"The Tidewater Hearth"
The shaggy dog arouses himself, shakes, stretches, scratches and thinks of another tangential story which will bear telling.
What was going on in Gloucester in the 1600's had been in train for nigh a half millennium, more in the peripatetic odyssey of hominoids from Africa and salt-miners from Austria.
A Time of Talismans: The succession of heirs to "The Conqueror" were officially known as the Angevin Kings, but were popularly called "The Plantagenets."
Henry II was the son of Matilda, great-grand daughter of William (The Conqueror), and of the Count of Menjou, Geoffrey, the prior count who wore a sprig of brown-straw in his hat, a growth known to the French as planta genista; and a talisman taken up by the Knights of Henry's court.
Henry, in a drama of our time called The Lion in Winter; married Eleanor of Aquitaine, divorced wife of King Louis VII of France; and his combined realm of England, Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine formed the largest kingdom in Europe.
But its boundaries and provinces were fluid and it set the stage for continual conflict between England, France and The Holy Roman Empire as well as for civil strife between factions of the Royal family.
In the latter category the struggle between the Houses of York and Lancaster became known as "The War of the Roses," with the red rose and the white rose representing the two groups of adversaries.
William Shakespeare, a gem to come in the Elizabethan era, brought these regents and their conflicts to life in his timeless dramas, which still find themselves regularly on playbills, and occasionally in movie scenarios.
The last remaining male heir to the House of Lancaster was also named Henry, the son of the Earl of Richmond, himself a son to the widow of King Henry V and Owen Tudor, a Welsh knight.
He and his forces defeated Richard III at "The Battle of Bosworth Field" in 1485, ending "The War of Roses."
He became Henry VII and brought on the dynasty of the Tudors.
"The Lost Colony": King Henry VIII is popularly remembered for his many wives, but he re-shaped England -- he established The Anglican Church under the authority of the crown and apart from Rome, and he started his country on the road to maritime greatness, which in time became the power basis of an empire.
His daughter, Elizabeth, became queen after the deaths of her brother -- the child kind, Edward VI -- and her sister, best known as "Bloody Mary" for the religious persecution issuing from her swing back to Catholicism.
It was the British "sea-dogs" -- Drake, Hawkins, Gilbert, etc., adventuring courtiers of Elizabeth I -- who explored the "New World," made claims of English suzerainty and named the entire sea-board of North America "Virginia" in honor of their virgin queen.
It could be wondered if this claim of chastity would stand-up to modern journalistic scrutiny.
Settlement was first attempted in 1584 on Roanoke Island, behind "The Outer Banks" of what would later be North Carolina.
These efforts were sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, a favorite courtier of the queen.
In the first such effort the beleaguered colonists were "rescued" by Sir Francis Drake, who "happened by," and, allegedly with some glee over the plight of the colonists, convinced the settlers that they should leave with him.
The second such attempt the following year ended with the mysterious disappearance of the colonists.
The relief ship found Fort Raleigh abandoned and the word "Croatan" -- the name of an Indian tribe -- emblazoned on the trunk of a large and prominent tree.
It has never been determined whether the colonists simply wandered off, or were abducted or dispatched by hostile natives.
This expedition, in contradistinction to the previous attempt, included families rather than simply being a band of male adventurers, and it was here that came Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in America.
She was the grand daughter of the colony's governor who had returned to England with the transporting ship to report and to encourage appropriate succor for his colonists, and there he had been when his family and dependents meet their fate.
An outdoor musical drama, The Lost Colony -- the first of many such productions of this genre across the country -- written by late North Carolina playwright, Paul Green, has been playing on Roanoke Island each summer since 1937.
This has special meaning for our family.
First, because it is a vital episode in the history of our native state, and then, because our daughter, Barbara, had one of the leads in this production for two summers in the 1970's.
Also, the work "Croatan" will again weave itself back into our story.
Jamestown: Before another settlement was attempted more than another decade passed, as did Queen Elizabeth and Walter Raleigh, and the throne had passed to the House of Stuart of Scotland.
This time the effort was made by The Virginia Company of London, a group of private investors granted a patent by King James I.
It was in 1607 when an entrance to the American mainland was made through the Chesapeake Bay.
