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Life Along the Blackwater
Sussex County, Virginia
Charles Gee II
Charles II was the second son of Charles and Hannah Gee. He was born about 1696 and was thirteen years old when his father died. Charles did not receive any education, unlike his older brother, James. He could not sign his name to his will, but made his mark. However, many planters in Sussex and Prince George could not read or write. Charles most certainly relied upon his older brother James when these skills were needed. The Albermarle Parish Register notes in 1742 that Charles Gee II was Captain Charles Gee indicating that he served in the Militia for Sussex County.
On June 22, 1722 at age twenty-six, Charles purchased 425 acres on the Southside of Blackwater Swamp, beginning at an ash on Warwick Swamp. He paid forty shillings for his plantation. This tract was located in the area which became Sussex County in 1754. His neighbors were Thomas Taylor and Thomas Tomlinson.
Charles seems to have bought this acreage in preparation for his marriage to Bridget Neville. It appears they were married in 1722, probably the late fall or early winter. Most marriages occurred at this time of the year because there was a break in the labor of raising tobacco which allowed families time to gather for celebrations.
Bridget was probably between sixteen to eighteen years old when they married. She and Charles had eleven children born between 1723 and 1745. Their first child was Charles III. He was born in 1723. His story follows in another chapter. It appears their next four sons were born in the order of James, William, Nevil, and then Henry. Between these boys were three girls, Rebecca, Elizabeth and Penelope. The Albermarle Parish Register tells us Benjamin was born in 1739, John in 1742 and Jesse in 1745.
Bridget Gee died on September 10, 1748. She was forty-two or forty-four years old. Charles was left with a home full of children. His youngest was only three years old. There is no record that he remarried. If he did his second wife gave him no children and died before him.
It appears that as his sons came of age, Charles helped them establish their own plantations. He provided each son with about 250 acres in what became Lunenburg County. These were not gifts. Rather it seems that each son worked to pay for the land thus returning the value back to Charles. By doing this they enabled him to finance land purchases for all eight sons.
In 1746, James the eldest son was deeded 223 acres in what became Lunenburg County. He was about twenty-five years old. Charles may have helped him purchase this land. In 1749 James purchased another 250 acres. That same year William, the third son, went to Lunenburg. He was twenty-one or twenty-two years old, but William did not own any land in Lunenburg. It would seem he went to Lunenburg to work the second plantation purchased by James. Eventually, William bought his own plantation, but there is no deed so the exact year in unknown.
Apparently Charles decided that Lunenburg was where his sons wanted to settle. After thirty years of growing tobacco his plantation was very near the end of its productive life. New virgin land was what his sons needed if they were going to prosper and Lunenburg provided this. In July, 1750 Charles bought 400 acres near where James had settled. In 1756 he bought an adjacent 400 acres. By 1752 the fourth son, Nevil, was living in Lunenburg. As with William, he was about twenty-one years of age when he left home, but he did not own any land. Nevil worked part of the 400 acres owned by his father. Henry, the fifth son, soon joined his brothers and worked the 400 acres with Nevil.
In 1759 after working for seven years for their father Charles deeded Nevil and Henry each 266 acres of the 800 acres he then owned.
10 Oct 1759. Charles Gee of Sussex Co. to Henry Gee of Lunenburg for 26 pds a tract of 266 acres, it being part of a tract of 800 acres which is described in a patent & bounded by Booker & Cocke’s line, new line. Signed Charles Gee. Witnessed by John Ragsdale, Neavill Gee, Joseph Ragsdale.
I, Charles Gee Sr. of Sussex County for the love I have for my son, Neavel Gee of Lunenburg have given him 266 acres, it being part of a tract of land I own in Lunenbrug on the Brs. of CrookedCr, bounded by Booker & Cocke’s lines, Ragsdales line, Edloe. Signed Oct., 1759. Charles Gee. Witnessed by John Ragsdale, Joseph Ragsdale, Henry Gee. 4 Dec 1759.
In 1759, Charles had three sons remaining at home. Benjamin went to Lunenburg in 1764 and worked the final 266 acres owned by Charles. John and Jesse remained on the home plantation in Susex. In 1764 Charles was about 68 years old and probably not able to do most of the arduous work required.
In 1764 the tithe lists for Lunenburg County for the area from Hounds Creek to the head of the Nottoway and Meherrin Rivers lists the following Gees:
Henry: 1 tithe and 500 acres
Nevil: 1 tithe and 300 acres
Benjamin: 1 tithe and 0 acres
James 1 tithe and 624 acres
Charles: 9 tithe and 200 acres
William: 3 tithes and 243 acres
Will of Charles Gee II
August 27, 1768: Will Book B page 168
In the name of God Amen, I Charles Gee of the County of Susses, being sick and weak of body but of pefect mind and memory, Thanks be to Almighty God for the same, therefore calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing it is appointed for all men to come to die I do make and order this to be my last will and testament in manner and form as followeth.
