Early Families : Garner Family History
by Ann Garner

To my dear sons Bradley Charles Garner and Erin Douglas Garner, both of whom were born in the San Joaquin Delta of California

If ever a list of unprominent Americans could have been compiled, all our ancestors would have been included. Even when I started my search for the beginning of our grandparents’ family lines in the American Colonies, I never once entertained the thought that I would find a noble ancestor, a signer of the Declaration, or even a famous writer, doctor or teacher. And indeed, my research has borne out my original surmise that you, my sons, are descendants of long lines of totally undistinguished, unambitious, mainly unremarked and almost unrecorded Americans, though their European history reveals them to be, in the old phrasing, “persons of quality.” Not to mention the courage it took to venture across the Atlantic to a new life.

For that reason, my narrative may not feed the pride of any descendant of these people I write about. Such people cannot be aggrandized or moralized about. In most cases, the motives for their unremarkable actions cannot be appraised, because they left no diaries or letters to explain them. The one thing they had in common--a thing which characterized their whole existence--is movement. They are the pioneers whose hard work and spirit of adventure made America. For three hundred years every generation has moved westward; and now, you two, the first generation born in California, have moved, first half-way round the world to various parts of Asia, and then back to the River Valley of California.

In spite of all the frantic motion, the tax-collector, census-taker, land agents and church elders note the existence of your people and take their dues, often receipted with x-marked signatures, as readily as from the lettered gentry and aristocracy. And these are the records I have relied upon, apart from a few notes in family Bibles, oral history passed on to me by your grandparents, and a number of genealogies written by other people who are descendants of some of your own ancestors.

Of necessity, my narrative will consist mainly of giving the dates of westward moves; other than the bare statistics of birth, marriage and death, there are very few other facts known of any of these families I will include the oral traditions of the family, but I pass them on as folklore and not as known fact, though they could of course be as true as any government record or personal diary. Where I have had to interpolate relationships from the available evidence, I offer my reasons for such interpolations. The reader can judge their validity for himself. I also include at certain points passages from diaries or family histories of those people whose experience parallel that of our own ancestors.

Your earliest American ancestor was Richard Garner who brought his young son, John Garner to Virginia from Shrewsbury, England in 1637. John had been baptized in St. Chad’s Church on September 2, 1633. The father and son first landed on Farrar’s Island in the James River (Early Virginia Families along the James River, Foley, Vol.1, p. 6). Richard Garner was unnoticed by me in my early research, and his forbearers were completely unknown to me. I wish to thank Mrs. Elaine Favre of Baton Rouge, Louisiana for supplying a great deal of missing information on our immigrant ancestor. Naturally, this adds two generations to our account, but I have decided that to go through and re-number every ancestor in this history would only cause more errors than may already be there. So I will simply add here in narrative form this genealogical data on the English family that became our American family:

Our English ancestor, John Garner, grandfather of the first John Garner in Virginia, was born ca. 1580 in England (possibly Shropshire District, died 24 July, 1628; m. Joan …….. d. before 1631, Shropshire, England. They had a son, Richard Garner who married Kathran …… d. 1636, Shropshire, England. Richard died in 1643 in Virginia. Family lore has it that Katharn was “tried by ordeal” with the dunking stool, and that she was acquited because she obligingly died in witness to her innocence. Some kind of heresy was supposedly the charge. The following year, Richard Garner brought their four-year-old son to Farrar’s Island in Virginia.

John Garner, after growing up in the care of William Farrar, had moved into the Northern Neck of Virginia by 1650. When our first Garners arrived, the Colony of Virginia was settled and administered by representatives of the Virginia Company of London. But in 1624 Charles I claimed most of Virginia as a Royal colony. The Northern Neck, the stretch of land between the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers extending toward the Chesapeake from the Blue Ridge Mountains, remained a proprietary of Lord Fairfax until much later. John Garner's quit-rent or outright payment for land would have been to this proprietor or his land agents in Virginia.

When John Garner arrived in Northumberland County, Virginia, it was still a densely forested landscape, cut through by waterways, ranging in importance from the Chesapeake Bay to the brackish streams in the Tidelands. Settlers had not penetrated to higher ground yet, though John Garner himself, and certainly his descendants, played a part in pushing the frontier of the English Colony westward. The settlements consisted of a few plantations, small in size when compared to twentieth century farms in the Midwest or California. The plantations were established along the waterways, the more prosperous having their own wharf with loading facilities and tobacco warehouse. These water routes were the colonists' safest method of transportation. Between plantations, there were no roads cleared and the forest rider faced the strong possibility of being ambushed by Indians. Along the main rivers, up from the Bay, at or near the most westerly English residence, the colonists would build and man a fort, and every male was expected to do his part in protecting the settlement from marauding Indians.

