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by scottbthompsonsr
 Pieces of Our Past
Dec 06, 2009 | 48124 views | 37 37 comments | 147 147 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

An American Great Grandmother


I cannot imagine the United States of America without Katherine Banks. You ask, who is Katherine Banks? Katherine lived around three hundred and fifty years ago in 17th Century Virginia. So why is this Virginia lady so significant and what does she have to do with the history of east-central Georgia? Well, she has nothing to do directly with the history of our area, but without her, the face of the history of America, and the world for that matter, would have been vastly different. What did she do? Well, I will tell you.


Katherine Banks was born into a prosperous family in Canterbury, England in County Kent in 1627, the same year the Massachusetts Bay Colony had been chartered to colonize the eastern coast of North America. Her father, Christopher Banks, was one of England's most influential commoners in his position with the Old London Company, which financed the settlement of Jamestown and Virginia.


Sometime in the early 1640s, Katherine journeyed to America, landing in Charles City County, west of Jamestown on the James River. It was not long after her arrival that she married her cousin, Joseph Royall, twice a widower and 27 years her senior. Royall had come to Jamestown aboard the Charitie in July 1622, just after Powhatan Chief Opechancanough had murdered three hundred and forty-seven colonists. Royall survived "the burning fever," which killed even more settlers. By transporting colonists to Virginia, Joseph Royall was able to accumulate a large plantation, which he called "Doghams" after the French river D'Augham, on the James River above Shirley and opposite current day Hopewell, Virginia.


Joseph Royall died in the mid 1650s. As was the custom in those days, his wife's dower from his estate passed to her during her widowhood. When Katherine married Henry Isham in 1656, Royall's estate passed to Isham, who immediately added another wing to his residence on Bermuda Hundred.


From their luxurious home encircled by tall pines and a extensive English flower garden, the Ishams became leaders of Virginia society. It has been said that Katherine Banks Royall Isham was the wealthiest woman in America. Her father gave her one of the first English coaches to be used in the colonies. It was described as cumbrous and capacious. It held six individuals, three on a seat opposite one another. Two others could sit on stools which faced the doors. Its body was hung high on large springs and was entered by steps. The lining was made of cream-colored cloth. Silver trimmings, cords and tassels accented the exquisite exterior. The driver and the footman sat on the front, while luggage was carried in the rear.


As the fall weather began to cool the shores of the James River, Katherine made out her last will and testament. Three hundred and twenty three years ago today, Joseph Royall, Jr. and Francis Eppes walked into the court of Henrico County to probate her generous and loving testament to her children and grandchildren. Her bequests of exquisite and valuable heirlooms paled in comparison to the true legacy of this little known woman.


By her first husband, Katherine gave birth to six children, Joseph, John, Sarah, Katherine and two other unknown daughters. With Henry, Katherine had Henry, Jr. and Anne. But by far, her most famous child was Mary Isham. Mary was a much courted belle of Virginia. Suitors swarmed to get a glance of this charming young woman, who played the cittern, a three-stringed early version of the mandolin. Mary captured the heart of the wealthy William Randolph of Turkey Island. Over the next three centuries, the couple would come to be known as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia." Now, you will see why.


The Randolphs were the parents of ten children, most notably Isham Randolph. His daughter Jane married Peter Jefferson. They were the parents of President Thomas Jefferson. Elizabeth, daughter of William and Mary Randolph, married Richard Bland. They were the great-great grandparents of the noble and the revered, General Robert Edward Lee. William and Mary's son Thomas was the great-grandfather of John Marshall, the nation's longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In point of fact, Katherine's descendants included the wives of both President Jefferson and General Lee. You can see why the Randolphs are the closest thing to royalty that Virginia ever had.


I will dispense with all the begats, the great-greats and the removed cousins and simply say that among the most well known descendants of Katherine Banks Royall Isham are presidents John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, first lady Edith Wilson, authors William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Robert Penn Warren and Ray Badbury. Among the most interesting name on the list is Booker Talieferro Washington, a former slave, who became a highly revered educator, author and political leader. There are many, many more. Their names have not yet been entered in the files of So for now, I will stop here.


Why would anyone care about Katherine Banks? She was never memorialized in the annals of early American history. All she did was live a good life and have children. And, that's just the point. All of us have a purpose on the Earth. As we go about our daily lives, we never stop to imagine that our descendants, close and remote, can play a pivotal role in the history of our country.


Can you imagine the Declaration of Independence written by someone else other than Thomas Jefferson? Can you imagine the Civil War without Robert E. Lee? Can you imagine the emergence of the Supreme Court without Chief Justice John Marshall? I cannot.


Maybe you can conceive of the world of literature without the names of Bradbury, Faulkner, Cather and Warren, but it would have been a far poorer one.


I can't envision the world without the leadership and brilliance of Booker T. Washington. I can't envision the world without John F. Kennedy. Would there have even been a man on the moon? Would Richard Nixon have been elected president in 1960? Would their have ever been a war in Vietnam or the turbulent times of the 1960s?


I can't imagine a world without these exceptional Americans who descended from the forgotten Katherine Banks Royall Isham. You see, I couldn't visualize these thoughts at all if it were not for Katherine, who was my eighth great-grandmother.


