Tidewater Virginia–A Workplace for your Ancestors

According to Eric G. Grundset in “Revolutionary War Accounts at Virginia’s Shipyards on the Chickahominy and Pamunkey Rivers,” Magazine of Virginia Genealogy 47 (Feb 2009), Virginia had one of the largest state navies during the American Revolutionary period.  With several shipyards at work, including Chickahominy in James City County and Pamunkey in New Kent County.

Nearby was a large iron forge at New Providence, in Charles City County with others not too far distant.

These busy enterprises employed slave labor from surrounding plantations, loaned,  leased, and rented.  They also employed local residents to build and repair ships.  And although the records that seem to have survived, are not extensive, those available in Record  Group 48, Auditor of Public Accounts, Library of Virginia, Richmond document both white and black workers, 1776-1780/81.

The author sites specific studies completed on both shipyards.  And he references published lists of non-commissioned seamen and marines, as well as soldiers who served in the Virginia State Line during the Revolutionary War.

Grundset indicates the work of ancestors at these shipyards may serve as proof of patriotic service for admission to lineage societies.

Actually, finding records of this kind of service and employment is a matter of jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction is often thought of as locality–one of the four principal search dimensions that  genealogy instructors stressed in classes of yore.  Jurisdiction, however, is much broader.  Business enterprises are jurisdictions with authority to engage, oversee, and pay employees.

Not every one was a farmer!  Skilled occupations were in great demand.  And the need for ships required a work force large enough to fill that need and of efficient cost to render production feasible.

Virginia was in a special place to supply ships:

  1. Virginia had many navigable rivers that all emptied into the tidewater Chesapeake Bay.
  2. Virginia had a large slave population on plantations conveniently  located to those rivers.
  3. Plantation masters welcomed paid work for their slaves to supplement their own regular incomes.
  4. White workers nearing fulfillment of indentured servant contracts were also available to expand the work force–many with precision skills needed at the shipyards.
  5. Virginia’s peacetime seamen were just as patriotic and eager to serve in the Revolutionary commitment as were the soldiers.  Don’t overlook the miles of tidewater frontage present in this large colony.

Many thanks to Eric Grundset for sharing these documents and their whereabouts.  Oh, that we all had the time to explore among the unused records at the Virginia Library in Richmond and through collections of Virginia documents on microfilm at the Family History Library.  Or,secreted away in the uncatalogued and unprocessed collections at other libraries across the country with Virginia interests.

On each research trip I make, I try to factor in some exploratory time to locate both printed and original documentation for Virginia ancestors.  Keep tuned in–as I continue  this research.  I’ll keep you posted on what I find.  Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle   http://arleneeakle.com

PS  When I speak on Virginia Genealogy at conferences and at Family History Expos, I incorporate these new discoveries so you too can track your hard-to-find Virgina forebears.

PPS  Join us at the  Family History Expos in Independence-Kansas City MO at the end of July and in Atlanta in November for more Virginia presentations. Check http://www.fhexpos.com for details.

Grundset also indicates their work may serve as proof of patriotic service for admission to lineage societies.

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