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Machens and Gloucester County

[Oct. 13, 1999]

In a previous article, I wrote:

... a John Mechan was imported by a resident of Gloucester Co. in or before 1667, and in 1667 a John Mechen was granted land in that county, and probably his son is listed as an owner of land in the same county in 1704. [...] There is a possible identity of John Mechen of the 1667 land grant with John Micham of Middlesex County, but thus far evidence is lacking to prove it.

The evidence does strongly indicate that the John Mechan who was imported is the same individual as the John Mechen who was granted land, but it does not support the identification of this individual with John Micham/Meacham of Middlesex County.

The deeds for the headright claims tell the story:

Capt. Richard Dudley -- 300 acs, Gloster Co., 20 Dec.1667.[...] Transportation of six persons: John Mechan, John Snow, Rich. Philipps, Saml. Powdry, Jno. Walton, Jno. Whaley.

Dunkin Bohono [Bohonno] & Jno. Mechen, 220 acs. Gloster Co., upon the head of the E.most Riv., in Mockjack Bay; 20 Dec. 1667, Adj. lands of Mr. Armestead & Capt. Dudley. Trans. of 4 pers: Tho. Arnis [or Amis], John Blan, Roger Shackleford, John Thomas.

Two details make it very clear that John Mechan was Jno. Mechen: the date on the two land grants is the same, and the grant to Bohono and Mechen of 220 acres adjoins the land of Capt. Dudley. We can speculate that John Mechan/en finished his indenture in the 1660s and was able to raise enough capital somehow (in partnership with Bohono, who came to Virginia sometime after his marriage in Barbados in 1658, and perhaps also with Capt. Dudley who by that time had amassed several thousand acres of land) to become an importer himself. It is also possible that the later Meacham-Dudley link (at least two Meachams married Dudleys in the 18th century) was born here.

In 1668 this 220 acre parcel of land, which is located in Kingston Parish, was re-assigned to Col. John Armestead, probably as a deal or trade of some sort; the land was adjacent to Armestead's and perhaps more valuable to him than to Bohono and Mechen. In 1674 Dunkin Bohono was granted 340 acres, also on the "E'most River of Mockjack Bay" (now known as the East River and Mobjack Bay). John Mechen must have done well in the deals, because the 1704 Quit Rent Returns shows him or more probably his son ("John Meachen Junr") holding 600 acres in Kingston parish. The Bohono/Bohannan clan also flourished, with Dunkin (probably also junior), John and Joseph (all sons of Dunkin the original grantee) listed as holding a total of 375 acres.

Assuming that John Mechen was about the same age as his partner Dunkin Bohono, ie born ca. 1630-40, then John Meachen Junr of 1704 is most probably his son, who had already inherited the land. If this is correct, John Mechen Sr probably died ca. 1690-1700, if we allow a few years for the estate to be settled but not so many that the Junr would have been dropped from use. These would be logical assumptions, but other scenarios are possible. It is very unlikely however that John Mechan who was imported to Virginia in or before 1667 would use the title Junr in a later period of his life and geographically separated from his father.

At first, I felt it was quite likely that John Mechan/en of Gloucester Co. would prove to be the same person as John Micham/Meacham of Middlesex Co., whose children are recorded in the Christ Church parish register. Firstly, the ages of the two men appear roughly to coincide: John Micham had his first [known] child in 1679, John Mechan would in that year have been 34-39 by my very rough estimate above; John Micham died in 1712, John Mechan would have been 67-72. Secondly, there is a Machen/Meachen will recorded in Middlesex Co. which mentions land owned in Gloucester. And Middlesex shares a long border with Gloucester; it is quite possible that someone could own land in Gloucester but reside in Middlesex.

However, the evidence weighs heavily against the identification, for a number of reasons. John Micham of Middlesex is mentioned at least 20 times in various documents, from 1679 to 1712, but never as Junr, and he did not have a son named John among the seven children recorded in the Christ Church register. In his will as recited by witnesses, "the land that he lived on" (which must have been within Christ Church parish of Middlesex Co.) is mentioned, as well as one other parcel next to that of his son Joseph. Joseph Mitcham is shown in the 1704 Quit Rents as a landowner in Middlesex Co. And their name was always spelled Micham, Meacham or Mitcham, whereas the Gloucester Co. clan was spelled Mechan, Mechen, Mekin (in the 1668 re-grant to Armestead), and finally Meachen/Machen from the early 1700s. This is not a variation due merely to different spelling renditions by clerks in the two parishes, as the wills amply demonstrate. Finally, none of the children of John Micham seem to have had any connection with Gloucester County.

The Kingston Parish register only survives from 1748, so the vital records of early Machens there are lost. Some wills preserved in other counties throw a little light and much mystery on the Machens and their land in Gloucester:

1719 -- Henry Meachen of Essex Co., leaves "land which I hold in Gloucester Co." to son Thomas and daughter Dorothy. The will is witnessed by John Machen, possibly "John Meachen Junr" of 1704; Henry's son Thomas was 16 years old at the time.

