Nature and Scope


The Ferrar Papers
The Ransome transcriptions
The Records of the Virginia Company of London
The Ferrar Prints
Additional items


The Ferrar Papers


FP gives the number assigned to each of the Ferrar Papers either in the 1930s, in 1979, or in 1989-90.

Original Reference gives the number of each document when it was microfilmed in the 1990s. Because later Ferrars were in the habit of re-using earlier papers, some microfilm numbers occur more than once, both at the time the original document was created and also when a Ferrar re-used it.

Summary offers a summary description of the document.

Date dates the document. Dates are assumed to be Old Style, with a handful of indicated exceptions. The months of January and February and 1-24 March are double-dated, to leave no doubt of the year intended. However, an account which runs, for example, from 10 February 1619/20 to 1 April 1620 is simply said to run 10 Feb – 1 Apr 1620.

Square brackets surround any element of the date which was not provided by the author. Such bracketed dates derive either from contemporary endorsements, from annotations by later members of the family, or from internal evidence.

Where there is an element of doubt as to the date, the square brackets also enclose a question mark. If in addition there occurs the abbreviation c., the editor is offering merely his best estimate, and will be grateful for corrections. Over the past fifteen years it has been possible to date more accurately than before some of the items in the collection. These documents retain their original numbering but are now to be found in their new chronological homes. No doubt other changes will be needed in future, and the editor will be grateful to be informed of such necessity.

The opportunity has also been taken to improve the accuracy of the family trees and to make them more nearly complete. Final proof that Jane Austen can claim the Ferrars among her ancestors is still lacking; meanwhile readers are referred to the communication by the editor in the Newsletter of the Jane Austen Society (March 2005). FP 1926, which gives the dramatis personae and opening of the play “ye old mens hatred”, can be identified as John Ferrar II’s translation of Peter Hausted’s Senile Odium, presented no later than 1631 at Cambridge and published by the University printer in 1633. The description now given of the musical items (FP 2287-2314) is greatly indebted to Rebecca Herissone’s article ‘The Origins and Contents of the Magdalene College Partboks’ (Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 47-95).

When a document spans a period of time, the document is given in chronological order according to the latest possible date. An account submitted to the Virginia Company, for example, will normally be given under the latest date to be found in the account. If there is no such date, the date of the warrant authorising payment has been used, or, failing that, the date of the receipt of the money.

Author names the originator of the document, usually the author but sometimes the person or institution in whose name the document has been drafted. Surnames, last names, are given as in the document, except that variants of Ferrar have been so standardised, with one exception. Richard, the baby and black sheep of the second generation, made a point of spelling his name Farrar. His wife Elizabeth followed his example, and so did his son Richard for much of the time. Farrar has thus been used always for the mother and father, and whenever appropriate for the son.

Scribe indicates the scribe, most often the author(s) in person, identified as “Self” or “Selves”. Scholars should however be warned that the “scribe” is on occasion the true author of the document. The indicator “?self” warns that, even though the body of the letter and the signature appear to be in the same hand, the editor has no means of judging whether the document was indeed written by the author or some other person. The originating address of the document is also provided. In London the various styles of the Ferrars’ last home have been standardised as St Sithes or Sythes Lane, London; the address of Arthur Woodnoth at the sign of the Bunch of Grapes in Foster Lane, just north of Cheapside, has been given as Foster Lane, London; and the address of his kinsman, apprentice and successor, Nicholas Collett, who rarely appended a full address to his letters, has been abridged from the sign of the White Hart in Lombard Street, sometimes described as being in Pope’s Head Alley.

Recipient names the addressee or recipient, or (in the case of a receipt) the payer of the sum in question, the name being given as spelled, with the exception of the Ferrars, as noted above.

Endorsement/Annotation names those who endorsed or annotated a document. Virginia Company documents were usually endorsed by clerks and other officials. Since a neat hand, in other words a close approximation to an impersonal standard of writing, was a desideratum in the appointment of a clerk, the editor is conscious that his attributions of company endorsements may be in error. He has therefore used a preliminary question mark frequently to alert the reader to this problem. Later Ferrar annotators were few but busy. Commas separate annotators who were contemporaries. Semi-colons are placed between those of different periods of ownership of the manuscripts.

A particular problem exists in regard to the Ferrars’ Collett granddaughters. They made highly successful efforts to model their handwriting on that of their uncle Nicholas. There is usually little doubt about the writer of a whole letter, but annotations, being briefer, are more problematic. In the 1630s “A Collett grand-daughter” may be Mary, Anne, Hester, Margaret, or even Elizabeth; by the 1650s it is probably Mary, the only one still alive, unwed, and permanently at Little Gidding.

Previously published indicates a reproduction before 1992 of the document in print. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but an attempt has been made to track down the previous publication of any item relating to the Virginia Company. When such a reference is preceded by Cf., it indicates that the printed version derives not from the copy of the document in the Ferrar Papers but from a copy in another, usually official, collection.

FP 2131-2224 contain the undated writings of the Reverend Thomas Ferrar. The undated writings of his elder brother, John Ferrar III, are to be found in FP 2093-2112, and those of their nephew, Edward Ferrar II, in FP 2142-2256.

