Elizabeth Day (c 1667 – 1699), Murdered, 52 Ancestors #40


Elizabeth Day, her married name, was my 7th great-grandmother.

  • Roberta Estes
  • William Sterling Estes
  • William George Estes and Ollie Bolton
  • Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy
  • Joel Vannoy and Phoebe Crumley
  • Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel
  • William McNiel and Elizabeth Shepherd
  • Robert Shepherd and Sarah Rash
  • George Shepherd and Elizabeth Mary Angelique Day(e)
  • Thomas Day (1651-1706) and Elizabeth (murdered 1699), last name unknown

We don’t know Elizabeth’s surname, nor do we know when she was born, nor where, although probably in Virginia.  We don’t know exactly when she married Thomas Day, but it was sometime after 1687 and before 1698.  She had one child before her death in early 1699.  It’s her death that we know the most about.

Elizabeth was murdered, horrifically murdered, beaten to death, very likely at the hands of her husband, Thomas Day.  And we only discovered this terrible fact, some 314 years after it happened.  Talk about a well-kept family secret.

Thomas Day was born about 1651 in Rappahannock, Virginia and died in 1706 in Essex County, VA.  Daughter, Elizabeth Mary Angelica Day, believed to be the only child of Thomas and Elizabeth, per his will, married George Shepherd about 1725.  They lived in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.  Their son, Robert would marry Sarah Rash and they would settle in Wilkes County, beginning the Shepherd line in western NC.

In 1676, Thomas Day married widow Dorothy Young Hudson in Old Rappahannock County, Virginia. Dorothy was the daughter of Robert and Anne Parry Young. Dorothy (b. ca. 1646, d. bef. 1698) was the widow of Edward Hudson with whom she had three children: Serania/Lurana, Anne, and William.

Early records show that Thomas Day purchased land from William Hudson and wife Rebecca Woodnut Hudson located in Essex County, Virginia in 1687. He also purchased 189 acres in Essex County, Virginia from a John Brookes in 1693.

Before 1698, Thomas married a second time to Elizabeth. Thomas and Elizabeth had one daughter, Elizabeth Mary Angelica Day, born between 1687 and 1699.  I suspect her birth was closer to the 1698 timeframe, because her eventual husband was born around 1700.

Thomas Indicted

Thomas Day was indicted for the murder of his wife, Elizabeth, in 1699. Exactly what transpired concerning this event is not completely clear.

According to recorded testimony, it appears that a neighbor, Mary Hodges, visited the Day home and found Elizabeth Day’s dead body lying on a bed. She had been severely beaten, and Thomas Day also had wounds on his face. Thomas Day said his wife died about two hours before sunrise, but he did not know what had happened to her. He told Hodges that his facial wounds resulted from hitting his head over a “potrack.” A jury indicted Day for the murder of his wife, but he was acquitted. A man named John Smith was later found guilty of Elizabeth’s murder and was executed.

Nothing is recorded concerning Smith’s relation to the Day’s or his motive–only that he was found guilty and executed (presumably hanged).

Testimony concerning this case follows:

Essex Co., VA Deeds and Wills BK 10, Part 1, 1699-1702; page 31A; 10 Feb 1699;

The deposition of Judith Davy aged 27 years or thereabout, being Examd and swoorn saith that upon ye 9th of this instant and going to ye house of Tho. Days of Ffarnham in ye Essex County at ye request of Mary Hodge, her neighbour and seeing ye Days wife lying dead upon ye bed in a most horrod and barborey mannor all gored in blood this depo. asked him how his wife cam to be in that condition who mad answer he know not. Thy Depot. further asked him if he and his wife had been quarrelling who replyed that he and his wife had not had an angry word this many a day also they Depot further asked him if anybody had been lately thoto who answered nither did he see anhbody also they Depot. asked him how he burned his eyes who replyed again ye pott rack and being asked a little while after by this depot. how he hurt himself he answered the Lord Knows, I know not and this Depot. saith furthor that ye Sd. Tho. Day had then and at the same time his face and eyes most greviously bruised and further saith not.

