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The Early Fly Family of Virginia: Part I

This is a description of the Fly family in colonial Southside Virginia.  Southside Virginia is that area in Virginia south of the James River extending to the North Carolina border.  It includes the counties of Norfolk, Nansemond, Isle of Wight, Surry, Sussex, Prince George, Princess Anne, Southampton, Greensville and others. 

This account is based on a careful examination of existing court and church documents of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  The Fly name occurs in the records of England as early as the 11th century and it appears that members of the family settled in Maine, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Virginia during the colonial era; each founding separate branches.  This is an account of the Virginia and North Carolina families.

Overwhelming reliance is placed on primary sources, i.e., information recorded at, or very near, the time of the event by those who were in a position to be familiar with events.  This is a documentary history.

Family stories are viewed with a great deal of skepticism for several reasons.  First, this time period is very distant and stories may change with each generation as misunderstanding occurs and memory fails.  Secondly, the stories themselves often conflict and in some cases have proven errors. Thomas Rhodes Lincoln, another Fly family researcher, stated in his unpublished notes that:

"One must be guarded in accepting family tradition as historic fact.  Traditions should be evaluated, used as possible guideposts leading to undisputed history, but rejected if they are impossible to prove." [1]  

Any family story needs supporting evidence such as deeds, wills, tax lists, etc.  The guidelines of the National Genealogical Society, published by the Society on the Internet, urge the researcher to accept statements about the family which are best supported by the evidence.   Fly or Flythe family researchers are strongly urged to examine records to verify, if possible, any and all claims made about the history of the family.

 "There is nothing sadder than a beautiful theory murdered by a ruthless gang of facts."
                                                                                                                    Author Unknown

Interpretation of the documents is also important.  The first appearance of a particular name in a court document may be a rough indicator of that person's birth year.  Rough estimates of adulthood are made by subtracting 21 from the date of a particular document.  This can also be useful in estimating the approximate birth dates of parents.  The wording of wills can also indicate in a general way the ages of the heirs.

The law changed over time, but should be applied to the documents available.  Disregard of legal requirements of a particular era can lead to mistaken interpretation of the contents of a legal record.  Historical events and trends should also be used to provide a better understanding of our ancestors’ behavior.

Careful reading of Southside records was necessary because the Ely family lived in the same general area as the Fly family and confusion of the two names is quite possible.  The name has also been spelled fflye, Flye, Flythe, Flith, Flygh, Flaythe, and Fley.  The New England branch of the family that originated in Devon, England consistently used the name Flye.  The South Carolina branch consistently used Flay or Fley.

About 1838 in Northampton County, North Carolina the spelling of the name was changed to Flythe.  The Fly descendants who left North Carolina before that time retained the Fly spelling.  Not all members of the family changed the spelling at the same time so searches of the mid-1800s record may need to use both spellings.

The early family line in Isle of Wight County, Virginia is simple. William Fly was father of Jeremiah Fly who was father of John Fly.  There is absolutely no documentation or family stories that provide the identity of William’s father and mother.  

William Fly/Flye of Isle of Wight County, Virginia

Early in 1676, Nathaniel Bacon and his followers began attacking some of the Native American villages along the frontier.  The Governor, William Berkeley, could not tolerate this apparent rebellion and acted to dissolve the House of Burgesses.  Bacon’s supporters were probably motivated by economic conditions in the colony at the time.  There was a small class of landed gentry and a larger group of small landowners, freed indentured servants and immigrants who had arrived in Virginia with nothing, but their ambition.  The small landowner or yeoman farmer faced raids by Indians who were armed by Dutch traders and competition from the large landowners who could market large amounts of tobacco. Disease was a problem and the death rate was high. 

There is no record of William Fly’s birth.  He may have been born in England or in Virginia.  No one knows.  However, as an adult he was most likely a yeoman farmer.  The first appearance of this member of the Fly family in Southside Virginia court records occurred in October of 1677.

