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The Powell Family in America

Source: Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher & Kindred Families; pp. 415-427




The Powell name, as with other surnames, has not had a uniform spelling. In fact, spelling standards did not begin until the latter part of the 19th century, although Benjamin Franklin attempted to reform spelling as early as 1768 when he developed a phonetic alphabet for English. Most written words, names included, were written as they sounded to the person writing the document. It was not uncommon for a man to spell his OWN name several different ways within one document. Powell may be found as Powel, Powle, Poole, etc. In the early part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the son of Powle of Mendehall, England, married Agnes, daughter of John Webb, Esquire, and it is believed that from this union came the descendents of the American family of Powells.

The castle Madoc Brecon, in the county of Brechnoc, Wales, was the home of the Virginia branch of the family before immigrating to America. Three of the family were judges on King's Bench in England.

The Powells in America are said to be descendants of the Royal family of Wales, coming from one of the younger sons of one of the old kings of Wales. (I have found no documentation to support this theory).

The first mention of the name in connection with America was Sgt. Major Anthony Powell, who was killed at St. Augustine in 1586, in the expedition of Sir Frances Drake against the Spaniards.

One Captain John Powell was the first Governor of the Isle of Barbados under English rule. The Powells were among the earliest and wealthiest ship owners and commanders in the colonies. One Anthony Powell was military commander of Sir Walter Raleigh's colonists who landed in America in 1583 at Roanoke Island, where Raleigh was built. Powell's Point on the coast was named in his honor.

Captain Nathaniel Powell, who came to Jamestown, Virginia colony in 1607, wrote much of John Smith's History of Virginia, and it was he who made the first map of Virginia, sending it back to England, where it is now preserved in the British Museum. (See Brown's Genesis of the U.S., pp. 596, 791-816).

The land upon which Williamsburg, Virginia was built was first deeded to Benjamin Powell by the King of England.

Captains William and Nathaniel Powell had large grants of land from the Crown, which they located in the colony of Virginia. At one time the whole county of York, Virginia, was owned by the Powells. William and Nathaniel were both officers in the English Army. They came with Captain John Smith to the English possessions in America, and settled Jamestown in 1607, the first permanent settlement. William Powell was one of the Incorporators of the 2nd Virginia Charter in 1607.

The name of Captain Nathaniel Powell is one of the most prominent in Captain John Smith's History.

In 1618 Captain Nathaniel Powell was Governor of Virginia for a short time. He was appointed a member of the council in 1621. Nathaniel married Miss Tracy, daughter of William Tracy, and granddaughter of Sir John Tracy. The family was massacred by Opechancanough, at Powell's Brooke, on 22 March 1622, near Flower de Hundred, on Nathaniel's Plantation. Twelve in all were massacred. The Indians "haggled their bodies, and cut off Nathaniel's head to express their utmost height of scorn and cruelty."

William Powell was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619. Shortly after the massacre in 1622, Sir George Yeardly, Captain William Powell, and Captain Richard Butler each took a company and joined forces to avenge the deaths of their friends and relatives. They destroyed everything they could find, and returned to Jamestown, where they stayed a month, quartered at Kecoughtan. (See Smith's "History of Virginia", pp. 24, 212, 594)

Captain William Powell and all of his family were murdered in the terrible massacre of 1623, when so many of the Colonists lost their lives. It was thought that one of his sons, George, escaped, but he was not heard from afterwards; and, because no heir appeared to inherit the estate, his lands were returned to Governor Berkley, who deeded it to Captain Henry Bishop in 1646.

In 1626, Thomas Powell, (the eldest brother of Nathaniel) and his brothers and sisters then living in England, petitioned the government in regard to William's estate; they stated that William Powell, who had gotten possession of all of Nathaniel's estate in Virginia, was no relation. How they decided this is not recorded, but in 1653 George, Richard and Maud Powell, supposed to have been neice and nephews of Nathaniel, petitioned for the property, which would indicate that Nathaniel and William left no lineal descendants in Virginia or elsewhere.

Captain John Powell is mentioned as one of the first leading adventurers to Barbados.

One William Powell left two sons, Cuthbert and Thomas, who were living in Lancaster County, Virginia in 1660. They were the ancestors of the Powells of Lancaster and Loudon Counties.

John Powell, born in Virginia, was a minder of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1633 for the District from Waters Creek to Marie's Mount.

Another John Powell was a member of the House of Burgess from Elizabeth City in 1657-60, 1663, 1666-67.

Sir Stephen Powell, reported to be a brother of Captain Nathaniel Powell, was one of the six judges of Chancery of the King's Bench, London, England. He was a member of the Virginia Company in 1619. His son, Captain John Powell, who, with his cousin, John Powell, came to Virginia in 1622.

Dianne's Note: According to an e-mail received from Doug Collins this information regarding Sir Stephen Powell is incorrect. As this is not my line I have not researched it, nor have I included it in any of my genealogy databases.

William Powell came to America from England and settled in Somerset, Maryland in 1620. He later moved to Louden County, Virginia, where he left descendants. He was a younger brother of Captain John Powell; therefore, a son of Sir Stephen Powell of England. Both Captain John Powell and his cousin of the same name, left large families.

