Early P-rr-tt Families of North America: Myth & Fact on the Internet
by Harald Reksten (522) & Wayne Parrott (775)
Parrotts have been in the new world since the early Colonial days. Until now, most genealogists considered all early American Parrotts as belonging to one family. Not only were they considered to be one family, they were considered to descend from the Perrots of Pembrokeshire, Wales, who used the arms of the three pears.
The use of the arms of the 3 pears was said to link the American Parrotts to the Pembrokeshire Perrotts. The connection of the American Parrotts to the Welsh Perrots was based on the arms of the 3 pears, which was reported to be on the seal on the 1686 will of Richard Perrot. Richard is one of the better documented early American Parrotts. He lived in Middlesex Co., Virginia, and was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, President of Middlesex County Court, and a large landowner in Virginia and Delaware. Today, a large percentage of the American Parrotts can trace their ancestry to Richard.
The ancestry of Richard Perrot remained unknown for the past couple of centuries, with the only clue to his origins being the arms of the 3 pears said to be on his will. So, the void was filled with speculation over the years. A quick glance during September 2009 of family trees posted on Rootsweb revealed 43 trees that show Richard to be descended from John Perrot the Quaker, who is in turn presented as the son of Sir John Perrot, and 34 trees show Richard as a son of James and Dorothy Perrott, with James being another son of Sir John Perrot, and Dorothy being the daughter of Sir Thomas Perrot and Dorothy Devereux. Only 47 trees refrain from speculation. Following the premise that all early American Parrotts were kinsmen, many trees of the early American Parrotts, particularly for William Parrott of Maryland (11 out of 26) and Francis of North Carolina (12 of 49), manage to tie them to Richard in one capacity or another, despite the complete absence of data.
The advent of DNA testing shattered the long-held view that all early American Parrotts were one family. Richard and his descendants are now known to represent a family distinct from that of William of Maryland, while Francis of North Carolina represents a third family. Other myths about Richard, particularly about his putative sojourn in Barbados and his family there, have also failed to stand up under current scrutiny. This article will just focus on his reported use of the arms of the 3 pears, and on Richard’s correct ancestry.
The arms of the 3 pears
Articles written by Lyon Tyler in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1892 and 1896 respectively stated that Richard Perrot used the arms of the three pears on the seal of his will. Tyler then reiterated the existence of the seal with the coat of the three pears in the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography in 1915. Other prominent members of society claimed they personally saw the seal on the will in the courthouse in Saluda, the seat of Middlesex County in Virginia. The existence of the seal was never questioned by anyone prior to this write-up.
The wax seal on the 1686 will of Richard Perrot is widely reported to show the arms of the 3 pears, despite its destruction. The will is in the Middlesex county courthouse in Saluda, Virginia. (Photo by Kevin Lett on back cover). A trip to the Saluda county courthouse revealed that the seal on the will of Richard Perrot was there, but defaced. A piece of paper had been placed on it, and the wax was flattened, while the wax was still soft. It has hardened considerably in the 300 years since. The seal of his wife, Margaret, was cut out of her will, leaving a hole in its place.
The recently discovered seals of Richard Perrot and his son, Richard Jr., are in the library of the University of Virginia. Neither seal bears the arms of the 3 pears. The document is dated 1683. Photo by Joseph Parrott. It is almost certain that those who wrote about the seal with the three pears never actually saw the seal in person in the Middlesex County court house. Or if they did go to the courthouse, it is possible they simply saw the seal in its present condition and assumed it contained three pears, since that is what had been reported earlier. It is also possible that the seals on the wills of Richard and Margaret were destroyed precisely to hide the fact they did not have three pears on them. Most seals from the same time period of the Parrott family of Maryland have also been systematically destroyed in a similar fashion.
As it turns out, one copy of the seal used by Richard and his son, Richard Jr., survived in the University of Virginia Library, where it was photographed in 2007. These are on transactions dated 1683, between Richard and Charles Curtis, brother of Richard Perrot Jr.’s wife, Sarah. It appears that the purpose of these documents was to help extricate Richard Perrot Jr. from some of the crushing debt he had accumulated in the 1670s. So in exchange for money, part of 800 acres was deeded to Charles Curtis, who later sold the land. The picture shows the signatures and seals of both Richard Perrot Sr. and Richard Perrot Jr. The seals are clear enough to show they do not depict 3 pears.
Richard’s real father
Once reports of Richard’s use of the 3-pear arms were dismissed, it made it possible to stop looking for non-existent links to the 3-pear families, and focus research efforts in other directions. The question then is if Richard Perrot does not belong to the three pears group, then to whom does he belong?