First and principally I commend my Immortal soul into the hands of Almighty God that gave it me hopeing through the merits of my Blessed Lord to Inherit Life Everlasting and as to my mortal body I commit it to the earth from whence it was taken to be buried at the discretion of my fellow creatures. First my will is that my just Debts be paid. Secondly I leave my worldly estate as followeth:
Item: I give unto my son Jesse my plantation where I now live with four hundred and twenty-five acres of land there to belonging to him and his assigns forever.
Item: I give my stock of cattle to be equally divided between my two sons John Gee and Jesse Gee to them and their heirs and assigns forever.
Item: I leave all my Negroes to be sold by my Executors together with all the Residue and Remainder of my Estate of what kind or Quality so ever it be and the money there from arising to be equally divided amongst my children. To wit: James Gee, Charles Gee, William Gee, Henry Gee, Benjamin Gee, John Gee, Nevil Gee, Jesse Gee, Elizabeth Bonner, Penelope Heath to them and their heirs and assigns forever. My will and desire is that my estate may not be appraised.
Lastly I constitute and appoint my two sons Benjamin Gee and Henry Gee Executors of this my last Will and Testament for Witness thereunto set my hand and affix my seal this fourth day of January in the year of Our Lord Chrsit one thousand seven hundred and sixty eight.
The witnesses were Richard Carter, Joshua Boisseau, and Benjamin Rives. Charles Gee made his mark and this was noted in the Sussex Will Book.
At a court held for Sussex County the 19th of August, 1768, Benjamin Gee and Henry Gee, executors obtained a certificate for probate.
Inventory of the Estate, November, 1768
Because no appraisal was done the inventory is an abbreviated list. It may have been carelessly done and may not represent all of his personal estate. It reads:
A parcel of old iron
37 head hogs
A parcel of cotton
One hand saw
|2 beds and furniture
One Bay (horse)
One iron pestel
A parcel of pewter
4 pewter dishes
A pair of shoes
Pinchers and nippers
One gallon jug
A pair of stilliars
One box iron
A parcel of wool
One spinning wheel
2 pots and pot hooks
A pair of sheepshears
a parcel of tobacco
A parcel of corn
Benjamin Reeves (Rives) Bond L20.15.2, Sonbys Bond L16.14.10,
James Gee L2.26, William Gee L12, Henry Gee for Rent L1, James Bonner L81.6, Charles Gee L1.16.6
The last items appear to be debts owed to the estate. It is unclear what land Henry Gee was renting or if this was the son of Charles or a nephew. The bonds indicate that Charles was surety for Benjamin Rives and a fellow named Sonby.
Soon after Charles died Jesse sold the plantation and joined his brothers in Lunenburg County. John left for South Carolina. It is clear the brothers maintained contact throughout their lives. Their oldest brother, Charles III, had gone to North Carolina around 1750, but the distance was not far.
A map drawn in 1733 by Mosley of the North Carolina-Virginia border indicates a Gee farm on the north side of the Meherrin River at the junction of the Nottoway River just inside North Carolina. This area was Northampton County. In 1760 it was included in Hertford County. The Abstracts of Vol. I, p. 855 of the Colonial Records of North Carolina relates that at a meeting in the home of Captain John Heckelfield in Little River, on Jul 4, 1712, William Maule and John Council stated that three tracts of land formerly patented by Charles Gee upon the Northside of Morratock River had lapsed …for want of a seating and asked that the same be granted to them. This was done and the deed was transferred in 1715. Later, in 1729, John Council of Isle of Wight County, Virginia sold to Solomon Alston of Bertie Precinct, for 10 ₤ current money, 100 acres. This land seems to be very close to 640 acres purchased by Charles Gee I. In 1716, Captain James Gee, his eldest son, sold this 640 acre North Carolina tract to William Bridges of Isle of Wight County. The deed reads:
James Gee of Surry County, Virginia, to William Bridges, of Isle of Wight County, Virginia, 640 acres on north side of Meherrin River, September 15, 1716, testified to by James Gee and John Nairne, also patent granted to Charles Gee, heired by me for him.
It is most likely that the Gee farm noted in 1733 on the map belonged to James Gee, having been inherited by him upon the death of his father Charles. This land was very well situated for driving cattle or hogs the short distance to Norfolk which was the main anchorage of the tobacco fleet. A tenant may have been placed on this farm to raise cattle or hogs. Historians note that this was a practice followed by owners of more than on plantation. However, Charles II may have worked this plantation prior to his purchase of his plantation in Sussex County. Charles II did not purchase his 425 acre plantation in Sussex until 1722. Both the Nevilles and Drurys held land in the same general area of the Gee farm located on the Mosley map. This may explain the meeting of Charles II and Bridget Neville.
