Thomas Swann

Expansion and Development

On March 1, 1638,Thomas Swann I, the late William Swann’s son and principal heir, patented the 1,200 acres he had inherited on the south side of the James River, just  east of Smith’s Mount  (Nugent 1969-1979:I:103; Patent Book I Part II:625).  Two months later he patented a second parcel he had inherited from his late father: 300 acres situated near Upper Chippokes Creek (Nugent 1969-1979:I:90; Patent Book I Part II:567). In May 1638 when Thomas Gray patented 550 acres that abutted what became known as Gray’s Creek, Thomas Swann’s acreage was identified as a contiguous piece of property.  As time went on,Colonel Thomas Swann, who was appointed to the Governor’s Council, acquired additional land in that vicinity.  On February 4, 1645, he consolidated his holdings into a patent that enveloped 1,950 acres.  In 1655 and 1658 Swann laid claim to 900 acres along the east side of the Blackwater River, within what was then Surry County.  Later, he added to his property in that area.  In 1668 he patented 500 acres in James City County (Nugent 1969-1979:I:105, 326, 386, 465; II:55; Patent Book I Part I:631; 4:17, 225: 5:220).  He also owned land on Jamestown Island.

Family History

Thomas Swann I was born in May 8, 1616, according to genealogical information recorded by his son,Samuel.  As noted above, he was the son of William and Judith Swann and the grandson of Sir Thomas Swann of  Southfleet, in Kent,England. Thomas Swann I married his first wife,Margaret Debton, on January 13, 1639.  She died at Swann’s Point on April 5, 1646.  Three years later, on January 13, 1649, he married Sarah Cod (Codd), with whom he produced a son, Samuel Swann. Sarah died on January 13, 1654, at Swann’s Point.  By 1640 Thomas Swann I had been appointed the official tobacco viewer for the area between Smith’s Fort (at the head of Gray’s Creek) and Grindon Hill (which lay to the east and originally was part of the Treasurers Plantation).  In 1652 when Surry County was formed, he became high sheriff, an indication that he was a county justice.  During the 1640s and 1650s, he served several terms as a burgess in the colony’s assembly, first representing James City County and then Surry.  He also served as Surry’s sheriff in 1652 and 1653.  He made numerous appearances in court, sometimes as a plaintiff and sometimes as a defendant.  On January 29, 1656, Swann made an agreement with Thomas Hugate, who agreed to construct a small quartering house (twenty-five or thirty feet long) and other outbuildings that together would comprise ninety feet of housing.  While Hugate was constructing Swann’s buildings, he was to occupy “the house next to the waterside,” a twenty foot by forty foot structure, and keep it in good repair.  Occasionally Thomas Swann I was called upon to audit accounts and arbitrate disputes on behalf of the county court.  In July 1655 he married his third wife, Sarah Chandler, who lived until November 10, 1662.  He quickly remarried, taking as his fourth wife, Ann, the widow of Henry Brown.  Finally, in 1668 he wed Mary Mansfield, his fifth wife, with whom he had a son (Thomas Swann II) and three daughters.  Daughter Mary married Richard Bland, whereas daughter Sarah married Henry Randolph I.  Colonel Thomas Swann made his home at Swann’s Point and he owned taverns in urban Jamestown and at Wareneck, in Surry (Withington 1980:190, 534-536; Surry County Deeds, Wills, &c. 1652-1672:6, 32, 197; Orders 1652-1663:94; Stanard and Stanard 1965:73; Nugent 1969-1979:II:55; McIlwaine 1924:503; Hening 1809-1823:I:298, 358-359, 406; McCartney 2000:III:351-352).

Colonel Thomas Swann’s Position in the Colony

Colonel Thomas Swann I was named to the Governor’s Council in 1659, during Governor William Berkeley’s administration, and he served through the late 1660s.  In 1661 when the assembly decided that tan houses were to be built in each county, the vestries of Southwark and Lawnes Creek parishes agreed that Surry County’s should be built upon Colonel Swann’s land.  In 1671 he purchased a bay of a brick rowhouse in Jamestown and around the same time he acquired 37 ½ acres of land on Jamestown Island, just east of Orchard run, abutting the corporate limits of urban Jamestown.  In 1672, when there were heightened tensions with the Dutch, Colonel Thomas Swann I was named to the commission responsible for seeing that a brick fort was built near the western end of Jamestown Island. The popular tavern Swann owned in Jamestown, which at first was managed by his servants but later was placed in the hands of a succession of tenants, was burned on September 19, 1676, when the rebel Nathaniel Bacon put the town to the torch. However, Swann was sympathetic to Bacon’s views and his son, Samuel, was married to Sarah, the daughter of executed rebel William Drummond I.  Colonel Thomas Swann I allegedly sat in on the meeting at which Bacon’s followers discussed burning the capital city.  Some of his detractors called him “ye great toad.”  In 1677 the Special Commissioners that King Charles II sent to Virginia to investigate the causes of Bacon’s Rebellion stayed in Colonel Thomas Swann I’s home at Swann’s Point.  This gave him an ample opportunity to influence their opinions.  After Governor William Berkeley vacated office, Swann regained his council seat.  He also rebuilt his tavern in Jamestown.  Swann often stayed at the tavern when he was in the capital on official business.  When he died on September 16, 1680, he was buried at Swann’s Point (Hening 1809-1823:II:568;Bruce 1898:68; Surry County Deeds, Wills. &c. 1652-1672:168; Order Book 1671-1690:9, 81, 179-180; Stanard and Stanard 1965:38; McIlwaine 1924:491, 514; Withington 1980:535;C.O. 5/1371 f 268; 1/39 f 65; McCartney 2000:III:351-352).  In 1670, when Augustine Herrmann (1673) made a map of Virginia, he indicated that plantations lined the banks of the James River.  One was  shown near Swann’s Point (Figure 2).

[6] On May 24, 1660, the tanhouse that was to be built upon the east side of the mill run on Colonel Thomas Swann’s land was described in detail.  It was supposed to be forty feet long and twenty feet broad.  There also was to be built “higher on the hill,” a dwelling house that was twenty feet by fourteen feet “with what chimneys and other [that] Swann will desire.”  Eight tanning pits were to be dug and finished (Surry County Orders 1652-1663:166).

[7] This parcel was designated Study Unit 3 Tract H during the National Park Service’s Jamestown Archaeological Assessment.

[8] This tavern complex was designated Structure 19 A/B by the NPS and was partially excavated by Dr. John Cotter.  It is located within Study Unit 4 Tract G.