The Passmore Chronicles (Part Three) by Susan Reynolds

The Passmore Chronicles, Part Three
a scholarly paper on the legend of Thomas Passmore Carpenter
 by Susan Reynolds.

The paucity of family information currently available regarding Thomas Passmore of Jamestown makes it impossible to pinpoint his antecedents in England. There are two or three excellent candidates, but at this juncture, it would be pure speculation as to which, if any, was the Thomas Passmore who is the subject of this study. As will be seen from existing records, Passmore was born about 1572-1579. He is believed to be English, but could as easily be Welsh, Scots or Irish. There simply is insufficient information with which to make that determination.

We know Thomas Passmore arrived at Jamestown aboard the ship George sometime before October 1618. The George was first documented in Jamestown as arriving in 1611, possibly with Thomas Dale, and made at least yearly voyages from 1616-1624, but Passmore was not listed in the Port Books, therefore he probably shipped in no trade goods. This information was recorded on the Muster of 1624/524 although the year of arrival is not noted. The arrival time is supplied by the 25 Oct 1618 court martial of Captain Edward Brewster, commander of Thomas West, Lord De La Warr’s personal guard.

Thomas Passmore, a carpenter by trade, apparently was either a paid tradesman in West’s employ or his bondservant. It is unclear which, although later evidence leans toward Passmore being a skilled tradesman rather than indentured, but in any case he was called as a witness against Brewster. Brewster arrived in Jamestown aboard the Neptune, on the ill-fated voyage that claimed Lord De La Warr’s life, whose untimely death at sea precipitated the incident. De La Warr had been on his way to investigate Samuel Argall, acting governor in De La Warr’s stead, and bring him under control. Reports and complaints of Argall’s behavior and governance had made their way to the Virginia Company and the company was not happy.

Brewster had received De La Warr’s instructions as to what he wanted done with his workers and Brewster, who deemed De La Warr’s orders still legitimate and binding until a new governor was appointed, strove to remove workers from Argall’s illegal private and pet projects, and put them to work as ordered. Passmore refused to go and was apparently threatened by Brewster. [25] It is possible, maybe probable, that Passmore made the crossing with Argall, who arrived aboard the George in 1617 and given the reports of Argall’s unscrupulous character and behavior during this time, Passmore likely lived more in fear of Argall than of Brewster. Whatever the cause, the court martial ante-dates Passmore’s arrival in the colony and firmly places him there in 1618. Passmore, who is also named as Thomas Parsemore in this case, was cited in the Virginia Company’s records of the proceedings against Argall 23 May 1620.[26]

In his Original Lists of Persons of Quality, James Camden Hotten lists the following household in James Cittye “John Southerne, Thomas Pasmore, John Rayle,” [27] all three men listed as having survived the Indian massacre of 1622. This census is often cited as the census of 1624, but is actually entitled “Lists of the Livinge and Dead in Virginia, Febr: 16th 1623” further annotated by Hotten as 1623/4. [28] This particular entry leads many researchers to assume Thomas Passmore was a single man at this point in his life, there being no women noted in this household; more on this later.

Between April and September 1623, Passmore faced some difficulties regarding his servant, one Valentine Osserby, whose indenture he had purchased from the estate of Mathew Broebanke, who had died enroute to Virginia, and petitioned Governor Wyatt for assistance. [29] He petitioned Wyatt a second time upon Osserby’s illiness in October 1623. [30] It is these two entries that establish Passmore as a freeman. While it could certainly be true he was indentured when he arrived, he was certainly not by mid-1623 and had amassed enough wealth to begin importing servants and claim headrights. If he had served a three year indenture, even with arrival in 1618 he would be free by this time, but it is logical to question whether he could have accumulated enough wealth in just a year or two. It seems far more likely Passmore came to the colony as a skilled craftsman and built from that vantage point.

Passmore’s status changed. Virginia W. McCarthy notes in Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers: a Biographical Dictionary, 1607-1635 that “by June 23, 1624, Passmore had married, for his wife was mentioned in a court case.”[31] Additionally, on the muster of 1625 we learn his wife also arrived aboard the George, no date of arrival noted. [32] Many researchers fail to note there was no Mrs. Passmore on the 1623/24 muster and assume they arrived together. While it may well be true they arrived on the same ship and date, she was definitely not in the household with him on the earlier census. There are two possibilities. The first would be he had married in England, left his wife there in relative safety while he established a new home for them and sent for her later or, the second, he married after arrival. There are no records that definitively provide this information. The 1625 Muster provides her name as Jane. She “died prior to August 28, 1626, unless the General Court’s clerk mistakenly listed her name as Joanne.” [33]

In Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1666 (Vol. I), Nell Marion Nugent records that Thomas Passmore registered 12 acres of land in James City 14 August 1624 “Part of his first dévident (sic) and for trans, of John Buckmaster who came in the great Hopewell in 1623.” [34] The patent for this land – provided above - is one of the documents, along with several court cases, that firmly establishes Thomas Passmore as a carpenter by trade, not as Thomas Pasmere Carpenter. There is no mistaking this point as the document clearly states “Thomas Passmore of James City Carpenter,”[27] refuting the notion he is Thomas Pasmere Carpenter in the later 1628 patent of Robert Marshall.

