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The Origins of the Riggins Family in and around Poquoson Virginia

 

 

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AN INTRODUCTORY STUDY

OF

THE RIGGINS FAMILY

IN

YORK COUNTY, VIRGINIA

 

 

 

by

HUGH WORNOM

 

        This author, having Riggins ancestry, wishes to present some findings with the

hope that future researchers may have a guide to an in depth history of the Riggins

family.

 

 

RIGGIN – RIGGINS

 

The earliest mention of the name Riggins (spelled without an S ) in York County

records occurs in the deed dated April 15th, 1820, in which John Harwood, Sr. and his

wife, Martha Tabb Harwood, sold 81 acres of land to Isaac Riggins.

 

...bounded on the East by Lambs Creek

on the North by Poquoson River

on the West by lands of Thomas Pescud

on the South by land of Edward C. Howard

 

The Riggins family came from Maryland, as will be seen in census reports from.

1850, 1860, and 1870. So it comes as a surprise to read in the 1820 land transaction that

both parties, Harwood and Riggins, were all of York County. Possibly Isaac Riggins had

come to York County previously in order to find a new place to live. Many families in

Maryland and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia were uprooted by the British forces

during the War of 1812. Perhaps Isaac Riggins came across the Chesapeake Bay to

"visit" some other displaced Marylanders and to "look over the land" a few years before

he bought land.

 

He found a farm at the tip end of Calthrop Neck. Most likely it had a vacant

residence on it already, for the census taken in 1820 found him living on his newly acquired

farm shortly after August 1820. The Riggins family consisted of nine persons, all born in

Maryland. A modern reconstruction of this family may have looked like this:

 

Isaac Riggins, head of household, father

Ellen Riggins, wife and mother

a daughter Riggins (name unknown)

Elizabeth (called Eliza) Riggins

Elizabeth Ann (called Ann by her descendants)

William H. Riggins

Isaac Riggins, Jr.

Sarah Riggins (called Sally)

a male whose name has not been found; but is assumed to be a son

 

The 1820 census only gives the name of the head of the household, or family unit,

i.e. Isaac Riggins, age 45 and upwards. The female, age 35-45, we may assume was

Ellen, his wife. Other Riggins family members and descendants help us recall the names

of some of the children. There were daughters named Elizabeth, Ann, and Sarah and

sons named William and Isaac. The census record also shows that there was a son and a

daughter whose names are not known. It is assumed that they died young and unmarried.

We can calculate that the eldest daughter, whose name no one can recall, listed as being

between the age of 16-26, was born circa 1803 and would have been approximately

seventeen years old. For the sake of this narrative, we shall refer to her as "Miss

Spinster."

The male listed as between the ages of 10-16, name unknown, (we assume to be

the eldest son), may have been born circa 1805 and would have been approximately

fifteen year sold.

Elizabeth, called Eliza, who at maturity would marry Richard Callis, was born

circa 1807, and at the time of the 1820 census was age thirteen. Elizabeth Ann, called

Ann was born April 3, 1809. Being eleven years old, she must be one of the two females

who were listed as being between ages 10-16. William (his tombstone reads William H.

Riggins, (b.1811 - d.1876) was one of the two males listed as being between ages 1-10.

He was nine years old. The female listed as being between ages 1-10 must be Sarah,

called Sally, who would at maturity marry William Thomas. We can calculate her age as

seven, and assume she was born ca. 1813. This leaves us with the youngest child listed

in the 1820 census, a male between ages 1-10. This male was Isaac Riggins Jr. He was

approximately four years old, and subsequent census records indicate that he was born in

1816 or later.

When the census was taken in 1830, there was no male Riggins, age 25, listed in

York County. It is possible that he had married and moved away, but more likely he died

young. Also, there is no female in 1830 who would fit the description of "Miss

Spinster." It is assumed that she also died young and unmarried. However, the 1830

census is not proof that she was deceased. If she had married, she could be listed under

another name, but family folklore says that Isaac Riggins, Jr. had a sister who never

married  If this was "Miss Spinster", we can conclude that she died before 1830, and

surely would have been buried on the Riggins family farm in Calthrop Neck.

