Recently, while researching immigrants in our family tree, I discovered a most interesting coincidence when the lives of two of our 17th Century ancestors came together in a surprising way.
In the last couple of weeks I have been delving into the history of my grandfather Leroy Gower (1899-1974) who is descended from the immigrant Abell Gower (1640-1710), originally from Gloucestershire, England. In 1672, my 8X Great Grandpa Abell Gower sailed across the Atlantic and settled in Henrico County, Virginia. Not long after 37 year old Abell Gower stepped off the ship, he became a leader in his new community. The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (Vol. 1) documents Abell Gower being elected to the House of Burgesses (the representative body governing the Virginia Colony) in 1679. It also mentions that he served as Henrico County Sheriff in 1681. From 1679-1689 he was one of the Justices of the Peace for Henrico County, Virginia. He was a busy civic leader to be sure!
Justices of the Peace were the local law enforcement individuals in the Colonies in the 1680s. Their job was to keep the peace, to settle minor disputes and to make sure order was maintained. They were important since there were only a few thousand colonists in the county in the 1680s with very little infrastructure. 100 years later, in 1790, the first population records show there were just 12,000 colonists in all of Henrico County.
The above graphic shows the 4,100 mile route our Gower ancestors took, over 3 centuries, to get from Henrico, Virginia in 1672 to San Diego, California in 1942, and then to Western Washington in the 1970s. It should also be noted that my aunt Vicki Gower Johnston, one of the senior most Gower family members, also made the move from San Diego to Western Washington in the 1970s, but came back south four years ago and today lives in Chandler, Arizona.
|Capt. William Randolph|
At a court held at Varina for laying the levy for the County of Henrico, the 8th day of October, by his Majesty's Justices of the Peace in the year of our Lord 1683, and in the 35th year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord Charles by the grace of God of Great Brittain, France and Ireland, King, defender of the faith, etc. Present: The honorable William Byrd, esq., Capt. Thomas Cocke, Mr. Richard Cocke, Capt. William Randolph, Mr. Abell Gower, Justices of the Peace.
In addition to Abell Gower, the list above includes Capt. William Randolph, a name that sounded familiar to me when I read it. Then it dawned on me why. Capt. William Randolph -- are you ready for this? -- was the 8X Great Grandfather of my wife Cindy Harris Shepard. My ancestor Abell Gower and Cindy's ancestor William Randolph (1651-1711) knew each other, may have been neighbors, and worked together in peace keeping in late 17th century Colonial Virginia. What a remarkable coincidence that my 8X Great Grandfather and Cindy's 8X Great Grandfather served together on the same group of Justices for Henrico County, Virginia in 1683.
The image above on the right is a portrait from Wikipedia of Cindy's ancestor William Randolph who served with Abell Gower in the 1860s in Virginia.
I know of no other connection between my ancestors and Cindy's ancestors in the three centuries between 1683 when Mr. Gower and Capt. Randolph were Justices of the Peace in Virginia, and 1968 when Cindy and I were married here in San Diego.
Over the past three centuries my ancestors and Cindy's ancestors made similar journeys across country. The graphic above shows the three century, cross country route of Cindy's ancestors. From Henrico County, Virginia, they migrated to Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and finally California. On the West Coast they settled first in Visalia (where Cindy was born) before moving, in 1950, to San Diego where Cindy and some of her Harris family members still live today.
This is one more indication that we are descendants of some remarkable ancestors. Many of their stories have been hidden to history. I am grateful for the proliferation of resources that continue to come to light and tell us about them. The more we know about them, the more we can understand ourselves, our past, and our future.
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(he, him, his)