The Banister Family history is as intriguing as Battersea itself. Genealogical research is not easy, and misinformation is commonplace, but through careful investigative work, we wish to provide you the most complete and accurate information on Battersea’s founding family.
John Banister, I
Although many sources claim his son, Rev. John Banister to be the first of the line, we understand there were in fact four successions of the Banisters beginning with John Banister “of England”. John Banister “I” helped found Dinwiddie County and was a lieutenant in Major Abraham Wood’s command in 1655. His is also listed in the Charles City order book during this time. In 1661, he was a mortgage holder of Bon Accord plantation along the James River. Not much else is known about the first of the Banisters, other than his marriage to Jane ——– , who gave birth to a son in “Turgworth” (possibly a corruption of Tortworth), England in 1650. Thus, it appears the young family would have sailed to Virginia between 1650 and 1655.
Reverend John Banister, II
The son, Rev. John Banister, II (1650-1692) was a clergyman and Virginia’s first naturalist. He matriculated at Oxford in 1671 and received an M.A. from the university before traveling to the West Indies as a missionary and botanist. After his time there, he returned to Virginia in 1678 and the following year, married Martha Batte. Martha Batte was the widow of Abraham Jones, and the dower partition from her late husband was what would eventually become the Banister’s Battersea estate. In the same year as their marriage, the Reverend became the first minister of Bristol Parish (of which Dinwiddie County was a part) and served until 1682. Before his untimely death in 1692, Reverend John Banister II contributed significantly to the natural sciences. His catalogue of Virginia plants was published in Ray’s Historia Planitarum, and he can also be credited with “Observations on the Natural Productions of Jamaica”, “Insects of Virginia”, “Curiosities in Virginia”, “On Several Sorts of Snails”, and “Description of the Snake Root” included in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions. It should be noted that his observation of the snake root was likely the first recognition of its medicinal uses. Most sources say the Reverend’s death was due to a fall on the Roanoke River while conducting a scientific expedition, but Henrico records suggest he was accidentally shot by Jacob Colson, who was later acquitted. Reverend John Banister left one son, John Banister “III”.
“Captain” John Banister, III
Colonel Banister’s father, “Captain” John Banister “III” (1689-1755), was raised by the Byrds of Westover after his father’s death and became a well-known planter and business associate of William Byrd II. During the 1730s, Banister emerged as a prominent individual in the area as evidenced by his position as magistrate for Prince George County and vestryman for Bristol Parish. In 1733, he accompanied William Byrd II and Major William Mayo on their expedition to lay out the cities of Richmond and Petersburg. Banister was one of the original trustees of Petersburg, which was officially established as a town in 1748. He married “Wilmette” or “Willmuth” ———- in 1730, and had two children, a daughter named Martha born in 1732, and a son, John Banister “IV” born in 1734. He died at his home at Hatcher’s Run in Dinwiddie County at the age of 66, leaving his inherited Battersea lands to his son.
Colonel John Banister, IV
Colonel John Banister (1734-1788), was born at Hatcher’s Run and educated in England. In 1753, he was admitted to the Middle Temple in London, where he studied law but was not called to the bar. After his return to Virginia, Banister married Elizabeth Munford in 1755. They had one son, John Banister Jr. born in 1767 (d. 1790). Following her death soon thereafter, he married Elizabeth “Patsy” Bland around 1771. Together they had three children, Elizabeth (1772-), Robert (1777-1794), and Maria Anne (1777-1788). Sadly, Robert and Maria Anne did not survive to full adulthood. Elizabeth’s death date is unknown, but we have reason to think that she lived beyond adolescence.
After Banister returned to Virginia, he began a long career as a mill owner as well as a career in public service. He created an industrial complex of flour and saw mills on the south bank of the Appomattox River just west of Petersburg known as the Banister Mills. Ideally situated at the falls of the Appomattox River, the mills were quite profitable. They were already operating by the 1770s, because in 1775, Banister converted his saw mill to produce gunpowder for the war effort. In the same complex, Banister operated a bakery and a coopering operation. Banister owned many slaves and probably employed craftsmen such as coopers and millers.
As Banister prospered, he gradually assumed greater political roles. After serving as sheriff of Dinwiddie County, he became a justice of the peace for Dinwiddie in 1769. In 1764, he was elected to the vestry at Blandford Church, and in 1771, he was made a warden. Banister served in the House of Burgesses for Dinwiddie County with one brief interruption from 1766 until the Revolution. He was also on the committees for the Virginia Constitution and Virginia Declaration of Rights. Furthermore, he served as a lieutenant-colonel of calvary during the Revolutionary War under General Lawson, even corresponding with then General George Washington.
In 1768, Banister built a large and fashionable residence at his estate of Battersea just west of the town of Petersburg. At this time, Battersea was still in Dinwiddie County. The name “Battersea” may have been derived from an estate in England by the same name which introduced and sold many plants and vegetables to Virginia. This would have been fitting considering the horticultural interests of Rev. John Banister, the first owner. Battersea was considered the “most handsome” house in the Petersburg area prior to the Revolution. In addition to Battersea, Banister owned Hatcher’s Run, which he had inherited from his father and which was located in Dinwiddie County a few miles southwest of Petersburg. Banister also owned a plantation in Prince George County called Whitehall, several lots in Petersburg, and land in Kentucky. Following the death of his second wife, Elizabeth Bland Banister, John married Anne Blair of Williamsburg in February 1779. They had two sons, Theodorick (1780-1829) and John Monro (1783-1832), who progressed the Banister line still in existence today.
Despite significant financial losses during the Revolution, Banister managed to emerge afterwards as one of Petersburg’s wealthiest citizens and continued to hold public office. In 1782, the General Assembly elected Banister to the Council of State, but he attended only a few meetings before resigning in early November. In 1784, he served as the first Mayor of Petersburg under its new charter. When Petersburg was incorporated as a town in 1784, the western boundary was extended just far enough into Dinwiddie County to include the house at Battersea, apparently allowing its resident to participate in local elections. According to Russell Perkinson, owner of Battersea from 1947 until 1970, Battersea “was included within the enlarged limits of the town in order that John Banister, builder and owner of Battersea, might be made Mayor of Petersburg.” The part of the Battersea estate west of the city line remained part of Dinwiddie County. During this period, a massive two-level portico was built on the front of the house, covering most of the center block.
On September 30, 1788, Banister died of an unknown illness at Hatcher’s Run, where he was buried. His wife, Anne, left Petersburg at this time, and John Jr. did not act on the purchase option on Battersea provided in his father’s will. The estate was not completely settled until 1828 when John F. May, then owner of the house, cleared up the last details with John Monro and Theodorick.
Numerous Banister descendants have reported to us their belief that they are directly related to the Indian princess, Pocahontas. We have found this claim to be valid for those descendants of John Monro, but relatives of Theodorick cannot claim the same. Below is a simplified family tree detailing the amazing Pocahontas-Banister relation!
The Pocahontas-Banister Family Tree (Abridged)