Part 1: The First Ragland in America

The Ragland Family Tree

My maiden name is Ragland. I’m a descendant of soldiers who fought in this war, primarily from Virginia through the several family tree branches.. 

In the days ahead, I’ll share with you stories I’ve uncovered about my family and perhaps they’ll overlap with yours. This is what his-story is–stories.

The First Ragland Arrived at the Jamestown Settlement

In the latter years of the Jamestown settlement, the first Ragland arrived in America[1]around 1670. That first Ragland was Evan Ragland. Born in 1656 in St. Decuman’s parish, Somerset, England, Evan died in 1717 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia. He married Susanna Pettus about 1680 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia. She was born about 1660 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia, and her death details are unknown. Susanna was the daughter of Stephen Pettus.

Indentured Servitude

Indentured servitude is a form of labor in which a person (an indenture) agrees to work without salary for a specific number of years through a contract for eventual compensation or debt repayment. Historically, it has been used to pay for apprenticeships, typically when an apprentice agreed to work for free for a master tradesman to learn a trade (similar to a modern internship but for a fixed length of time, usually seven years). Later it was also used as a way for a person to pay the cost of transportation to colonies in the Americas.

Like any loan, an indenture could be sold; most employers had to depend on middlemen to recruit and transport the workers, so indentures (indentured workers) were commonly bought and sold when they arrived at their destinations. Like prices of the enslaved, their price went up or down depending on supply and demand. When the indenture (loan) was paid off, the worker was free. Sometimes they might be given a plot of land.

Indentured workers could usually marry, move about locally as long as the work got done, read whatever they wanted, and take classes.

Until the late 18th century, indentured servitude was common in British America. It was often a way for Europeans (usually from Ireland) to immigrate to the American colonies: they signed an indenture in return for a costly passage. 

In some cases, the indenture was made with a ship’s master, who sold the indenture to an employer in the colonies. Most indentured servants worked as farm laborers or domestic servants, although some were apprenticed to craftsmen.

Early Americans Predominately Indentured

Between one-half and two-thirds of European immigrants to the American colonies between the 1630s and American Revolution came under indentures.[2] However, while almost half the European immigrants to the Thirteen Colonies were indentured servants, at any one time they were outnumbered by workers who had never been indentured, or whose indenture had expired, and thus free wage labor was the more prevalent for Europeans in the colonies.[3] 

Indentured people were numerically important mostly in the region from Virginia north to New Jersey. Other colonies saw far fewer of them. The total number of European immigrants to all 13 colonies before 1775 was about 500,000; of these 55,000 were involuntary prisoners. Of the 450,000 or so European arrivals who came voluntarily, Tomlins estimates that 48 percent were indentured.[4] About 75 percent of these were under the age of 25. The age of adulthood for men was 24 years (not 21); those over 24 generally came on contracts lasting about three years.[5] 

Many were Kidnapped

Several instances of kidnapping[7] for transportation to the Americas are recorded, such as that of Peter Williamson (1730–1799). As historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out, “Although efforts were made to regulate or check their activities, and they diminished in importance in the eighteenth century, it remains true that a certain small part of the European colonial population of America was brought by force, and a much larger portion came in response to deceit and misrepresentation on the part of the spirits [recruiting agents].”[8] One “spirit” named William Thiene was known to have spirited away[9] 840 people from Britain to the colonies in a single year.[10] Historian Lerone Bennett Jr. notes that “Masters given to flogging often did not care whether their victims were black or white.”[11]

Was the First Ragland Sold into Servitude?

The facts around Evan Ragland’s arrival in America are obscure. However, according to oral history and traditions during this time in history, leaves us with this story. 

In the 17th century, ship captains often abducted men from the small ports on both sides of the Bristol Channel. Evan Ragland was probably abducted around 1670 from Watchet’s village in Somerset by one of these captains of the hundreds of ships that traveled between the various ports of Bristol Channel and America. Evan would have been transported to Virginia under the harshest of conditions, a sea journey of about two months. In America, he was sold into slavery (sometimes called indentured servitude) for five to seven years.  

