AN INTRODUCTORY STUDY
THE RIGGINS FAMILY
YORK COUNTY, VIRGINIA
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
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
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
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
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
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
been married since May 23 1825 to Richard Callis. They had three children and were
Ann Riggins, who married on February 28, 1828, is listed as the wife of Robinson
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
born May 3,1841
died Aug. 23, 1890
Possibly there may have been a few earlier burials whose graves are not marked with
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
March 10, 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
born Dec. 12, 1811
died Sept. 4,
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
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