Thomas Jordan was a Quaker who arrived in Virginia in 1624 and who married Margaret Brauseur (Bracey/Bressie). By the 18th century the Jordans, all descended from the eight sons of Thomas, were the most significant Quaker family in Virginia. They settled first in Isle of Wight County and then moved into Nansemond County and North Carolina. They were a very clannish family, where cousins often married and where the same names were repeated through generations in every branch of the family—Richard Robert, Josiah, Edmund, Matthew, and less commonly, John and James—which makes it very hard to identify specific individuals in records. Quaker with whom the Jordans intermarried are Bridger, Bressie, Godwin, Ricks, Outland. Notably they regularly intermarried with Pleasants from Henrico County.
The Jordans were active in petitioning the Virginia legislature to allow the manumission of slaves, as was Robert Pleasants [see below]. Between 1782 and 1800 most of the Jordans emancipated their slaves. The surviving records of the Isle of Wight record the manumissions of Mathew Jordan, Richard Jordan, Joshia Jordan, James Jordan and Lydia Jordan. We have no records for Nansemond, but local histories suggest that the Jordan’s of that county also emancipated their slaves. Joseph Jordan, who moved to North Carolina in mid 18th century is known to have emancipated all his slaves in 1784 while his son Richard became a strident advocate of abolition. Other names owners manumitting slaves using the Quaker formulation in the Isle of Wight include Hollowell, Johnson, Lawrence, Godwin and Benn.
The Jordans represented as slave owners in the Book of Negroes are all cousins:
Richard Jordan from Isle of Wight who died in 1781, or his cousin Richard who died in 1791, who are descendants Thomas’s son Richard:
Robert Jordan of Nansemond and /or his son Robert Jordan of Suffolk who are descendants of Thomas’s son Robert:
John Jordan of Nasemond who died in 1788 who is a descendant of Thomas’s son John.
Josiah Jordan in Nansemond who is a descendant of Thomas’s son James.
The other big Quaker family in Virginia were the Pleasants in Henrico County. Since the 17th century the Jordans regularly intermarried with the Pleasants and the Pleasants had land in Nansemond County For the generations relevant to the era of Revolution, Thomas Pleasants (died 1745) was married to Mary Jordan. The sons of Thomas were John Robert and Thomas. When he died his widow Mary married another Thomas Pleasants, a cousin in Goochland County. When John Pleasants died in 1765 he left his sons John and Thomas Pleasants land at Four Mile Creek. His son John first wife was Margaret Jordan.
Children of John Pleasants and Margaret Jordan were:
When John Pleasants died in 1771 he specified in his will that his 536 slaves be freed when they were 30 years old. He was aware that the laws of Virginia did not allow for manumission so he left them to his children to be treated as if they were free and to be manumitted when the laws allowed. Executors of the will were his oldest son Robert Pleasants and grandson Charles Woodson, Jun. plus brother Thomas Pleasants and nephew Thomas Pleasants Jr , with whom he was in partnership at Four Mile Creek.
Like most Quakers, the Jordans and the Pleasants were opponents of slavery and refused to take sides in the Revolution. Robert Pleasants put the case in a letter written in May 1775
But while we are condemning the mother country for endeavoring to deprive us of [liberty], let us consider our own conduct in respect to those we look upon to he our inferiors and not withhold such valuable privilege from them. 'Cast out the beam that is in thine own eye,' said our blessed Saviour, 'and then thou shalt see clearly to pluck the mote out of thy brother's eye.' And we are enjoined from the same authority to 'do unto others as we would they should do unto us'-But alas! how are these things regarded. Our actions don't keep pace with the knowledge and the solid arguments which have been advanced in cause of liberty. We as a people are principled against fighting, should we not he equally concerned to remove the cause of it ?… It is true in this Colony we are under particular restraints in that respect, but I am ready to think at times, that ought not to stop its progress, and I hope to see some stepping forward… so that slavery may cease from among a people so sensible of the value of liberty and so tenacious of their right to enjoy it. [Quoted in “The Quaker's Attitude Towards the Revolution” by Adair P. Archer William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, 2nd Ser., Vol. 1, No. 3. (Jul., 1921),pp. 167-182.]
Robert Pleasants was very active in lobbying to permit manumission. In 1782 when manumission became legal the executors of the will and other members of the Pleasants family freed their slaves. However, some younger recipients of John Pleasants’s will did not. Robert Pleasants therefore took legal action against them, which culminated in a decision in 1789 to free the last of the enslaved people willed by John Pleasants. He became the first president of the Abolition Society of Virginia which was formed in 1790.
Pleasants named in the Book of Negroes are: