John Cheesman (ca. 1598–by 1665)

John Cheesman served as a member of the House of Burgesses in 1643 and the governor's Council from 1652 until an unknown date. Cheesman, a merchant, traveled to Virginia in 1621 and settled in what became Elizabeth City County. By the 1630s he had acquired more than 1,000 acres of land in what becameYork County, where he served as a justice of the peace and a lieutenant colonel in the county militia. York County voters elected him to the House of Burgesses for the session that met in 1643. Cheesman was elected to the governor's Council on April 30, 1652, after Virginia surrendered to Parliament and acknowledged the authority of the Commonwealth government of England. He returned to England in 1660. MORE...

 

Cheesman was born in England, likely about 1598, but the date and place of his birth and the names of his parents are not known. Contemporaries spelled his surname in a variety of ways, the most common being Cheesman and Chisman. Families with those names resided in the county of Kent and elsewhere near London, and it is likely that he was a member of one of them. He may have been the John Cheesman who married Anne Willett in the parish of Saint Saviour's, Southwark, in Surrey, on June 24, 1616. He became a merchant and probably established connections with other merchants before he traveled to Virginia in 1621 aboard the Flyinge Hart. He settled initially at Kiccoughtan (later Elizabeth City County), where he and two brothers resided. When Cheesman patented 200 acres of land near there in September 1624, he was identified as a gentleman and not long afterward as a lieutenant, classifications that suggest he arrived in Virginia with his social rank already established.

Cheesman married a second time, possibly in Virginia during the 1620s. The maiden name of his second wife, Margaret, is not recorded. They had at least one son. Through his marriage and the marriages of his brothers, Cheesman became related to other Virginia families that were prominent during the second quarter of the century, notably the Mason and Matthews families. He engaged in commerce between Virginia and England during the 1620s and moved to Charles River County (after 1643 York County) soon after that part of the colony was opened to settlement in 1630. Cheesman acquired more than 1,000 acres of land and lived on a 600-acre tract on what became known as Chisman Creek. He may have used his connections to other merchants to acquire the workers of African origin or descent who labored on his plantation alongside the white indentured servants.

Cheesman was one of the first commissioners, or justices, of the peace for Charles River County and was a captain in the militia by 1637 and a lieutenant colonel by April 1652. He also served as a tobacco viewer in the county on January 6, 1640, and a tobacco collector in November 1648. Cheesman represented York County in the General Assembly that met on March 2, 1643, when for the first time burgesses and Council members met separately, and thus had the distinction of being a member of the first House of Burgesses. Incomplete records do not disclose whether that was his only service in the assembly before April 30, 1652, when the two houses elected him to the governor's Council after the colony surrendered to Parliament following the conclusion of the English Civil Wars. It is possible that Cheesman received the appointment because of his support of Parliament, his standing in York County, his mercantile connections, or some combination of the three. The scant surviving records do not reveal how long he served on the Council.

Cheesman returned to England, possibly after learning of the restoration of King Charles II in May 1660. He and his wife resided across the Thames River from London, in the parish of Saint Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey, in the county of Surrey. In August 1661 Cheesman executed a power of attorney authorizing Lawrence Smith, of York County, to lease his land in that county to his younger brother, Edmund Cheesman. In December 1663 Cheesman wrote a new will, leaving his English properties and his York County land to his wife and his land in Gloucester County to his young granddaughter, with a proviso that if she died without heirs, the land would descend to his nephews, one of whom, Edmund Cheesman, was a participant in Bacon's Rebellion (1676–1677). Cheesman died on an unrecorded date before May 2, 1665, when his will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Thirteen years later his widow authorized a relative in Virginia to manage the York County property she had inherited from her husband. She died before July 21, 1680.

Time Line

  • ca. 1598 - John Cheesman is born in England. The date and place of his birth and the names of his parents are not known.
  • June 24, 1616 - John Cheesman marries Anne Willet in the parish of Saint Saviour's, Southwark, in Surrey, England. This may be the same Cheesman who later settles in Virginia.
  • 1620s - Sometime during this decade, John Cheesman marries his second wife, Margaret. They will have at least one son.
  • 1621 - John Cheesman travels to Virginia aboard the Flyinge Hart and settles initially at Kiccoughtan.
  • September 1624 - John Cheesman patents 200 acres of land near Kiccoughtan (later Elizabeth City County).
  • ca. 1630 - John Cheesman moves to Charles River County (later York County) after it is opened to settlement.
  • 1637 - By this year, John Cheesman is a captain in the Charles River County militia.
  • January 6, 1640 - John Cheesman serves as a tobacco viewer in Charles River County.
  • March 2, 1643 - John Cheesman represents York County in the General Assembly that meets on this date.
  • November 1648 - John Cheesman serves as a tobacco collector in York County.
  • April 1652 - By this time, John Cheesman is a lieutenant colonel in the York County militia.
  • April 30, 1652 - The General Assembly elects John Cheesman to the governor's Council.
  • May 1660 - John Cheesman returns to England, possibly after learning of the restoration of King Charles II.
  • August 1661 - John Cheesman executes a power of attorney authorizing Lawrence Smith, of York County, to lease his land in that county to his younger brother, Edmund Cheesman.
  • December 1663 - John Cheesman writes a new will, leaving his English properties and his York County land to his wife and his land in Gloucester County to his young granddaughter, with a proviso that if she dies without heirs, the land will descend to his nephews.
  • May 2, 1665 - John Cheesman dies sometime before this date, when his will is proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

References

Further Reading
Bernhard, Virginia. "Edmund Cheesman." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 193–194. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Bliss, Robert M. Revolution and Empire: English Politics and the American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century. New York: Manchester University Press, 1993.
Richter, Julie. "John Cheesman." In the The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 194–195. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Richter, J., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John Cheesman (ca. 1598–by 1665). (2013, November 25). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Cheesman_John_ca_1598-by_1665.

  • MLA Citation:

    Richter, Julie and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "John Cheesman (ca. 1598–by 1665)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 17, 2013 | Last modified: November 25, 2013


Contributed by Julie Richter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Julie Richter is a lecturer in the Lyon G. Tyler Department of History at the College of William and Mary.