Edward Bennett (colonist)

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Edward Bennett (1577 – bef. 1651), was a London merchant who established the first large plantation in the United States, luring more than 800 immigrants to the new world.[1]

Early years[edit]

Edward Bennett was born 2 February 1577, the 15th child of Robert Bennett, a tanner and Elizabeth (Adney) Bennett of Wiveliscombe, Somerset. Edward was christened in the Parish Church of Wiveliscombe on 5 June 1577. He became Chief among the Puritans who were among the first to settle in Isle of Wight County, and was elder of the Ancient Church at Amsterdam.

The first English plantation in the region, dating to 1618, was that of Puritan merchant Christopher Lawne, and several other Puritans also seated themselves nearby, including Edward Bennett in 1621. Edward named his plantation Warrosquoake, after the river that also went by the same name. In 1621, Edward Bennett, received a patent on condition that he settle 200 persons. His associates were his brother, Robert Bennett, his nephew, Richard Bennett, Thomas Ayres, Thomas Wiseman and Richard Wiseman. The first settlers dispatched by Bennett arrived on the Sea Flower in February 1622. There were 120 settlers, led by Captain Ralph Hamor, a member of the Virginia Council who had previously come to Virginia in 1609. Also in the group were George Harrison and Rev. William Bennett, kinsman of Edward Bennett.[2]

Bennett married Mary Bourne, daughter of Jasper Bourne of Stanmore Magna,[3] a merchant from a prominent Somerset family. Mary was about 28 years younger than Edward, and they had six children together.[4]

The first two were born while still living in England.

  • Mary Bennett born in Wiveliscombe, England 1623.
  • Elizabeth Bennett born in Wiveliscombe, England 1626.

Then Bennett and family fled to Holland during the Puritan migrations, and became "by his wealth" a principal pillar of the Ancient Church. This is when he had a hand in settling over 600 people in Isle of Wight County. Bennett and his associates, Richard Wiseman, and Thomas Wiseman, were members of the Virginia Company in London and often sided with the faction led by the Earl of Warwick. The Wisemans were from the County of Essex and owned the manor of Rivenhall in Witham Hundred on the Blackwater River. In addition to his position as a wealthy London merchant, Edward was the owner of a large fleet of ships which traded with Virginia. He was also Commissioner of Virginia at the Court of England.

Then the family travelled to Virginia where they had four more children:

  • Sylvestra Bennett born in Isle of Wight, Virginia 1630
  • John Bennett born in Hogg Island, Virginia 1632
  • Ann Bennett born in Hogg Island, Virginia 1633, but died a few month late.
  • Jasper Bennett (named after Mary's father) in Hogg Island, Virginia 1635.

He came to Virginia at times but apparently did not become a resident, leaving the management of his lands to his nephews, Richard and Robert. Edward also had two brothers who died in Virginia, Robert and Richard.

The Great Indian Massacre[edit]

The Indian massacre of 1622 occurred barely a month after their arrival. The plantation suffered many casualties, losing 53 settlers, a large percentage of the 347 persons killed that day across the various plantations. The settlement was briefly abandoned until a fort could be built nearby; the Warraskoyak Indians were driven off from their villages in the reprisals of the following years. A census of settlers in show of 16 February 1623s a total of "33, including 4 negroes". Another census a year later showed a total population of 31 settlers for the region.[5]

Of the eighty plantations in Virginia before the massacre, the surviving inhabitants gathered together in eight plantations near Jamestown. The south side of the James River for fourteen miles (23 km) down river from Hog Island was deserted. In the Fall of 1622, Governor George Yeardley commanded an expedition which drove out the Warrosquoyacke and the Nansemond Indians which allowed some of the settlers to return. A fort was built on Bennett's plantation. The census of 1623 lists thirty-three living at Warrosquoyacke and twenty at Basse's Choice. In 1625, there were only thirty-one persons living on the two plantations.

Although settlements occurred in the present day Isle of Wight County, Virginia prior to the Indian Massacre, they were destroyed on 22 March 1622 and any real settlement must be dated from that time forward. Warrosquoyake was resettled sometime after the Indian Massacre of 22 March 1622. The census of 1623 and a similar count in 1625 show the presence of settlers at both Basse's Choice and Edward Bennett's plantation which came to be known as Bennett's Welcome.

Edward Bennett represented his plantation in the 1628 House of Burgesses, then left for England. The following year, the "County of Warascoyack" was represented by his nephew, Richard Bennett, Captain Nathaniel Basse, and three others, all Puritans. This was the Puritans' strongest representation in the Anglican-dominant colony.[6]

Later years[edit]

Around 1628 Edward's nephew, Richard Bennett (son of Thomas) travelled to Virginia to take over management of Bennett's Welcome. Over the next ten years Richard patented more than 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of his own and amassed more than 7,000 acres (28 km2) in Virginia and Maryland.

Edward died sometime before 3 June 1651[7] in his home town of Wiveliscombe, Somerset, England.

His nephew Richard Bennett became Commonwealth of England Governor of Virginia from 1652–1655. Richard Bennett remained active in the government of Virginia even after the Restoration and died in Nansemond in 1676. Before Richard's death, he had become a Quaker and provided generously for several prominent Quakers in his will.


  1. ^ "Edward Bennett of London and Virginia" by John Bennett Boddie, The William and Mary Quarterly, 1933
  2. ^ http://webpages.charter.net/knighthistory/Jamestown-Bennett.html
  3. ^ Crisp, Frederick Arthur, and Brown, Frederick. [1] "Abstracts of Somersetshire Wills, etc." Vol. 5, p. 77
  4. ^ http://www.theharmons.us/harmon_t/b190.htm#P100778
  5. ^ Boddie, p. 36
  6. ^ Boddie, p. 91
  7. ^ Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607–1635: A Biographical Dictionary, Martha W. McCartney, 2007, page 126.