115 – Three Generations in America 1680-1800

In fall of 1683, Elizabeth Jervis and her two children disembarked their ship at Chester, Pennsylvania. That’s the moment that our Jarvis ancestors first arrived in America.

Over the next century, three generations of our grandparents settled, married, had children, worked, and passed on.

They were witnesses to historic changes in America, as it transformed from a British colony to an independent United States.

Elizabeth Jervis Cookson (8G)

Elizabeth was born in Nantwich, England around 1653. In 1680, her husband John Jervis died, and she became an impoverished single mother of two. In 1683, she made a courageous decision to go to America.

Elizabeth Jervis was one of the earliest settlers in Pennsylvania, as it was created in 1682, just a year before her arrival. She got a patent for land in Middletown in Chester County, one of very few women landholders.

She lived on her land over forty years.

Elizabeth married Joseph Cookson, had three more children, and raised her family there.

Elizabeth died in September 1730.

Joseph and Esther Jervis (7G)

Elizabeth’s son Joseph Jervis arrived in Pennsylvania with his mother and sister Ruth in 1683. He was born around 1672, so was about age 11.

Joseph’s coming of age included land transactions, starting a grist mill on Ridley Creek, and trading goods with neighbors and the local Lenape Indians.

Some of these actions got him into trouble, particularly with his Quaker meeting. By 1716, Joseph was disowned from the Quakers.

By 1720, Joseph left Chester County and moved west. He settled in frontier land that would become Lancaster County in 1729.

Joseph married Esther, and they settled next to Joseph’s brother-in-law Daniel Cookson. The village of White Horse grew up around the Jervis and Cookson lands. Joseph and Esther operated a mill and ran a hostelry and tavern.

Joseph and Esther raised a family of eight children, seven boys and one girl. They lived in White Horse over thirty years.

Joseph died in March 1752. Esther lived for many more years, in the household of her son James.

James Jervis (6G)

James Jervis was born to Joseph and Esther in 1740 in White Horse. His early years were spent helping his parents run their inn and mill.

Joseph Jervis died when James was age 12, so he took on more responsibility at home.

In 1760, when James was 20, he married and had a child William. We don’t know anything about James’ wife, but perhaps she died when William was born or shortly thereafter. And it’s after his wife died that his mother Esther came to live in his household. She lived with James until her death around 1780.

James had moved to Uwchlan, a township east of White Horse. Two of his brothers lived there. But by 1770, all three moved to northeast Maryland, following three other brothers who had moved there in the 1760s.

James married Elizabeth, and they had three children in the 1770s. They lived in what would become the town of Bel Air, in the newly formed county of Harford.

After the Revolutionary War, economic hardship plagued the colonies, and Harford County was no exception. James and Elizabeth suffered worsening economic conditions, until they were bankrupted in 1788.

Their later years were filled with continuing financial problems. James and Elizabeth both died around 1800.

The times

We’ve learned a lot about these three generations of our grandparents. For me, there are two common threads through their life stories:

  1. These were common folk. They had successes and troubles. They had legal scrapes. Just when it seemed like they’d made it, some setback would knock them down.
  2. Each of these three generations suffered an economic hardship that made their current lifestyle unsustainable, and they chose the risk of moving west.
    • Elizabeth Jervis (8G) had moved west from England to William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” of Pennsylvania
    • Joseph Jervis (7G) had moved west to the frontier that would become Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
    • James Jervis (6G) had moved west to the frontier that would become Harford County, Maryland

What next?

The next generation William and Margaret Jarvis (5G) were suffering economic hardship in Harford County, just as James and Elizabeth had.

William and Margaret made the decision to do what the previous generations had done; move west.

In 1791, they set out for the frontier territory of Kentucky.

We will take up their stories in the next series.

A Retrospective

Here’s a look back at some of the images of the first three generations of Jarvis families in America.


  • Various images and clip art – attributed in earlier posts

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