On the north shore of the largest and southernmost of the several rivers which would be found to be feeding the Bay, a peninsula was found with the water immediately off-shore deep enough that the ships could be moved directly to the trees ashore.
The Company had named the southern headland of the Bay -- their first landing spot -- Cape Henry, and sometime later its opposite cape was named for King Charles, a later Stuart.
The settlers named the stream the James River for their sovereign and their colony they called Jamestown.
Despite its initial periods of duress -- which will be discussed when we speak of my mother's family in a later chapter -- Jamestown proved to be the first permanent English settlement on the American mainland, though today it endures as more of a historical shrine than as a community.
The entity has worn better than has its geography, however, for today erosion has converted the peninsula into an island.
In any event, thereafter, regular sailings from England brought settlers who moved in along both shores of the James.
So came from Gloucester our first American Bridger ancestor.
Joseph and Hester Pitt Bridgers: He came listed as "Capt. Joseph Bridger."
There's no record as to how he received this military rank, but as we review the plethora and continuity of armed conflict, which marked English history of the day, it seems likely he could have enjoyed an army career as a young man.
He came sponsoring a fairly large group of other would-be pilgrims from Gloucester, so either by inheritance, venture or both he had obviously accrued some worth before he left for the colony.
When one brought others, mostly they came as indentured servants for a term of seven years to their sponsor, and, as well, the sponsor received an extra grant of 50 acres of land for each whose passage he had paid.
In short order -- in the militia of the colony -- Joseph Bridger became a colonel, and in time a brigadier general.
So he was set-up as a considerable landholder from the beginning, and we shall see why and how his military status waxed.
About twice each year, usually in the gentle weather of spring and fall, I drive down to North Carolina from Connecticut -- the latter our home in retirement -- because, though we find Connecticut apt and beautiful, our hearts still abide in "The Old North State," the place of our nativity.
Why we're here instead of a place we would prefer to be is another story for another day.
Suffice it that on such trips, often sticking hard to the east to easier reach my hometown of Greenville in the Carolina Coastal Plain, I drive down "The Delmarva Peninsula."
This was called "The Eastern Shore" in my earlier years -- being those sections of Maryland and Virginia between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
This route takes me across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay just above Norfolk, on an imposing tandem of bridges and tunnels roughly connecting Cape Charles on the north with Cape Henry on the south.
Each time I make such transit I look from a bridge to the far shores on either side of this sizeable inlet and think how this must have seemed to Capt. Joseph Bridger as he sailed up these waterway three-and-a-half centuries ago for the first time.
Oddly enough, form the vantage of mid-passage the countryside still appears almost uninhabited, although it was among the first places broached on the new continent.
Here we will speak of Joseph Bridger of the 17th century, and of Samuel Leon Bridgers of the 20th century.
We'll dwell on them for, indeed, I know more of them. Joseph because relatively much has been written about him, and Samuel L. because I spent my childhood at his knee.
Stories better known are better spun.
However, I'm quick to admit that everyone has a story to tell, and did I better know of the experiences of other progenitors their stories would likewise find more space.
Wishing such stories, as I have, not be lost is a major motivation for getting this material on paper.
This is also to record my story and, mayhap, will encourage those who follow to set down the events of their day and generation.
We know from accounts that Joseph Bridger was well educated, likely having attended Gloucester College at which his father was an administrator.
We know not what precisely moved him to leave his mother country, but what we know of him and his times allows reasonable speculation.
It seems that most who have come to America over the years have been impelled by a sense of adventure in the endeavor, and many by the opportunity to escape a fettered past and a limited future.
Joseph was likely no different.
He is listed among "The Cavaliers" who early came to Virginia and whose memory today gives a sobriquet to the people of the state.
When civil war broke out in England between the forces of Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, and those of the throne under Charles I -- in any given phase of this conflict -- those disadvantaged by their loyalties sought refuge abroad.
Some of those remaining loyal to the King were termed "The Cavaliers," which included artists, scholars and politicians as well as courtiers who were fighting men, the latter of whom gave title to the group.
Under the Protectorate of Cromwell those favoring Puritanism -- that is to purify the Anglican Church of vestiges of The Papacy -- found acceptance at home rather than in New England as had "The Pilgrims" a few years earlier, whereas those loyal to the King found haven in Virginia.
