A Company of Adventurers

The Voyage of 1647: Thomas Dorwin and Edward Bland

 One of the most intriguing lines of speculation about the origins of William Darwin (1707-86) of Louisa County VA was developed by Bill and Bonnie Darwin in 2000. They made a number of fascinating finds in various Virginian archives, which we will endeavour to summarise here:

 1647: Sir William Berkley's Deed to Edward Bland

 One of Bill and Bonnie Darwin's particularly interesting finds was the 1647 Deed of Sir William Berkley (1605-77), Governor of Virginia Colony, to Edward Bland, wherein

 I...Sir William Berkley Gov. do with this device and consent of the council of Govs, Accordingly give and graunt unto Edward Bland Merchant thirteen hundred acres of land lying on the south side of James River...for the transportation of twenty six persons into the colony all whose names are recorded

 Among the twenty-six names of new colonists to Edward Bland's venture is one Tho. Dorwin.

 The document is intriguing on many counts. It is a reasonable supposition that one Thomas Darwin is hereby indicated and, as a bearer of the family name arriving in Virginia nearly 100 years earlier than our established earliest record for our Darwins in America (the Hardy-Darwin Lawsuit of 1743), is surely a candidate for an ancestor of William Darwin (1707-1786) of Louisa County.

 More, the conjunction of this Thomas Darwin with one Edward Bland has an initial resonance given the later association between the family names with the marriage of John Darwin (1755-1837) and Jane Bland (1762-1827).

 And finally, Bill and Bonnie Darwin have identified, from Burke's Pedigree of the Family of Darwin, a Thomas Darwin (descended from William Darwin of Cleatham, an ancestor of the celebrated scientist Charles R. Darwin, FRS), who is known to have been living in 1679, and was the father of a William Darwin, who was living (but underaged) in 1679. Bill and Bonnie Darwin's conjecture is that this young William is the William Darwin, Senior of the 1746 Hardy-Darwin Land Indenture, and thus the supposed father of William Darwin, Junior (in this reading, taken to be the William Darwin born 1707).

 If this theory is correct, then our 'baseline' ancestor, William Darwin (1707-1786) of Louisa was a great-grandson of William Darwin of Cleatham (circa 1573-1644), who in turn was the 4 x great grandfather of Charles R. Darwin, FRS. Moreover, William Darwin of Cleatham's ancestry can be traced back an additional 4 generations, to William Darwin of Marton in Lincolnshire (died prior to 1542).

 This would indeed be a magnificent breakthrough in pushing back the span of the family's recorded history. However, there are substantial difficulties in the theory, presented below.

 Edward Bland, Merchant

 The distinguished Bland Family of Virginia has been the subject of excellent and extensive research. Although some gaps and uncertainties in this research inevitably remain, it is very clear that the family of 'Edward Bland, Merchant' (1614-52), who belongs to the branch known as 'James River Blands,' is either of no relationship, or else of too-distant a relationship to trace or document, with the family of Jane Bland (1762-1827), wife of John Darwin (1755-1837). Jane Bland's father resided in Edgefield District of South Carolina, and while her earlier ancestors can reliably be traced back to Loudon County, Virginia, there is no connection with the notable Bland Family of the James River.

 If other documents existed that proved the Thomas Dorwin of the 1647 Deed was indeed an ancestor of 'our' William Darwin (1707-1786) of Louisa County, it would still be the case that this early association of the family names of Darwin and Bland was, however striking to our eyes, a simple co-incidence.

 William Darwin of Cleatham

 The question then becomes, what further can be established about this Thomas Darwin? Could the Thomas Darwin who appears in the pedigree of Charles R. Darwin, FRS, be the same Tho. Dorwin who sailed to Virginia with Edward Bland in 1647?