1727 -- William Macham, of Westmoreland Co., leaves his land in Gloucester to his brothers Richard, Samuel and Benjamin. Presumably he had no wife or children, and possibly was young to middle aged at death. This is the first reference I can find to any of these four brothers.

1730 -- Thomas Machen, of Middlesex Co., leaves to son John "the land in Gloucester County where he now lives." Four other children are mentioned: Ann Fearn a married daughter, and three other children "underaged" -- Judith,Thomas, and Henry. The decedent is clearly not Thomas son of Henry d. 1719 above, but his son John could be the witness to Henry's will. The underage son Thomas could be father of the Henry Machen who married Ann Dudley.

What is immediately striking about the first and third wills is the recurrence of the names John, Henry and Thomas in each one. This cannot be fortuitous, and a relationship between these two seems obvious. It seems likely that they are brothers, sons of John Mechen, in addition to John Junr, and all may have acquired land in Gloucester Co. by inheritance. William Macham of Westmoreland Co. and his three brothers are harder to fit into the picture. They could also be sons of John Mechen-- making seven sons; not impossible, but certainly unlikely. Or they could be sons of John Meachen Junr. Perhaps they moved out of Gloucester Co. at an early stage. A "Richard Mecham, Gloucester" died in York Co. in 1751, but there is also a Richard Machen who died in Kingston Parish in 1770. It is possible, though unlikely, that William Macham is unrelated to John Mechen, and acquired land in Gloucester Co. independently.

The next mention of Machen in Gloucester Co. comes from an entry dated 1748 in the Surveyor's Book; John Machen is named as a "major land owner." This seems likely to be John son of Thomas d. 1730 above, but it could also be John Meachen Junr of 1704, by then in his sixties or seventies. In 1759, the death of a Capt. Thomas Machen was recorded in the Kingston Parish register; this could be Thomas son of Henry d. 1719 above. Unfortunately, the Kingston Parish register does not predate 1748, and fire destroyed early Gloucester County records. Consequently, details of descent and land transactions among Machens there can only be glimpsed, not reconstructed. But what does seem abundantly clear is that Gloucester, and Kingston parish in particular (which would become Mathews County in 1791), was the cradle of a Machen clan in the late 17th-early 18th centuries, almost certainly beginning with a single immigrant ancestor -- John Mechan/en. By 1720-30 if not earlier, his descendants seem to have spread to several other counties, but retained ownership of some of the "ancestral" land in Gloucester. This was a dispersal pattern that surely repeated itself quite a few times over the same decades in other Meacham clan hearths throughout Virginia. The example of Edmund Machen in New Kent Co. was discussed previously, although it is much less clear what happened to his line.

Despite the frustration of not being able to reconstruct the story in detail, it is fascinating nonetheless to be able to put together enough of the pieces to perceive a broad outline, from indentured servant to land owner and expanding clan. Even more fascinating to me was what came next. The first land tax records of Mathews County (Kingston Parish) show that in 1791 the estate of John Machen (probably the major land owner of 1748, or his son) had 200 acres; also listed were Judith, Margaret, Mary (and five negroes), Richard, Robert, Samuel and William Machen. And a William Bohannan had 160 acres. The censuses of 1810-1860 show quite a few Machen and Bohannan families in Mathews Co. I began to wonder: have the descendants of Dunkin Bohono and John Mechen occupied the area where their immigrant ancestors settled, ever since 1667?

Making inquiries and taking advantage of some kind folk who do volunteer lookups, I learned that there is a township on the west bank of the East River in Mathews County named Bohannon, presumably from the cluster of inhabitants by that name. Dunkin Bohono's 1674 land grant was "on W side of the E.most river in Mockjack Bay."

And a cemetery in the East River area has the following grave markers:

In memory of
Died Oct. 1885
age 82 yrs.

wife of

This John Machen was born in 1802, so could not have been the son of John Machen, whose estate held 200 acres in 1791. But perhaps a grandson. I reckon he was the sixth or seventh generation from John Mechan, the imported indentured servant. There are still Machens in Mathews County today, and some still live in the East River region. Although the chain all the way back to the immigrant settler cannot be proven, it is highly likely that their ancestor was John Mechen. A continuous Machen occupation of the area for 330 years is pretty impressive.

Further Note

[April 2, 2000]

Some new data confirms that the Machens were present in the East River area of Gloucester/Mathews County in the 18th and 19th centuries. The above-mentioned Surveyor's Book of Gloucester County has a plat and notes dated 1748 describing the land owned by John Machen on the easternmost river in Kingston Parish (present-day Mathews County).

In the 1790 census, the neighbors of the Machens appear to be the Borums and the Hobdays. An inquiry made by Jane Goodsell with a Hobday researcher concerning where the land was located brought this response: "The quick answer is that Joseph Hobday b.1806 is buried pursuant to his will at "the old home place" which is as you suspected on the East River near Bohannon on the west bank of the river. ("Old Hobday Lane" is still a marked with a street sign). One of his children, I think a daughter, married a Machen."

Finally, the Land Tax Book of Mathews County has two Machens listed in this same area in 1812-13:
--Thomas Machen, Estate, 112 2/3 a., East River
-- John Machen, 77 1/3 a., East River

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