"The Cavaliers" entered Virginia in increasing numbers in 1640 through 1660, and among them was Joseph Bridger.
Some years later his epitaph included comment on honor, which accrued to him from loyalty to King Charles.
This undoubtedly reflected his earlier activities in England as well as the many duties he carried out in the new colony.
It is estimated that Joseph had been born in 1628 and that he arrived in Virginia around 1650.
Among those brought with him was the family of Thomas Pitt, his daughter, Hester, having married Joseph Bridger before the migrating group left Gloucester.
From the beginning Joseph was an officer in the Virginia militia, rising quickly to the rank of colonel - this giving rise to his most common title of reference -- "Col. Joseph Bridger" -- but after subsequent service in "Bacon's Rebellion" he was promoted to brigadier general.
He served in the colonial legislature -- The House of Burgesses -- in 1657 and again in 1683, representing Isle of Wight County.
He is described in Boddie's history as "the most prominent man in Isle of Wight County of his day."
He apparently started his days in Virginia as one of "the landed gentry," and soon had a 7000 acre plantation along the lower, southern shore of the James, and later another nearby of 1700 acres.
The time was coming when the military background of "The Cavaliers" would prove of particular value to their new home.
As seemed so often the misfortune of Britain with her possessions, ripples of disturbance in the mother country became waves of disruption in her colonies.
Virginia, from the outset, was established as a Royal Colony with her chief administrator appointed by the crown.
Among the first of these was Governor William Berkeley whom we are led to see as having been able and honorable, though in the ruffled annals of ruffled times, others tended to view him more adversely.
His chief nemesis would come from his own family and his official council.
In 1652, just two years after Joseph Bridger came to Virginia, so too came Nathaniel Bacon, a collateral kinsman of Sir Francis Bacon, but somewhat a "black sheep" in a renowned family.
His wife was disinherited because her parents renounced her marriage to Bacon, and then he was charged with fraud against a kinsman.
His father, Rev. James Bacon, a man of position and substance, financed his son to a patent of land in Virginia in order that the young man find haven from the law in England.
Just as "no good deeds go unpunished" so do few questionable deeds go unrewarded.
Nathaniel Bacon, a cousin of Gov. Berkeley's, was duly appointed to that worthy's council.
Their disagreements soon surfaced.
Berkeley had followed the rule that land be purchased slowly from the natives with an eye to avoiding friction.
Contrariwise, Bacon pushed for seizing land expeditiously by force and quickly filling it with arriving settlers.
Unable to switch the governor to his point of view, Bacon soon organized his own troops and leveled them against the Indians. Berkeley declared these actions illegal and so was born "Bacon's Rebellion."
Soon Bacon's forces were arrayed against the colonial militia, and in short order had caused the Governor and most of those loyal to him to flee across the Bay to the Eastern Shore. Joseph Bridger and his family were among the refugees.
In all fairness to the dissidents, many settlers were more in tune with Bacon than the authorities.
The "Rebellion" was, in truth, a minor civil war with repercussions extending into the mid-Atlantic and New England colonies, through the major share of the fighting transpired along the lower Chesapeake.
In their charters the American colonies had established a certain degree of autonomy, but they lost most of this political independence in 1676.
Though the conflict is scarcely remembered as an important part of the American story more lives were lost in proportion to the total population than in any other war in our history -- the equivalent of an entire generation of settlement.
When the leisurely communications worked their way across the Atlantic and back, Royal Commissioners were dispatched to the colonies to investigate, and with their arrival the Governor's entourage regrouped and moved back across the Bay.
An amphibious campaign was launched, with the naval units mainly furnished and manned by the English while the colonists largely provided the land forces.
Col. Joseph Bridger, now a senior officer in the militia, led troops by horse and by foot.
By some Col. Bridger was credited as being substantially responsible for the overthrow of Bacon's forces, but other source indicate that when Nathaniel Bacon succumbed to natural causes in 1676 that his movement collapsed.
Whatever, to my knowledge someone in our line from Col. Joseph Bridger in "Bacon's Rebellion," my grand father many times removed to my son, Col. John D. Bridgers, Jr. has participated in all of America's conflicts save "Desert Storm," our brief war with Iraq in the present decade.
Back to "Bacon's Rebellion," Col. Joseph Bridger became a brigadier general, but not all saw him as a hero.
