Genealogy of the Pettus Family of Huntsville, Alabama
Please email corrections to Mike Clark
The Pettus Family of Monrovia (near Huntsville) in Madison County, Alabama descends from Colonel Thomas Pettus, who sailed from England to the Virginia colony in late 1630 or early 1631 to settle in historic Jamestown. Most of his descendants remained there in New Kent, Hanover, Lunenburg and other Virginia counties until the early 1800s, when several of them traversed the wilderness of eastern Tennessee to settle in Limestone and Madison Counties in northwestern Alabama. Although some of these early pioneers moved on to Texas, Arkansas and other frontiers, many of them remained in the Huntsville area, and are buried today in forgotten cemeteries hidden on the outskirts of the city. What follows is a brief history of those Pettus family pioneers and their descendants whose tombstones survive, for the most part, in the Douglass-Pettus, Joyner and Pettus cemeteries in the Monrovia and Harvest districts on the outskirts of modern Huntsville. Although not part of the original effort for this website, many family members in the Mount Zion, Maple Hills and Pettusville Church cemeteries are included also.
Probably the first of the Pettus family to settle in Alabama were Freeman Pettus (c.1780-1827) and his younger brother William Albert "Buck" Pettus (1787-1844), who came to the Huntsville area as early as 1810, back in the days when it was still part of the Mississippi Territory and only five years after the arrival of the first Huntsville pioneer John Hunt. However, both of them sailed in 1822 to Texas. Their cousin David Walker Pettus II (1780-1852) came in the early 1820's to Alabama with his wife and children. They are the Pettus family of Branch 2 of this lineage. They settled in Monrovia, on the outskirts of modern Huntsville, where they were joined a few years later by David's older brother Thomas Pettus (1779-1854), and his children. They are the Pettus family of Branch 1 of this lineage. Branch 1 continues with Thomas' son William Rowlett Pettus (1808-1864), whereas Branch 3 descends from Thomas Walker Pettus (1815-1870), who is one of the younger sons of Thomas, Sr.
Col. Thomas Pettus (c.1598-1669) was born in Norwich, Norfolk County, England, and baptized there on Feb. 19, 1598/99 at the St. Simon and St. Jude parish church. He was born into a wealthy, but large family that ultimately grew to include seventeen children, all the progeny of Thomas Pettus, the elder (c.1552-1620) and his wife Cecily King (d. c.1641). The elder Thomas was a draper, who held at various times a number of public offices, including sheriff and mayor of Norwich. He was also the younger brother of Sir John Pettus (c.1550-1614), a Member of Parliament, a wealthy woolen merchant, and an investor in the Virginia Company, with business interests in the American colonies.
Although he was only the seventh son, the younger Thomas still received a considerable inheritance from his father of properties in Norwich. However, he killed a man on March 24, 1628 in a street brawl at a New Year's Eve festival, and following his acquittal in 1629 of the murder, he felt it wise to sell his holdings and relocate elsewhere. This led him in late 1630 or early 1631 to sail to Virginia and begin a new life, possibly at the behest of his family. Thomas apparently was preceded in Virginia by at least one sibling, his younger brother Theodore Pettus (b. c.1600), who arrived in 1623 in James City (Jamestown), but of whom nothing further is recorded.
Thomas Pettus acquired land soon after his arrival and built a large plantation house, which he named Littletown, at a location on the James River about four miles down river from the Jamestown settlement. He also, in time, acquired the adjacent Utopia Plantation, a nearby tract called the Burnt Ordinary, and some unsettled lands in New Kent County, which was the next county up river from Jamestown. His Littletown plantation house has since been excavated, and the site can be visited at the modern Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Although some accounts attribute to Thomas a wife named Elizabeth Mouring, and possibly four children with her, there is no documentation for this in either the Norwich or Jamestown town and church records. However, his son Thomas did marry a woman with the similar name of Mourning Burgh, which might be the source for some of this confusion. Some accounts also claim that Thomas fought in the Thirty Years War, and was sent to Jamestown with 40 men to protect the colonists from Indian aggressions, which earned him the title Colonel. Again, there is little evidence for this either. However, his name does appear in one 1642/43 document as "Capt. Thos. Pettus", when he was serving on the King's Council for the colony and all of the councilors received appointments as captains in the colonial militia. He also appears in a 1652 document as "Coll. Thomas Pettus", when British warships sent by Oliver Cromwell appeared in Jamestown Harbor and fears were raised of a possible confrontation.
Thomas Pettus, due to his wealth and family connections, received in 1641/42 an appointment to a life term on the King's Council of State for Virginia, and served until at least sometime after July of 1661, which establishes him as the longest serving member of the council. He is known to have had at least one wife, Elizabeth Freeman (b. c.1608), the widow of Richard Durrent, whom he married about 1638 in Jamestown when he was 39 years old. There is also evidence for an earlier Indian wife named Ka-Okee (a daughter of Pocahontas), with whom he may have fathered four or five children, but this is somewhat speculative. Col. Pettus is known to have had at least two sons - the Stephen Pettus, who follows, and a younger son named Thomas, who inherited his father's Littletown and Utopia plantations. He died sometime between 1663 and 1668.
(Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 107-120, no. 31; Pettus, 2013 - v. II, p. 1349-1360)
Stephen Pettus (c.1642-c.1677), the son of Thomas Pettus and possibly his Indian wife Ka-Okee, was born about 1642 in James City County, Virginia, most likely at his father's Littletown Plantation. Little is known about Stephen, but presumably he married, and he is believed to have had at least two children, a son and a daughter. Although he did not inherit the Littletown or Utopia plantations from his father, both of which went to his younger brother Thomas, Stephen presumably received other properties, as he is known to have been a large land holder in New Kent County. He probably died about 1677 in the Blisland Parish where he was living, possibly in the aftermath of an armed rebellion in the Colony led in late 1676 by Nathaniel Bacon of the nearby Curles Neck Plantation. The likely son of Stephen Pettus is the John Pettus who follows.
(Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 206-210, no. 63)
John Pettus (c.1662-after 1704), who is probably the son of Stephen Pettus, was born about 1662 in Blisland Parish in New Kent County, Virginia. Even less is known about him than his father, but he is known to have been a member of the vestry (a governing body) for the Blisland Parish in 1703 or 1704 when he signed a letter from the vestry to Governor Nicholson of the Virginia Colony. He probably married and had a son named John who follows.
(Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 270-271, no. 104)
John Pettus (c.1680-c.1750), who was probably the son of the John Pettus above, was born about 1680, most likely in the Blisland Parish of New Kent County, Virginia. Although he is unquestionably either a grandson or great-grandson of Col. Thomas Pettus, the immigrant ancestor, his line of descent from Thomas Pettus is not known for certain. The most likely lineage, given the present state of knowledge, is shown here. He married Anne Overton on or prior to about 1702, probably in New Kent County, but some accounts say Yorktown. Some accounts also give her name as Elizabeth, and others as Mary. He and Anne at some point migrated upstream (northwest) along the Pamunkey River with other members of the Pettus clan to a frontier region near the area of modern Richmond, Virginia that came to be known as the St. Peter's and St. Paul's parishes, the latter parish later becoming part of Hanover County. He probably died about 1750 in St. Martin's Parish in Hanover County, Virginia.
John's name in some accounts appears as John Dabney Pettus, but this is incorect and derives from a series of Pettus family assumptions published in 1921 by Patrick Baskervill. John Pettus did in fact have a contemporary cousin named Stephen Pettus (c.1679-c.1759), who was married about 1700 to Elizabeth Dabney. Like John, Stephen Pettus participated in the move up the Pamunkey River, and he similarly died in St. Martin's Parish in Hanover County, Virginia. He also inherited much of the original Littleton, Utopia and Burnt Ordinary estates, and he did indeed have a number of descendants named John Dabney Pettus. However, these descendants do not tie back to the John Pettus of the present narrative. John and Anne had several children, including the son who follows.
(Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 310-313, no. 125)
Col. Thomas Pettus (1712-1780), second of the name in this line and the son of John Pettus and Anne Overton, was born on Dec. 25, 1714 in St. Paul's Parish in New Kent County, Virginia, but grew up in "New Forest", an estate built by his grandfather William Overton. He married Amey Ann Walker (1717/18-1778) on Nov. 10, 1735 , probably in Hanover County, and brought her and their family about 1751 to Lunenburg County along the southern border of Virginia. He served in various public offices and was a member from 1769-1775 of the Lunenburg County House of Burgesses during the American Revolution. Because he signed a protest against British taxation, and the British embargo against import, he is considered a patriot, and his name is honored on a monument in Williamsburg, Virginia. Despite his epithet of colonel, he never physically served in a militia, as far as we know, and the title of colonel is an honorary one that is largely the product of later generations. He died on March 18, 1780 in Lunenberg, and left a will (Will Book 3, p. 33-35 in Lunenburg County, Virginia) that was probated on April 13, 1789 in the county court. This will names his children, who follow.
(Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 362-374, no. 139)
children - Pettus
John Pettus (1736-1799) was born Sept. 24, 1736, probably in New Kent County, Virginia. He supposedly married Susannah Winston on Nov. 17, 1757, but little is known about her, and they had several children. He died on April 24, 1799 in Charlotte County, Virginia.
Overton Pettus (1739-1749) was born Oct. 13, 1739, probably in New Kent County, Virginia; and died before he had reached his 10th birthday on May 20, 1749, probably in Amelia County, Virginia.
Thomas Pettus (1741/12-c.1797) was born March 10, 1741/42, probably in New Kent County, Virginia. He married Mary Henderson, with whom he had several children. He served in the Mecklenburg County Militia during the American Revolution; and died about 1797 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.
