Trader ... Hughes

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Trader ... Hughes

Also Known As: "Capt. / Trader Hughes", "John Rice", "Rees"
Death: after circa 1718
Amherst County , Province of Virginia, Colonial America
Immediate Family:

Husband of Nicketti Hughes
Father of Mary Elizabeth Davis

Occupation: Indian trader
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Trader ... Hughes

According to a story first published in 1895 Trader Hughes was the first permanent White settler in Amherst County, Virginia. He and his Indian wife Niketti established a trading post on the north side of the James River, west of the Tobacco Row Mountains, probably in the late 1600s. His wife is said to have been a niece to Pocahontas. (Nancy KIser, Dec. 24, 2004). This story has been elaborated by subsequent generations of genealogists.

He was not the John Hughes who died 1718 at Christchurch: "John Hughes dyed April 5. & was buried April 7. 1718".


The ancestry of Trader Hughes is unknown. It seems likely he was a member of the Hughes family in Amherst County who settled to the east side of the Tobacco Row Mountains.

The earliest land grants in what is now Amherst County began in 1738 with a grant of 10,000 acres to John Carter. In 1745/46 George Carrington received grants two for 3400 and 6750 acres on Harris Creek. Many early settlers received grants in succeeding years, including William Floyd on the Pedlar River in 1746 and 1769, and Nathaniel Davis in 1750 and 1759 and on the Pedlar River in 1787. The only Hughes among them was Stephen Hughes who received a grant with Booth Napier for 400 acres on the Pedlar River in 1748.

He is often identified with Rice Hughes (sometimes called John Rice Hughes), who settled in Tidwater Virginia (see e.g., Greene, 2014:246) and received land grants 1652 to 1662 in what is now New Kent County.


The earliest versions of the story come from descendants of the Floyd family. In these versions, the only child of Trader Hughes and Niketti is the unnamed wife of Nathaniel Davis. Later tellings identify Trader Hughes with Rice Hughes, and so include his children as well.

Famous descendants are said to include Jefferson Davis, Jeb Stuart, Gov. John Floyd, and Gov. John Letcher.

Earliest Version. Cabel (1895)

"[W]e will consider another very interesting tradition, which has it that Mrs. Elizabeth Cabell was descended from an Indian princess of the Powhatan tribe (some accounts have it 'of the Catawba tribe,' but this is not tenable), and that it was the knowledge among the neighboring Indians of this descent which protected her husband while locating these lands, and herself when she was managing them in his absence. It was more probably owing to her relationship to members of the Society of Friends, with whom the Indians were on friendly terms. However, the story is interesting, and 'the evidences of its truth' are said to 'have been carefully collected' in several branches of the Breckinridge, Floyd, and other families. I cannot vouch for it, but I will give it as I find it in the Floyd tradition.

"'Opechancanough, the celebrated chief of the Powhatans, who was brutally murdered, while a prisoner, in 1644, left a lovely young daughter, the child of his old age, the Princess Nicketti 'she sweeps the dew from the flowers.' Some years after this graceful Indian maiden had reached the years of mature womanhood, a member [the name is not given] of one of the old Cavalier families of Virginia ' fell in love with her and she with him,' and the result was a clandestine marriage, and a half-breed Indian girl who married about the year 1680 a Welshman (others say a native of Devonshire, England,) named Nathaniel Davis, an Indian trader, and, according to some accounts, a Quaker ; and from this alliance many notable people in the East and in the West have descended. Their daughter, Mary Davis (born about 1685), married Samuel Burks of Hanover (the ancestors of the Burks family of Virginia), and their daughter, Elizabeth Burks, married Capt. William Cabell, the ancestor of the Cabells ; Martha Davis, another daughter, married Abraham Venable, the ancestor of the Venables. Robert Davis, Sr., a son (the ancestor of ' the black Davises ' of Kentucky, and from whom Jefferson Davis descended), had a daughter, Abadiah (or Abigail) Davis, who married William Floyd, the ancestor of the Floyds of Virginia and of the West. A daughter, or granddaughter, of the Quaker, married Gen'l Evan Shelby of Maryland, the ancestor of the Shelbys of the West. Samuel and Philip Davis of the Blue Mountains were sons, and there may have been other sons and daughters.

"'William Floyd left the eastern shore of Virginia, went up the country as far as the present Amherst County, which was then a very wild region, where he met with this family of Davis, who had traded with the Indians and had gotten much property in that way. [The Quakers were much given to friendly trading with the Indians.]

"'William Floyd and his wife's brother, Robert Davis, Jr., with their families, emigrated to Kentucky with the first settlers, and finally located in the Bear-grass region, near Louisville, where the kinsmen (Floyds and Davises) had a fort, called 'Floyd's Station.'