There is a tradition before 1776 that Seymour, James, Nathaniel, and Lucas Powell, brothers, had an estrangement which resulted in two of the brothers going south, and Lucas moving to Amherst County, Virginia. The occasion for the separation was a visit Lucas paid to the Royal Governor, when he placed his hat under his arm and made the Governor a very profound obeisance. His brothers construed this as a lack of Colonial patriotism. One of the brothers was a Royalist during the Revolution, and returned to Wales, his old family home. After two generations, his descendants emigrated to America. Major Powell, who was head of the Bureau of Ethology in Washington in the 1890's was descended from this branch.

In 1775, Lucas Powell was elected a member of the County Committee of Amherst, Virginia.

The Powell's, during Colonial days, were all Church of England people.

[p.421] Ambrose Powell married Mary Bledsoe, daughter of George Bledsoe of Maryland. His Will is dated 1704. His son, William Powell, was living near Williamsburg, Virginia in 1694. He married 1st, Jane Seymore. They had five sons:

  1. Seymore
  2. James
  3. Nathaniel
  4. Lucas, and
  5. Levin

His son Lucas (#4) married Elizabeth Edwards and had seven children. She died in 1774. He then married Mrs. Cowper (nee: Roe), from Chesterfield County, Virginia. She had two sons and five daughters when she married Lucas, but three of her stepsons married her daughters.

Another of the Powell brothers married Sally Cowper, cousin of the above.

Children of Lucas and Elizabeth Edwards were:

  1. Elizabeth, born 1755; married Thomas Hawkins. They had ten children:
    1. John
    2. Lucas
    3. Powell
    4. Rebecca
    5. Thomas
    6. William
    7. Nathaniel
    8. Peggy
    9. Eliza
    10. Young

  2. Mildred, married 19 Jul 1780, Captain Richard Taliaferro
  3. Rebecca, born 25 Sep 1769 at Warren, VA; married 14 Dec 1786, John Thompson, who was born in Antrim County, Ireland in Dec 1755 & died 25 Jul 1863 in Nelson County, VA

  4. Nathaniel, married Elizabeth Cowper and had eight children:
    1. Mildred
    2. Rebecca
    3. Harriet
    4. Mary
    5. Sophia
    6. Norbourne
    7. Seymore
    8. Lucas

  5. William, married Mary Cowper and had six children:
    1. Charles
    2. Amelia
    3. Courtney
    4. Lucas
    5. William
    6. Nathaniel

  6. Benjamin, who married Jane Cowper and had six children:
    1. Rebecca
    2. Elizabeth
    3. Sally
    4. Benjamin
    5. Frederick
    6. Abraham

  7. Seymore, married Sally Cowper in 1795. She died in 1798. They had:
    1. Goode
    2. Roe

My Powells have thus far been very elusive. Mary Powell was the wife of Jacob F. Harley, my ggg-grandfather. Census records give her place of birth as Pennsylvania. Her Obituary states that she was 76 years of age at the time of her death, on 18 January 1880, placing her birth 1804/05. A photograph of her headstone gives her age at the time of her death as being "aged 75 years, 1 month and 8 days", which places her birth on 11 Dec 1804. To her were born 14 children, 11 still alive at the time of her death.

Thanks to an e-mail from Romaine Stauffer, a Powell researcher who connects to my line through Peter's sister, Margaret, I was finally able to find parents and grandparents for my Mary. Her father, Peter Powell, died 19 May 1813 in Lampeter, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania at the young age of 30 years. He is buried in the Mellinger Mennonite Cemetery at Lancaster. Buried beside him is his son, Peter Jr., born Feb. 16, 1813,and who died Dec. 20, 1819, age 6 years.

His Gravestone and the records of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster tell us Peter Sr. was born Feb. 3, 1783. He was the son of Edward and Mary (Kehler/Keller) Powell. His will (Book K-1-618) gives his wife's name as Christina Young. Peter and Christiana were married at the First Reformed Congregation at Lancaster county, Pennsylvania on 10 January 1804. My 3rd G-grandmother was their first child, followed by three other children:

  1. Mary Powell, Dec. 11, 1804-Jan. 19, 1880
  2. Daniel Powell, Apr. 1807-Dec. 23, 1858
  3. Eliza Powell, Mar.19, 1809-Mar. 8, 1844
  4. Peter Powell Jr., Feb. 16, 1813-Dec. 20, 1819
The Will of Peter Powell is as follows:

Will of Peter Powell, Lancaster County Archives Book K-1-618

In the name of God Amen. I Peter Powell of Lampeter Township in the County of Lancaster and State of Pennsylvania Yeoman being very weak in body but of sound and disposing mind memory and understanding Do hereby make my last will and Testament in manner and form following that is to say I recommend my Soul to God my Creator and my Body to the dust to be decently Interred at the discretion of my Executors in full hopes of a Glorious Resurrection and an happy admission in and through the merits and intercession of my Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, into the Regions of Bliss and immortality.

  • Item, it is my Will and I do order that all my just debts and funeral expenses be paid off and discharged by my Executors hereinafter named as soon as conveniently may be after my decease.

