John Vivian Minor (1707–1754/1755)

John Minor, son of Garrett and Diane Minor, was a wealthy planter from Spotsylvania County, Virginia,[1] who also served as a captain in the Fairfax County Militia.[2]  He was known as an intelligent and well-respected leader who “had a prominent place in the life of colonial Caroline”[3] County, where he married Sarah Carr, daughter of Captain Thomas and Mary Carr[4] on November 14, 1732. Together, they had eleven children.[5]

As a wedding gift, his father-in-law gave him ownership of Sarah’s childhood home, an estate on the north bank of the North Anna River in Caroline County called Topping Castle.[6]

Three years later, on August 9, 1735, King George II granted twenty-eight-year–old John a Crown Patent for 400 acres of land in Hanover County on “the North Fork of the north fork of the James River”[7] called Gale Hill for the sum of forty shillings.[8]

This probably seemed like ideal timing, as Sarah was pregnant with their first child,[9] and they would have been thinking of all the details associated with providing for a new family. The location was surrounded by other Minor family homes,[10] but John chose not to live on Gale Hill, making their home instead at Topping Castle.[11]

John reserved the Gale Hill land for agriculture, for along with the royal gift came the responsibility of “cultivating and improving at least twenty-four of the four-hundred acres within three years or forfeiting the title. This, in addition to paying ‘fee rent’ of one shilling per fifty acres or eight shillings a year.”[12] 

During those three provisional years, tobacco was the main crop of Albemarle County, and it would remain so for another few years. On April 26, 1748, John, a shrewd businessman, bought another 400 acres of property adjacent to Gale Hill, an area called Waller Grant,[13] from John Waller, Jr. who had obtained it on the same date John took possession of Gale Hill, so that by the time he died in 1755, John’s children stood to inherit some 800 acres.[14]

Because of John’s great wealth and his position in the community, his funeral service was probably very elaborate, with many people in attendance, including family and friends—some from great distances—his fellow tidewater planters, neighbors, and those who farmed land he rented to them, as well as the family’s servants and slaves. His family and dearest associates would have been dressed for mourning, the women in full black, the men wearing a black armband or cockade. Some planters even required their servants and slaves to go into full mourning.[15] Funeral prayers would have been said over the body, but the sermon would have occurred later—anytime from that night, as it had for Alexander Hamilton a generation later, to a few weeks hence, which some believed was unnecessarily cruel for the grieving family.[16]

However, if John was a humbler man, it is possible he opted for a simpler funeral. While the majority of the wealthy were putting on great shows upon their death to showcase their status one final time, there were others who disdained such extravagance. These men specified in their wills they wished to be buried quietly and informally; some even requested internment at night to avoid the attention of the local community. Usually they also asked that the public funeral sermon be eliminated or gave directions for simple mourning attire.[17]

None of this is specified in John’s will, so he was likely of the former group. He left Gale Hill to his son James, a youth of ten who probably took possession of the land at age twenty-one,[18] the same age at which his brother, John II, stood to gain his inheritance of Topping Castle and his father’s slave, Harry. As an adult, James signed the Declaration of Independence of Albemarle County[19] on June 21, 1779, in which he and other local leaders, including future President Thomas Jefferson, “renounce[d] & refuse[d] all Allegiance to George the third King of Great Britain, his heirs & successors & [swore to] be faithful [sic] & bear True Allegiance to the commonwealth of Virginia as a free & independent state,”[20] putting them into open rebellion against the British Crown.

To his son, John II, John bequeathed “my Silver watch and Trooper’s arms, £100 Current Money, and a Gold Ring,”[21] the last of which was not truly his until Sarah’s death and only then provided he adhered to the age clause in the will.[22] 

John Vivian Minor is the last joint ancestor of Virginia and Francis Minor. His sons, John Minor II (the eldest and Virginia’s great-grandfather) and Dabney Minor I (the eighth child and Francis’ grandfather) are the point at which the family tree splits into two distinct branches.

[1] Tyler, V8, 197-198.

[2] The only record is dated March 21, 1753. See “Fairfax County.”

[3] Wingfield, 450.

[4] “The Minor Family,” Genealogies of Virginia Families, 705.

[5] “The Minor Family,” Genealogies of Virginia Families, 706.

[6] It was also known as Bear Castle and Mulberry Tree. (See Meriwether, Minor, 128.)

[7] Burns, (ebook, location 168).

[8] Gooch; Bruce, Alexander, Tyler, et al, 43.

[9] Burns, location 188.

[10] Burns, caption and map location 164.

[11] Burns, location 192.

[12] Burns, location 184.

[13] Burns, location 1760.

[14] Burns, 233.

[15] Tate.

[16] Tate.

[17] Tate.

[18] Burns, 233.

[19] Burns, location 1760.

[20] Simpson.

[21] Quoted in Burns, location 1674.

[22] “The Minor Family,” Genealogies of Virginia Families., 705; Burns, location 1674.