"But it is not necessary to follow the Floyd narrative farther. It seems well to say, however, that I have seen a Davis pedigree which asserts that 'the Indian blood first entered the family through the marriage of Abby Davis with William Floyd, a half breed Indian.' Other Davis pedigrees and traditions do not deny the Indian blood, while every Floyd with whom I have corresponded has asserted positively that 'it was through Abby Davis the Indian blood came.'

"The Princess Nicketti's name (it may be because the marriage was clandestine) has not been popular among her traditional descendants. The first Governor, John Floyd of Virginia, named one of his daughters for her. I know of no other namesake ; but if the tradition is true, no more lovely women than some among her descendants ever 'swept the dew from the flowers.'" (Brown, 1895: 42-44).

Floyd Version (1912)

"In a region which was little more that a primeval forest, now known as Amherst County, he [Col. William Floyd] patented a body of land on which he made a home for himself. A dozen miles distant was the commodious Bungalow of Nathaniel Davis, a Welshman by descent, and one of the very early settlers in that region. He had made quite a large fortune by trading with the Catawba and other Indians, and by locating choice river-bottom lands from the present site of Lynchburg up to the Balcony Falls. Mr. Davis had among other children a beautiful daughter named Abadiah, whom the young man [Col. William Floyd] fell in love with and won her for his bride. She was of excellent Welsh ancestry on her father side, and one-fourth of her blood on her mother side, was derived from the most distinguished Indian ancestry. Her mothers mother, Nicketti ”Indian equivalent for Beautiful Flower was a granddaughter of the noted Powhatan (the daughter of his youngest daughter) while the father of Nicketti was a chief of the small but warlike Cayuga tribe. Nicketti, whom the white people dubbed œPrincess Nicketti married a noted Scotch hunter and fur trader by the name of Hughes who made his chief headquarter near the beautiful Balcony Falls of James River, where Nathaniel Davis met and married a daughter of his who was the mother of Abadiah." (Floyd, 1912: 11).

Seaman Version (1992)

"Living far from the courthouse of old Henrico, the first settlers often failed to patent the land they settled, leaving more oral traditions than courthouse documents to tell us their story. Traditions have it that as early as 1710-1720, a man known only as Trader Hughes lived with his Indian wife in his trading post built along the banks of the upper James River near Otter Creek. He was among the first white settlers, if not the first, to settle that part of the county, then the wild frontier of old Henrico County.

"Who was Trader Hughes? Several men by the name of Hughes had arrived in the Colony in the 1630s, but which Hughes had made his way to the banks of Otter Creek near the borders of old Amherst is not yet known. Neither does anyone know where Hughes met his wife, both may have come from the Tidewater, or Hughes may have been a trader in the western area before he met her. In any case, Hughes was safe enough among the remaining Indians to locate his trading post close to the Indian path that followed the James River through the Blue Ridge to the Warrior's Path. He had the skills to construct a trading post and a stone chimney that lasted for years. Dr. William Cabell, qualifying as assistant surveyor of Albemarle in 1746, used the chimney as a landmark to locate his earliest surveys, and the old chimney continued to appear as a boundary marker in the deeds for many years. As late as 1977, the McLeRoys report the ruins of a massive, two-story log building in the woods behind Otter Lake that they took to be the remains of Hughes's trading post.

"Hughes's wife, according to traditions in the Floyd family, was a descendant of Powhatan's brother, Opechancanough (Brown, 1895: 46-47; 57-58; Woods, 1901: 49). Murdered after the Indian uprising of 1644, Opechancanough left a young daughter, ...the child of his old age,... named Princess Nicketti - 'she sweeps the dew from the flowers,' who clandestinely married an unnamed member of an old 'Cavalier' family. Brown writes that 'he fell in love with her and she with him' (1895: 46). Nicketti and the Englishman had a daughter who, about 1680, married an Indian trader, Nathaniel Davis, a Welshman or native of Devonshire, and in addition, a Quaker. The couple had at least three children, Mary Davis, born about 1685, Martha, and Robert Davis." (Seaman, 1992 : 156-57).

Vince Hughes Notes

First name of "Trader" Hughes is thought to be John, however, it has not been confirmed. Other researchers suspect the name may have been Rees or Rice. Most references mention him as "Trader" Hughes, giving no first name. It is said by some that he came from a "notable Colonial Family of Virginia." Some historical references describe him as a Scotsman, others say he was an English cavalier.

Traders began to move their goods along the upper James River around 1720. According to Alexander Brown in his 1895 book, "Cabells and Their Kin", Hughes was the first known white man to open a post for Indian trade above "the falls". He built his cabin deep in the silent forests along the Blue Ridge. Hughes traded with the local Monacan Indians and was accepted by them because of his wife's heritage.

The stone chimney attached to the trading post was a well established landmark and was used as a reference point for many surveys done by William Cabell. Part of the chimney remains today.