Isaac Riggins, the elder, was, already dead by the time the 1830 census was taken.

Not having any record of his death, we can only speculate that he was about fifty years

old or more. He was buried on the same land he had purchased a few short years before.

The land he purchased from the Harwoods was part of a large tract that had been

patented by Christopher Calthrop on July 13, 1635, and had been continuously occupied

ever since. Many generations had lived on that land and it is possible that there was

already an established cemetery on Isaac Riggins's part of the land. Nevertheless, if there

were no time-honored burial place, the widow Riggins chose a suitable spot overlooking

Lambs Creek and buried him there.

After Isaac Riggins's death, his son William was assumed by the census taken in

1830 to be head of the household. He was nineteen years old. The widowed mother,

Ellen Riggins (female aged 40-50), was listed as living with him and his younger brother

Isaac Riggins, Jr. (male 10-15). The female, aged 15-20, must be his sister Sarah, who

would then be about seventeen years old We do not know the exact date of her birth.

Six years later, when she married William Thomas on July 19, 1836, she was recorded as

being a spinster, and her brother Isaac Riggins, testified that she was over the age that

required a family member or guardian to give consent.

When the 1830 census was made, Elizabeth (cal1ed Eliza), the eldest sister, had

been married since May 23 1825 to Richard Callis. They had three children and were

enumerated separately.

Ann Riggins, who married on February 28, 1828, is listed as the wife of Robinson

Phillips.

            It seems that Isaac Riggins, the father, died unexpectedly and had not made a will.

Some of his children continued to live on the same land. Since this farm had formerly

been a colonial plantation, it is possible that there were other buildings on this 81 acre

tract which may have been used to house tenants or slaves. When the Riggins daughters

married. They may have converted these into new home places. The census taker for 1840

suggests a family compound and lists the following family units in successive order.

William Thomas and a female age 20-30 (Sarah)

Isaac Riggins and a female age 50-60 (Ellen, his mother)

William Riggins and his family (he married on Dec. 9, 1831)

Richard Callis and seven family members

 

            A deed recorded at the York County Courthouse dated Jan, 13, 1839, tells us that

William Thomas and Sarah sold their interests in the estate to Isaac Riggins. It reads:

 

"William Thomas and Sarah, his wife sold and released

enfeoffed... said tract that William and Sarah Thomas became

entitled to under act of assembly directing the course of

intestate estates as one of the legatees of the late Isaac

Riggin. "

 

It was proved by witnesses William H. Riggins, Richard Callis, and William Edwards.

            After William and Sarah Thomas sold their Riggins inheritance in 1839, they may

have moved elsewhere, but they are enumerated in the 1840 census as having one male

child under 5 years of age. They are known to have had two sons: Edward Lee Thomas

and Lewis Taylor Thomas. Isaac Thomas, born ca. 1847 and named in the 1870 census is

believed to have been their son, but none of these can be found in the 1850 and 1860

census. Family folklore also tells us that there was a daughter named Ann E. Thomas

who was a charter member of Emmaus Baptist Church at its establishment in 1878. Her

brother, Edward Lee Thomas, was also a charter member. It has been said that Ann

married a Mr. Naylor and that they left York County. William and Sarah Thomas may

have had another daughter named Salina.

            In 1857, there was a resurgence of religious fervor in the Methodist Church in

Poquoson and the many camp meetings during that summer attracted people from far and

wide. Long lists of names were added to the Probationers List for Sabbath morning

classes. On the list for class No.1 at Tabernacle Methodist Church we find Sarah

Thomas listed among 35 other names. In class No.5 we find Salina F. Thomas,

Robinson Phillips, and his wife Elizabeth A. Phillips, Norvella A. Callis, Martha Riggins,

and other local names numbering over 40 people.

            Perhaps Sarah Thomas and Salina F. Thomas were mother and daughter, but this

is only speculation. Salina F. Thomas has not been identified as a daughter of William

and Sarah Thomas.