Petition of His Majesties most loyal and obedient subjects of Isle of Wight to his Majesties Commissioners, in behalf of William West, a rebel absconding……..We pray for his life and the restitution of his estate to his wife and children.        Signed: (among others)… Will (O) Fly.” [2]

This petition was a response to the events surrounding Bacon’s Rebellion.  There is no indication that William Fly was a part of Bacon’s Rebellion, but his mark on the petition indicates that he was over 21 and probably born before 1656.

About a year later, William purchased 100 acres of land from Christopher Blythe:

Sept. 8, 1678.  Isle of Wight Co., Va.: Christopher Blyth sells to William Fly 100 acres adjoining William Oldis. [3]

This 300 acre tract of land had been granted to William Oldis in 1662.  It was subsequently assigned to Richard Sharp for the heirs of William Blythe, including Christopher Blythe. The land was located on the west side of Cypress Swamp not far from the Isle of Wight County Courthouse.

Exactly when William Fly married cannot be known because there are no surviving church records or court licensing records, but he seems to have married well.  His wife, Mary Smith, was daughter and granddaughter of two members of the House of Burgesses, Arthur Smith and his son Col. Arthur Smith II (1638-1696).

According to John Bennett Boddie in Southside Virginia Families, Mary Smith’s mother was Sarah Jackson, daughter of Richard Jackson and Elizabeth Pierce, daughter of Alice (mnu) Pierce Bennett and Thomas Pierce. [4]  The first Arthur Smith in Virginia was thought to be a younger son of Arthur Smith of Blackmore, Essex, England. The English manor house and former priory was on the Blackwater River. The Arthur Smith of Virginia owned at least 1450 acres of land and in future years, the town of Smithfield, Virginia would be founded on a portion of that land along Pagan Creek in Isle of Wight.  William Fly married a daughter of a member of the landed gentry.

By Dec. 6, 1679, William Fly pronounced a nuncupative or spoken will and appointed his wife to be executrix:

Dec. 6, 1679.  Isle of Wight.  William Fly. By nuncupative will appointed his relict, Mary, Exetx.  Security: Roger Davis, John Burnell.  Rec.: Feb. 27, 1679. [5]

His estate was appraised the same year in Jan. 1679. [6] The Old Style calendar was in effect then and Jan.1 was not the beginning of a New Year for official records.  The British government used March 25th as New Year's Day. The inventory shows that he owned one horse, three cows and calves, five shoats, one gunn, some pewter spoons, two feather beds and other assorted household items. While not a large estate, it seems to be typical of a pioneer farming household.

William’s son, Jeremiah Fly, was probably an infant at the time of his father's death.  William left everything to Mary and some time before 1688 she married her second husband, John Hole.  John Hole's estate was probated in Isle of Wight that year and Mary was appointed administratrix. [7] 

Then, the will of Mary's father, Col. Arthur Smith II, dated 1696, mentioned a daughter Mary Pitt and her son John Hole.

Will of Arthur Smyth of Isle of Wight Co.  I, Arthur Smith, Lower Parish of Isle of Wight Co., Gent. Sick and weak of body but of perfect mind and memory Praise be to the Almighty God etc.....

Impremis- I give and bequeath unto my sonn Thomas Smyth and his heirs forever one tract of land called Piney Point Rock

Item-  I give and bequeath unto John Hole one parcel of land purchased by me of Richard Hutching;  if John Hole depart this life without heirs it is my will that it shall to Mary Pitt, mother of ye said Hole;  I give and bequeath unto my sonn George Smyth and to ye heirs of his body Lawfully begotten all my land in ye woods;  I give and bequeath unto my sonn George Smyth a tract containing Wm. Thomas and Joyning upon Mr. Burnett's land, so running along to Mr. Sharpes and Henry Wiggs, bounding upon ye cart path.  In case my sonn Arthur Smyth depart this life and comes not more unto this country then my grandson Arthur Smyth shall enjoy this land……. I give and bequeath unto my sonn Thomas Smyth 100 acres of land out of a patent of 300 acres formerly belonging to Christopher Blythe, another 100 (acres) of ye said patent I give to my son Arthur Smyth with all my lands that I am possessed with all not nominated in this will, all which lands I give and bequeath as before most to my three sonns and male heirs of their bodys lawfully begotten forever.

