Professional Research & Maritime Historian, Author, & Conservator

Vassals of Carolina and Jamaica

Pirate Biographies– Vassals of Carolina and Jamaica

While the preceding passage appears in Quest for Blackbeard, the genealogies of various pirates will be explored in similar depth in Brooks’ Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, currently in the planning stages.

Brooks has over 35 years of experience in genealogical research, has worked as a professional genealogist, and lately studied in the Maritime Studies Program at East Carolina University as a professional historian.

His peer-reviewed article, “ ‘Born in Jamaica of Very Creditable Parents’ or ‘A Bristol Man Born’? Excavating the Real Edward Thache, ‘Blackbeard the Pirate’ “ in the July issue of North Carolina Historical Review includes the genealogy of the most famous pirate of them all! It’s expanded upon in Quest.

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There was a Jamaican connection to the first attempt to settle Carolina or Clarendon County on the Cape Fear River. It developed in the first “Charles Town” in the Lower Cape Fear in 1664-5. John Vassal was a key player in that attempt.

St. Elizabeth’s Parish of Jamaica burials reveal the earliest families with such names as Mrs. Ann Vassal in 1719, Capt. Jervis Shaw, Col. William Vassal, Theophilis Hill, William Coggin, James Rodaway, Sarah daughter of Major Vassal, William son to Col. Gale [same Yorkshire family as North Carolina’s Christopher Gale], Malachi Farrant, and John Arnn[e] in 1720. The Vassals appear as the most prominent early family in St. Elizabeth and many records affirm this. They settled here after multiple failed Carolina projects.

Huguenot descendant Samuel Vassal, merchant of London entered an agreement with George, Lord Berkeley, “holding the lands from Attorney General Heath, with full power to people, plant, and dispose, appoint officers and establish laws,” and others to transport Edward Kingsell and his forty settlers to Carolana in 1630. This effort failed, resulting in Kingswell’s party being stranded in Virginia five years later. Samuel’s nephew John Vassal later became involved in the Clarendon Settlement in the Lower Cape Fear under the “Carolina” charter of 1663/5.

In fact, John Vassal, born 1625 in Stepney, Middlesex, England, died July 06, 1688 in Jamaica and was buried in the St. Elizabeth graveyard of Kingston. He may have been alive to welcome Capt. Edward Thache and his family to the island when they probably sailed there from Bristol, England. That family included a young son and namesake, Edward Thache, known to us today as “Blackbeard.”

Vassal probably visited Jamaica when the English first captured it from the Spanish in 1655. He temporarily left to join his father William in Barbados. While in Barbados, he and his father learned of Charles II granting the Carolina territory in 1663 to the eight Lords Proprietors. On May 29, 1664, they reached the area and planted the first Charles Town in November. Vassal attracted settlers from New England, the West Indies, and Europe, about eight hundred in all. Unfortunately, John’s brother Henry who had gone to London to negotiate the terms with the proprietors was overridden by a rival group led by Sir John Yeamans, who convinced the proprietors to settle Craven County at the Ashley and Cooper Rivers instead. The proprietors ceased promotion of Clarendon, forcing eight hundred already-hungry settlers to suddenly uproot and move. James M. Clifton, in “Vassall, John” (1996), from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, states:


In the summer of 1667, Clarendon was abandoned, with its settlers going to Virginia or Massachusetts. Vassall, by now a financially ruined and dejected man, went to Virginia, where on 6 October he wrote to John Colleton a melancholy account of the last days of Clarendon. Unknown to him, Colleton was already dead. He seems to have remained in Virginia for some time trying to obtain redress of grievances against the Lords Proprietors.


While waiting in Virginia, Vassal met Mrs. Ann Toft of Northampton County who had been living there since 1660. She elected to sell her property in Jamaica and Vassal offered to purchase it from her. The Minutes of the Council of Jamaica recorded on July 2, 1672:


Whereas Col. John Vassal has brought from Virginia several conveyances and releases from Mrs. Ann Toft of Virginia, referring all her right to 4,000 acres of [land] in St. Elizabeth's parish, granted her by Governor Sir Thos. Modyford… Ordered that Col. Vassal and Mordecai Rogers immediately undertake the drawing of a most exact, large, and particular map of the whole island, perfectly describing all the mountains, rivers, valleys, settlements, creeks, and harbours.


Col. John Vassal’s survey of the island in 1672-1673 found “800 seamen, privateers, &c. belonging to the island but not constantly on it,” interestingly, the same number that had settled on the Cape Fear River.

Consequently, the first burial record in 1719 for “Mrs. Ann Vassal” from the St. Elizabeth’s Parish records was Anne Lewis Vassal, wife of John, who had preceded her in death by thirty-one years in 1688. Her father was John Lewis of Genoa who also came to Jamaica in 1655. The “Col. William Vassal” who died in 1720 was John’s son. Other family members that would have been there included sons: John (b. 1670 Cape Fear), Samuel (b. 1673 Jamaica), Lewis (b. 1674 Jamaica), Leonard (b. 1678 Jamaica), and Henry (b. 1685 Jamaica). Another son, Florentius Vassal later became a resident of Kingston when Edward Thache was living there.

This family had invested in Jamaica long before they came to Carolina and they stayed there until full emancipation for African-Jamaicans occurred in 1838. This happened only a few years after Britain outlawed the slave trade. Once the Vassals and Lewises no longer had slaves to work their plantations, they left. Americans typically blame the British West Indies for slavery; however, African descendents achieved full freedom there long before the United States’ Civil Rights Act in 1964.

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