The English settlements expanded through the encouragement of the Crown and the Lord Proprietor. A planter who imported another person into the Colony was entitled to fifty acres. Anyone who came to the Colony on his own was also entitled to fifty acres. And of course, relatively large tracts of land were owned by former shareholders in the Virginia Company and by businessmen in England.

Many of your own ancestors came to Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas as "headrights," i. e., some business man (usually a Virginia tobacco planter, a boat captain, or a London merchant) had brought them into the Colony, paid their transportation and settled them onto land that the business man was entitled to as a result of this enterprise of importing labor for clearing land, planting and curing tobacco. Within a few years of the Garners’ arrival, Richard died and left young John Garner in the care of William Farrar, an “ancient planter of Virginia” for whom Farrar’s Island was named, and the man who had transported them from England to Virginia. For their first few years in the Colony, all your Virginia ancestors probably worked on the plantations of other people. But as the Colony grew and their terms of indenture ended, more westerly lands were offered for settlement and your people located their own plots on the frontier of that time. Within John Garner's own lifetime, this frontier region was pushed from a line only slightly west of Williamsburg, Virginia to a line about even with present-day Richmond, Virginia.

John Garner married the daughter of a family that had been in Virginia since 1635. Susanna Keene is said to have been born on Kent Island in the Potomac between Maryland and Virginia. Her father was Thomas Keene and her mother Mary (possibly Thorley?).; Thomas Keene was born about 1593 in England and died prior to January 1653 in Virginia. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Gosnold Keene. Thomas, Susanna’s father, was a cooper and merchant in Suffolk, England a planter of Kent Island, Pamunkey Neck in Virginia. Elizabeth Gosnold was the daughter of Robert and Ursula Naunton Gosnold of England. Robert Gosnold died prior to November 1, 1615, when his will was recorded, naming grandson Anthony Gosnold "now in Virginia" and also grandsons Henry and Thomas Keene (who would have still been in England - ed.). Ursula Naunton was the daughter of William K(n?)aunton.

After Susanna Keene's father died, Mary moved with her children to Northumberland County, March 10, 1652. Soon thereafter Mary Keene married Henry Raynor and then, in 1659 Thomas Broughton. Some time between 1659, when Susanna Keene was given her share of her father's cattle and 1662, when her mother's will names her as Susanna Garner, John Garner and Susanna Keene were married and had a daughter; therefore, 1660 or '61 would be a close estimate for their marriage date. John and Susanna lived near the present village of Lewisetta on a neck of land called Cherry Point, nowadays known as Cowart's Point.

Before the marriage, in 1658, John Garner had been named the assignee of Francis Roberts who in 1657 had bought 500 acres in the area that later became Stafford County. The assignment was shared by Joseph Fielding. In 1663 these two men transferred their rights, titles and interest in this same land to John Garner, Jr. who would have been the infant son of John Garner I and to John Bailes, Jr., the soon-to-be step-son of Joseph Fielding. In 1663 John Garner was sworn as Constable for Cherry Point Neck.
The Colony was building a fort on the Yeocomico River in 1667, and the Association of Northumberland, Westmoreland and Stafford Counties ordered that a house be built for the workmen "by John Garner and other assistants whom he shall select."

Around 1672 John and his family moved farther north and west on the Northern Neck to Westmoreland County near the present village of Kinsale. In October, 1672, John and Susanna bought 100 acres on the Yeocomico River from Nicholas Jenkins. John Garner's business associates and friends in Northumberland and Westmoreland Counties included Robert Francis, Joseph Fielding, Thomas Watson, Henry and Elizabeth Moseley and Robert Middleton.
January 15, 1694/95 John Jenkins of Cople Parish sold toJohn and Vincent Garner 100 acres in Horne Point on Yeocomico River.6 It may be upon this very tract of land (between Kinsale and Hague) that a descendant of Vincent Garner built "China Hall" in the 1700's, still standing today. Its modern name is "Kirnan."

Following is the will of John Garner, dated January 22, 1702 and proved May 26, 1702:

At his death, John Garner owned more than 800 acres in one tract of land, a second plantation and more lands adjoining it, a separate parcel of land in Horn Point, at least 4000 pounds of good tobacco in cask, at least half interest in a sloop named "Outcry", a valuable chest, a yoke of oxen, jewelry and other personal property.

Susanna's estate was inventoried March 28, 1716 by James
Carr, James, Thomas and William Garner.

John and Susanna (Keene) Garner had children:

The Garner history continues...

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Here let me acknowledge my debt to:
(1)John Casper Branner, Casper Branner of Virginia and His Descendants. Privately printed, Stanford University, Calif. 1913. (2)J. D. Warfield, The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Md. Baltimore, 1973. (3)Ruth Ritchie, The Garner-Keene Families of Northern Neck Virginia.