At this point, the casual observer might be forgiven for thinking Thomas Passmore had run away to live with the Indians, as he appears to disappear from the records, never more to be found after a brief reference in 1628, the year in which followers of Thomas Pasmere Carpenter claim he left to live with the Shawnee. This would, however, be a mistake. The seasoned researcher should know to cast a broader net and exhaust all avenues before making that leap. There is no record in Jamestown of Thomas Passmore’s death at this time. However, a close reading of the Jamestowne Society’s register, earlier cited in this study, shows a record for him in 1652.35 1652? Where did Thomas Passmore go?

The answer to that question lies in the records of Maryland where documents show Thomas Passmore applied to remove with his family to the new colony where he would receive 1000 acres of land from Leonard Calvert.

By the Governor and Commissioners of Maryland. Whereas Thomas Pasmore of Virginia is desirous and doth intend transport himself and his family into the Province of Maryland and to become a member of this Collony. These are for his better incouragement to promise and assure the said Thomas Pasmore that hee shall have one thousand Acres of land in the said Province to him and his heires for ever in such convenient place as the said Thomas Pasmore and Capt Henry ffleet shall make choise of. Given at St Maries the six and twentieth day of June Anno one thousand six hundred thirty fower. [36]

It is perhaps fortunate that Leonard Calvert, like his sovereign was a poor student of geography, for the grant he awarded Passmore was next to his own property and, in fact, included a portion of Calvert’s own manor (this grant is the only record remaining of the grants between the manorial grants in St. Michael’s Hundred). This parcel of land provides some important information validating Thomas Passmore as the Thomas Passmore of Jamestown. As related by Garry Wheeler Stone in his “Kent Background Project” manuscript, the property would be the subject of a lawsuit brought by Mrs. Margaret Brent, executrix of Leonard Calvert’s estate, claiming the grant had never been made to Passmore.

Passmore, a carpenter, migrated to Maryland in 1634 (Patents, 1:72-73). The grant was made prior to 28 December 1638, when Pasmore deeded all his estate to his former copartner, James Cauther, planter. While Pasmore may never have lived in St. Michael’s Hundred, Cauther was a resident of the hundred in 1639. Cauther has been living on Pasmore’s former grant prior to 1 November 1641, when he sold it to Thomas Sturman, cooper, and Thomas Yewell, planter.[37]

Passmore signed over the property for payment of debts (he frequently ran afoul of Thomas Cornwalys, whose later kinsman would so bedevil the colonies during the Revolution). Thomas Passmore’s deposition of 1644 in support of Thomas Sturman in the Brent lawsuit reveals much about the man. Shorthand notations are left intact where possible, but certain characters cannot be translated on a modern keyboard, therefore spelling is left as is sans shorthand notations:

The deposicon of Thomas Pasmore aged 65 yeares or thereabouts being sworne and deposed the fourth day of May Anno 1644 before Mr John Trussell Comander of the County Northumberland vppon the south side of Patomeck in the Collony of Virginia saith. That Capt Leonard Calvert late Governor of Maryland freely gave to this deponent One thousand Acres of land for him to take vpp for this deponents vse for ever to him this depont and his heires or Administrators Nowe soe it is this deponent tooke vpp and made cheife of the said thousand Acres of land where Thomas Sterman of Maryland no liveth where this depont built and cleared and seated, And after this depont had made one Cropp vppon part of the said land thisdepont being in the aforesaid Governors House, the Governor said, here somes my Tenant, this deponent answered I and free and noe Tennt, but said the Governor you will pay acknowledgmt , this depont answered, Yes I will acknowledge that you gave mee this land. Soe much this depont can say an noe more.

Thomas Pasmore his mark.

Jurat coram me. John Trussell.38

Historically, this document gives us an approximate date of birth of 1579. It also shows Thomas Passmore was probably not literate, or at the least he could not write. This and all other documents requiring a signature note he signed with his mark. Thomas Passmore’s name appears in the Maryland court records with some regularity, usually either a debt he owes or one owed him in return, or a claim for headrights for someone he brought into the colony, including headrights for his second or third wife (if the clerk made no error and his wife in 1628 was Joanne, not Jane), Martha.

