Family History Research
“The next generation invariably judges the credibility of our work and, in turn, our intellectual integrity.” (PS11)
Since 1899 with the publication of The Record of Nicholas Meriwether of Wales by William Ridgely Griffith, the family histories have stated that Nicholas married Elizabeth Woodhouse. As can be seen in the following excepts and editorial comments, this is a very nebulous connection!
The following appeared in Meriwether Connections, Vol 12 no. 2, Apr-Jun 1997; this is the quarterly newsletter of The Meriwether Society.
by Maury Kendall
Myths. Your editor has suggested an article dealing with the several errors evident in existing Meriwether lore and publications, several of which have been earlier identified here. One day the Volume One Working Group will do that. For now, one example. While reading this, keep in mind the evaluation criteria reviewed above.
Woodhouse Connection. Our somewhat extensive research in early Virginia records provides no evidence Nicholas I in fact married an Elizabeth Woodhouse, nor did W. R. Griffith, who in 1899 first speculated (his pp. 14-15) that union “could be” in his The Record of Nicholas Meriwether of Wales. He, exhibiting great scholastic integrity, thereafter always identified her name with a [?]. Unfortunately those that followed appear to have removed his cautionary note and the [?], while neglecting to cite any new evidence. To date, we have found no evidence Thomas Woodhouse (supposedly Elizabeth’s father) was ever married; had any children; had a daughter named Elizabeth; or that Elizabeth Woodhouse, if she existed, married Nicholas I. We do know Nicholas I had a wife named Elizabeth (P1), but there is evidence she likely was a second wife (P5), who didn’t fit the pattern suggested by a possible Woodhouse connection.
Note: any information to the contrary is both needed and welcome. MWK
The following is an excerpt from The Record of Nicholas Meriwether of Wales, 1899, mentioned above, pp 14-15.
Elizabeth Wife of Nicholas Meriwether
“The maiden name of this lady I am not able to prove. I can only say that I believe it was Woodhouse, and that she was the daughter or sister of Thomas Woodhouse of whose estate Nicholas1 was administrator, as already shown by the Northumberland County records. I had quite a long account of the Woodhouse family of Prince Anne County, Va., from E. W. James of Norfolk, and he does not find any Thomas among the list of descendants of Capt. Henry Woodhouse, but I have already produced the Northumberland Record that there was a Thomas in 1665. Elizabeth1 was executrix of her husband’s estate. She seems to have raised the family in “James Cittie” or Jamestown where her son Nicholas2  lived some years after. The date of the death of Elizabeth1 I have not found and the destruction of James City County records will likely hide forever this information.”
Griffith was one of the first, if not THE first, Meriwether researcher to mention Elizabeth’s name. In fact, most previous Meriwether genealogies had started with Nicholas II and did not believe that Nicholas I came to Virginia and never mentioned his wife.
In The Meriwethers and Their Connections, by Nelson Heath Meriwether, 1964, Artcraft Press, page 8, Duncan Merriwether wrote in Chapter 1:
“Nicholas Meriwether married Elizabeth Woodhouse. She is thought by some genealogists to have been the daughter of Henry Woodhouse II of Norfolk, which he represented in the House of Burgesses; if so, her grandfather, Captain Henry Woodhouse I, was Governor of Bermuda from 1623-26. More likely, she was the daughter of Thomas Woodhouse, a prominent citizen of James City.”
Note that Duncan assumes that Elizabeth is a Woodhouse, and the only question is who were her parents. Next, Heath himself expands upon the Meriwether family information in Chapter 2. From The Meriwethers and Their Connections, page 28:
“Nicholas Meriwether married Elizabeth Woodhouse. There are a number of conflicting records as to whether she was the daughter of Thomas Woodhouse of James City, Virginia, or the daughter of Henry Woodhouse II, of Norfolk. If she was the daughter of Henry, her grandfather was Henry Woodhouse I who was Governor General of Bermuda, 1623-26. Many published records assert that she was of the Woodhouse family of Norfolk. There are no parish records for Henry Woodhouse since he first came to America after his service as Governor of Bermuda. There are, however, records for the Thomas Woodhouse group. This Thomas was a nephew of Henry Woodhouse I. Thus Thomas and Henry Woodhouse II were first cousins and both of them had daughters named Elizabeth. I feel though that the evidence points to Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas Woodhouse who had employed Nicholas Meriwether on legal matters and additionally had named him as executor of his last will and testament. Also Thomas lived on Jamestown Island; there was a close bond of friendship between Nicholas and the Woodhouse family. Thomas died in 1655, and the following year (sic) Nicholas purchased the “Island House” on Jamestown Island. Elizabeth, the future wife of Nicholas, was born circa 1638 and at the time of marriage, probably 1656, Nicholas was 25 years of age, and Elizabeth was 18.
In the circumstances listed and considering the wealth of data available for many of the activities of the life and times of colonial Virginia it is regrettable that no court record, marriage bond, or parish account exists to set out the facts concerning the parentage of Elizabeth Woodhouse, inasmuch as this family played a prominent part in the affairs of the colony at Jamestown. From the foregoing data, however, I cast my vote for Elizabeth, “the daughter of Thomas Woodhouse” as being the wife of Nicholas Meriwether I.”
There are a number of problems with the above account. Again, Heath states that Nicholas married Elizabeth Woodhouse; alas, he does not provide any justification for such a statement. He also states that both Henry II and Thomas had daughters named Elizabeth. The Meriwether Society has been unable to find any evidence that Thomas Woodhouse was even married, much less that he had a daughter named Elizabeth. Even Griffith states she may have been a sister of Thomas, not a daughter. There are reportedly published genealogies of Henry Woodhouse II documenting that he did have a daughter named Elizabeth and that she was married and had children, but not to Nicholas Meriwether (Note: Elizabeth Woodhouse married Giles Collins). The Society has not confirmed this, however. The Society has not seen any evidence that Elizabeth was born about 1638 and was about 18 when she married Nicholas; searches of Heath’s papers have failed to identify the source for these statements. While the Society has shown conclusively that Nicholas bought “Island House” in 1661, not 1656, there is no evidence to support the statement that Nicholas married Elizabeth in 1656. Their first child, Elizabeth Meriwether, married the Rev. John Clough sometime before his death on 15 Feb 1683 OS (1664); if Elizabeth was 18-20 when she got married, she would have been born anytime from 1662 to 1666, six to ten years after the alleged marriage date. The next known child was certainly Nicholas II, born 26 Oct 1667 (Note: now believed to be 1665) based on his now missing bible leaf, a copy of which was last seen by Griffith in the 1890s.
In reality, all we really know for sure is that, at the time of his death, Nicholas was married to an Elizabeth. She subsequently married Capt. William Brown, but no existing documentation links her in anyway with the Woodhouse family of either Thomas or Henry. The Society is researching possible connections to the William May family and several other families. Also, the phrasing of the Henry Hartwell will suggests that his wife Jane, who has always been identified as Jane Meriwether, sister of Nicholas I and Francis, may be the sister of Elizabeth instead!
At this time the Society suggests not using the Woodhouse surname for Elizabeth or at least marking it as suspect, as Griffith did one hundred years ago with the notation Elizabeth Woodhouse(?).