The only source that sheds light on Evan Ragland’s activities during his first ten years in America comes from family oral history dating back to the eighteenth century. According to family history, Evan, was well educated for his age, was taken into the planter’s home, Stephen Pettus, who had purchased him. And with his education, for several years, Evan served as the planter’s secretary. Family lore says he fell in love with the planter’s daughter, Susanna, and married her after obtaining his freedom.

The research I’ve done points to Stephen Pettus as the homesteader who purchased Evan as an indentured servant. In the mid-1600s Pettus would have been considered a moderately wealthy planter. He lived along the Chickahominy River in New Kent County, Virginia. Evan’s marriage to Susanna probably took place around 1680.

Life in Jamestown

Life in the colonization of America was hard. Evan Ragland arrived while the Jamestown Settlement was the capital of the Colony. 

By 1670, Jamestown is an established community and thriving by 17th century standards. But, what the history books tell us about the Jamestown Settlement is the living conditions were primitive. The land is harsh—mostly swampland. And the English did not get along with the native Americans.

From 1689 until his death, Evan Ragland’s name appears with some regularity on the rent rolls of New Kent County and the parish register of St. Peter’s. It seems that he lived the remainder of his life in New Kent County on the homestead of his father-in-law, which he acquired through marriage at his Pettus’s death. The farm was reportedly 400 acres.

Evan Ragland Inherited Pettus Farm

We know that the Pettus farm was located along the Chickahominy River in New Kent County, Virginia—about 27 miles from Williamsburg and 33 miles from Jamestown. We know that Pettus purchased workers for his plantation—that’s how Evan came to live there. And based on the registry in the St. Peter’s Parish, we can conclude that the farm had slaves by the time of Evan’s death.

Not much more is known about Evan Ragland and the farm he inherited from Stephen Pettus. I did find a note on from a researcher in the 1930’s discovered a history of some of the early families founding Bedford County, Virginia, author is unknown. 

“The first Ragland who came to America in about 1720, and settled on Mechamps Creek, near the mouth of the Chickahominy River. He obtained land grants for some fifteen thousand acres of land in the counties of Hanover and Louisa, and imported slaves directly from Africa. His country seat was known as “Ripping Hall,”[4] and remained in the Ragland family till 1823, when it was destroyed by fire.”

Evan Ragland’s Death

The final official notation relating to Evan is found in the St. Peter’s Parish registry.

“Evan Raglin departed this life may ye 30th 1717.” 

“Also Peter, a negro of Evan Ragland, died 22 Mar 1717.”

“[Son] Thomas Ragland died 15 Feb 1719.”

St. Peter’s Parish Vestry Book and Register, 1684-1786 (

Putting Evan Ragland’s History in Context

I can only speculate, but listing a slave’s death in the parish registry would signify Peter’s significance to Evan Ragland. Furthermore, they both died within weeks of each other, indicating perhaps the cause of death was a contagious illness.

Setting Evan Ragland’s life into the history of Virginia, we know that he arrived at the same time the Jamestown Settlement still existed. Still, during his lifetime, the capital of the Colony would become Williamsburg. Evan died before the Revolutionary War, but subsequent decedants would fight.

Is It True?

I cannot prove or disprove this minor notice in the history of Virginia. The records pertaining to this time period were destroyed by fire.

Children of Evan Ragland

The children of Evan Ragland and Susanna Pettus were:

  • Catherine Ragland, born 1681, St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia; death. Unknown.
  • Evan Ragland (Jr.), born 1683, St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia; died 1739, St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia.
  • Thomas Ragland, born 1685, St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia; died 1719, St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia.
  • Stephen Ragland, born 1688, St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia; died 1747, Northampton County, North Carolina.
  • John Ragland, born 1690, St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia; died 1751, Hanover County, Virginia.

My family history continues through the son, Evan Ragland (Jr.)


[1] Source: Ragland Family History on

[2] Research done on

[3] The records have since then been destroyed by fire. 

[4] Another document referred to the homestead as “Hipping Hall.”

Sources: Wikipedia on Jamestown Settlement and Indentured Servitude and

Debora Buerk
Writer, Editor. and
sometimes family historian