A History of the Earliest Milams in Virginia

Milam Mariners and Merchants from Great Britain

Long before our Revolutionary War, British MILAMs made their way to the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. They primarily came from the Port of Bristol on the River Severn in southwest England and the growing Port of Whitehaven on the Irish Sea in northwest England. By 1750 Whitehaven was second only to the Port of London as the largest importer of colonial tobacco. Most of it was then exported to Ireland, Holland and France.

Mariners from Bristol

John Mylam of Bristol was Shipmaster of the sailing vessel John and made three voyages to the Virginia Port of York in 1699, 1700 and 1701. [1, 2] The Royal Navy Shipping Lists for York describe the John as a square stern ship of 60 tons. Its arrival cargo were “European goods” and departing cargo was tobacco. There was no mention of passengers.

It may have been his death in Virginia which was administered in the Church of England's Prerogative Court of Canterbury, London in December 1701. American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610 – 1857 states in part:

"Milam, John, of Bristol, who died in Virginia. Administration to Dorothy, wife of Richard Dyer, aunt and guardian of the children, John and Elizabeth Milam". [3]

In 1711, a passenger, John Mylam, sailed from Bristol to Virginia on the galley Cranfield. [5] There are no records for its arrival in Virginia since the Shipping Lists from 1708 through 1724  are missing. Thus I was not able to learn which Virginia port the Cranfield entered. It is not know if this John Mylam was a merchant and returned to England or settled in the colony.

Mariners and Merchants from Whitehaven

In the late 1600s, James Millam and John Millam were brothers and Mariners. In 1678, James was considered one of the “the septem viri” or “our seven wise masters” [708] and in 1698 was among the nine ship owners and merchants elected to negotiate with Sir John Lowther (link), lord of Whitehaven Manor, on improvements to the harbor. [709] James  was "Among the leading ship-owners of Whitehaven at the end of the {17th} century: James Millam had one quarter of a fishing boat and an eighth share in each of three ships": the Pearle, the Prosperous and the Advice. [707] "Ships" were the largest class of the ocean sailing vessels. At the time, shared ownership was usual in order to spread the risks of ocean voyages. This  James Millam died in 1699 [710] and his Will bequeathed his assets including his shipping shares to be divided equally between his sons, James Jr and Joseph. And if they should both die in their minority then to "my loving kinsman, John Millam". [719]

John Millam owned shares in four ships. In 1703 he is documented as the Shipmaster of the Affrica, owned by John Millam, Wm Fferris and Richard Kelsick, which sailed from Whitehaven to Hampton Roads, Virginia. [717] His 1714 Will appointed  his nephew, James Milham Jr, and his brother-in-law, Richard Kelsick, as guardians for his two underage sons, Robert and Francis. In addition to his property, he bequeathed to Robert a 1/16th interest in the Resolution and 1/16th in the Truelove and to his younger son, Francis, he bequeathed 2/16th interest in the Centurian, 1/16th in the Truelove and 1/16th in the Vine in addition to properties. [720] There is no Will or probate extant for Francis.

In 1715 and 1718 John's son Robert Milham was Master of the Resolution on voyages from Whitehaven to Virginia. She was built to order for the very successful merchant, Henry Tubman, for the Virginia plantation trade and was "by far the biggest of these {Whitehaven} ships at 200 tons". [715] However Robert Milham usually captained coal carrying vessels sailing the 150 miles across the Irish Sea to Dublin, Ireland, making eight or nine such voyages a year. His Will and probate do not exit.

In 1707 James Milham Jr was the Shipmaster of the sailing vessel Pearl on a trading voyage from Whitehaven to Virginia. [4] This James married Elizabeth Gale, daughter of John Gale Sr, of another sucessful merchant family. [713] By 1711 he was a Virginia merchant and made at least five voyages to the Potomac River. James was elected to the Whitehaven Harbor Board of Trustees along with four Gales and seven other merchants / shipmasters to sit along side Sir Lowther's seven representatives. Whitehaven Customs officers noted in 1727: "There was a sugar-house in which another iminent tobacco merchant, James Milham, was involved...." [711] It refined sugar primarly for the local economy. James Jr died on 21 April 1730. His Will names four children: James III, Joseph, Elizabeth and Ann and bequeaths them various real estate holdings and interests in ships: 1/16th of the Hope, 1/16th of the James and Thomas, 1/40th of the Cumberland and 1/32nd of the Leaflower. James III received his dwelling "where I live and work" and associated store house on Market Square. James' second wife, Susannah, and James III were executors for his Will. [721] Son Joseph died in 1743 at the age of 19 without heirs or an extant Will.