Life along the Blackwater
The rise in the standard of living for Virginians during the first half of the eighteenth century allowed them a measure of comfort and made life less burdensome. Charles and Bridget began their married life in a one room cottage but as soon as they could they built a home. It was similar to the many homes which can be seen today throughout Southside Virginia.
The floor plan was similar to the home of Charles and Hannah, only larger. A central hall divided the home and two fireplaces stood at each end. The main floor was one room deep, however on half may have been divided into two roos. The front room served as the public room and contained the fireplace. A small back room could be used a an office or school room. While Charles could not read or write, he probably was perfectly capable of doing the math needed to keep track of his debts and accounts. This room was without heat, as were the four bedrooms upstairs. Across the hall was the largest room which held the table for eating. This was where the family spent its time together.
Charles probably employed one of the master carpenters in the area who acted as architect and builder. The home was roomy and comfortable. Decorative wood trim and high baseboards edged the walls. The dining room may have had wood wainscoting topped with a chair rail to protect the upper plaster walls. Wallpaper became popular after 1730 and Bridget probably papered the wall above the wainscoting with a scenic pattern which matched her colors in paint and fabric. Paints came in bright colors such as yellow, blue, green and a deep brick red. White became popular around 1750. The windows in her home were glass with large square panes. The winter cold was kept out by shutters and layered draperies. Bridget probably added beauty to her home through he draperies. The house was very pleasant with color used freely in paint and fabric.
Bridget’s sitting room was probably furnished in mahogany. The oak of the 17th century had given way in popularity with furniture makers to the dark wood from South America and the West Indies. While Charles and Bridget may have ordered furniture from England there was a local source. The County records indicate that each year several estates of deceased citizens were auctioned by the executors. Usually the bidders were relatives, but not always.
Chairs and tables were the major pieces of furniture in the dining and public room. There was probably as many as ten or twelve in Bridget’s home at one time. These were rush bottomed and leather. Besides the large table for dining there was a smaller table in the public room to hold the candlestick. They probably had two chests and a trunk. The chests held the household pewter which was shined bright and resembled silver. Linens were also stored in the chests. The trunks held their valuables. Clothes were hung from pegs on the bedroom walls. With such a large family it is doubtful anyone had more than three changes of clothing at any one time. Most Virginians had but two, the one they were wearing and the one being washed.
Each bedroom contained a feather bed which was about the size of today’s double bed. The sheets were made of a tightly woven fabric called canvas but it was not the canvas we know today. Each bed had a bolster which was a long narrow pillow. Some of the rooms may have had rugs and a few pieces of furniture, a small table or chair. Warmth in the unheated bedrooms was a problem in winter. It was solved in two ways: first with quilts, layers of them, and second by sleeping several to a bed. This combined with sleeping on a feather mattress made it all fairly comfortable althought a bit smelly. William Byrd wrote in his diary a complaint about the smell of one feather bed in the home of a wealthy friend where he stayed the night. Without frequent airing this was a common problem.
Bridget certainly had help fro one or two slaves with her household tasks. She may have received one as part of her dowry. At times she may have felt they were mor trouble than help. Diaries from the time are filled with complaints about the difficulties associated with household slaves, even in the richest households.
Bridget and her help produced nearly every essential her family needed. She was a candle maker, soap maker, cloth weaver, dyer and tailor. The garden was her responsibility and the preparartion of a stock of food to see her family through winter her primary concern. In addition to feeding her family, Bridget has to provide clothing and household linens. As the country matured clothing and cloth became less expensive. Woolen goods and clothes were sent from England. Indigo blue linen, in various shades, was the favorite fabric for lighter clothing in Southside Virginia.
Virginia planters were great visitors. They thought nothing of riding twenty miles to consult with one another. A favorite means of travel was by canoe along the many streams in Southside Virgnia. It was frequently easier and quicker than overland as the area was still mostly wooded and undeveloped in the first half of the century. Even today, the Southside are where Charles lived is a mass of trees that hinder travel and make each clearing an isolated island in the midst of the woods. When Charles had a visitor, Bridget made certain he was fed and provided a bed if he needed to sleep over.
Virginians gathered together frequently. After church, friends, families and neighbors shared a meal, drink and conversation. These gatherings were often impromptu and occasions for match making. Planned socials where young people gathered, under supervision, to dance, eat and drink also aided courtship. Dancing was a favorite pastime.
We can speculate that Charles had two leisure activities because these sports were Virginia passions. The first was horse racing and horse breeding. The other was cock fighting. Militia drills, elections, and any other holiday where men gathered were occasions for racing and cock fighting.