Judith Davy

Sworne before me ye Day and yeare above written; Rich’d. Covington

The deposition of Elizabeth Aeres, aged thirty-eight years or thereabout, being Examined and Sworne saith that upon the ninth of this instant that going to the house of Tho. Daye of Ffarnham parrish in Essex County at the request of Mary Hodge, he neighbour and seeing the sd. Days wife lying dead upon the bed in a most horrod and barboriy mannor all Gored in Blood thy deponent asked him how his wife came to lie in that condition who made answer he knew not this Depo’t further asked him if he and his wife had been quarrelling who replyed that he and his wife had not had an angry word this many day also thy depont. further asked him if anybody had been lately there who answered no neither did he see anybody also this dDepont. asked him how he hurt his Eyes who replyed against the potrack and being asked a little while after by thy depont’ how he hurt himself he answered the Lord knows I know not and thy Depont saith further if the sd. Thomas Daye had then at the same time his face and eyes most greviously brused with severall wound and bruses upon his head and further saith not.

Elizabeth Aeres

Sworn before me the day and yeare above written By me Rich’d Covington in ye Place of A Coroner

The Deposition of Mary Hodges aged seaventy five yeares or thereabouts being Examined and Sworne saith that upon the ninth of this Instant coming from the house of Mr. Tho. Covingtons and going to Tho. Days of Ffarnham Parish in Essex County seeing the sd. Day setting upon a counch by the fire seemed melancholy asked him how he did who answered he did not know his face and eyes being most greviously brused he presently after tould me that his wife was dead. Your Depot asked him how she came to die who presently replyed she died about two houres before day of morning. Your depot further asked him how his face came to be in that condition who tould me he cut it against the potrack that was over the fire upon which I went to the woman, his wife as she lay on the bed and found her dead your depont. seeing her lying in a most horrod and barborous manor all gored in blood upon….Your depont. took Days wife by one of her shoose which was upon her foot and found her legg to be somewhat limber and the sd. Day requesting her to strip her dead body I told him I may not able of myself to perform it and further told him I would goe for more assistance and call of Judith Davy my daughter in law and Elizabeth Aeres which accordingly I did and ye depont. further saith not.

Mary Hodges

Sworn before me the day and yeare above written. Rich’d Covington in Place of Coronor.

An Inquisition

An Inquisition….taken at ye house of Thomas Dayes in Ffarnham Parish in Essex County ye 10 day of February in ye yeare 1699 before me. Rich’d Covington one of his Majesties Justices of ye Peace for ye County of Essex upon view of the body of Elizabeth day ye wife of Thomas Day….then and there lying dead and ye Jurors being good and lawfull men and Sworne to trye and inquire in ye behalfe of our Sovereigne Lord & King how and in what manner ye Eliza Day came by her death and they upon their oath say that ye Elizabeth Day was much beaten and bruised with both her eyes exstreem black with many other bruses on her face and bruise on her right eare and a hole underneath ye smae eare and we of the juror say..ye cause of ye sd. Eliza Days death and wee of ye Jurors further say that Tho. Day at ye same time was much brused and beaten having both his Eyes Extreemly brused and black several cuts in his head and further upon his Examination would not confess anything how Elizabeth his wife came by them blows and wounds now how he came to be soo beaten himself so we Jurors say that in ye parish and county aforsd and on the eight or ninth of this instant to wit: in ye dwelling house of ye sd. Tho. Day that ye Sd. Eliza. Day was barbarously murdered and by all manner of Circumstances we can find or gather that ye aforesaid Thom. Day is Guilty of ye murdering ye said Elizabeth Day. In Reffereance to ye Same I Rich’d Covington as afforsd togeather with the jurory aforsd: have put our hands and seales ye day and date above written.

Richard Covington in ye Place of Coronor

Sam. Farry, Tho. Ewell, Henry Perkins, Richd. Taylor, Tho. Crants, Tho. Johnsone, Tho. Greene, Wm. Price, Sam. Coates, John Brooks, Tho. Cooper, Henry Geare, Jeffrey Dyer, Tho. Williamson February 10, 1699.

