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Penley Pearls

Hannah's Quadricentennial Award

Quadricentennial Incredible Woman Award

Hanna Boyle-Hill Spelman Mountney

All the women who brought us through the last 400 years are esteemed herein. It is however, well documented that our Hanna was one tough woman, and it is exhilarating to know that her tenacity and survival skills still ebb and flow through our veins 400 years after her birth. Our Penleys founded this great nation and struggled everyday to prove that in the end we were tougher than the toughest of times. Of supreme importance, they made it possible for us to be natural born citizens of the greatest nation on earth, and we are the beneficiaries of their heroic and triumphant struggle to survive.

Hanna Boyle (Hill, Spelman, Mountney) outlived three husbands, raised four known children, and raised William and Elizabeth (Hill) Pinley's three orphans for nine years until her death in 1659. She accomplished all that in a desolate wilderness while fending off starvation, disease, marauding Natives, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, greed and corruption. The mortality rate in her first five years in Virginia was over 50%, yet she passed up countless opportunities to take the easy way out and drop dead, which would have denied birth to thousands of her descendants. She and her known children survived the Massacre of 1622, the 1644 Massacre, the Puritan Revolution, Ingle's Rebellion, Piracy on the Chesapeake, and rebellions on Kent Island. Her descendants went on to build a free and mighty nation. 

1650: Hanna was deposed by Northampton County Court to validate a will written by William Pinley:

“Mris Mountney came to testifye for ye endinge of controvrsie...
Concrneinge ye will of Mr Edward Drew ...depot replythe:
“...I asked my sonn William Pinley whether Mr. Drew had a will or not[sic] &
hee answrd hee had
for I William Pinley writt it .”

That document, taken at face value, caused us to assume the obvious, and led our research in the wrong direction for six long years. PenleyPearls stumbled onto Hanna Mountney in 1999 after ordering the adoption records for William Pinley's orphans from Northampton County, Virginia. Jerry Penley stalked Hanna through time till he forced her to divulge all her marriages. Linda Penley found Hanna on the 1620 Bona Nova, and Peggy Crane found our Edward Hill buried in Virginia.

After years of scouring old documents in search of William Pinley’s father and hours of monologue inflicted on family and friends, a new interpretation of the facts reveals that William Pinley was NOT the son of Hanna Mountney, but that he was indeed her son-in-law, married to Elizabeth Hill, the daughter of Hanna and first husband Edward Hill.

It is now concluded that Hanna Mountney’s designation of William Pinley as her son was inspired either by her natural affection for her son-in-law (we know Penleys can be charming!) or perhaps the court clerk’s desire to save ink, paper, or time.

My journey from Maryland back to Maryland was most enlightening. This research began in 1995, with William Pinley's name as a 1638 headright in Maryland, and ran full circle back to Maryland ten years later. Hanna's pronouncement of William as her son propelled the research into Virginia, abandoning poor William to fend for himself in Maryland. Amazingly, when the research returned to Maryland, there sat abundant and redundant proof of William Pinley's 1638 arrival aboard The Charity and ensuing activities in Maryland.

The doomed search for the father of "Hanna's son, William" is not regretted here. Plagued by our inability to locate William Pinley’s father, we searched ardently for any kind of relationship between Hanna and William Pinley’s father prior to 1620. A wealth of information on Hanna's three husbands emerged. Though now obvious that Thomas Spelman and Alexander Mountney are not Penley ancestors, their lives were far too interesting to discard. They were step-fathers to Elizabeth and husbands to Hanna. Their biographies will be included here for the benefit of their descendants as well.

The ships, indentured servants, “street urchins”, criminals sentenced to Virginia, Bridewell records, the “Dead in Virginia” lists were all scrutinized. We looked at the fishing colony in Maine, the Bermuda colony, the Quaker Penleys in Pennsylvania, the Puritans in Massachusetts. Magnifying glasses were employed to check the spelling on copies of old blurry documents. Hundreds of nominees to play the role of William Penley’s father each failed the diligent background check.