As a Virginia merchant, James III made annual voyages from Whitehaven to ports on the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers between 1740 and 1743. He married Isabella Kelsick of the most prominent Whitehaven merchant family. [714] You will note on my spreadsheet of British MILAM Mariners and Merchants here (link) that the James often traveled with other leading Whitehaven merchants such as John Gale Jr and Mathias Gale, Richard Kelsick, Edward Tubman and James Speddling. Kelsick and the Gales were related to James Milham by marriage. The merchants' business was to purchase a variety of textiles, felt hats, stockings and leather goods like gloves and shoes in Whitehaven, pick up Irish linens on their stop in Dublin and sell these items in Virginia to raise capital to purchase tobacco for the Fall return voyage to Whitehaven making a handsome profit on both ends. Since these round-trips took almost 12 months, James spent five months each voyage in Virginia meeting with merchants to whom he sold goods and meeting with tobacco growers and exporters. [712] Thus these Whitehaven merchants were able to establish business relations with many of the prominent plantation owners and businessmen at port towns like Urbanna on the Rappahannock and Alexandria on the Potomac.

As it happened, there was a direct connection between James Milham III and the Washingtons of Westmoreland County. Lawrence Washington (link) was George Washington's paternal grandfather. Upon his death his widdow, Mildred Warner Washington, married George Gale, brother of John Gale Jr, [715] and in 1700 they moved to Whitehaven, England, with her three children: John 6, Augustine 3, and an infant. A year later Mildred tragically died in childbirth at the age of 30 and was buried in St Nicholas's Churchyard. George Gale sent the boys to board at nearby Appleby Grammar School (link) until custody of the children was successfully challenged by the Washington family and the boys returned to Virginia under the care of their uncle, John Washington, in 1704. Augustine Washington (link) found Appleby Grammar so agreable that he chose to enroll his first two sons there: Lawrence from 1729 - 1732 and Augustine Jr from 1732 - 1741. [716] They were George Washington's stepbrothers.

On 24 JUL 1741 Joseph Deane, Tide Surveyor for the Port of Whitehaven, wrote a letter to Lawrence Washington (link) , son of Augustine:

"It was a very great satisfaction to me and all your friends in having the favor of yours from the Harbor of Cartagena the 31st March last", and concludes: "All friends here is well except your much admired Mrs. Milham who is just a heap of Corruption (so uncertain is the world) and must be dead e’ar this comes in hand." [716]

This reference was to Isabella Kelsick Milham, the wife of James Milham III. Cartagena was the official name of the harbor at Whitehaven around which many merchants and shipmasters lived. [716] James III died in 1750, a very wealthy man, and left everything to his only surviving child, Elizabeth, including interests in the Sugar House and ships. He appointed his two Uncles, Mathias Gale and William Gale, Merchants, guardians of his Daughter and Executors in Trust of his Will. [722]

NOTE #1: The Will of Lawrence Washington dated 11 March 1697/1698 states: "To my son, John Washington, the seat of land where I now live and that tract of land lying from the mouth of Machodoc Creek extending to a place called the Round Hills, with the additions I have thereunto made of William Rush II and William Webb". [35] This William Rush II was Thomas Milam's wife - Mary Rush's - great grandfather. Read more here (link) .

NOTE #2: George Washington (link) was born in 1732 to Augustine and his second wife, Mary Ball, after his first wife died in 1729 - the year his eldest son, Lawrence, was sent to Appleby Grammar. Perhaps the reason George did not attend Appleby was that Augustine died in April 1743 when George was eleven years of age. Recall that James Milham III was actively trading in Virginia in the early 1740s.

You may view my spreadsheet of British MILAM Mariners and Merchants here (link) .