Peter S. Perrett (0001) found the first tangible evidence for Richard Perrot’s origins. While transcribing old wills for the P*rr*tt Society, he noticed that the will of John Perrot, Merchant Taylor of London in 1665 had some similarity to text in a wedding dowry written by Richard. One of the legacies in John’s will was given to two sons of his brother, Robert. John Perrot, among other bequests, also gave money to the poor of Potton in the County of Bedford(shire). Peter assumed the three pears information about Richard Perrot was true and then drew the conclusion that John, the Merchant Taylor, was related to the Shillington/Luton Bedfordshire group of Parrotts, who did have an actual association to the three pears group via the descendent Henry. But nothing was ever published that would indicate a specific linkage to the Shillington or Luton Parrotts.
Much information has been found recently to elaborate on Peter Perrett’s observations. First, there has been no association found between John Perrot, Merchant Taylor of London, and the Shillington or Luton Parrotts. The town and parish of Potton are located towards the top eastern portion of Bedfordshire, on the border with the county of Cambridgeshire. Shillington is located on the southeastern portion of Bedfordshire on the border with the county of Hertfordshire. Luton is south of Shillington also bordering Hertfordshire. There are wills that tie the Shillington and Luton Parrotts together, and it is apparent that these Parrotts were extremely wealthy. But no wills have been found that tie the Potton Parrotts, who were also wealthy, to either the Shillington or Luton Parrotts. Thus the premise developed earlier in this article that Richard Perrot is not of the three pears is still valid.
Richard visited England from Virginia in 1666/7. John’s will was not probated until 20 September 1667, so Richard would have had time during his trip to England to meet with his brother, John Perrot, before his death. If so, he had the opportunity to understand how John left his legacies. In 1672/3 Richard Perrot was in a similar situation as John was when he wrote his will, whereby he was not sure there would be any survivors of his family, as he had only one natural child and one step child. So it seems more than just a coincidence that he also left legacies to “Br. Robert Perretts two oldest sones” as a contingency, should neither Richard Jr. nor step-son Henry produce heirs. In the end, Richard Jr. produced many heirs, so by 1686 when Perrot died, the topic of legal heirs was no longer pertinent.
Peter also noticed that another legacy was given to John’s sister Mary Harding and that Richard Perrot acted as an attorney for Ann, Mary and George Harding of Northumberland County, Virginia in 1675. In 1676 Richard Perrot was at the height of his career in public service and business. There is no evidence that Richard was in debt or in any other type of difficulty. So the record in 1676 in which Richard is acting as an attorney for the heirs of Thomas Orley in Northumberland County, Virginia, makes little sense. Richard certainly had no obvious reason to spend any time in Northumberland County across the Rappahannock on the other side of Lancaster County, and he had no need to look for additional employment, nor any spare time to act as an attorney.
However by looking more carefully at the circumstances of Orley’s demise and subsequent activity to resolve the estate, it becomes clear why Richard would have been involved. Thomas Orley died in 1662, leaving a will providing legacies to his wife Rebecka and his sister, Mary Harding, wife of George Harding of London. It appears that there may have been some resistance to provide Mary her legacy, as shown in a record from 1664. Thus, Mary Harding, sister to John and Richard Perrot, could have asked her brother in Virginia to take care of obtaining the legacy of her sister-in-law Mary Harding in Northumberland County, Virginia. By matching the names given in the wills, along with surviving church records, it has become possible to reconstruct the most probable family tree for Richard Perrot and his family. A chart is provided on page 11 of the Family Notes magazine.
Richard Perrot of Middlesex, Virginia, remains as one of the most important founders of the current American Parrott families. Reports that he is related to the other early American Parrott families have not held up in the era of DNA testing. Likewise, reports that he is descended from the arms-bearing Perrots of Wales and England cannot be supported by the available information. Instead, Richard has perhaps less storied, but equally interesting, origins in England. The search for the English origins of the other early American Parrott families remains ongoing.
A note on the authors:
Harald Reksten is an 8th great-grandson of Richard Perrot of Middlesex, Virginia. Wayne Parrott is a 7th great-grandson of Lawrence Parrott of Northumberland Virginia. Contrary to other published reports, Lawrence was not Richard’s nephew. Footnote: The information here is abstracted from a manuscript recently published in 2 parts. For a more in-depth account of research and supporting documentation on the American Parrotts of the 16th century, please see Reksten, Rarald and Wayne Parrott, 2009, A re-examination of the relationships among the Parrott families of the American Colonies in the 17th Century. Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, Feb 47 (1): 21-43, and May 47 (2) 129-147.