Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christopher John Norton

  • Name: Christopher "John" Norton
  • Born: About 1718 England
  • Died: 1788 Virginia or Kentucky
  • Related through: Dan's grandfather Heber Langford

Christopher Norton was born in England about 1718 and was a former British Naval officer who settled in Norfolk, Virginia about 1751. Family tradition says his name is John, but from land records in Fluvanna we find his name was Christopher. His wife's name was Mary and they had eight children in all.

The family also called Christopher Norton "The Commodore" and from two other family sources we know he was a British officer on a warship. A commission as an officer in the Royal navy usually meant that the family had a history with the Royal Navy or was placed well enough to secure a commission. It was common for officers to begin their career at the age of 12 as Midshipmen, but advancement was often slow so we have no idea what rank he might have held. In 1750 England was between wars and had little need for officers. It's probable that Christopher would have been lucky to have any officer's position on a British war ship. He might have also worked as a private sailor.

We get a little more information about Christopher Norton from one of his great grandchildren, Eliza Benefiel Trimble. We call it the "Pirate Story". Eliza was 90 when she wrote this in 1906. She was 14 when Christopher Norton's wife, Mary died and possibly heard the story directly from her.

The Pirate Story
"John (Christopher) Norton was born in England in the time of trouble with sea pirates. He went to sea at the age of twelve and was 40 years on the sea. There was one noted pirate that did such havoc to the merchant vessels that England fitted out a vessel expressly to capture him. My grandfather Norton was on the English vessel that followed the pirate five years and finally came on it in a heavy fog in speaking distance. When spoken to they hoisted a black flag. The pirates had two vessels - one very small and tams - the idea was with the English that they would cripple the small vessel first. They shot into it and it sank like a lump of lead. They then attacked the other vessel and had a hard fight with them - finally overpowered them and took them to England. But most all the treasure was on the little vessel. Grandfather said that the money that was on the big vessel was divided among the men and there was a hat full to each man. All treasure was on the little vessel."

Although Christopher Norton arrived in Virginia at Norfolk, he didn't stay there long. It's most probable that he moved up the James River and settled just below Charlottesville. But there is a suggestion from the History of Marion County. that he may have gone up to Alexandria. The area of Fluvanna where the Nortons settled was quite well developed by 1750. All of the important roads had already been laid in and while the main connection was down the James River to Norfolk, the roads connecting to the Alexandria area were very well established.

Christopher Norton settled his family on the north side of the Rivanna River west of Mechunck Creek. The plantation bordered the Stage Road which was the principal route from Richmond to Charlottesvile and was less than 10 miles from Shadwell, the estate of Peter Jefferson where Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743. The principal cash crop of the area was tobacco and the bottom land of the Mechunck would have been an ideal location. The Rivanna River was opened for navigation in 1765 facilitating transport of the tobacco crop to Norfolk.

Christopher's grandfather, Robert Norton was a well know Baptist minister who was sent to Virginia in 1715. He is known for organizing the first Baptist church in Virginia. It is possible that Christopher came to Virginia to be near some of these American relatives.

The American Revolution
For Christopher Norton the War for Independence must have been a personal battle. As a former British naval officer with decades of service, he was trained for command and had already lived a life of action at sea. He knew what to expect from the British.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed Christopher was 58 years old. Thomas Jefferson lived just a few miles from the Norton plantation on the main Stage Road from Richmond to Charlottesville. Christopher was deeply involved with the patriot cause from the beginning.

His sons were among the first "Minute Men" of Virginia and were with Washington at the "Crossing of the Delaware" and Valley Forge. One son was an orderly for George Washington himself. Patrick Henry as Governor of Virginia later issued a land grant to Christopher Norton for his service as a patriot.

As fever for the Revolution grew, Sarah Norton, the oldest daughter married William Farney in November of 1775. William Farney (Farneyhough) came from a very wealthy family in the neighboring county of Ablemarle and was a Minute Man with Sarah's older brothers. At this same time Thomas Norton, the oldest son also married a girl named Elizabeth.

Thomas Norton and William Farney along with William Norton, the 2nd son probably joined with the 7th Virginia Regiment organized in Ablemarle County between February and May of 1776. Thomas Norton would have been 23 and William Norton 21. A third brother John was 19 at this time, but it appears he stayed at home to help manage the plantation for the time.

There is a strong family tradition that says that another son James Norton served as an orderly in George Washington's guard. James never mentioned this service in any of his War Pension applications, but I believe the family tradition is correct. I suggest that James joined his brothers at Valley Forge when he was 16 and served as an orderly at this time because he was too young to join the army.