Item:  I give and bequeath unto Jeremiah Fly 100 acres out of a patent of 300 acres to him and his heirs etc.  And in case any of my sonns depart this life without heirs, for want of survivors the aforesaid land to fall to my three daughters and the Male heirs of their bodys lawfully begotten;  to my daughter Jane Brown (?) her heirs etc. one half of the land and the other half to my other two daughters Sarah Monroe and Mary Pitt and to ye male heirs.   And for lack of heirs said land to go to ye parish of Newport for ye maintaining and encouraging of a free schoole.  Notwithstanding the entailing of this land yett my desire is and I give liberty to any of my sonns, that they may give to relations  A parcel of land for a plantation not to exceed 150 acres.  I give unto my loving wife 1 bed and furnished and the Choice of any Bedd. 

Item - I give to my said wife her choice of any slave, either negro or Indian. 

Item-  I give and bequeath all the rest of my Negroes and Slaves among my three sons, Arthur, George, and Thomas, only I will that my sonn Thomas Smyth may have his first choice of any of ye Negroes in his part after division. 

Item-  I give and bequeath unto my three daughters Jane Brown (sic),  Sarah Monroe, and Mary Pitt, four pounds a piece to be paid in two years either in money or tobacco. 

Item- I give unto my grandchildren one heiffer a piece of 3 years old or a cow of 4 years old or 2 young ewes.  It is my will that whereas there is a bill due from Mr. John Lowry for a certain sum of money I will that it be layed out on a Still for my familys use, but if my sonne Thomas goes to housekeeping then my will is that it shall be for his own and proper use, etc.

It is my desire that what Negroes or other slaves that my wife made choice of shall have untill her decease, then she may bequeath unto any of her children whom she thinks good.  I give unto John Hole 15 pounds when he comes of age Twenty one, in money or tobacco……….If it shall please God that my sonn Arthur should decease then my will is that his part of ye estate should be equally divided between my wife and my two sons George and Thomas, paying to their three sisters Jane,  Sarah, and Mary to each of them 1000 pounds of tobacco……….

After my just bills are paid rest of my estate be equally divided between my wife and three sonns Arthur, George, and Thomas.  I do make and ordain my two sonns Arthur and George Smyth to be my executors.  In witness whereof I have sett my hand and seal ye second Day of Dec., 1696

Wit:  Henry Applewhaite    Boaz Gwyn     Robt. Brock  

                               Arthur Smyth                  

     Rec.: June 30, 1697 [8]

The evidence is indirect, but it seems that Arthur Smith was affirming to the young Jeremiah Fly the 100 tract of land purchased from Christopher Blythe by William Fly.  Somehow, Arthur Smith seems to have become the owner of the entire 300 acre Oldis grant. 

Mary's third husband was obviously a member of the Pitt family, but it is not clear which Pitt she married.  It has been claimed that she married Thomas Pitt, but descendants of the Pitt family do not agree. By 1702, Mary was married to a Tyler, probably John Tyler, neighbor of Col. Arthur Smith.  After that date, her fate is not known. She had at least two children, Jeremiah Fly and John Hole.

Child of William Fly/Flye & Mary Smith Fly

a. Jeremiah Fly

Arthur Smith’s will implied a relationship with Jeremiah Fly, but the will did not specify what it was.  He was not called a grandson in the will, but a deed of gift recorded at the courthouse in 1702 from Arthur Smith III, younger brother of Mary Smith, to Jeremiah Fly mentions setting aside for Mary Tyler for her lifetime 1/3 of the land given in the deed.

April 9, 1702.  Isle of Wight Co. Deed of Gift of Arthur Smith to Jeremiah Fly…100 acres (being a gift made by his father, Col. Arthur Smith, decd., in his will and is part of 310 acres formerly granted to William Oddis). 1/3 part of the land is reserved to Mary Tyler for her lifetime and then to go to said Fly.  Wit: Richard Reynolds, Thomas Giles.  Signed: Arthur Smith. [9]

This is the traditional and legally binding dower portion.  At that time period in Virginia, a widow had a dower right to 1/3 of all her husband's property, both real and personal after his death.  Real property was land and personal property included all else. 