It could never be explained why Hanna's three marriages and four 'other' children left perfectly clear paper trails, while there was never any mention of her firstborn, William Pinley. Understand that colonial records are sparse, incomplete, and omissions are frequent. That William was accidentally omitted from both the Virginia Living & Dead list and the 1624/5 Muster was incredible, but possible. But when Thomas Spelman and Alexander Mountney each married Hanna, and adopted her children, couldn't they have at least mentioned her other child, William Penley?

Hanna, her husbands and children, are documented in hundreds of court documents, but the first document establishing any link to William Penley whatsoever was Hanna's description of "my sonne William Pinley" after his death. It was sad to envision that both his mother, and history, had ignored this poor young lad through the starving times, massacres, famines, and fires of early Virginia.

Finally, a slow dawn warmed what little brain remained. William was omitted from every legal record of Hanna’s family in Virginia and was never adopted by Spelman or  Mountney because......he was not yet in Virginia, and he was not Hanna’s son!

PenleyPearls is humbled by this experience, and regrets that anyone may be permanently misled about Hanna and her son-in-law William Pinley.  But without the six year obsessive but misguided search for William Pinley in Virginia, the awesome details of Hanna's life would never have emerged.  We posted our assumptions to the Penley list at, and suddenly found Hanna all over the internet. Collectors of genealogy seized on our bad assumptions to finish off their trees and now there is an abundance of partial, misleading, and false information on various web sites.

Hanna and Her Husbands

A brief summary is included here, but please see the chapter on each marriage for fascinating details.

Edward Hill-   Hanna was married first to Edward Hill, probable Ancient Planter, of Kecoughtan, Elizabeth City. The marriage lasted about three years until Hill’s death in 1624. Their home was located on 100 acres near the banks of the Hampton River, in the present day Hampton, Virginia. Sometime before February of 1623/4, Hanna gave birth to Edward Hill’s only child, Elizabeth. Edward, Hanna, and their child Elizabeth Hill survived the Good Friday Massacre of 1622, but faced near starvation in the year after the Massacre, according to the letter sent by Edward to his father-in-law, Richard Boyle on April 14, 1623. Edward Hill, apparently weakened by the desperate days after the Massacre, was buried on May15, 1624.

Thomas Spelman-   Shortly after Hill’s death, Hanna married her westward neighbor, another Ancient Planter, Thomas Spelman, Gentleman. The marriage lasted about three years until Spelman’s death in 1627. The Spelmans resided on 150 acres along the Hampton River. During this marriage, Hanna gave birth to a daughter, Mary Spelman born circa 1626. Thomas Spelman departed for a trip to England after January of 1626/7. He died in March of 1627, shortly after arriving in County Cornwall, England. His will, executed by his brother Francis, granted all his property in England to his daughter Mary, and all his property in Virginia to his wife Hanna.

Alexander Mountney-   Before December of 1628, Hanna married her eastward neighbor, Ancient Planter Alexander Mountney. Their marriage continued sixteen years until Alexander’s death in 1644. The combined plantations of Hanna’s three husbands amounted to 250 acres, but about six years after their marriage they left Elizabeth City and moved across the Chesapeake Bay to Accomack/Northampton County, Virginia. Alexander was appointed Keeper of the Community Store. Alexander and Hanna Mountney gave birth to two additional children, daughter Francis Mountney and Alexander Mountney, Jr.

Hanna, The Years Alone - Hanna continued to run the Community Store from her home even after her third husband’s death. The Community Store also included the local tavern and had the only liquor license in the county. The Northampton and Accomack Courts often held sessions in the tavern.  Colonists brought their crops to the Community Store after harvest for weighing, inspection, packing, tax collection, payment of debts, and shipment to Europe. As a widow, she continued to operate the Community Store for a while, and testified dozens of times in court to certify property values, debts, taxes and as a witness to wills and community events.  After William and Elizabeth (Hill) Pinley died, by 1650, Hanna was executor of William's estate and was granted guardianship of their three children.  In 1657, Hanna moved the family to Lancaster County, Virginia and claimed headrights for 33 immigrants. In partnership with Edwin Connaway, she purchased 1,650 acres in Lancaster. Grandmother Hanna raised the three orphans until her death in 1659.