The Norton family in 1778 consisted of Christopher and Mary about 60 years old, Thomas 26 (married to Elizabeth), William 24, John 22, Sarah 20 (married to William Farney) James 17, David 15 (our ancestor), Elizabeth 11 and Milly 4.

It appears that the Norton brother's enlistment was up in the early in the Spring of 1778. In May of 1778 Thomas Norton purchased 300 acres on a branch of the North Mill Creek commonly known as "Wolfs Place" in southeast Rockingham, Virginia. Close by is William Farney who was married to Thomas' sister Sarah. This land is only 40 miles from the family farm in Fluvanna County but just over the Blue Ridge Mountains and served as a "safe" place when the British moved through Albemarle and Fluvanna in 1781. It is apparent that the family of Christopher Norton located there for safety from the British from the war record of James Norton.

The Virginia Militia was sent to defend Charlestown along with the Continental army in July of 1780. The Americans were defeated by General Cornwallis and only 250 men out of an army of 5,000 escaped capture. The American prisoners were held on prison hulks in Charleston harbor.

Thomas Norton was a corporal in the Virginia line. William was there with Thomas and David Norton (our ancestor) had just joined the Virginia Militia in May of 1780 when he was 17. We know from our family history that Thomas Norton was captured and died on a British prison hulk in Charleston Harbor. Sarah Norton's husband William Farney is probably also either captured or killed at Charelston because court records show Sarah's family are left fatherless from that time. David's war record says he served until November 1782, the month the war officially ended. William and David must have made many friends while prisoners of the British. Both brothers settled in South Carolina after the War.

With three sons captured and the British in Virginia, the two remaining Norton sons (James and John) joined the the Virginia Militia for the final battle at Yorktown.

Sadly the end of 1781 brought the business of taking care of the families and estates of Thomas Norton and William Farney who died on a British prison hulk in Charleston Harbor. John Norton, the brother of Sarah was appointed executor of William Farney’s estate posting a bond for 30,000 pounds. He was also appointed guardian of their only son, John Farney. The children of Thomas Norton are also bound out to wards of the court.

James Norton set out to explore Kentucky soon after the fall of Yorktown and traveled through the Cumberland Gap into the area of Lexington and Boonsborough just in time to participate in the last battle of the Revolution at Salt Lick, Kentucky.

Ten months after Yorktown the British attacked at Lexington luring the frontiersmen into an ambush called the "Battle of Blue Licks". It took place near a salt spring along the Licking River in Central Kentucky north of Boonesborough and Bryan's Station. The Indians feigned an attack on Bryans Station knowing that the frontiersmen would pursue. Which is exactly what they did. The Indians lured a militia of 180 men into an ambush. It is well documented that James fought with Daniel Boone in this battle and he is mentioned in Boone’s history. Of the less than 200 that went in this battle 77 died. James Norton was called "Old Fighter Norton" in eastern Kentucky and fought in Indian wars until 1791.

The Family regroups
While James Norton was in Kentucky, the rest of the family regrouped. William and David are released in Charleston about November of 1782 and return to home to Virginia. After James returns from Kentucky the decision is made for the family to relocate there. Many Virginians from Fluvanna and Albemarle counties move to Kentucky at this time. We know that the neighbors of Christopher Norton move at this same time.

It seems they began moving out of Virginia from 1784 but the move was not completed until the plantation in Fluvanna is sold in November of 1788. Kentucky was still a dangerous place in 1784 with many Indian raids taking place. In fact it wouldn't really be safe for another six years and the Nortons stayed close to the Lexington area during this time.

In the meantime all the Norton sons will marry. John Norton married Sarah Spencer probably in Lexington, Kentucky. David Norton married Sophia Fancher possibly in Virginia or Kentucky about the same year.

All of these families, the Spencers, Bybee, Benefiel and Fancher families settled with the Norton family in Kentucky. It appears from the sale of the Fluvanna land that Christopher Norton, the father has died by 1788. The history given by Eliza Benefiel Trimble also says that he died in Virginia.

Thanks to Scott Norton for doing so much research and placing this history on his webstie. His info on Christopher Norton can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, my name is Jonathon R. Norton I'm from northeast Missouri(Scotland co). I started digging into my family history. I started with me and headed backwards it took me to John Norton from Grant county KY. I knew thats were the family was from but I double checked it thru all ten generations and came back to me. Funny I always thought we were irish. And then while looking I found the story of Christopher Norton Wow what a life! And his sons, people don't appreciate the sacrifices made by our founding fathers. Anyway great job on websites thank you for helping me find out about my familys history. J. Norotn @