Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Pettus Family - England>VA>ALA>MS


Left: St. Simon and Jude Church, Norwich England

My maternal grandmother was Rosa Mae Pettus. She was the daughter of William Elza Pettus and Lucy Lula Trigleth and was born in Holmes County, Mississippi on August 28, 1908. Rosa Mae was married first to Ralph Ernest Netherland, when she was about 18 years old and he was 41. They had two children, a daughter and a son. Their daughter was my mother.

When my mother was 14 and her brother was 11 years old, my grandparents divorced. A divorce in 1940 must have been quite unusual, even an embarrassment for the couple and their families, especially when the couple lived in a small, rural Mississippi town where everyone likely knew everything about the business and personal lives of everyone else. I am uncertain of the exact reason why my grandparents divorced, but my best guess would be that the difference in their ages eventually "caught up" with them and changed the relationship.


When I was 13 years old, I met my grandfather for the first time ever, when he was near death in a hospital in Jackson, Misssissippi. He died of cancer a few days after my family's visit with him in the hospital. My grandmother had remarried after her divorce in 1940, and her second marriage to Frank Parsons, Jr. had ended about 10 years before Ralph died. She never remarried after Frank Parsons, Jr. died. Mr. Parsons, or "Pa Frank" as we called him, was the only grandfather I knew on that side of the family. A few years after Pa Frank died, Grandma moved to Jackson, Mississippi, and went to work in the nursing department of St. Dominics Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. When she was about 65 years old, she retired and moved near her son in Holmes County. In January 1986, she died peacefully in her easy chair at home near Yazoo City, Mississippi, after driving herself to and from church that morning.

Rosa Mae Pettus Netherland Parsons had been a nurse for most of her adult life. During my mother's early years, she provided "home" nursing visits and often stayed overnight with people in the community who were ill. My mother learned to take care of the house and cook for herself and a younger brother at an early age. I never knew any other family members with the Pettus last name. But what I have found out from research about the Pettus family who emigrated from England to Virginia in the early 1600's is in this post.

The earliest Pettus ancestor I found was John Pettus, born circa 1530, who married Joan Dethick, in Norwich, England, on October 29, 1548. Their children were Sir John Pettus, born circa 1550 in England, and Thomas Pettus, born circa 1552, near Norwich, England. I was unable to locate a spouse's name for Sir John Pettus, but I did find that Thomas Pettus was married to Cecily King sometime after 1588, and he died in June 1620. John Pettus, the father, died on January 12, 1596 and is buried in Norwich at St. Simon and Jude Church cemetery.

It appears that Thomas Pettus is likely my direct Pettus ancestor. He and Cecily King Pettus had a son named William Pettus, Esquire, born circa 1583 in London, England. William Pettus married Mary Gleane, born circa 1585, on December 21, 1607 in London, England. Mary died on July 27, 1631, and William died in 1648. Their son was Colonel Thomas Pettus, who was born in 1610 in Norwich, England. Colonel Thomas Pettus married Elizabeth Durrant, born circa 1615 near Williamsburg, Virginia in 1645. Colonel Pettus died in 1662, and Elizabeth died a number of years later. They had one child, Captain Thomas Pettus, who was born in 1646 in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was married first to Elizabeth Dabney, born circa 1644, and second to Mourning Glen. Captain Thomas Pettus and Elizabeth Dabney Pettus had four children, Dabney Pettus, born circa 1680, John Pettus, born circa 1683, Stephen Pettus, born circa 1685, and Elizabeth Pettus, born circa 1687. Captain Pettus died in 1698 near Williamsburg, Virginia, and Elizabeth Dabney Pettus died several years later.

The old Pettus townhouse is still standing on Elm Hill Street in Norwich, England. Large lettering across the second story can be read easily through a magnifying glass. The first line reads "Thomas Pettus, Gent. of Norwich. 1506." The next line reads "Thomas Pettus, Sheriff of Norwich 1566, Mayor 1590." The last line reads "Sir John Pettus, First Knight of the Family, Mayor 1608."

Near the old Pettus house is Saints Simon & Jude's church and cemetery, where many Pettus tombs and memorial tablets can be seen, and the Norwich guide books call one of these tombs "the sumptous tomb" of the "first knight of the family."

According to my research, I found that Dr. William Jerdone Pettus of Charleston, South Carolina spent some time in England around the turn of the century, and with the help of a genealogist, found the identify of the Pettus emigrant from Norwich to Virginia in 1637. In 1890, Dr. Pettus wrote:

"The name is extinct in England since the death of the 6th Baronet, Sir Horatio Pettus, July 31, 1772. I saw his tomb in Rackheath Church. The last female Pettus in England was his daughter, Charlotte, who married John Richard Dashwood and died in 1804. "

According to Miss Lucile Pettus of Washington who also visited Norwich, a wonderful portrait of Sir John Pettus, Mayor of Norwich, hangs in the Guild Hall there. Several other portraits are owned by Pettus family descendants who still live in the Norwich area and are on display in their private residences.

The research conducted by Pettus family historians has verified the Pettus family was prominent during the times of Elizabeth, James I, Charles I, and Charles II. Members of the family fought under Prince Rupert, according to a book written by Sir John Pettus in 1670 and entitled a "History of Mines." Sir John wrote the book while he was serving as the Royal Commissioner on Mines. He also served as a member of Parliament for 12 years, and whe wrote a book in 1660 entitled "Pettus on Parliament."

The Pettus family became prominent citizens of the Virginia Colony and the State of Virginia, and ruins of the old Pettus Plantation can still be seen along the James River near Williamsburg. As plantation lands had been "farmed out" with tobacco crops during the years following the American Revolution, members of the Pettus family left to settle other parts of the colonies. Some traveled to lands to the west and to the south that had been opened up for settlement in the late 1700's. Some of these family members migrated to the area of the country that became known as the Deep South and settled first near Huntsville, Alabama, in the area now known as Limestone County. One of the landmarks of Alabama, the Pettus Bridge, where photographs taken during the years of desegregation in the South have now been seen around the world, was named for the family that I am proud to call my ancestors.

And then they moved to Mississippi.

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