251 Algonquin Drive
    Richmond, B.C., Canada
    V7A 3A5

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