Adam Thorowgood was an ambitious, and extremely successful, young man. Young Thorowgood initially came to the Colony of Virginia as an indentured servant of Colonel Edward Waters of Kiccoughtan.
After he completed his indenture, he returned to England singing the praises of the New World and married 15-year-old Sarah Offley, the daughter of Robert Offley, a wealthy London merchant, and Anne Osborne.
Adam and Sarah Thorowgood sailed to Virginia to seek their conjoined fortunes, establish a large plantation and raise a family. By 1635, Adam Thorowgood was granted 5,350 acres of land in Lower Norfolk County for arranging for the passage of 105 English settlers to the colony.
Thorowgood was elected to the House of Burgesses and appointed to the Governor’s Council. He hosted local court proceedings in his home and established a ferry operation on the Lynnhaven River. Thorowgood was, indeed, a busy young man. When it came to social, economic and political influence, Captain Adam Thorowgood was powerful in Lower Norfolk County.
Unfortunately, Adam Thorowgood died in 1640 at the age of 35. He left Sarash Offley Thorowood, mother of his four children, to inherit his Lynnhaven Parish estate.
Sarah Thorowgood, high-spirited, self-serving and iron-willed, proved more than capable of managing Captain Thorowgood’s holdings.
Today, somewhere beneath the waters of the Lynnhaven River off Church Point, the tombstones and remains of Sarah Offley Thorowgood and her three husbands, Adam Thorowgood, John Gookin and Francis Yeardley, presumably rest in peace.
As a feme covert, a married woman, Sarah Offley Thorowgood was not oblivious to her husband’s elevated status in the Colony of Virginia. She warmly embraced her spouse’s position and the protection it provided her in Virginia’s colonial hierarchy.
Under English law, a free woman, single or widowed, was considered a feme sole who could own property, retain her earnings, incur debt, sue or be sued, and write a will. A married woman, feme covert, was not permitted to exercise those rights because English law held that a husband and wife were one person.
Prior to marriage a feme sole could establish a prenuptial agreement, trust, or estate separate from her husband’s influence during her marriage. Sarah Thorowgood employed a variety of legal measures to benefit from her husbands’ resources and shield herself from their liabilities.
In her own eyes and those of her neighbors, Sarah Thorowgood became the grande dame of Lower Norfolk County. She was, after all, beautiful, high-spirited, protective, and (perhaps) a bit narcissistic, not necessarily a disagreeable amalgam. She was the envy of most of the goodwives of the county and colony.
As a Puritan-leaning goodwife, feme covert, Thorowgood was supposed to provide her spouse with material, spiritual, and emotional comforts, along with conjugal fellowship.
While she was expected to obey her husband, their union was, in theory, based upon affection and mutual respect which “tempered obedience into support.”
During the colonial era, a man’s sphere of influence was outside the home, politics, war, and business while a woman’s sphere of influence was within the home. Within many households, a woman had as much or more control in the management of the manor than her spouse did.
Within a marriage men and women had distinct roles, responsibilities, without an overlapping duplication of effort. The loss of one marriage partner encouraged a quick remarriage to keep the established arrangement operating efficiently.
Thorowgood had helped her husband gain prominence in Elizabeth City (now Hampton) and in Lower Norfolk County. Her dowry might have been used to purchase the Thorowgood’s first land in Elizabeth City.
While her first husband was still alive Thorowgood remained, as was expected, in the background. Following his untimely death, Sarah stepped into eminence. Fiercely defending her late husband’s reputation and steadfastly protecting her children’s financial heritage became her focus.
While Captain Thomas Willoughby and Henry Seawell were designated as overseers of Adam Thoroughgood’s estate in his last will and testament, they formally “disclaimed” their appointments in court. They both knew Thorowgood well and had no interest in battling with her over the supervision of Captain Thorowgood’s estate. Whether Thorowgood demanded their resignations, or not, she retained dominion over the family fortune.
One year following Captain Thorowgood’s death, Sarah remarried another well-known Virginia planter, Captain John Gookin. Gookin established a 500-acre plantation in Upper Norfolk County in 1636. He served in the House of Burgesses. By 1641, John Gookin had patented 640 acres of land, next to the Thorowgood holdings in Lower Norfolk County.
Captain Gookin was competent in handling his estates and managing his business interests. He was just the man Sarah Thorowgood needed at the time. Gookin assumed responsibility for the Thorowgood estate following their marriage. Their brief union produced another child, Mary.
John Gookin died at the age of 30 on Nov. 22, 1643, leaving Sarah Offley Thorowgood Gookin with five children and a huge estate to manage. Sarah engaged in a long legal battle in Lower Norfolk County regarding an accounting of Thorowgood livestock.
Thorowgood didn’t remain a widow for long. Within a few years, she found another husband, 14 years younger than she was. With her marriage to Francis Yeardley, the youngest son of Sir George Yeardley, the royal governor of Virginia, Sarah’s prestige in the colony continued to prosper.
Young Colonel Yeardley had substantial landholdings in Lower Norfolk County, the Eastern Shore, and Maryland.
Perhaps, in an effort to curry favor with his relatively new bride, Francis Yeardley purchased jewelry from William Moseley, a newly arrived colonist from Rotterdam. Cash poor, William Moseley swapped an enameled gold and diamond hatband buckle, a gold ring set with a diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald, and a gold enameled pendant with a diamond to Yeardley for two draft oxen, two steers, and five cows.
While there were few local social occasions that called for such exquisite jewelry, Sarah Yeardley was likely very pleased with the “jewelry for livestock” exchange effectuated by her dear young husband.
Yeardley backed an expedition to the Albemarle in 1653 and returned to Lower Norfolk County with several Native American leaders. Upon seeing Sarah’s children engaged in reading and writing, one chief suggested that the Thorowgood family board and educate his child. Seeing an opportunity to secure more land in the Albemarle region, Yeardley agreed to the headman’s proposal.
Colonel Yeardley was away in Maryland when the chief returned to Lower Norfolk County. In her husband’s absence, in spite of the protestations of her apprehensive neighbors, Sarah took the chief to church. Her husband was pleased when he learned later that she had displayed courage in contesting the threats of her local adversaries.
The following spring, 45 chiefs and members of the tribe arrived at the Yeardley home in Lower Norfolk County. They crowded into the church to witness the baptism of the chief’s child.
Colonel Yeardley, 33, died in February of 1655. Sarah was once again a widow, but only briefly. Sarah Offley Thorowgood Gookin Yeardley, 48, died a little more than two years later in August of 1657.
For three decades, this iron-willed widow had continued to develop the Thorowgood estate and aggressively protected her family’s interests. Her last will and testament has been lost to posterity.
Documents have survived that reveal that her best diamond necklace and jewels were sold to purchase six diamond mourning rings and two black marble tombstones, one for herself and the other for John Gookin.