Mary Walker Pettus (1746-1812) was born November 6, 1746, probably in New Kent County, Virginia. She married Thomas Branch Brown of Mecklenburg County, Virginia, with whom she had several children. Various online genealogies place her death in 1812 in Mecklenburg County.
Ann (Anna) Pettus (1749-1831) was born Jan. 31, 1749, probably in Amelia County, Virginia. Her name in some account appears as Virginia. She married Rev. James Shelburne of Lunenburg County with whom she had several children. She died on March 9, 1831 in Lunenburg County.
Samuel Overton Pettus (1751-1819) was born March 1, 1751, probably in Amelia County, Virginia. He and his first wife Jane Feeman (1755-1783) appear to have had at least four children, including the two sons listed below. Samuel is said to have served as a lieutenant in an artillary unit during the American Revolution, but his unit has not been identified. He died Feb. 12, 1819 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. It is not known if he and his second wife Hannah Minor (c.1755-1829) had any children. (Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 476-482 & Muncy Family Tree)
- Freeman Pettus (c.1780-1827?) was probably born at his parents house in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. He came to Madison County, Alabama, only a few years after the arrival in 1805 of the first white settlers to the area. The date of his arrival is uncertain, but he was probably there by 1810 when he is listed as a homesteader to 160 acres of land. He was joined in 1815 or earlier by his youner brother Buck, who brought his family with him and probably joined Freeman at the homestead. However, they both sailed in 1822 on the Revenge to Texas, where they settled with their families, and each took title in 1824 a separate block of "two leagues and a labor of land" (about 9,200 acres) each. Freeman died about 1827, possibly later, in Austin, Texas, his actual death date being uncertain. His oldest son Samuel Overton Pettus (c.1803-1836) was killed in the March 27, 1836 Goliad Massacre during the Texas War of Independance, for which Samuel's heirs received 3,840 acres of Texas land for his sacrifice to the Texas cause. Another son Edward Craddock Pettus (1812-1863) also fought for Texas, and is buried in the Pettus-Stanfield Cemetery in Staples, Texas. (Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 578-586, no. 271)
William Albert "Buck" Pettus (1787-1844) was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and married his fist wife Sarah Lester (1774-1852) in Charlotte, Virginia. They had two children, but parted ways prior to his Dec. 7, 1807 marriage to Elizabeth Patrick (1790-1873) in Charlotte. He came in 1815 or earler to Hunstville, Alabama, where his bother Freeman since 1810 had been a landholder. So far as we know, Freeman and Buck are the earliest members of the Pettus family to make the trek west from Virginia and settle in Alabama. However, the two of them in 1822 sailed on the Revenge to Texas, where Buck served with distinction in the Texas War of Independence, and died in 1844 at Washington-on-Brazos, Texas, the year before Texas was annexed by the United States. His son John Freeman Pettus (1808-1878), from his second marriage, was a prominent figure in the war as well, participating in the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto where Texas independance was won. John was also a Texas Ranger, and later served in the North Carolina Home Guard during the Civil War. Although he and many descendants are buried in the John Pettus Cemetery in Goliad, Texas, it is not known where his father Buck is buried. (Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 587-594, no. 273 & Muncy Family Tree)
William Pettus (1753-1759) was born on July 3, 1755 in either Amelia or Lunenburg County, Virginia; and died a child on Dec. 10, 1759 in Lunenburg County.
David Walker Pettus (1755-1805) who follows:
Rebecca Pettus (1759-1820) was born June 21, 1759 in Lunenburg County, Virginia. She never married and died without children. Various online genealogies place her death in 1820 in Lunenburg County.
David Walker Pettus I (1755-1805), the son of Col. Thomas Pettus and Amey Ann Walker was born on July 3, 1755 in either Amelia or Lunenburg County, Virginia. He was probably named after his maternal grandfather David Walker. He served with the Lunenburg County Militia during the American Revolution as an ensign, and then in 1802 as a second lieutenant in Capt. Ellison Ellis' company. He married his first wife Anne Whitworth (1750-1802) on Nov. 28, 1776, and shortly after her death married his second wife Elenor or Ellinor Wilson, the widow of Robert Wilson, on Sept. 25, 1802 in Lunenburg County. He died on Nov. 8, 1805, probably in Lunenburg County. Although he is unlikely to have ever ventured out of Virginia, through his pioneer sons who did, he is the patriarch of the Pettus family in the Huntsville-Monrovia area of Alabama. David and Ann had twelve children, including the two sons who follow.
(Pettus, 2011 - v. I, p. 483, no. 176)
- children - Pettus
- Thomas Pettus (1779-1854) who follows in Branch 1 of this lineage.
- David Walker Pettus II (1780-1852) who follows in Branch 2 of this lineage.
- ten other children born between 1777-1795 in Virginia.