The Earliest Milam Settlers in Virginia

By the early 1760s, court records document MILAMs in these counties in the Colony and Dominion of Virginia:

Thomas Milam (24 MAR 1738) in Orange (Culpeper) County [9, 10]
John Milam (27 MAR 1760) in Orange (Culpeper) County [309]
William Milam (26 MAY 1760) in Bedford County [6]
Benajmin Millam (26 AUG 1760) in Orange (Culpeper) County [446]

John Milam Sr. (DEC 1750) in Brunswick County [7, 636]
Edward Milam (24 JAN 1754) in Brunswick County [8]
Adam Milam (27 NOV 1760) in Brunswick County [637]
Samuel Milam (6 MAR 1761) in Chesterfield County [638]
James Milam (7 MAY 1762) in Chesterfield County [639]
Edmund Milam (2 OCT 1770) in Brunswick County [703]

Based upon his hand writing we now know that the John Milam Sr first found in Brunswick County (1750) then in Chesterfield County (1760) then later in Halifax County (1764) and finally in York County, SC (~1787) is the same man, the same John Milam. You may read about this important discovery here (link) . { By the way, there is no evidence in county records that this John Milam Sr ever lived in Culpeper, Louisa or Goochland Counties of Virginia. Read the details here (link) . However, John, the son of Thomas Milam, is found in Culpeper County in 1760. See the details here (link) . }

Having read thousands of pages of county court records from all of the above counties, the evidence is overwhelming that the Milams arrived in Virginia as indentured servants (link) . Since such servants were not paid a wage during their 4 - 7 years of indenture, they had to borrow money afterwards to get started and frequently fell behind in the payment of their land lease or the money they owed to merchants. Like most folk then, the Virginia Milams were repeatedly sued in their county courts for debts as you may read in the Chronology of each man's life by clicking on their names: Thomas (link) , John (link) , Benjamin (link) , William (link) and John Milam Sr (link).

For example, it took Thomas 12 years from when he first appeared in Orange County records for a debt due by bill on 24 March 1738 until he received his first land grant in January 1750. It was a similar story for John Sr who first appeared in a Brunswick County case of debt on 25 JUN 1754 and he first purchased 100 acres of land in April 1764 - some 10 years later. John Sr and Thomas worked long and hard after their servitude to acquire their first small farm.

In addition, the first generation Milams — Thomas of Orange / Culpeper counties and John Sr of Brunswick / Chesterfield counties — signed deeds, contracts and wills with his mark rather than their signature because they lacked the literacy skills to write their name. In those situations - typical of 80% of the population - the attorney who wrote the document would write their name and leave a space in the middle of it for his mark as you can see:

Thomas Milam Signed his 1761 Indenture with his Mark: TM.     John Milam Sr Signed his 1770 Indenture with his Unique Mark.
The spellings of their surnames were at the whim of the attorney or Clerk of Court.
Thomas Milam's Mark: TM John Milam Sr Mark

This is how award winning author, David Hackett Fischer, described the immigrants to Virginia in his 2000 best selling history, Bound Away:

"New England had drawn its population mostly from the middle of English society. Virginians came in greater numbers from both higher and lower ranks. In quantitive terms {Governor Sir William} Berkley's "distressed cavaliers" were only a small part of English migration to the Chesapeake colonies. The great mass of Virginia's immigrants were humble people of low rank. More than 75% of the immigrants came as indentured servants....Two-thirds of Virginia's colonists were unskilled laborers, or farmers in the English sense - agraian tenants who worked the land of others. Only about 30 percent were artisans. Most were unable to read or write...." [15]
Governor Sir William Berkley (1642 - 1652 and 1660 - 1677) by Peter Levy.
You can see why he and his rank were referred to as Dandies.
Governor Sir William Berkley of Virginia

The essential societal difference between the settling of New England and the settling of the Mid-Atlantic Colonies were the demands of the Tobacco Economy (link) which was the foundation of the latter. Indeed tobacco was so important that it literally became the common currency after 1710. Because tobacco farming was so labor intensive, it required the importation of not only indentured servants but, increasingly, African slaves, the King's prisoners from the Jacobite uprisings in Ireland and Scotland and even London City's convicts. [641, 642, 705] This is why many second generation Milams removed from Virginia - it was simply unprofitable to compete against slave labor. [478, 479] A map based on the 1850 United States Census recorded the size of the exodus from the State of Virginia here (link)

There was no disgrace in the life of the immigrant indentured servant (link) . These were simply the facts for the vast majority who couldn't otherwise afford their passage to America. [640] Indeed two United States Presidents had been indentured servants: Andrew Johnson to a tailor and Millard Fillmore to a clothmaker. The facts of these Milams' existence - as demonstrated in the Chronologies of their lives - are a testament to just how much our hard working ancestors endured to succeed in this new land. { Incidentally, Oliver Milam of www.milam.com (link) recently found that the merchant John Milam of Boston removed to Ireland with his family and sons in 1652. Thus they couldn't have settled in Virginia as some had imagined. }

Were Thomas Milam and John Milam Sr related?