On November 7, 1999, this writer sought out the old remains of the Trader Hughes cabin and trading post. The location was found just off the trail around Otter Lake at coordinates 37.55627 degrees North by 79.35203 degrees West. The ruins are just off the hiking trail and covered by thick growth. All that remain are the bottom 4 feet of the chimney and a raised earthen outline of the building's foundation.

Trader Hughes' grandson, Robert Davis developed a second trading post further down the James River at the mouth of the Pedlar River.

The Trader Hughes Story (one version)


Most histories of Amherst County, Va recount the first settler in the area as being an Indian trader known as "Trader Hughes". He, along with his Indian wife, Nicketti, established a trading post on the James River about a half-mile west of the mouth of Otter Creek. This location was where several Indian paths intersected and near the river access to the "Valley of Virginia". This must have been a busy intersection by 1700 standards!

According to Dr. William Cabell, HUGHES had the first stone chimney in the area, which qualified him at the first permanent settler. Hughes' wife, Nicketti, was the great grand daughter of the legendary Indian Chief Opechanacanough Powhatan and niece to Pocahontas.

Trader HUGHES and his wife had a daughter named Mary Elizabeth HUGHES, who was born in Jamestown about 1654. She married an Welsh settler named Nathaniel Davis about 1680. They had a daughter in 1711 named Abadiah Davis who married William Floyd and their grandson, John Floyd played an important part of the formation of Amherst Co. and later became governor of Va.


I have traced my ancestors back to William HUGHES of Amherst Co. by tracking the ownership of property that was passed from father to son. This property plays a key role in unraveling the family connections. The property is described as located on Harris Creek near a small branch known as Fawn Creek in present day Amherst Co. (not far from the Tobacco Row Mountains).

The "Executives Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia", V. 5, page 136, gives the 1743 patent of George Carrington for 6000 acres on both sides of Harris Creek on the north side of the Fluvanna River in then Goochland County. Page 249 of this book gives the petition of George Carrington to include the adjoining patents of John Floyd and Orlando Hughes in his acreage.

So we have a HUGHES owning land on Harris Creek as early as 1743. We know from Albemarle and Amherst County deeds that both George Carrington & Orlando HUGHES were of Cumberland Co. We know that George Carrington of Cumberland Co sold land on Harris Creek to James Crews, and that James Crews sold land on branches of Harris Creek to William Hughes. We know that one of the witnesses to this deed was John Floyd and a John Floyd was an adjoiner to the patents of Orlando HUGHES and George Carrington. We know that William HUGHES had a son named Orlander - probably his eldest son. Orlando HUGHES died in Cumberland Co in 1768, naming sons Josiah, Anthony, Caleb and Leander. A Micajah HUGHES was a witness to the will. William Hughes of Amherst County, who died in 1802, was my 4th great grandfather.


Was William HUGHES another son to Orlando? Or a grandson to Orlando? Who is Micajah HUGHES? Was Trader HUGHES a son to Orlando HUGHES, possibly Caleb or Anthony?

Other Versions of the Story

Information from Arnold gedcom, JD Watson: Opechancanough, the celebrated chief of the Powhatans, was brutally murdered while a prisoner in 1644. He left a lovely young daughter, the child of his old age, the Princess Nicketti. Some years after this graceful Indian maiden had reached the years of mature womanhood, a member (the name is not given)} of one of the old Cavalier families of Virginia "fell in love with her and she with him". This resulted in a clandestine marriage and the birth of of a half-breed Indian girl, (Mary) Elizabeth Hughes, who married about 1680 a Welshman (others say a native of Devonshire, England), named Nathaniel Davis. Nathaniel was an Indian trader and according to some accounts, a Quaker. From these alliances of indian and white man many notable families in Virginia are descended.

More Notes from Nancy Kiser by a post-em 2005-01-17 11:06:58 in her words.......: First, let me say that I think this entire legend is probably a bunch of romantic nonsense. Although there may have been an Indian trader named Hughes who lived on the upper James River in the early 1700s, I doubt very much that his wife was the descendant of the legendary and perhaps mythical Nicketti. Also, although many Indian traders had Indian 'wives' as well as white wives, the unions that they entered into with Indian women were not considered legal marriages back in those days. In fact, interracial marriages were illegal. People were very bigoted back then, much worse than today, if you can believe it."

John Rice Hughes was a Welsh fur trader who built his trading post near the trading road in the valley near Otter Creek. He was the first white man to live in this area and the first to make any real contact with the Monacan people near present day Lynchburg. It is thought he was not harmed by the Indians because of his wife's heritage. In 1742, an army of scouts explored a 45-mile-radius area preceding the development of the Hat Creek Presbyterian Colony (presently, Campbell Co.). They found only one aged white man in the area, maybe Hughes, although he is believed to have died before 1700.


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Trader ... Hughes's Timeline

Jamestown, James City County, Virginia
Amherst County , Province of Virginia, Colonial America
March 17, 2001
February 21, 2004