            The fact that William Thomas and his family are not found in the 1850 census for

York County may, or may not, indicate that William was dead. We know that his wife,

Sarah Riggins Thomas, gave birth to Lewis Taylor Thomas on August 30. 185l.

Presumably he was the youngest child of William and Sarah Thomas.

            A tragic story related by Levi M. Riggins recalls that William Thomas was bitten

by a mad dog and he contracted rabies, which caused his death.  It happened in mid-winter

and the creeks were frozen solid so his coffin was put in a small sled and

transported across the creek to the Riggins home place where he was buried in the same

family cemetery where his father-in-law Isaac Riggins was buried.

            There is a puzzling entry in the 1870 census which names Sarah Thomas, age 65,

living with Isaac Thomas, age 23, and Taylor Thomas, age 20. At first glance this would

seem to be the mother with two grown sons, and indicates that this woman, born in 1805,

was Sarah Riggins Thomas. However, modern reasoning would question whether this

woman at forty seven years of age would be giving birth to Lewis Taylor Thomas, who

was born August 30, 1851. A more logical explanation would be that the mother of

Lewis Taylor Thomas was already deceased by 1870 and an Aunt Sarah Thomas, whose

name also happened to be the same as Taylor's mother, was living with the two young

motherless men in order to make a home for them.

            Without further research, we can only guess that an 1830 census entry for Lewis

Taylor Thomas and wife, both born between 1800 and 1830 were blood relatives of

William Thomas and his sons and that Lewis Thomas's wife may have been named

Sarah. Perhaps Lewis Thomas was dead by 1870 and his widow took the orphaned boys,

Isaac and Taylor Thomas to live with her. At this time we have no proof that her name

was Sarah, however she could certainly have been 65 years old in 1870, while Sarah

Riggins, widow of William Thomas, would only have been about age 57, if she were then

still alive.

            Levi M. Riggins, grandson of Isaac Riggins, Jr., said that Sarah Riggins Thomas

had a tombstone next to Isaac Riggins, Jr., and he thought that there was a tombstone

there for William Thomas as well. Nevertheless, they cannot be readily found today.

Perhaps, they collapsed to the ground and are buried under the leaves and vines of many

years past, and may yet be discovered some day. It is possible that some of their children

who did not survive are also buried beside them.( See note in addendum regarding

tombstone discoveries in April 2002.)

After Emmaus Baptist Church was built on Yorktown Road in Poquoson (1888),

the eldest son of William and Sarah Thomas, Edward Lee Thomas and his wife, Rose

Ellen, were buried in the church yard near the road, but their graves are not marked.

            It seems possible that Isaac Thomas, who is believed to be a son of William and

Sarah Thomas, also may have been buried near his father and mother on the Riggins farm

on Calthrop Neck. This may be the last resting place for any unmarried daughters that

are believed to have been born in this family.

            On Christmas Eve 1891, the youngest son of Sarah and William Thomas, Lewis

Taylor Thomas, married Camilla Ann Moore, the youngest daughter of Edward B. Moore

and Ann Holloway Moore. They had one child, a son named Emmett O. Thomas, who

was born February 28, 1893. Sadly, his mother died one month after he was born. Camilla

Ann's mother was deceased, but she had an older sister Sarah Elizabeth (called

Sallie Bett) who took the infant in to care for him. Sallie Bett Moore was already making

a home for her aging father, Edward P. Moore. Two years later he, too, died leaving the

spinster aunt rearing Emmett Thomas, a motherless infant. The boy's father, Lewis

Taylor Thomas (called Taylor) asked Sallie Bett to marry him. On September 29, 1895,

the boy's aunt became his step-mother. However, this satisfactory arrangement lasted

only a short while. Taylor Thomas, the infant's father fell ill and died one month later on

October 25, 1895. Sallie Bett Moore Thomas lived three years longer and died on

August 7, 1898, when Emmett was only five years old. Once more the family rallied

together to find a home for the boy.

