Early VA Meachams -- Jo. Machem


Jo. Machem -- his name (!) and his son (?)

[Nov. 22, 1998]

I am puzzled about how "Jo. Machem" on the ship "Paule" from London (certificates issued at the port of Gravesend) to Virginia in 1635 ever became christened as "Joshua" in Meacham genealogies. The abbreviations "Jo." "Jo:" and "Jno." were very common in England in the 17th century and ALWAYS stood for JOHN !!!. I have this information from two people in England, one of whom has done a lot of work on parish registers in Kent (where Gravesend is located). Did no one ever check this out? It is surprising (to put it mildly) that Walker's archivist (quoted in an earlier post by Donna) did not know this or bother to find out. The confusion probably came from the fact that the abbreviation was often used a few lines away from the full word John, just as we might find Apr. and April today. Jos. was used for Joseph, Jas. for James. As far as I can discover, there was no abbreviation for Joshua.

To confirm this information, I looked at the forenames abbreviated "Jo." or "Jo:" on the passenger lists for the ships "Bonaventure" and "Elizabeth" which arrived in Virginia in 1634 and 1635 respectively. There are 22 "Jo." among 152 men on the Bonaventure and 8 "Jo:" among 29 men on the Elizabeth. Comparing those with the same surnames on the Virginia rent rolls of 1704, I found corresponding surnames with John (abbreviated sometimes as Jno. in the 1704 text but never Jo.) for these names on the passenger lists: Jo. Edmonds 16, Jo. Wise 18 or 28, Jo Anderson 20, Jo. Bryan 25, Jo. Wilkinson 19, Jo. Watson 26, Jo. Atkinson 24 (Bonaventure); Jo: Baker 16, Jo:Vaughn 17, Jo: Tayler 18 (Elizabeth). I also found one "Jo:" on the "America" 1635 passenger list -- Jo. Averie 20; there is a John Averie in the 1704 roll. Of course some of these may be coincidence, as John was such a common name, and most may be sons, as the immigrant father may have died well before 1704. (Note however that none of them are listed as juniors -- a fact of some potential importance below -- excepting John Wise Senr and Junr.) It is significant that none of the 31passengers with forenames given as Jo. yielded a Joshua of the same surname in 1704. And, of course, we have the evidence of the 1652 document about the "importing of John Micham," which pointed all along to the identity of Jo. with John.

Further, on the 1704 rent rolls there are about 5500 names, 95% male, and among them are 1088 with the forename John. By contrast (to put it mildly) there are eight (!) Joshuas, three Josiahs and two Joels. These were then, as today, rather rare forenames. John constitutes a staggering 21% of the 1704 names and also exactly 21% of male surnames on the three ships' lists. There was no Joshua among the 255 male passengers. Until someone produces some evidence to the contrary, the name "Joshua Meacham" in reference to the immigrant Jo. Machem should be deleted from every Meacham genealogy. "Jo. Machem" on the passenger list meant JOHN MACHEM.

On the rent rolls, the following four may be descended from our immigrant ancestor (let us assume at least that he is the first to bring the M250 surname to Virginia):

If so, it is a little surprising to see four different spellings of the name so soon. And none correspond to Machem or Micham in the import documents. (Until we have a definite identification of the boy in English records, it is better to follow the 1635 document and use Machem, as it is closer in time and place to his birth/family.)

What is of considerable significance, I think, is this John Meachen *Junior* in 1704. Could he be the son of Jo. Machem himself? Clarence Mitcham states that we know nothing of Jo. Machem's family; Burton Meacham gives him nine sons born between 1650 and 1682. Both of them cite early Virginia records of a "Joshua" (is this another "Jo." in a document?) b. 1650 and a John b. 1655. There seem to be no other records of a John born before 1704. John Meachen Jr is thus a very good candidate to be one of these two. Though it is far from proven, it is reasonable to suppose that Jo. Machem was the senior and that he died not too many years before 1704, since the "junr" was still used. There are 123 juniors in the rolls, but only four (just our luck!) where the senior is not given (as "sen" or "senr") or obvious. This may have something to do with land being in probate, or a custom regarding the use of "junior" after the father's death. Other possibilities that I can think of would be that the fathers had left the colony, or did not own land, or had deeded the land to their sons while still alive. This should be researched!

Some questions for anyone who has studied the Virginia records of this period:

1. Burton ascribes nine sons to Joshua Meacham (=Jo. Machem in his view) and Jane Lightfoot over an amazing 32-year reproductive period! Is there any evidence that their father was a Jo. or Joshua, or is it merely a surmise on the part of Burton? Is there any evidence that their mother was Jane Lightfoot and/or that she was the wife of a Jo. or a Joshua M____ ?

2. How is the surname spelled in other late 17th century Virginia records? This could be important and in any case should NOT be changed to "Meacham" by genealogists.

3. According to Mitcham, the will of Henry Meacum (b. ca. 1688, d. 1758) states that his father was "Joshua"? Is this another misreading of "Jo."? If so, his father may well have been John Meachen Jr and we would then have some evidence (a long way from proof) for a link all the way back to Jo. Machem.

4. Does anyone have a copy or *exact* transcription of the will of Henry Meacum? I am curious as to why Burton Meacham left this Henry out of the picture, and why Burton reconstructed descent lines very different from what the will indicates, at least acc. to Mitcham's interpretation of it.

5. The Joseph Mitcham of Middlesex Co. in 1704 is presumably the Joseph b. 1679 in Middlesex Co. And Thomas Mackham of Middlesex is probably related. But who is this Gideon? Could he be from the northern Meacham line, moved to Virginia?

Many more questions. With some further work we can hopefully sort out the descent from the immigrant John Machem. I am planning to set up a database on the web for 17th century Virginia Meachams (all M250 variant spellings), and would very much appreciate any information anyone can offer, especially transcriptions of the documents!


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