John Nation’s Journey to America

New England
“Indentured Servants in Colonial America” // FamilyTree

According to family legend, the first Nation ancestor to settle in America–John Nation of Rowan County, North Carolina, my 8th great-grandfather–was kidnapped as a young boy in England and brought to New Jersey as an indentured servant. It is much more likely, though, that John Nation entered into indenture in exchange for passage to the colonies. Most indentured servants arrived in the American colonies of their own free will; they often worked as farm laborers or domestic servants for a period of four to seven years, and they received food, lodging and clothing as a part of their legally-binding contract.

The first mention of John Nation in America is found in William Beakes’ will, dated March 24, 1710/11: “Real and personal estate, incl. servant boy John Nation.” John and the Beakes family were living in Nottingham Township, New Jersey at the time of William’s death, and John’s indenture was transferred to William’s wife and eldest son, Ruth and Edmond Beakes, after his decease. There is no mention of John’s age, years of indenture or arrival date, but he likely worked as a farm hand: William was listed as a “yeoman” in his will, an individual who owns or cultivates a small farm.

By 1750, John was living in Frederick County, Virginia, and he had, at some point and in some way, reached the end of his indenture to the Beakes family. John married Bethiah Robbins, the daughter of Joseph and Ann (Pack) Robbins of Monmouth County, New Jersey, and moved to Rowan County, North Carolina before 1754; in 1754, he was listed as the administrator of his brother-in-law’s, Joseph Robbins, estate. In May of 1758, John–and, by extension, Bethiah–received 401 acres of farmland in a land grant, and they were issued an additional 260 acres in February of 1759 to provide for their family.

John Nation
Acres issued to John Nation, 1758

John and Bethiah Nation had seven children, and their descendants number in the thousands: Joseph (m. Eleanor Robbins); John (m. Bethiah Robbins); Christopher (m. Elizabeth Sharp); Elizabeth (m. Marmaduke Vickery; Ann (m. John Bullar); Bethiah (m. Joseph Robbins); and Frances (m. William Robbins). (An aside–the Nation and Robbins families maintained adjoning farms and homesteads in Rowan County in the 1750s, and their descendants all married their own cousins.) John continued to acquire land “between Pole Cat and Deep Creek River,” and he became a successful “planter” in the area.

John made his mark and completed his will in December of 1772; the document was later proved in 1774, making the year of his death about 1774. He wrote, the the presence of Benjamin, Isaac and Richard Beeson, “In the Name of God Amen–I John Nation, Senior of Guilford County and province of North yeoman, Being but weekly of Body, But of sound and perfect mind and memory, thanks be to God for the same, But calling to mind the shortness and uncertainty of this mortal State and that tis appointed once for all men one to die and after recommending my immortal part to God that gave it, resting in hopes of a glorious Resurrection & to live and reign with him for ever and ever, and willing my mortal part to the Dust from whence it was taken…”

He willed his estate and possessions (“a bed and furniture and chest and box”) to his wife and eldest son, Joseph, and provided his other children with “one shilling sterling” apiece. Joseph and Bethiah, as well as Joseph’s wife Eleanor, sold the land to William Borden in May of 1774 for five shillings, and I’m searching to find out more about the location of the tract. And that’s John’s story: he was a mystery man from England who ended up in New Jersey–and, later, North Carolina–and became a well-off farmer and landowner. It seems to me that he must’ve been brave, and he definitely had guts; I’m lucky to number myself among his thousands of descendants, so many years later.

NC Map

24 thoughts on “John Nation’s Journey to America

  1. To go from indentured servitude to owning over 600 acres of land must have been incredible for John! Was the land really sold for only five shillings? That seems awfully low, even for the time. Good luck with finding the location of John’s tract! I will be interested in seeing what it has become (hopefully, not a strip mall).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Five shillings seemed odd to me, as well–I’m hoping I transcribed that one right. That’s what it looked like to me, anyway, at the time! He did purchase the land from a friend; maybe there was a “discount.” And I’ll keep you posted–fingers crossed it’s not a strip mall, for sure!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. My dad’s side goes back a number of generations in the US; it seems as though we’re related to pretty much everyone in some way sometimes. Janice’s is a great post–I love reading all these different perspectives/presentations of John’s story. Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article! Family legend is often the least reliable genealogy source. According to our family one of my ancestors (John Byron) was supposedly related to Lord Byron. Of course it turned out that his name was John Byrne and that the name was changed due to its Irish pronunciation to Byron. Most families are infested with such misconceptions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It would be so cool to be related to Lord Byron…if only!

      And you’re definitely right–I just found an account of John Nation’s story that claims he likely “roamed the streets of London or Bristol” and was kidnapped in one of these cities. I’m pretty sure this isn’t true, and there’s no evidence. These stories do make genealogy fun, though!

      Thank you for stopping by! It’s always good to hear from you–glad you liked the post!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. This survey also shows a “spring” in what they called out as lot 9 and afterwards referred to as “Nation’s Spring.” This reference remains yet today.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I keep seeing on various websites, that John is listed as a Captain. Did he serve in the royal army, or fight in the French and Indian War? Does anyone know anything on this?


  4. I’m a descendant of Capt. John, through his son Joseph. Capt. John married Eleanor Robins. His sister married Joseph Robins. The Robins descended from Daniel Robertson of Blair Atoll, Scotland. Daniel was captured by Lord Cromwell and shipped to America as an indentured servant. He got is some trouble in Connecticut, changed his name to Robins and moved to New Jersey. I believe Daniel and Capt. John’s stories were converged.

    John and his sister Elizabeth were both indentured servants. I believe his parents were also indentured. The died either on the passage from Somerset, England or soon after landing in Monmouth, NJ.

    Your cousin,

    Loyd Nations

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Jamie and everyone. I’ve recently been doing a little more on my Nation family and ran across this blog this morning. I’m descended from John Nation’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Marmaduke Vickery. Through them, we are related to the author O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) who was their 3 x Great Grandson. My branch of Vickerys ended up in Randolph County, NC. My 4 x Great Grandfather, Christopher Vickery moved to Greene County, OH and was married there in 1818. By 1850, he and his family were in Bureau County, IL where I reside. Anyway, I enjoyed the article and will have to check out some of the other information mentioned in the comments. Thank you, Jamie!

    Liked by 1 person

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