Jeremiah, the orphan son of William Fly, was probably of age, i.e. 21, for him to be deeded land in 1702.  By 1706 and possibly before that, Jeremiah had married Mary, the widow of Henry Bulls. Her surname is not known and no surviving church documents recorded the marriage, but court records show that the estate of Henry Bulls was in the hands of Jeremy Fly between 1704 and 1706. [10]

In 1696 Henry Bules was living on land belonging to James Benn, husband of Jane Smith, sister of Mary Smith Fly Hole Pitt Tyler.  Henry Bules put his mark on the 1696 will of James Benn along with James Tullagh, Mary Knight, Jno Gyles and Nicholas FFulgeham. [11]  Jane Benn and Henry Bulls were witnesses for the will of John Watts in 1698. [12] 

Mary had a child, William Bulls, born before 1702, who was later mentioned in Jeremiah's will as a son-in-law.  In those days, son-in-law could mean stepson which it does in this case. William Bulls purchased land in 1723 and must have been an adult to do that. [13]

In 1717, Jeremiah witnessed two court documents [14] and in 1720 appraised the estate of John Duckes. [15]  On Nov. 19, 1733 in Newport Parish, [16] Isle of Wight Co. Virginia, Jeremiah Fly had his will drawn up as follows:

I, Jeremiah Fly, of Isle of Wight Co., Newport Parish, being sick and weak of body but of sound and perfect mind and Memory Praise be given to Almighty God—now calling to mind the Mortality of my body and knowing that it is appointed for all men once to die I recommend my soul into the hands of God that gave it to dispose of as he shall think fitt.

Item: I give and bequeath to my son-in-law Wm Bulls one shilling
Item: I give and bequeath to my son
John Fly one shilling
Item: I give and bequeath to my daughter Rachel one shilling
Item: I give and bequeath to my daughter Charity one shilling

Now the rest of my estate I freely give, devise and dispose I give and bequeath unto Mary Fly my wife all my land an all my moveable estate, goods and chattels whatsoever during her natural life to her freely to be possessed.

Item: I give unto John my son all my land after the death of my wife, his mother, and my moveable estate to be equally divided between John Fly and Mary Fly my daughter after the decease of their mother whom I now appoint my whole and sole Executor of this my last will and Testament, Nov. 19, 1733. Rec. Dec. 24, 1736. [17]  

There is no way of knowing just when Jeremiah's children were born since there are no known surviving Bible records or church registries mentioning them.  William Bulls was obviously in his thirties when his stepfather died, but what about the other children?  If Jeremiah had not written a will, his son John would have had an automatic right to Jeremiah's property, by law of primogeniture. This law stated that if a will did not exist, then the first born son would inherit all of his father’s land.  However, in the will, William Bulls, Charity, and Rachel were each left one shilling.  Jeremiah may not have wanted them to make any other legal claim on his estate so he left them something. This might have prevented a law suit challenging John's eventual possession of all of Jeremiah Fly’s land.

The custom then was to name a son as executor of a will unless the son was underage.  Jeremiah’s sole executrix was his wife, Mary. Therefore, the son, John, was probably underage and born in 1712 or after.  

Children of Jeremiah Fly and Mary (mnu) Bulls Fly

* William Bulls/Bules/Boles

Mary’s son, William,  was born by 1702 in Isle of Wight and died before 1767 in Southampton County, Virginia. William Bulls is traced here because he was a son of Mary Fly and a half brother to John Fly.   In 1723, he purchased 100 acres in Isle of Wight Co. from William Eldridge. [18]  He was a son of Henry Bulls, but the specific date of Henry Bull’s death has not been found. 

William married a Martha, surname unknown, and they had several children: William (b. ca. 1730), Jesse (b. ca. 1739), Benjamin, John, Patty, and one other daughter.  Although Jeremiah Fly was a step-grandfather by 1730, he did not mention these children in his will.  William Bulls’ mother, Mary (mnu) Bulls Fly may have lived with him, but that is speculation.  William had moved to Southampton Co. in 1750 when he purchased land there.

