The Bethea Story

1st Generation of Bethea Family in North America 

English John Bethea 
Born 1684 in Europe

He crossed the Atlantic Ocean by ship, when Protestant Huguenots were fleeing persecution in Europe, and traveled to the James River Virginia Colony by sea at about the age of 16. He bought a plantation of 150 acres by his 40's, as recorded in a deed dated 1735. English John died after 1750  probably on the 150 acre plantation that he sold to his Son, Tristram Bethea,  in Gates County, North Carolina ( back then called  Nansemond and near the town of Suffolk, British American Virginia Colonial Plantations.)

This is a history of the descendants of an Englishman who crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Great Britain to Virginia about 1700. He was born in 1684 somewhere in France or England. The family name, Bethea, is more French derivative than English.  What is clearly known is that Betheas were protestant in their religious beliefs. About the time when English John was born around 1684, French King Louis XIV  REVOKED  the earlier Edict of Nantes, a freedom of worship proclamation by King Henry the Great, an earlier French King following the REFORMATION. This was when Martin Luther in 1519 nailed those theses to the door of the Wittenberg, Germany castle Catholic church door. The French government was opposed to Protestantism, and widespread persecution and murders of French Protestants followed the revocation of the Nantes Edict.  Although there is NO official proof or records of Betheas fleeing France, we also have NO proof of other Bethea families living in England or Great Britain around 1700.  We do know that at least five ships full of French Protestants sailed from England to the James River area of the Virginia Colony in the year 1700. Most likely English John had been protected since his infancy by protestants who brought him to America on one of those five ships  (see following articles and documentation).



The French Protestant believers (called Huguenots by the French) left France to escape death after the revocation of the earlier Nantes Edict. The Feastday of St. Bartholomew, captured in the painting above is of a massacre in a French village, and the engraving demonstrates how protestant French citizens had to flee in small wooden boats across the English Channel from Brittany and Normandy to England. Such was probably the fate of the original John Bethea, and how he happened to be called "English John" accompanying fellow protestants settlers to a new life in America, where old Indian  lands (like the Manakin Town) were offered on the James River for homesteading  in Virginia. Some of the protestant settlers preferred locating on navigable waterfronts, instead of on the isolated and non-navigable upstream locations like Manakin Town, Va., so they went elsewhere in Virginia  and settled along Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound to the South, near the old community of  Suffolk, Va.

The grand Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, the government of France and the Sun King, Louis XIV, held their royal court.

From what is recorded in Harlee's Kinfolks History, we know that "English" John Bethea was a success in his entrepreneurial activities. By 1735, when John (1) was 51 years old, he had owned and been living on his own plantation. He made a deed from himself to Tristram, one of his two sons, transferring his 150 acre plantation situated in what later was to be known as North Carolina (Gates County) for the consideration of 100 barrels of tar and the right to have a home place on the land for as long as he lived.  So Tristram's children and the North Carolina Betheas expanded to the South in North Carolina along the Cape Fear River and raised their families. Meanwhile the other son  "Virginia John" (apparently called such because in those days, they really thought that they were all living in Virginia, in what was then a county called Nansemond to the West of what later would become Norfolk, Va. and their commercial and marketing village was a place called Suffolk, (British Colonial Plantation) well known to travelers of the late 1600s. The children of "Virginia John" (2) somehow all lived and married in the area around what is now Dillon County, South Carolina so either "Virginia John" himself settled in South Carolina, or all four of his children arrived there another way. The men were known as "Sweatswamp William" Bethea and "Buckswamp John" Bethea (3), due to their land being crossed by branch creeks called Sweatswamp and Buckswamp, the former flowing into the Little Pee Dee River, along which many Betheas resided by 1800.

Heads of State during the time of English John Bethea and his children in North America



William (of Orange) III till 1702 & Mary II till 1694.
King & Queen of Great Britain, etc.

Queen Anne of Great Britain,
Scotland etc. till 1714

George I (George Louis), 16601727, king of Great Britain and Ireland (171427)

George II (George Augustus), 16831760, king of Great Britain and Ireland (172760)

George III, King of Great Britain, etc. until 1776 - 1781 surrender




George Washington

First President

John Adams,

Second President


Thomas Jefferson,

Third President


James Madison

Fourth President


James Monroe

 Fifth President


John Quincy Adams

Sixth President







Significant Places Research Publications A Bethea Story Bethea Family English John Bethea