© Dr David Ransome, 2007



The Ransome transcriptions


The transcripts included in this collection were created over the past fifteen years, at first for my own convenience and later with the thought that others might welcome assistance in deciphering documents that had survived – not without damage – the passage of time and had suffered also from obscurities caused by idiosyncratic spelling and second thoughts, as well as the hazards of infrequent penmanship. When hurried, John Ferrar’s hand, for example, resembled chicken scratches, and I have had the temerity on occasion to offer what I think he intended rather than what I saw. Fortunately I have not had to transcribe the draft writings of John Ferrar’s grandson, the Reverend Thomas Ferrar. He was accustomed to write on such occasions only the first letter or two of a word.

Given the length of time over which these transcripts were made, I have probably not been entirely consistent, for which, as for the times when I have failed to decipher the writer’s meaning, I beg the user’s forgiveness. My intention has been to reproduce the documents with as little interference by me as possible. I have therefore only rarely added punctuation, or translations of odd spellings or foreign phrases. Where a writer has been so thrifty with punctuation that it is unclear where one sentence ends and another begins, I have most often indicated my reading of the passage by leaving a somewhat larger gap than usual between words, thus revealing my understanding while attempting to inhibit as little as possible another interpretation.

Spelling, I fancy, reflected accent, and most writers were consistent in their misspellings. The Ferrars did not lack business courage, but they normally spelled these words ‘buissines’ and ‘couradge’. Almost certainly their surname was pronounced Farrer by most people and was thus so spelled. Like Richard, the black-sheep brother, the Ferrars’ American kin eventually adopted the spelling Farrar.

In transcribing manuscript, I have retained the writer’s i and j, but where sense calls for a v but sight observes a u, I have opted for v. In the few printed documents I have reproduced whatever the typesetter plucked from the rack, since printers kept u and v in the same compartment. Capital letters have normally been reproduced as written, but I have been inconsistent with initial c and s. In some cases it is clear that the capital letter is intended; in others I have reckoned it merely the quirk of an individual hand. I have also been inconsistent with the transcription of the letter thou, sometimes leaving the y, sometimes writing th-, as did the Ferrars and their contemporaries. Readers should be warned that the Jacobeans’ yt may be either our it or our that. Conventional abbreviations have been expanded within square brackets. Square brackets have also been used to indicate words unintentionally omitted by copyists or through writers’ haste.

© Dr David Ransome, 2007



The Records of the Virginia Company of London


Susan Myra Kingsbury was a graduate student of Herbert L. Osgood when she edited The Records of the Virginia Company of London. The first two volumes, copies of the company’s court books 1619-24, were published in 1906; in 1935 two further volumes of supplementary documents included items from the Ferrar Papers. According to Miss Kingsbury, she first saw these in the autumn of 1903 at ‘Little Gidding’, Ealing, where the college allowed her to “see and note the contents” of the collection. After the papers returned to the college, “complete transcripts of all letters and photographs of all documents relating to the Virginia Company were made for the Library of Congress” under her supervision.

In volumes 3 and 4 of The Records, Miss Kingsbury printed some seventy items from the Ferrar Papers. The statement cited above led historians to believe that these seventy were the only items in the collection that related to Virginia. In fact there were more than five hundred, most from the Company period.

Miss Kingsbury’s transcriptions are of a high order. It has been necessary on only a few occasions to amend her version, the sense being rarely changed thereby. In one or two instances her editing has led her astray. Documents previously transcribed by her are indicated in the ‘Previously published’ field on the document details page, and provide a direct link to her transcription. The four volumes of The Records are available to search and browse in this collection.

© Dr David Ransome, 2007



The Ferrar Prints


The numbering of the Ferrar prints follows the system adopted by A. W. Aspital in the Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, vol. III (1980).

Reference gives the number of the loose print (1-561) as in Aspital; no. 562 is the volume numbered in his catalogue P.L.2986.III.iii. The number and letter which followed 562 refer to the page of the volume and the order of the prints on that page: for example, 562/7a is the first print on p. 7.

Summary identifies the print.

Date records the date appearing upon the print.

Author names the designer of the print and the engraver of the print.

Publisher names the publisher of the print.

Annotation/Endorsement records the existence of annotation on the back of a print. The annotator was usually Nicholas (NF) or John (JF) Ferrar, but in many cases the annotation is so brief that the editor has placed a question mark before NF or JF as a warning to the reader.

Additional information indicates any print from which there has been an excision.



Additional items


The Gallery presents a collection of maps and images sourced from the British Library, the British Museum, the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News and Magdalene College, Cambridge. This collection includes several watercolours by John Smith; colour images from de Bry’s A Briefe and true report of the New found land of Virginia in 1590; and a number of the earliest maps of Virginia.

These maps can be viewed in close detail in Historical Maps. There is also a Settlement Map included by kind permission of Martha McCartney and the Genealogical Publishing Company. This allows users to view the extent of European settlement in the James River and Chesapeake Bay region.

An additional manuscript Memorial by John Ferrar can be downloaded from The Virginia Company, its Investors, and the Ferrar family.

Original images © Copyright Participating Libraries. Unless otherwise specified all other content of this website © Copyright 2007-2021 Adam Matthew Digital Limited.