The holdings of many loyalists had been marauded and looted, and their treatment of the rebels was as much recrimination and vengeance as the re-establishment of royal authority.
Joseph and Hester Pitt Bridger had three sons -- William, Samuel and Joseph, Jr. -- and several daughters.
Apparently not all was sweetness and light for the family.
When Gen. Bridger died in 1686 he named his two older sons and his daughters as his sole heirs. Completely cutting off his younger son, Capt. Joseph Bridger, Jr., his will explaining that he did not wish to further support his younger son in "his wild and profligate ways."
He named his wife Hester as his executrix and she had contrary sentiments.
She re-instated that the sons share equally, and litigation ensued which apparently left bitter feelings between the brothers.
For what it's worth to those in my line, it should be noted that our descent is through Capt. Joseph Bridger, Jr., allegedly the prodigal son.
It's likely that controversy over "The Colonel's" final testament had a role in his grandson, William -- son of Capt. Joseph Bridger, Jr. removing his family to North Carolina in 1713.
Smithfield, now famed for the processing of "country hams," was the first village in Isle of Wight Country, and was early laid out and established as the county seat.
Here the colonists started building their house of worship, apparently some years in the doing, now known as "The Old Brick Church" and advertised as the oldest Anglican Church in America.
Col. Bridger paid passage for the Driver family from Gloucester, master carpenters and cabinet-makers, and they finished the edifice as well as remaining as substantial colonists.
Today their craftsmanship endures and is compelling.
As a later memoriam for these and other services, the gravestone of Gen. Bridger was removed from the family burial ground at "Whitemarsh Plantation" and placed in the chancel floor of "The Old Brick Church" where it yet reposes:
"SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
THE HONORABLE JOSEPH BRIDGER, ESQ, COUNSILLOR OF
STATE IN VIRGINIA TO KING CHARLES, YE 2ND.
DYING APRIL YE 15TH; A.D. 1686; AGED 58 YEARS
MOURNFULLY LEAVING HIS WIFE, THREE SONS AND FOUR DAUGHTERS.
DOES NATURE SILENT MOURN AND CAN DUMB STONE
MAKE HIS TRUE WORTH TO FUTURE AGES KNOWNE
EXCELS EXPRESSION MARBLE SURE WILL KEEP
HIS MERCY BEST YT. EVER O'ER HIS GRAVE SHALL WEEP.
HERE LIES THE GREAT MINISTER OF STATE
THAT ROYAL VIRTUES HAD AND ROYAL FATE
TO COUNSELS DID SUCH HONOR BRING
HIS OWN EXPRESSED FETCHED HIM TO ATTEND THE KING
HIS SOUL YT. EVER DID WITH VIGOR MOVE
SOARED LIKE ITSELF ABOVE
BUT YE BRIGHT STARS NE'ER LASILY DECLINE
BUT IN AN INSTANT SHOOT YT. CEASE TO SHINE."
In the mid-1980's I was surveying and inspecting medical institutions for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals, later to switch its title to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
It was during this venture that I found the opportunity to visit "The Old Brick Church" at Smithfield.
I saw the capstone from the grave of Joseph Bridger.
The curator of the small museum and gift shop could not tell me where "Whitemarsh Plantation" had been located, but he did direct me to another couple that I found in the parking lot.
They seemed about my age and happened to be there that day from Richmond seeking information on their ancestor, Col. Joseph Bridger.
They seemed interested that we shared this distant and distinguished forebear, and they were much interested in how my name came to be "Bridgers" instead of "Bridger."
I remembered later that I had read that Jim Bridger, the famous Indian scout and western pioneer had been born in Richmond.
I've often thought that we must share common roots, and that the Bridger family had rippled out from "The Tidewater Hearth" in all directions, though our major interest is in those who trickled into North Carolina.
Capt. Joseph Bridger, Jr. & Elizabeth Norsworthy: It is all but impossible to follow the procession of the Bridger family as the given names and titles are so repetitious from generation to generation.
One volume I referred to in the N. C. Department of Archives listed the clan as among "The Famous Families of Virginia."
This notion came not down to me. As a matter of fact, my father thought his N. C. forebears started with "three brothers who came from New Jersey."