            Elkanah J. Moore was the eldest brother of Sallie Bett and Camilla Ann. Thirty

years previously he had married Mary Riggins, a first cousin to Taylor Thomas. Elkanah

and his wife, Mary Riggins Moore, took the orphaned boy and raised him along with

their children.

            Elkanah L. Moore bought a large family burial plot just to the rear of Emmaus

Baptist Church. He and his wife are buried there. The nephew, Emmett O. Thomas, who

never married, is buried near his parents in the church yard at Emmaus Baptist Church in

a row headed by his grandparents, Edward B. Moore and Ann Holloway Moore.

            It is noteworthy to mention here that Edward B. Moore and his wife, Ann Moore,

were charter members of Emmaus Baptist Church on July 14, 1878 along with six of

their children: Elkanah, Andrew, Edward B. Moore, Jr., Thomas Benjamin Moore, Sarah

E. Moore (believed to be Sallie Bett) and Camilla Ann. Edward Lee Thomas was also a

charter member and Ann E. Thomas, who is believed to be his sister, was also a charter

member.

            Lewis Taylor Thomas and his two wives are buried in the church yard of Emmaus

Baptist Church, one on each side of his grave, and all three have tall upstanding grave

markers.

            Ellen Riggins, the wife of Isaac Riggins, who came to York County from

Maryland in 1820, was surely the matriarch of the Riggins family in 1860 when the

census taker recorded her age as 82. This indicates that she was born in 1778, at the end

of the Revolutionary War. She was listed as living alone, but her youngest son, Isaac

Riggins and his family of seven were her close neighbors. Isaac Riggins, Jr., had

probably built a new home beside the old home place. We can feel certain that when she

died, she was buried beside her husband and her children and grandchildren, who had

been laid to rest there over the many years she had resided on this family land in York

County.

            Elizabeth Riggins, called Eliza, her eldest surviving daughter, was born 1805-

1807 and married Richard Callis on May 23, 1825. They were living in 1870, but

Richard Callis, whose age was given as 69, probably died before the 1880 census was

made, and it seems possible that he and his wife, Eliza Riggins Callis, may have been

buried near her brother, Isaac in the family burying ground near the Riggins home place

at the end of Calthrop Neck Road.

Daniel G. Callis, the son of Richard and Eliza Callis, married in 1866 and had a

large family. He established his own cemetery on land he purchased at Hunt's Point in

Poquoson. It was beside a hallowed burying place used by many families in the past.

William Riggins, eldest surviving son of Isaac Riggins was born in 1811 and

married Sarah E. Phillips on Dec. 9, 1831, when he was twenty years old. They had

several children and after Sarah died he married Charlotte Edwards. William and

Charlotte Riggins had several children of this second marriage and William Riggins was

known to have a very large family when he died. Some of the children from the first

marriage may be buried in the Riggins family cemetery on Calthrop Neck, but William

was apparently buried across Lambs Creek on land he had purchased His daughter,

Octavia Riggins married Daniel Dryden and some of their children were buried in this

family plot where William Riggins was buried. His tombstone reads:

William H. Riggins

born 1811

died 1876

Within recent memory (1997-1998) his grave, along with the graves of three of his

grandchildren and all of the infant Dryden children were moved to a cemetery at the rear

of Emmaus Baptist Church. His son George Riggins, and his wife Jane Callis Riggins,

were reported to have been buried in the Dryden family plot also, but no stones or

markers could be found when the other graves were moved.

            Daniel Webster Riggins, son of William H Riggins, bought land to the rear of

Emmaus Baptist Church and established the Poquoson Cemetery in 1920. He and his

wife, Margaret Ann Hopkins, are buried there. They wanted to make it possible for

members of the Baptist Church to purchase family plots to serve the needs of a growing

membership. At least two of William Riggins' sons, Alexander (1869-1924) and Edward

Sylvester Riggins (1857-1925) were buried in the new Emmaus Cemetery, as well as

Daniel Webster Riggins (b. Jan 1, 1856-d. July 25, 1921).

