top of page

John Purcell, Prince William County, cont’d

When I left off my hunt for John Purcell in the 2017 Vol 46 No 4 Journal in November, I had found how my brick wall, Elizabeth Purcell, 1767-1853, fit into the Purcell family. She was the daughter of John and Susan Purcell, and the granddaughter of John and Jane Purcell of Prince William County, Virginia. But I wanted to go further back – where did the Purcells come from? On one of my visits to the PWC library, Don Wilson, genealogist at the PWC RELIC library, gave me the reconstructed 1740 Virginia census to look through. There was an entry for “Purcell, John; Prince William Hamilton” (Parish) which referred to a Northumberland County Record Book 1738-1743. Don found a Northumberland County book which abstracted a deed in 1739, where John and Jane, ”now of Hammilton Parish, Prince William Co” sold land in Northumberland to William Fallin. There was also a deed from Northumberland County in which land was sold “formerly belonging to Tobias Purcell.” There were similar neighbors in both abstracts, so I knew there must be a connection between John and Tobias. On my next visit to the Library of Virginia, I looked up John Purcell’s 1739 deed, but did not see too much useful information other that the neighbors of the property (Northumberland Co Record Book 1739-1743, pgs 70-71). It was the third deed book on the microfilm reel, so I decided to see if there was anything of interest in the two prior books on the reel. Lo and behold, in the first book, paydirt!!! In 1725 Tobias Purcell sold his property, and many of the same neighbors as in John’s deed were listed (Northumberland Co Record Book 1712-1726, pg 417). Also, Tobias’ deed took the ownership of the land back to the original headright grant in 1657 and stated that he had gotten the land from his father, also named Tobias. Back home, I researched Tobias Sr. online and found an extract of his 1710 will from Lancaster County, which I retrieved the next time I went to the Library of Virginia. In the 1710 will Tobias Sr. gave his land in Northumberland County to his sons, Tobias and John (Lancaster Co Will Book 10 Pt 1, 1709-1727, pgs 40-41). He also said that the land could be rented until the boys came of age. The Northumberland County courthouse burned down in 1710, so in 1712 Tobias’ widow presented Tobias Sr.’s original 1705 deed of purchase, which was re-recorded in 1712 (Northumberland County Record Book 1712-1726, pgs 192-193).

Revision follows dated 17 Mar 2020

When I first wrote my update in August 2018, I shared with you that the line went back to the Pearsall family discussed in the book, History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family in England and America, edited by Clarence E. Pearsall in 1928 (available on Ancestry). The book described that Tobias Sr. was the son of Samuel Pearsall and grandson to Thomas Pearsall, who both came to Maryland in 1638. The family ran a tobacco exporting business from their station on Kent Island, Maryland. As Samuel’s three sons, Tobias Sr., Arthur and John, grew up, the family expanded its business from the Kent Island hub to Virginia: Tobias Sr. to Lancaster County, Arthur to Isle of Wight County and John remaining in Talbot County, Maryland. The three sons were the first who apparently changed their surname from “Pearsall” to variations of “Purcell.”

Subsequent to the publication of that blog article, another Purcell descendant contacted me (I’ll call him James) regarding the article. We compared our research on John Purcell and his descendants, and then started working on where John Purcell came from. Once we started looking into the family of Tobias Sr., we ran into trouble. In The American Genealogist, Volume 18 (1941), pages 78-90ff, there is an article entitled, “The Fabulous Pearsalls.” The authors debunked the theory that Thomas Pearsall was the father of the three Purcell sons, and thus that Tobias Sr.’s family had come from Maryland. In further research to verify the conflicting information we had discovered, James combed the records of ALL the colonial counties of Virginia and the Maryland State Archives looking for mention of Tobias Sr. and other Purcells. The earliest mention of Tobias Sr. was in January 1690 in Lancaster County, Virginia. So…. Word of warning, do not rely on the Clarence Pearsall book for early Purcell research. I learned another valuable lesson, don’t trust research in family history books without confirming information with primary documents!!!

Where does that leave me? I’m back at a brick wall with Tobias Purcell Sr., who died around 1710 in Lancaster County, Virginia. I still have Ancestry DNA matches pointing towards an “Isabella Purcell” in Isle of Wight County. She was the daughter of Arthur Purcell, supposedly the brother of Tobias Sr., according to the Pearsall book. All this will have to be investigated. I will keep you informed.

(If anyone has further information or questions, please contact me (Carol Rush) at

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page