June 14, 1750.  John Brown sells to William Bulls, 113 a. land part of 565 acres to Joseph Godwin on July 25, 1746.  Bordered by Barnaby, McKinnie and Long Branch. 
Wit: Joseph Jones,
William Bulls, Jr., Joseph Moore. 
Signed: John Brown
. [19]  

William Bulls died between 1760 and 1767:

Dec. 23, 1760.  Southampton Co., Va.; Will of William Bulls.  In the name of God Amen. The twenty third day of dec one thousand seven hundred & sixty.  I William Bulls of the county of Southampton being very sick and weak in body but of perfect mind and memory thanks be given to God for the same & calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing that it is appointed for all men to die do make & ordain this my last Will and Testament that is to say Principally & first of all I give and recommend my soul into the hands of God that gave it & for my body I recommend it to the earth to be buried in a decent Christian burial at the discretion of my Executors nothing doubting but that at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty power of God & touching such estate whereof it has pleased to God to bless me in this life I give & devise & dispose of the same in the following manner and form

Item: I give & bequeath unto my loving wife Martha Bulls my plantation whereon I now live during her widowhood & if in case my said wife should marry again I then give the said land to my son Jesse Bulls immediately after her marriage & if my wife should not marry again my will & desire that she hold the land during life & after her decease to my son Jesse Bulls to him & his heirs forever

I also give my said wife the best bed & furniture & my largest chest & one great pot & three flat dishes to her & her heirs forever………..

Item: I give & bequeath to my son Willm Bulls one bed & furniture one gun & three pieces of pewter also one pot which I delivered to him when he was married & one con? Which articles he hath already received & I give them to him & his heirs forever
Item: I give & bequeath to my son
Benjamin Bulls one bed & furniture to him & his forever
Item: I give & bequeath unto my son
John Bulls one half of one hundred & thirteen acres of land lying on Piney Ridge & the other half unto my son Jesse Bulls to them & their heirs forever
Item:
  I give & bequeath unto my daughter Patty Bulls one bed & furniture to her & her heirs forever
Item:
  I give & bequeath unto my grandson Thomas Gwin two pounds current money & in case the said the said Thomas Gwin should die my will & desire is to give it to my son Jess Bulls & his heirs forever
I
tem:  I give & bequeath unto my son Jesse Bulls 2 beds & furniture & all my cattle hogs & sheep & my will & desire is that all the rest of my estate whatever & wherever not already willd away I give unto my son Jesse Bulls to him & his heirs forever & I do appoint my trusty friend Joshua Whitney & my son Jesse Bulls whole & sole exors of this my last will & testament revoking all other former wills & testaments by me before made in witness whereof  I have hereunto set my hand & seal the date & year first above written.

Signed: William (his B? mark) Bulls

Signed sealed and acknowledged in the presence of us: John Joyner, Hardy Pope, Joshua Miniard  [20]

This will was presented to the court on March 12, 1767.

i. Rachel Fly

A Rachel Smith and Arthur Smith were witnesses to the 1733 will of Jeremiah Fly.  This Rachel was not, however, Rachel Fly daughter of Jeremiah & Mary Fly. Another Arthur Smith, living at the time, had a sister named Rachel Smith.  They were probably the witnesses to the will. Given the fact that there were two Smith families in Isle of Wight County at the time and no record of a Fly-Smith marriage at this time period, it is not a fact that Jeremiah’s daughter Rachel married Arthur Smith. In addition, the beneficiary of a will was not permitted to witness a will.

Rachel Fly is untraced after 1733.

ii. Charity Fly

Charity does not appear in any surviving Isle of Wight County records.  Her fate is unknown.

iii. Mary Fly

This daughter’s fate is not known.  A search of the records of Southside Virginia has been done, but nothing has surfaced.

iv. John Fly

John was probably under 21 when his father wrote the will and therefore was born after 1712, possibly as late as the 1720s although Mary would have been reaching the limits of her childbearing years.   Jeremiah does not mention any of John's children in his will.  This would be very understandable if John was still underage and, of course, not married.  The fate of the land that John inherited is also not known.  It has not been found in any subsequent record. Did John sell it and not record the deed?  Did he lose it because of financial problems? Did he simply abandon it?  Did Mary Bulls Fly marry again and somehow retain title to the land?  No one knows.  What happened to John?  He utterly disappears from the record after 1736.

