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Parish History Notes 19: The Tidewater Migration

Markers in the Fork Church cemetery pay tribute to members of many prominent families of colonial Tidewater Virginia. Soon after the American Revolution, as soil on the original properties was becoming exhausted by the over-planting of tobacco, branches of these families looked to the Piedmont region for new land to till. What we know as Old Ridge Road joined other lanes that linked through New Kent and James City Counties from Yorktown before the end of the 17th century, defining a natural migration route.

The tidewater families most represented in the Fork Church cemetery are Nelsons and Pages, with about 33 gravestones. These two names have been closely allied for many generations. In fact, seven children of Gen. Thomas Nelson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, married members of the Page family. The Nelsons had lived at a house called “York,” now known as the Nelson House, in Yorktown. Gen. Nelson moved to Hanover County and died at “Mont Air” a poor man, after exhausting his wealth for the Revolution. His body was returned to Yorktown, but his wife Lucy is buried in this cemetery. Other stones mark the graves of Capt. Thomas Nelson, nephew and son-in-law of Gen. Nelson, Capt. Nelson’s wife, Judith, daughter of Gen. Nelson, and at least four of their children.

  The Pages of St. Martin’s Parish are descended from Governor John Page of “Rosewell,” Gloucester County. Francis Page, the fifth son of Gov. Page, lived at “Rug Swamp” with his wife, Susan, fourth daughter of Gen. Nelson. Francis and Susan are buried at this cemetery, as are two daughters and a son, Maj. John Page, and his wife, Elizabeth Burwell Nelson, who is a daughter of Capt. Thomas and Judith Nelson. Rosewell Page (1858-1939) of Oakland and his wife Ruth Nelson represent the next generation, and the Oakland Pages continue from there. Another early marker defines the resting place of Judith Carter Page, youngest daughter of Gov. Page, who married Dr. Robert Nelson, youngest son of Gen. Nelson and Chancellor of William & Mary College.

Other familiar colonial names in the cemetery are Berkeley, Burwell, Churchill, Dabney, Digges, Grymes, Noland, Pendleton and Taylor, all representing early immigrations from Europe to the tidewater region. Though these are 19th and 20th century burials, they echo the colonial history of eastern Virginia.