On a cold January day in 1757, Sutterby church witnessed a double ceremony – which churchwarden William Rhoades recorded with a heavy heart under his own signature; his son Richard Rhoades was baptized, and his wife Mary, buried.
Sadly, a few years later William himself passed away and was also buried in the same graveyard, leaving two minor children orphaned: Richard now age 13, and his 14 year old brother George.
With both their parents gone (and the family farm willed to their much older half-brother John), Richard and George left Sutterby forever – and are next heard of buying land together in Virginia, USA in 1791. Virginia had become one of the 13 founding states of the United States of America just 16 years earlier.
Brother John and his wife stayed behind; their gravestones are among the few still standing in the graveyard at St John’s, Sutterby.
Richard and George Rhoades both had very large families, and their American descendants now number in the hundreds and are found all over the U.S. But with time, the origins of Richard and George were forgotten, and even the Rhoadeses that had stayed in Virginia no longer knew where in England Richard and George had been born – though there was a faint family memory that it might have been somewhere in the Midlands. It was their father’s careful record of the double ceremony in Sutterby that led to the solution to the mystery.
Barbara Ellis of California (née Rhoades, and Richard’s great great great granddaughter) and her husband John were investigating her family history, and they decided to look for records of pairs of Rhoades brothers born in the 1750’s.
The search was soon narrowed to three sets in different English parishes:
“But as soon as we saw the record of the double ceremony we sensed that we must have the right family, because that kind of weakening of family ties is what so often leads to emigration. And sure enough, other details soon confirmed the identification. The brothers both died in 1842, and the age of both at their death corresponds exactly to their date of birth in Sutterby. That is how I came to be an American, and why I feel such a strong identity with that wonderful little church.”
John and Barbara Ellis, members of the Friends of Friendless Churches.