            Levi Riggins, the son of William Riggins, died before his brother Daniel Webster

Riggins had bought the land and established the Emmaus Cemetery. He and his wife,

Ara Jane Phillips Riggins, were buried in the church yard of the newly built Emmaus

Baptist Church. Levi Riggins appears to be the first person to be buried in this church

yard situated on Yorktown Road in Poquoson. His tombstone reads as follows:

Levi Riggins

born May 3,1841

died Aug. 23, 1890

Possibly there may have been a few earlier burials whose graves are not marked with

stones. 

            This earliest burial suggests that the older practice of burying loved ones in a

family plot had given way to interment in the more accessible church yard after 1890.

            Elizabeth Ann Riggins (called Ann by her grandchildren but known as Elizabeth

A or Elizabeth Ann in official records) was born on April 3, 1809. The family Bible,

which she and her husband bought, records that she was the daughter of Isaac and Elinor

Riggins. She married Robinson Phillips on Feb. 28, 1828. He was the eldest son of a

Phillips family long established in Poquoson. They had lived on the same farm at the end

of Pasture Road for many years, and that was where he was born. It was at the mouth of

Bennett Creek and overlooked the Chesapeake Bay. Robinson Phillips's father and

mother were buried there, and thereafter it became the burying ground for this Phillips

family.

            Isaac Riggins, Jr., the youngest child of Isaac and Ellen Riggins, was born in

Maryland and came to York County with his family in 1820. He was then about three

years old. He married Elizabeth Topping circa 1846 and they had six children:

Pocahontas 1847 -?

Mary Virginia 1850-1915

Hance Lawson 1853-1908

Sarah E. 1855-1893

Elizabeth B. 1857-1891

Ann Pocahontas 1860-1899

            Pocahontas, the eldest daughter, died young. There is no tombstone marking her

burial place, but she must surely have been buried in the Riggins family cemetery on

Calthrop Neck circa 1860. The census for 1860 gives her age as thirteen, but another

daughter was born to Isaac and Elizabeth Riggins on July 18, 1860 and they named her

Ann Pocahontas. Her eldest sister evidently had just recently died and she was given her

name to commemorate her memory.

            The youngest daughter, Ann Pocahontas, lived to be 39 years old and died on July

11, 1899. By that time the Riggins family was using the church yard at Emmaus Baptist

Church for burial and she was buried there. Apparently she was the aunt that her nieces

called "Missie" In the 1870 census, she is listed as Pocahontas, age 12. She died

unmarried. Her tombstone gives the date of her death:

Ann P. Riggins - died July 11, 1899

            Mary Virginia Riggins, who is listed in the 1850 census as being six months old,

was born on June 4, 1850. She married Elkanah James Moore. Among their nine

children was Diana Elizabeth Moore, who married John Gibbs Wornom.

            Hance Lawson Riggins was the only son of  Isaac Riggins, Jr. and Elizabeth

Topping Riggins. He was born Apri1 18, 1853 and died May 12, 1908. His wife, Polena

Poindexter Moore, was the daughter of Levi Moore, who had come to York County from

the Eastern Shore. Hance Riggins and his wife are both buried in the church yard at

Emmaus Baptist Church and have individual tombstones.

            Sarah E. Riggins. the third child of Isaac and Elizabeth was born Sept. 12. 1855

and died August 28, 1893 when she was not quite 38 years old. She married Andrew

Tyler Moore, a brother of Elkanah J. Moore. Their wives were Riggins sisters. Andrew

and Sarah had five children. They selected a grassy knoll on their farm at Hunt's Point

for a family burying ground.

            Another sister of Mary, Hance, and Sarah Riggins was named Elizabeth B.

Riggins, but she was called Bettie. She married Wallie Smith. The Smith family had a

special burial place near their home. It is on a small creek (now called Oxford Run)

where several members of the Smith family lived. Bettie and her husband have

tombstones there. They read:

C.W. Smith Elizabeth B. Smith

born May 2, 1856 born Dec. 11, 1857

died Jan. 7, 1926 died Feb. 13, 1891

            This concludes the story of Isaac Riggins and his wife, Ellen and their seven

children. This narrative also attempts to identify each child and tell of their marriages,

but does not list the names of all of the grandchildren of Isaac and Ellen Riggins. Since

the purpose of this study was to identify only the family members buried in the privately-

owned Riggins family burying ground, the aspect of this paper being a genealogy falls by

the wayside.