It was long believed that Thomas Milam and John Milam Sr were brothers primarily because of their similar age and their eventual location in the Piedmont of Virginia. It turns out that the descendants of these early Virginia Milams are very closely related. What we have learned from the Family Tree DNA Milam Surname Project is that most Milams in the United States (40 of 41 tested) are the same genetic Haplogroup:


and are descended from the Colonial Virginia Milams. The one man who is not genetically related is a descendant of a William Mileham, born circa 1756 in the Colony of Pennsylvania. He has a very different Haplogroup: I1-M253>F2642. There may well be other Milams in America of different genetic families since we have found at least six genetically distinct Milam / Mileham / Milum families in Great Britain. But for now, in 2020, this is what we know. You may read my discussion of Milam Genetic Genealogy by clicking here (link) and read about our Y-DNA testing of 26 British Milams here (link) .

I am a descendent of Thomas Milam (of Orange / Culpeper Counties) youngest son, Rush, who was mentioned in Thomas' Will (image). [126] For that reason I initially researched the lives of Thomas and his sons in the court records of Orange County; their portion was named Culpeper County in 1749. After Thomas removed to Bedford County in 1761, I researched the county records there. All together I have read the court records in the counties where Thomas and his sons lived from 1730 through 1793. In 2018, I undertook the challenge of unraveling the early history of John Milam Sr by reading more than 2500 pages of Virginia county court records which you may read about here (link) .

My research of Thomas's life led me to search for the exact location of Thomas' property in these counties and to discover his wife, Mary Rush, and her father, William Rush IV, a County Constable (link) who farmed just to the southeast of Thomas Milam. You may view his land plat on a current map by clicking here (image). Although the ancestors of Thomas Milam are still unknown, William Rush IV's lineage [11] can be traced to his great grandfather, William Rush I, who immigrated to Virginia between 1635 and 1650. [12, 13] His portion of Northumberland County was partitioned off as Westmoreland County in 1653 where there are many records for the four generations of William Rush(s). My history of the Rush family of Westmoreland County may be found under the Mary Rush Family tab or by clicking here (link)

Photos at the top of this page show in the distance the north side of Doubletop Mountain where Thomas Mylam had 203 acres along the "south fork of the Robinson River", present day Rose River. The photo was taken from the Skyline Drive ~ 5 miles north of Milam's Gap in the Shenandoah National Park just north of Big Meadows looking southeast. The summit of Doubletop is just right of center.

If you hover your mouse over it, a second photo appears which was taken from the summit of Old Rag Mountain looking south to Doubletop. Thomas Mylam's property is in the center of view. On the far left, East, where Doubletop descends to join the Robinson River valley lies the land of the Rush brothers, William and Benjamin. The summit of Doubletop is at the far right, West. In the foreground running the width of the photo is the south slope of Old Rag. Full credit to Robert Vernon (link) for locating Thomas Milam's land for me.


NOTE TO READERS: All the words in bold type face are links to photographs, maps or word definitions in the Glossary. I urge you to explore by left clicking on them. Once you have clicked a link, it will be displayed in dark red type. Some of the images have "roll–overs" whereby, if you hover your cursor over the image, a second image appears - as above. In the case of historical documents, the second image will be a typed transcription of the colonial script as demonstrated here (link) . Citations are enclosed within brackets [ ] and are found on the Citation link under Resources. Clarifications within my writing will be found within ( ) and within direct quotes will be found within { }. Since the spelling of the "Milam" name often varies even within a single document, I will sometimes revert to the generic "Milam" rather than using the various spellings.

Try clicking on "Will" (image) in the text above and this word: Hogshead (link) - be sure to click "Image" at the end of this definition too.


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