It should also be noted he was back in Virginia by 1644 when he was deposed. During the time he lived in Maryland he was surrounded by those amongst whom he had lived in Jamestown and apparently maintained a relationship with at least some of them if they knew where he was located to obtain the deposition. There is no record in the early records of Passmore selling or otherwise giving up his land in Virginia. It is possible he retained his property there. No additional land grants are shown for him in the original land records of Virginia, but he may not have registered new land. The grants are generally only recorded for the original grantee. Future land sales records are simply appended or title is passed, but no new deeds or grants are issued. Certainly someone in the Jamestowne Society found a land record for Passmore in 1652. The Society may have gleaned the data from another deposition dated 2 October 1651, also in the Maryland records, that the Society recorder dated as 1652 to modernize the time frame. In this deposition, regarding the probate of Mary Risbrook’s estate, the recorder writes “The Deposition of Thomas Pasmore aged 78 years or thereabouts.”[39] This document gives us the earliest birth year of 1572 and is the last mention of him in the public record I’ve found to date. He is said to have died in 1655, but no record of this final journey seems to exist and his resting place is not known.

Before I sign off I want to add a note about some of the records people are creating about Thomas Pasmere Carpenter and his “family” – records that are false yet people believe are real. This is not meant to embarrass anyone; it is a “teaching moment.” While I was double-checking sources over the weekend, I came upon these Find-A-Grave memorials.

If you look at them carefully, you will note they are all indicated as Indian, yet Robert Carpenter and his wife Susan NEVER left England that we can find. They certainly weren’t born Indian. I can find no burial registers or indices so there is no way to validate the deaths. Also take a close look at the pictures posted for Robert and Susan Carpenter. We’re talking about the Elizabethan age here until 1603, then the Stuarts, right up to the English Civil War in 1651. These fashions don’t come close to matching that era. Combined with the portraiture style, they look like early to mid-nineteenth century. They could possibly be Quakers, but they still look too modern to me. The picture for Thomas Pasmere Carpenter is clearly a conceptualized painting. To my knowledge, the earliest Cherokee images are those etchings and paintings made when the seven Cherokee “chiefs” went to England with Alexander Cumming in the mid-eighteenth century. This picture looks like a take-off on those early images, but does not look like it was produced in the seventeenth century. It is important when we post image like these that we pay attention to their accuracy and make sure to note these are representations or an artist’s conception of what the individual may have looked like. This is especially the case with photographs. They did not exist in any numbers until the middle of the nineteenth century. Daguerreotypes and tintypes appear in the early nineteenth century, but few survived and they were extremely expensive. In any case, there were NO photographs prior to the nineteenth century, so if someone tells you they have one, tell them gently they have a fake.

Link to part one

Link to part two

Inline citations:

[24] "1624/25 Muster Rolls," Virtual Jamestown, accessed 2 July 2013 ( and Hotton, 227.

[25] Alexander Brown, The First Republic in America: an Account of the Origin of This Nation, Written from Records Then (1624) Concealed by the Council, Rather Than from the Histories Then Licensed by the Crown, (Toronto: University of Toronto Libraries, 1898) 238.

[26] Conway Robinson, Abstracts of the Proceedings of the Virginia company of London 1619-1624, ed. R. A. Brock Conway, (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 41.

[27] Hotton, 175.

[28] ibid., 168-69.

[29] Susan Myra Kingsbury, The Records of the Virginia company of London, Volume IV (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906) 95.

[30] ibid., 286.

[31] Martha W. McCartney, Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers; a Biographical Dictionary, 1607-1635, (Baltimore, Maryland: genealogical Publishing company,Inc., 2007) 538.

[32] Hotten, 227.

[33] McCartney, 538.

[34] Nell Marion Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers (volume 1) (Richmond, Virginia: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1974) 24.

[35] "The Jamestowne Society Register of Qualifying Seventeenth Century Ancestors," (Richmond, Virginia: The Jamestowne Society, 2004) 12.

[36] Maryland Historical Society, Maryland Historical Magazine, volume 7, (Baltimore, Maryland: Maryland Historical Society, 1912) 308.

[37] Gary Wheeler Stone, Kent Project Background. (Unknown: Garry Wheeler Stone, 1978) 2.

[38]  Maryland Historical Society, Maryland Historical Magazine, volume 7, (Baltimore, Maryland: Maryland Historical Society, 1912) 307-308.

[39] William Hand Brown, ed. Archives of Maryland Judicial and Testamentary Business of the Provincial Court, 1637-1650, (Baltimore, Maryland: Maryland Historical Society, 1887) 91.

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