 We have prepared a relevant extract from Burke's 1888 Pedigree of Darwin to illustrate the proposal:

 Generation 1: William Darwin of Cleatham and Mary Healy

 William Darwin of Cleatham

county Lincolnshire. Yeoman of the Armory at Greenwich. Eldest son. Born ante 1580, probably about 1573. Died in 1644. Will dated 13 April, and proved 13 July 1644 at Kirton in Lindsey. Second husband of

 Mary, daughter of Thomas Healy

of Burringham in the parish of Hottesford, co. Lincoln. Buried at Manton, co. Lincoln, 17 Sept. 1679. Executrix of her husband's will. Will dated 29 Aug 1679; proved 11 Sept. 1679 at Lincoln.

 Generation 2: Children of William Darwin of Cleatham and Mary Healy

 William Darwin of Lincoln's Inn

Born 6 June 1620. Executor of his father's will. Marriage settlement dated 2 June 1653. Recorder of the City of Lincoln. Will dated 20 Feb. 1673-4; codicil 24 Aug 1675; proved 23 Nov 1675 in C.P.C. (Dyeer 110). Husband of Anne Earle. These are the 3 x great grandparents of Charles R. Darwin, FRS

 Thomas Darwin

Living in 1679 and probably 1695-6. Executor of the wills of his father and brother. Married to Elizabeth, surname unknown

 Generation 3: Children of Thomas Darwin and Elizabeth

 William Darwin

Living 29 Aug 1679, underage

 Mary Darwin

Living 29 Aug 1679, underage

 The clear difficulty in identifying the Thomas Darwin of Generation 2, above, with the Tho. Dorwin of the 1647 voyage is the fact that the former acted as an executor, not only of his father's will in 1644, but also for that of his brother in 1673 -- a role he could not have undertaken had he settled in Virginia in 1647.

 Moreover, Thomas is named as a beneficiary (as are his own children, William and Mary) in his mother's will of 1679. Although Thomas and his children need not have been resident in England in 1679 to have been beneficiaries of that will, examination of the 1673 will of his brother William (UK Public Record Office of the National Archives, document ref. PROB/11/349, Image 47), does establish that Thomas was resident in England at that time; the will names "my loving brother Thomas Darwyn" (the only sibling named) as an executor of the Will, it further bequeaths "unto my brother one of my horses which he shall chuse."

One might conjecture, to retain this proposed identification, that 'Thomas Darwin, son of William Darwin of Cleatham' sailed to Virginia in 1647 with Edward Bland, but subsequently returned to England by 1675 to act as his brother's executor, may still have been present with his children in 1679 to appear as a beneficiary of his mother's will, and eventually returned with his son William to Virginia at some later date -- but this is to compound conjectures, in our view, beyond reasonableness without other supporting evidence.

 Other Difficulties

 It should be considered that, in the absence of any other evidence, there is no reason to suppose that an ancestor of William Darwin of Louisa should appear on the Pedigree of the Family of Darwin; after all, it is only the presence of a highly-distinguished scientist of a later generation that led this particular pedigree to be researched and published while the pedigrees of hundreds of other Darwin families remain unrecorded. As we noted in our discussion of Burke's Pedigree, the absence of a death date for Thomas in that document may signify nothing more than Burke's omission of fully researching individuals who are peripheral to his main line of research.

 Moreover, as is considered in our discussion on William Darwins, Junior and Senior, it is by no means certain that the 1746 Hardy-Darwin Land Indenture really does name a Darwin of an earlier generation than our baseline, William Darwin of Louisa (1707-1786). All the same, as we have argued, if the 'William Darwin, Senior' of that document is taken to be our 'baseline' ancestor William (1707-86), his father may have still been named 'William' (or anything else) as well.

 It should also be considered, although the identification of Thomas Darwin, son of William Darwin of Cleatham with the Tho. Dorwin of the 1647 Voyage with Edward Bland appears extremely unlikely, Tho. Darwin may still be considered a candidate as an ancestor of William Darwin of Louisa County. But considerable difficulties remain even with this conjecture. The span of nearly a century from the 1647 voyage to the James River and the 1743 Hardy-Darwin Lawsuit in Louisa County is a formidable gap for which no evidence of a Darwin family has yet been found. But of course, the search continues!

 On balance, we consider that this theory, though tantalising, is far from proven and is beset by too much unsupported conjecture to be compelling. It could be the case, but does not, on present evidence, appear likely.