Famous Families

Greenstead/Grinsted/Grimsted, etc.

Of all the Anglo Saxon sounding surnames that are markers of the country's early African American admixture, perhaps this family's is the most romantic in origin.

In 1653 Elizabeth Kay, a mulatto servant, sued the estate of the Virgina planter Col. John Motram for her freedom. William Greenstead, a 20 year old Englishman was her lawyer and they fell in love. She became the mother of his two infant sons and William Greenstead married her in 1655. Besides the benefits to be obtained from their father's professional status, records show that a relative in 1667 bequeathed the children, John and William, some five hundered acres of land and provisions for an education, enough to insure them a future solid footing.

Of John's children, six are readily identifiable from the documents extant and of William's, nine. From these are today descended just about anyone who can trace their Greenstead, Grinsted, or Grimsted ancestry back to before the middle of the last century in this country (see below).

Re: Elizabeth's Kay lawsuit petitioning for freedom

Elizabeth's father, Thomas Kay, a former member of the House of Burgesses, wanted to insure his daughter's protection and thus at the time of his death in 1636 he bound her over to a Humphrey Higginson for nine years as a legal means of doing so. (Higginson was her godfather and had, according to the records, "promised to use her as well as if she were his own Child.")

How she wound up with the planter Col. Motram for another nineteen years is not too clear, but it appears that when Higginson decided to return to England, he gave her over to the Colonel. As this was done in violation of the agreement her father had made with Higginson, which stipulated that he take her to England should he go back, the court ruled in her favour stating that, "For theise Reasons wee conceive the said Elizabeth ought to be free and that her last Master should give her Corne and Cloathes and give her satisfaction for the time shee hath served longer then Shee ought to have done."

Greenstead Genealogy:

William Greenstead m. in 1655 Elizabeth Kay

Ann b. 1677 Adam b. 1684
  Thomas b. 1679 Mary b. 1694
  Jean b. 1680 Susanna b. 1712
  John b. 1681 Hannah b. 1716
  Rachell b. 1683   John b. 1718
  Elizabeth b. 1689   George b. 1719
      Jane b. 1722
      Leah b. 1731
      Martha b. 1733

Because he was elected mayor of Louisville KY in 1907, one of William and Elizabeth Greenstead's Kentucky descendants made it into the National Cyclopedia of Biographical History. From this entry we might be able to extrapulate some sense of the family's history.

Researched and Written by Mario de Valdes y Cocom.

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