  • Item, I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Christina the sum of two hundred pounds lawful money of Pennsylvania to be paid to her by my executors one year after my decease and likewise one bed and bedstead at her option, and the remainder to be equally divided amongst my children share and share alike.

  • Item, it is my will and I do order that a certain lot or parcel of ground situate in Warwick Township be sold either at private or public sale as soon conveniently may be after my decease by my executors and, lastly, I do hereby nominate my beloved wife Christina and my trusty friend David Burkholder Executors of this my last Will and Testament hereby revoking and making null and void all and every other Will or Wills Testament and Testaments by me heretofore made published or declared.

In witness whereof I have hereto set my hand and seal the thirteenth day of May 1813
Peter Powell (Seal)
Signed sealed published pronounced and declared by the Testator to be his last Will and Testament in the presence of Christian Musselman, Benjamin Landis, Joseph Jorde

The following is filed as the will went to probate:
POWELL, PETER. Lampeter Twp. June 4, 1813.

Lancaster County on the fourth day of June 1813. Before me the subscriber personally appeared Christian Mussleman, Benjamin Landis and Joseph Jorde who being duly affirmed according to Law did declare and say that they were present and saw and heard Peter Powell the Testator sign seal publish pronounce and declare the foregoing writing as and for his last Will and Testament and that at the doing thereof he was of well disposing mind and memory and understanding to the best of their knowledge observation and belief.
William Bausman, Register

Be it remembered that on the 4th day of June 1813 the last Will and Testament of Peter Powell deceased was proved in due form of Law and Letters Testament thereon were granted to Christian Powell [Mussleman] and David Burkholder the Executors therein named. They having first been duly qualified well and truly to administer the Estate of the said deceased, especially to Exhibit a true and perfect Inventory thereof into the Registers Office at Lancaster within one month from this date and to render a true and just Account of their Executorship of said Estate in one year or when thereto lawfully required. Given under the Seal of said Office
William Bausman, Register

Petition for Guardianship
Orphans Court Book 1813-1816, page 155
On the 22nd of March 1814 on Petition of their mother, Christina, the court appointed David Burkholder and John Landis as guardians over the persons and estates of Mary, Daniel, Eliza and Peter Powell, minor children of Peter Powell, deceased, they being "under the age of 14 years."

On 27 September 1814 Christina Powell was awarded $18.00 annually for Maintenance of Peter Powell, who was 19 months old.

Orphans Court Book 1816-1822, page 460
John Landis and David Burkholder Guardians over the estate of Peter Powell now deceased who was one of the minor children of Peter Powell late of Lampeter Township in the said County of Lancaster deceased, having stated and filed in the Registers Office at Lancaster their Guardianship account on the estate of the said Deceased, and legal notice thereof being given by the Register the same is now produced to the Court for confirmation whereby it appears that the said account was duly reassed by the said Register and that there remains in the hands of the Said Accountant a balance of $231.34 . The court on due examination thereof and a divisment had thereon, approve of and confirm the same; and dived that the balance after deducting therefrom $1.50 the expenses of this Court, the remainder thereof amounting to $229.84 be paid and distributed agreeably to law.

The parents of Peter Powell were Edward and Mary (Keller) Powell who were married 5 January 1771 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

With the exception of Sarah, whose baptismal record was written in English as POWEL, the entries for the other children are written in German using the German spelling of PAUL. The sponsors at the baptisms of these children were always Mary's relatives. Source for the first two children was Pennsylvania Births, Philadelphia County, by John T. Humphrey, Humphrey Publications, Washington, DC; 1995
Baptismal records were from Trinity Lutheran Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; by Debra D. Smith and Frederick S.. Weiser, Eds; 1988

According to the 1790 census Edward and Mary had another son under the age of 16, who was b. about 1775. His baptism record has not been located; however, it is believed that he is the Edward Powell, Jr., Mason, who is first found on the Lancaster Borough tax lists in 1797. "Edward Powell the younger" and his wife, Mary, sold a property in Lancaster to Conrad Anne on 28 March 1825 (Deed Book 16-352, Vol. 4). The records of St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster show that he married Mary Butcher on 17 March 1795, and their children were also baptized there. [This information also supplied by Romaine Stauffer]

Edward Powell first appeared on Tax rolls in Lancaster county in 1777. His children born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania were baptized in the Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster.

Edward was a mason, whose sons also were masons.

Edward was elected a sexton of St. James Episcopal Church on December 2, 1820 at an annual salary of $52.00, one dollar each week. At the same time Mr. George Bechtel was elected organist at a compensation to be fixed later. Among those who subscribed funds for the new church are:

  • Robert Coleman: $1600
  • John Yeates: $450
  • Charles Smith: $650, and
  • James Buchanan: $100







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Web Author: Dianne Elizabeth, © 1999
To reach me by E-mail: deharley@yahoo.com

Web Site: Eagle's Nest, Created July 17th, 1999
Page Title: A Brief History of the Powell Family in America
Page Created: February 7th, 2001
Revised: September 3rd, 2013
URL: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~eaglesnest/Histories/powell.html