By Carol Vaughn —
A new book about the first Northampton County Clerk of Court was released May 14.
Margaret Rice, a retired teacher and lecturer living in Tiverton, England, set out a decade ago to trace the genealogy of her family, the Chappell family of Exeter, a city in southwest England.
Rice’s research resulted in discovery of her relation to Henry Bagwell, an adventurer who left England in 1609 at age 20 to settle in Virginia.
He was shipwrecked in Bermuda along the way, in an incident scholars say inspired William Shakespeare to write his play, “The Tempest.”
Rice’s first book, called “The Henry Bagwell Story: English Adventurer, Virginia Planter, 1589-1663, is the result of the interest she developed in Bagwell’s story.
It also is the first published biography of Bagwell.
After corresponding over several years with Susie B. Sample, assistant clerk at the Northampton County clerk’s office, David Scott of Northampton Historic Preservation Society, genealogist M. K. Miles, and others on the Eastern Shore who helped her research Bagwell’s story, “a lot of those people are as excited as I am that this has come to its fruition,” Rice said in an interview conducted via the internet.
It was her uncle who started researching the family tree back in the 1960s. His work inspired Rice to continue the work.
“He was an absolutely meticulous recorder and when he died he left me all his papers,” she said.
It wasn’t until after she retired that Rice had time to delve into her uncle’s research, soon finding a direct ancestor, Thomas Chappell, who was mayor of Exeter in 1588 and the grandfather of Henry Bagwell.
“The next two or three years I was looking at the Chappell family,” who were rich merchants with large families, she said.
“Then one day…I saw this little piece of writing at the top — “Johane Chappell married somebody called David Bagwell,” she said.
In local church records, Rice found recorded the births of the couple’s children, including their second son, Henry Bagwell.
“I was doing a Google search one day, playing around one day with the computer, and out comes the story of the ‘Sea Venture,’” the ship on which Bagwell sailed for Virginia, she said.
After that, her research into the Chappell family went on the back burner as Rice pursued Bagwell’s story.
To find additional details about Bagwell’s life, Rice used records in England and Virginia, including the archives of the Eastern Shore Public Library, the Library of Virginia, the Northampton County Circuit Court, and the Northampton Historic Preservation Society, among others, along with the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter.
“I would describe him as somebody who benefited by being part of a very successful merchant’s family in Exeter. Even though his grandfather died in the same year in which he was born, he would have come into a lot of the advantages of that family’s connections. So he would have been somebody who came into the world with a lot of confidence in who he would meet; he would know what was going on in the city world; he was very used to talking with people…I think he must have been an extremely enterprising young man,” Rice said.
After being shipwrecked, Bagwell and the others stranded in Bermuda built new ships and eventually made their way to Virginia, where Bagwell later was recorded as owning a house and 50 acres in Charles City County.
He afterward made his way to the Eastern Shore, having met others who were settling there. Friendly natives on the Shore and an epidemic on the western shore may have played a role in his decision to move to the Shore.
In addition to being the first Northampton County Clerk of Court, Bagwell served in the House of Burgesses and was a vestryman at Hungars Church.
Bagwell’s grave has not been found and neither has a will.
Rice called genealogist M.K. Miles “a great supporter” in helping her conduct research for the book.
“I’ve been working with Maggie on the Bagwell family since September 2017, when she first contacted me seeking permission to cite the MilesFiles as a source for some of her information, which I gladly gave her,” Miles said in an email.
“As a result of her research, I was able to add a few generations to the ancestors of Henry Bagwell in the MilesFiles. Since that time we have traded/shared our research on Bagwells and Chappells,” he said, adding, “…I’ve really enjoyed working with Maggie over the last 3½ years, an ocean and five time zones apart. Her in the “Old Country” and me here in the “New World,” as they once referred to them. Having her mention me, the MilesFiles and the Brooks Miles Barnes Archives Room at the library in the front matter of her book is a great tribute to those of us trying to preserve the Shore’s history and to obtain an in-depth knowledge of our ancestors.”
Miles’ research shows Gov. Ralph Northam as an 11th great-grandson of Thomas Chappell, Onancock resident Bill Bagwell IV as an 11th great-grandson of Thomas Chappell, and Rice’s ancestor in the same third generation of descent from Thomas Chappell as Henry Bagwell. “Since I don’t have Maggie’s line of descent in the MilesFiles, I can’t say for sure, as the number of generations can vary based on the age of parents and children in each generation, but Maggie is probably also an 11th great-granddaughter of Thomas Chappell, making her a 12th cousin of Ralph Northam and Bill Bagwell IV,” Miles said.
RIce encouraged older family members to document what they know about their family history in order to preserve and pass it on to future generations.
“If you are a granny or granddad, what you should be doing is look through all your old photographs and on the back, you should say who they are, when they were born, when they died, when they married,” Rice said.
When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Rice hopes to visit both the Eastern Shore and Bermuda, where an annual commemoration of the “Sea Venture” shipwreck is held.
Author and historian Brooks Miles Barnes, of Onancock, called Rice’s book “an engaging and useful work which kept my attention throughout.”
In his foreword, G. Ray Thompson, professor emeritus of history at Salisbury University, writes: “Although Rice started this project as a family history, it has turned into much more than just a genealogical record…. I suspect Henry Bagwell, if he had had the opportunity to read this work, would recognize himself in the political, economic, and social interactions of the time.”
The book can be purchased from the Book Bin in Onley and Sundial Books in Chincoteague, as well as directly from the publisher at www.secantpublishing.com and on major online sites including IndieBound, Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. The cost for hardcover is $25.95 and the e-book version is $9.99.