Study the history of your family. Learn where you came from so that you can know where you are going. Everyone's families are no more important than any others. It is up to you. Serve your community now. Don't rest of the accolades of your ancestors or wait on the achievements of your remotest descendants. Who knows what they may learn from you?

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Jack Royall
February 12, 2018
Katherine Banks is my 8th Grandmother through her Son Joseph Royall III and through her Marriage to Joseph Royall
Gina Speaks
November 08, 2017
My 9th gr-grandmother, also by her marriage to Joseph Royall. My line is through her daughter, Katherine Royall Perrin.
Susan Lindberg
July 23, 2017
My 9th great-grandmother by her marriage to Joseph Royall.
Mary Elizabeth Gatch
July 17, 2017
She was my 9th.G.Grandmother from her first Marriage!
May 12, 2017
She was also my 8th great grandmother from her second marriage.
Robert Hughes
April 01, 2017
Katherine was my 10th great grandmother.I am descended from her son from her first marriage.

March 25, 2017
I too would like to see sources for all this. I find it hard to believe that an Irish Catholic would be related to my Banks family who were most likely of the Church of England. I know that another Catholic ancestor of mine lived in Maryland cause catholics weren't tolerated very well in Virginia. So sources please!
Jodi Lea Stewart
December 12, 2016
Awesome article! Katherine Banks Royall Isham is my 8th great/grandmother through her daughter Sarah Royall, who married John Wilkinson III. It's exciting to read such a succinct and interesting history. I am an author, and my favorite part was learning of the connection to authors William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Robert Penn Warren and Ray Badbury. If any of my distant relatives want to look me up, here's my website:

c jones
September 03, 2016
The Fitzgerald connection seems less and less likely. Too many contradictions in what I have found.

Banks, looks like you may be correct in your estimation of the situation.

There is a Capt. William Fitzgerald married to a Sallie/ Sarah Epes, the sister of Captain Jack Epes,but I don't know if they are related to the Kennedy family.
c. jones
September 03, 2016
"Colonial Families of the Southern States of America, a History and Genealogy",{book} gives a better version. The one I listed has issues if some of the ancestors were in America or Ireland??
c. jones
September 03, 2016
I believe the Kennedy line to Katherine Banks is as follows: Rose Fitzgerald, John F. Fitzgerald and Mary Josephine Hannon, Thomas Fitzgerald and Rosanna Cox, Michael Fitzgerald and Ellen Wilmouth, Edmund Fitzgerald and UNK., William Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Irby, Edmund Irby and Anna Bland, Hon. Richard Bland and Elizabeth Randolph. Col. William Randolph and Mary Isham.

Katherine Perrin (granddaughter of Katherine Banks and Joseph Royall), married Maj. Thomas Farrar, a Farrar Island descendant. 9GGD Royall/Farrar Descendant
Banks descendant
June 15, 2016
Would love to see the sources for all the descendants, as I find it hard to believe that John F. Kennedy would be a descendant. And some of the others. It has been known in the past that genealogist would link a family to someone important to make them feel good when in reality they were not kin. Therefore, all should be resourced before believing. Just saying.
May 09, 2016
Hello, Katherine Banks not Elizabeth, I believe the confusion comes from the first wife of Henry Isham. Henry was first married c. 1650 to an Elizabeth -last name unknown. They had at least 3 children: Phoebe c. 1650, John born 31 Mar 1654 and Edward c. 1656. There could have been more children(unknown). Henry Isham and Katherine had 3 known children: Henry Jr.'died young', Mary and Anne.

Joseph Royall and Katherine Banks married March 1644. It is believed that Joseph had at least two daughters from his previous marriages.
December 05, 2015

Can anyone verify for me how Joseph and Katherine (Banks) were cousins? This article states that they were, though I cannot find evidence of that. I have researched Banks to Katherine's great-great grandfather (john) and can find no relation between the Royall and Banks families, other than the marriage of Joseph and Katherine. THANKS!
Renee C
January 04, 2015
My question is how does anyone know that Katherine Banks Royall Isham is related in any way to Booker T. Washington? From what I've read his mother never told him who his white father was. Am I mistaken?
Chris Carmichael
August 12, 2014
Katherine Banks is also my 8th great grandmother. Thank you for a well thought out and written piece!
July 30, 2014
Katherine Banks Royall and Joseph Royall Sr were my 10th Great Grandparents, I descend from their daughter Katherine Royall Perrin. I've researched them for over 7 years, this article is very accurate. To answer a question posted below re: John F. Kennedy - The Fitzgerald's married into the Randolph family, who were descendants of Katherine and her 2nd husband Capt Henry Isham. The Lee's and Carter's descend from them also! I'm planning a trip to VA to see family in the next year and do more research & I'm looking forward to visiting Doghams if I can.
July 02, 2014
I have enjoyed reading this article. My line is follows through their first son, Joseph.
belinda royal stuart
June 15, 2014
I found out the reason for two ls was because the family came from England and while in England the king and queen made them add an l so the people wouldn't get them confused with the Royal family.

belinda royal stuart
June 04, 2014
I would also like to know why Royal has two l's and when did the second one drop? If anyone has anything they can share with me about the Royalls or Royals, please email me.