 

Shedding Some Light on Unsettling Questions

 

            During the earliest queries about the history of the first Riggins family in the

Poquoson area, Mr. Levi Riggins (1883-1971) stated knowingly that his grandfather,

Isaac Riggins, Jr., had a sister Sally who had married William Thomas and that they were

buried to the rear of where he lived, in an old cemetery overlooking Lambs Creek. There

were standing tombstones there marking their graves when he was young, but the stones

had fallen down.

            When asked about Ann Riggins, who had married Robinson Phillips, he was not

certain that she was a full sister to Sally and Isaac Riggins. He knew that William

Riggins (1811-1876) was related, but was not sure of the exact kinship. This vagueness

may be attributed to the fact that their elders died young and the orphaned children had

not been exposed to genealogical information before marrying and going their separate

ways. The census records seem to indicate that they were all members of the same

family.

            In the family Bible of Robinson Phillips, it was recorded that he was married on

March 1, 1828, to Elizabeth Ann Riggins, the daughter of Isaac and Elinor Riggins. In

this same family Bible is recorded that Sarah Phillips (sister of Robinson Phillips)

married on Dec. 9, 1831 William Riggins, son of Isaac and Elinor Riggins. This proves

that Elizabeth Ann and William had the same father and mother, but the name of the

mother is spelled Elinor, not Ellen. Riggins family folklore tells us that the wife of Isaac

was named Ellen. The only published record of her name is found in the 1860 census of

household No. 152 and is spelled Elen by the census taker. This is not the sensational

proof we would hope for, but it may mean that Elinor and Ellen were two different

people; on the other hand, there is a strong possibility that Elen (Ellen) was only an

endearing nickname for Elinor.

            We ought to explore the possibility that Isaac Riggins married twice in Maryland,

and that when he came over to Virginia in 1820 he brought his second wife Ellen. the

first wife Elinor having died in Maryland We have no evidence that at all of his children

had the same mother. This could explain why some Riggins family members were not

sure of their relationship to each other. Possibly, Sally Riggins Thomas and Isaac

Riggins were the only children of Ellen, and Eliza, Elizabeth Ann and William were of

the first marriage to Elinor.

Hugh Wornom

March 10, 2002

 

 

ADDENDUM

 

September 2002

 

            Since writing all the information I have learned about the Riggins family and their

burial places, new information has been found.

            The discovery of the tombstone for Sarah (Riggins) Thomas had recently added

exciting new information. In cleaning off the knoll of Grave Point, which had become

the hallowed burial ground started by the first generation of the Riggin/Riggins family,

the Riggins family members located field stones and bricks indicating the burial spots of

several long deceased family members. By accident, they hit the flat tombstone for Sarah

Thomas. It was found buried under the surface of the soil. It had become broken off at

the base and lay hidden for many years, but the inscription could still be deciphered, in

spite of some erosion. It reads as follows

 

Sarah Thomas

born Dec. 12, 1811

died Sept. 4, 1884

 

            Sarah was the daughter of Isaac Riggins and the wife of William Thomas. The

discovery of this new information adds proof to what had heretofore been speculation

and guesswork. We must now retrace our steps and make some corrections in the old

theories.

Hugh Wornom

September 5, 2002


 

Gravestone of Sarah Thomas, daughter of Isaac Riggins [B. Dec. 12, 1811, D. Sept. 4,

1884] was discovered in March 2002 in the old family cemetery near the site of the

Riggins home on Lambs Creek.


 

A portion of Map III-24. U.S. Coast Survey, No 57 [Ca. 1854] showing the approximate

Boundaries of the Riggins farm where Lambs Creeks joins the Poquoson River.

 

 


 

                        Clippings from the newspaper Hampton Monitor

            Contributed by Brenda Thomas Watson of Hampton, Virginia

 

 

 

 

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