Tracing Jeremiah’s son John has been one of the most difficult challenges in investigating the Fly family.  To the seasoned genealogist, documents are most important in tracing lines of descent.  The difficulty with the Fly family is that the majority of the court records of Isle of Wight and Southampton Counties have been searched by the Rev. Norman Flythe, and to a lesser extent by me, and solid proof of the fate of John has not been found.  The problem now is to find unexamined records that would shed some light on the situation.

 

William Fly Descendant Tree

 

I. William Fly (b. bef. 1656 d. ca. 1679 Isle of Wight Co., Va.)
        m. Mary Smith, ca. 1678 Isle of Wight Co., Va.

                a.
Jeremiah Fly(b. ca. 1679 d. before 1736 Isle of Wight Co., Va.)
                        m. Mary (b. ca. 1680 d. after 1733 Isle of Wight Co., Va.), ca. 1706

                                      
William Bulls (ca.1702-bef.1767)
                                i.
Rachel Fly - untraced
                                ii.  Charity Fly -
untraced
                                iii. Mary Fly - untraced
                                iv. John Fly (ca. 1712- ?)
                                        m.  _________?



[1] Thomas Rhodes Lincoln, "The Fly/Flye Families: a Chronological List with Historic Correlations", 1958, Bridgeport, Connecticut, 4
[2] Boddie, John Bennett 17th Century Isle of Wight, ,(Bowie, Md., Heritage Books, 1993), p.162
[3] Boddie, John Bennett, 17th Century Isle of Wight ,(Bowie, Md., Heritage Books, 1993) p.580
[4] Boddie, Southside Virginia Families, (Baltimore, Md., Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976) p. 51-54
[5] Chapman, Blanche Adams, Wills and Administrations of Isle of Wight County, Virginia 1647-1800, (Baltimore, Maryland, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975) p. 71
[6] Chapman, Blanche Adams, Wills and Administrations of Isle of Wight County, Virginia 1647-1800, (Baltimore, Maryland, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975) p.209
[7] Chapman, Blanche Adams, Wills and Administrations of Isle of Wight County, Virginia 1647-1800, (Baltimore, Maryland, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975) p. 74
[8] LDS Microfilm reel #32022, Isle of Wight Will & Deed Book #2, p. 377
[9] Hopkins, William Lindsay, Isle o f Wight County Virginia Deeds 1647-1719,…, 72
[10] Chapman, Blanche Adams, Wills and Administrations of Isle of Wight County, Virginia 1647-1800, (Baltimore, Maryland, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975) p. 45
[11] Brayton, John A.  Colonial Families of Surry and Isle of Wight Counties, Virginia Vol. 8, p. 298-9 (Jackson Mississippi: Cain Lithographers, Inc. , 2004)
[12] Brayton, John A.  Colonial Families of Surry and Isle of Wight Counties, Virginia Vol. 8, p. 302 (Jackson Mississippi: Cain Lithographers, Inc. , 2004)
[13] Hopkins, William Lindsay, Isle of Wight County, Virginia Deeds 1720-1736, and Deeds 1741-1749. (Richmond, Va.: Southside Virginia Publishing Co., 1994) p.13
[14] Hopkins, William Lindsay, Isle o f Wight County Virginia Deeds 1647-1719,…, p. 132
[15] Chapman, , Wills and Administrations of Isle of Wight, (Baltimore, Maryland, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975) p. 84
[16] Several Websites list this parish as being in Isle of Wight, England.  This is not the case.  Newport Parish was located in Isle of Wight County, Virginia.
[17] Isle of Wight Will Book #4, p. 151
[18] Hopkins, William Lindsay, Isle of Wight County, Virginia Deeds 1720-1736, and Deeds 1741-1749. (Richmond, Va.: Southside Virginia Publishing Co., 1994)
[19] Brantley Family Association Website, Southampton Project, Southampton Co. Deed Book #1, p. 138
[20] Brantley Family Association Website, Southampton Project, Will Book #2 1762-1772, p. 189-90

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