The care and supervision of his Negro slaves was a major concern for Charles. He held six when he died, but it is possible that he provided each of his sons with one or two to assist on their plantations. Slaves were a very expensive investment and their well being would have been extremely important to a small planter such as Charles. Few planters could afford to be careless about their well being. We cannot assume that all slave owners were curel or wicked. While punishment most certainly was given, there was a code regarding the proper conduct of a gentleman planter toward his slaves. An owner would not be punished for excessive abuse or even killing his property but other planters were quick to shun a man unable to control himself or conduct himself as a gentleman. Where only a few slaves were held it is known that a bond sometimes developed between slave and owner that wws not too different than the bond which can develop when someone works for the same boss for many years. This was particularly true of house slaves. House slaves sometimes developed a protective and nearly familieal relationship with their owners and children. However, on large plantations with absentee owners the slaves received frequently brutal treatment. Slavery cannot ever be condoned. The ownership of slaves by our ancestors is a sad reflection of their time and culture. If ur ancestors had been poor they would not have owned slaves, but since they lived in an grarian economy built upon slave labor, the choice hinged on economics. Slavery was an accepted practice in much of the world in the 17th and 18th century. Many great men held slaves during this time and setting them free was not simply a matter of conscience or economics, although econoimics certainly made it extremely difficult. Freedom for slaves at various times was forbidden by law. That racial prejudice was part and parcel to slavery is undeniable, but it is not the only factor, and it was not the causal factor. Slavery grew out of a need to solve the labor shortage in the South and the centuries old custom of indentureship.
Surrounding his home Charles would have built a barn, slave quarters, a tobacco shed, as well as a work house where black smithing, coopering and other farm skills were practiced. Charles was a hand on manager. He most certainly rose in the middle of the night to nurse a sick slave or deliver a calf. He would have spent long hours teaching a variety of skills to his laborers and sons. He would have worked alongside them.
From his inventory it would seem that the plantationwas close to being worn out from the cultivation of tobacco. Nearing the end o fhis life Charles seems to have concentrated on cattle and hogs. Charles was about seventy-two years old when he died and his financial condition ws certainly at a low point. This should be expected. It is clear tht he did well during his life and that he was a good farmer and manager. Despite his lack of education, it is also clear that Charles arranged for his sons to receive an education.
It was the rare Virginia planter during this period who did not arrange for the education of his sons in reading, writing and arithmetic. Charles may have secured an indentured servant to act as tutor. There were frequent advertisements placed by brokers offering men suitable to teach the basics to young children. It is more likely Charles got together with close neighbors to build a free school on a soured field. They would have hired a tutor or indentured servant to teach, supporting the school with tithes. The final option that Charles had was to send his sons to live with a close relative who had a teacher living on his plantation. It may be that some of his sons studied and lived with their uncle, Captain James Gee, who was the wealthiest of the family. Charles III was particularly close to his uncle James and this may be the reason. The final option would be to send a son to England for education; however, it is doubtful that this was an option chosen by Charles. The education that Charles gave his sons would have been only a few years. After learning to read and write, most young men began a program of self education, studying books and pamphlets, political, legal and religious, which were borrowed from their wealthier neighbors and family. Charles probably arranged for his children to learn dancing and some music. Teachers rode a circuit from one plantation to another teaching young boys and girls the finer arts of etiquette, dance and music.
Bridget was the teacher for their daughters and, like Charles, she transferred to them all the skills she had which would enable them to care for their future families. Bridget probably could not read or write. Most girls of her generation, in even the wealthiest families, were only able to sign their names. Because most families could only afford the expense of educating their sons, Bridget’s daughters were probably not taught at school. By the middle of the century in families which had become mainstays in the community, many of the daughters received a cursory education in reading and writing. Because the practical skills were taught by doing, the children also learned to work and to be self reliant. Children took on hard tasks at a very early age and were given responsibilities of adulthood early.
It seems clear that the family of Charles and Bridget were close and in communication with each other throughout the years. Five of the brothers lived on neighboring plantations in Lunenburg. William and Charles III were not too far away and could visit often. The sons and daughters of these seven brothers would migrate throughout the South and become the largest branch of the Gee family tree in America.
Charles and Bridget Gee Tree
b. about 1721
Charles Gee III
d. November, 1810
1st Elizabeth Hancock
b. about 1730
2nd Elizabeth Dobie
b. about 1727
b. about 1729
d. July, 1804
b. about 1733
1st Elizabeth Darden
2nd Elizabeth Green
b. September 19, 1739
b. January 20, 1742
b. January 9, 1745
d. November, 1823
b. about 1735-37
b.. about 1735-37
b. before 1748