I never found what his source was for this assumption, but presume it was family tradition.
In any event, he had no notion of a Virginia origin for his family, but the record makes this all but inescapable.
Certainly most background for the "F. F. V." designation must have come from Col. Joseph Bridger, the first of our American line.
Likewise, it's evident that his immediate descendents were contributors to the common weal, but it's difficult to sort them out.
Undoubtedly, the next in our line was Capt. Joseph Bridger, Jr., the Colonel's third and youngest son, whom his father would have disinherited save for the intervention of his mother, Hester Pitt Bridger.
According to Boddie, the litigation between the brothers was protracted and bitter, but the aftermath of this imbroglio was mainly in the family and didn't apparently spread into the community.
Joseph Jr. was also commissioned in the militia, as had been his father.
He was married to Elizabeth Norsworthy, daughter of John Norsworthy of neighboring Namcemonde County (Lower Norfolk). There is a stained glass window in "The Old Brick Church" in here memory.
Elizabeth was also the granddaughter of Tristam Norsworthy who settled in Virginia in 1639, roughly a decade before came the Bridger family to the colony.
He emigrated from Devon, England, and there were many of that name at one time in that province, perhaps still.
Tristam and John both served their county as Burgesses and as officers in the militia, as indeed, most of the landed gentry in the colony seemed to have done.
Tristam Norsworthy married Honour Goodrich; apparently the granddaughter of John Guttereidge, another first generation settler, but from whence is not in the records, though the name would suggest a Germanic origin.
From this surname came those of Gutteridge, Gutheridge and Goodrich.
This is followed no further in the interest of maintaining focus on the Bridger/Bridgers line, and not having our account ravel into unending side streams.
This further shows how genealogy can not be truly be embraced, but, at best, must be dipped into, lest one find himself trying to encompass the whole human family.
It's well to remember, however, that these collateral tributaries contribute as surely and equally to our gene pool as do those who bring the surname down to us.
As we leave "The Tidewater Hearth" and pick-up the family footprints in eastern North Carolina, it seems pertinent to recall how I learned of those earlier roots.
I completed medical training at Duke University at the end of 1949 and we moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts that I might start rotating internship at the U. S. Naval Hospital at Chelsea -- an old facility in another Boston suburb which has since closed down.
While there I became close friend with Dr. Bill Burton, a fellow intern.
One night my wife and I visited his home and his wife -- a native of Houston, Texas whose name I can no longer recall -- told me of her roots in Isle of Wight County, Virginia.
She recalled that the "Bridgers" name had been common and well known there in colonial days and that the Bridgers had been contemporaries of her ancestors.
She introduced me to the book, Seventeenth Century Isle of Wight County, Virginia.
When we looked, it turned out that the name she was recalling was "Bridger" rather than "Bridgers," though it seemed likely that this might have been my family.
She loaned me the volume, and as I studied it I learned that one person had gone to North Carolina and changed names.
My father knew nothing of these connections, but some several years later when I found additional fragments in the N. C. Department of Archives and in some family records, the pieces began to fall into place.
I made up my mind then that someday I would get this all on paper in an orderly progression along with the demography, which brought it about.
In the mid-1980's I was surveying and inspecting medical institutions for The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals -- again, another story for another day.
Suffice it that it fell my lot to visit the hospital in Franklin, Virginia, a small community well south of the James in Isle of Wight County.
I started my usual introductory remarks to the hospital staff by noting that I was pleased to be in the land of my ancestors.
To my surprise I evoked only blank stares -- my listeners couldn't have seemed less understanding or impressed.
Little did I realize that few nominal descendents of the original settlers have been found in that county in this century.
Of the Bridger family -- once prominent there, and though prolific -- it's said that no one of that name is living in Isle of Wight County today.
Different needs have ever motivated man's needs to move on, but the desire for land of one's own is probably near the top of the list.
Broad ownership of land is the power base for people at large.
The accessibility and utility of land has been affected by over-crowding, soil impoverishment and the inequity of primo geniture inheritance.
All these factors have impelled folk to relocate across Europe, across the Atlantic and over the American continent.
Among the first inter-colonial migrations in America was from Virginia to North Carolina.
Roads were few to non-existent, but in the eastern reaches of the two colonies -- swampy and low-lying -- waterways were rife.
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