The Case Against the Colonial Sheriff – Nathaniel Terry of Halifax Co., Virginia

            A committee of the Colonial legislature of Virginia heard testimony in 1770 involving one of the earliest settlers on Dan River above the present city of Danville.  Bethinia Perkins Chadwell, widow of Nicholas Perkins, and her second husband were required to travel to Williamsburg to testify concerning charges against the former Sheriff of Halifax County.  When the alleged incidents took place, this area was still a part of Halifax County.  Pittsylvania County was established in 1767.               On Monday the 28th of May 1770, in the 10th year of King George III, the Committee of Privileges and Elections of the House of Burgesses of the Colony of Virginia began hearing testimony from 26 witnesses “relating to the character” of  Nathaniel Terry.  One of the seven charges involved over payment to Terry  when he was a colonel commanding a company of Rangers on the frontier during the French and Indian War in 1756.  Terry was responsible for building Fort Mayo, Fort Trial, and Fort Blackwater in Halifax County where all three forts were located.  In 1752, when the forts were constructed, this part of Franklin, and all of Henry and Pittsylvania counties were a part of Halifax.  These were the southern most forts in a chain ordered by George Washington in defense of Indian attacks.  The forts were along the frontier from Pennsylvania down to within five miles of North Carolina.  Washington personally inspected the newly constructed forts later in 1756.   

            Other charges were “breach of duty in his office of Sheriff in delaying to pay the money so received by his Under Sheriff,” “riding a stray horse,” “by a false representation of facts did obtain an order from the Court of Halifax to be paid ten pounds out of the county levy for maintaining a bridge longer than his agreement he was obliged to do,”

            Another charge, dating back to 1765, involved Bethenia Perkins, widow of Nicholas Perkins.  Five years later, she and her second husband John Chadwell were required to travel 230 miles to Williamsburg to testify.  The High Sheriff did not turn in the money Bethenia paid him.  It was alleged that she paid the Deputy Sheriff with “bad money.”
            Bethenia’s first husband Nicholas Perkins began claiming land along Dan River east of the present city of Danville in the 1750’s.  During the year 1759, he made application to build his water powered grist mill, was granted permission to operate a ferry across Dan River, and his tenth child was born. 

            In the early summer of 1762, at the age of 44, Nicholas died leaving Bethenia the responsibility of supervising the large estate and many children.  Of the ten, only Peter was of age.  Peter Perkins married Agnes Wilson, daughter of Peter Wilson who ran a ferry down stream on Dan River.  It is likely that Peter and Agnes were living at the Berry Hill estate, which was part of his father’s 800 acre land grant north of the river. Nicholas stated in his will that he lived south of Dan River.  There is no record of a land purchase south of Dan River during Nicholas Perkins’ lifetime.  Court records indicate that Bethenia bought the land on the south side of Dan River the year after her husband died.  Since he gave this land to sons Constantine (usually called Constant) and Thomas Harden Perkins by his 1762 will, it is likely that he had bought the land and never made the long journey to the Halifax Court House to record the sale.
            When she testified at Williamsburg, Bethenia Perkins Chadwell gave her story:
She attended the Orange County, North Carolina Court which was held on the second Tuesday in November 1765.  When she returned home on the following Thursday, she was informed that Benjamin Terry, who was Under Sheriff of Halifax County, had levied an Execution based on a Judgment of the Court by John Pleasants (dated September 25, 1765) against Bethenia as Executrix of her late husband Nicholas Perkins’ estate.  To “satisfy the judgment,” Deputy Sheriff Benjamin T. “but that there was nothing criminal or corrupt in his said conduct, as it doth not appear he knew, at the time of writing the return upon the said Execution for the said Benjamin, that any part of the money was paid.”
            5.  He acquitted his reputation on a charge of using a stray horse.  He had agreed to pay two pistols to accommodate the dispute on the said horse.
            6.  He acquitted his reputation on charges that “two stray horses were seen tied at Mr. Nathaniel Terry’s, and a few days afterwards one of them was branded, either with the said Terry’s brand, or the brand of a young man who lived with him, was his near relation, and who, on many occasions, was known to be the said Terry’s agent.”
            7.  He also saved his reputation on the final and oldest charge “that in the year 1756 or 1757, Mr. Nathaniel Terry commanded a ranging company in the frontiers, and with his company and others, built three forts, and that he promised he would see them well paid; that he has been since applied to for the money, but gave for answer he could not get any for them, although it appears from the schedule referred to, by an Act passed in the 32d year of the reign of George the Second, entitled “An Act of the Defence of the Frontiers of this Colony, and for other Services.” 
            The witnesses in the case against Nathaniel Terry were paid by “the public” in tobacco for their three days before the Committee.  The total amount paid to the witnesses 18,637 pounds of tobacco and for ferriages 10 pounds, 2 shillings 6 pence.   John and Bethenia Perkins Chadwell were each given 870 pounds of tobacco and 6 shillings for ferriages. 
            I hope that there was a good market for tobacco in Williamsburg in 1770.  I wonder what an older couple 230 miles away from home does with 1,740 pounds of tobacco.      
Note:  Nathaniel Terry served in the House of Burgesses from 1756 to 1765.  He returned as a member in 1771 and served until 1775.  He sat in the Convention of 1776 that framed the Constitution of Virginia.  He died in 1780 and his grave is north east of South Boston, Virginia in Halifax County.

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