Thomas Day of Essex Co., VA was charged with murdering his wife Elizabeth Day. He was acquitted in the Aprill Generall Court 1700.

Subsequently, John Smith was found guilty of murdering Elizabeth Day and was executed. October Generall Court 1700.

Thomas Day’s Death

Thomas Day didn’t live long himself.  He was ill when he made his will.  It’s unclear who his daughter lived with after his wife’s death and after his death as well.  It’s presumed that he had only the one child because no other children are known or mentioned in the will.

Thomas Day died between December 5, 1705 (the date of his will) and February 11, 1706 (when his will was probated), ironicly, possibly 7 years to the day after his wife’s death. At the writing of his will, an ailing Thomas Day had placed himself and his daughter Elizabeth (still a minor) in the care of John Fargason.


I can’t even begin to imagine how or why Thomas Day was acquitted of Elizabeth’s death.  Looking at the depositions, some 300+ years removed, it appears obvious and nearly conclusive that Thomas murdered Elizabeth.  Maybe that’s because today we understand much better the profile of wife abusers.

Perhaps research into the life and social standing of Thomas Day might reveal more information and shed more light on this situation.  Records in the Virginia archives might contain more information as well.

I find it extremely hard to believe that Thomas did not murder his wife.  In fact, how could he NOT have been the murderer, given the circumstances?  The description of her wounds, the severity and the continuous beating that had to have occurred in order to inflict those grave wounds would have been unlikely to have been inflicted by someone simply wanting to get her out of the way, like for a robbery.  Those are wounds of passion, of anger, and it looks like she put up a hellatious fight as well – literally, fighting for her life.  Sadly, a battle she did not win.  Thomas had obviously been in a fight as his own face and eyes were bruised.  This was a crime of passion.  Added to that was the fact that Thomas’s wife had died in the night, and he had not sought assistance from anyone.  He was found sitting on the couch by the fireplace hours after she died.  If he had found her bloody and beaten, he would have gone for help, but he didn’t.  Instead, he watched her die and left her lying on the bed in a pool of her own blood for the neighbor to find in the morning, stating that he didn’t know what happened.

Even if Thomas didn’t directly murder Elizabeth, meaning that a stranger broke in, beat them both, killed Elizabeth but not Thomas, and left the house – Thomas still has some culpability for Elizabeth’s death, since he was clearly conscious and knew when she died, according to what he told 3 separate witnesses.  So he wasn’t asleep or unaware, yet he did nothing before she died to try to help her.  He clearly knew she was badly injured.  Had she survived, she surely would have named him as the person who beat her.  Nor was Thomas distraught by her death.  There was no sobbing at her bedside.

So Thomas Day not only killed his wife, he is also responsible for the death of John Smith in 1700 who was hung for Elizabeth’s murder.  In essence, if Thomas murdered Elizabeth, he murdered John Smith too.  All of this makes me wonder how his first wife died, assuming that his first marriage ended with his wife’s death.

Chances are that Thomas and Elizabeth’s child, Elizabeth Mary Angelica Day, never knew her mother, for whom she was named, or was too small to remember her.  She may well have been in the house when her father murdered her mother, and depending on her age at the time, might well remember the event.  She could also have been an infant.  If she was, then she likely didn’t remember either her mother or her father very well as he died just a few years later, in 1706, as an invalid.  Somehow Thomas’s death not long after Elizabeth’s seems like karmic justice.  If he did in fact murder Elizabeth, we can wish him a long and miserable death, dreading and fearing his own passing, knowing that he would face sure and certain retribution for his actions in the court of ultimate truth.  There is no other justice to be wrought for Elizabeth – none.

As she grew up, Elizabeth, the daughter, would have known that her mother was murdered, and even though her father was acquitted, she surely would have known about the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death.  People talk.

When she married George Shepherd about 1727, she may have been all too happy to leave the Essex County area and settle in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, striking out for a new location where she could leave the past behind.  In essence, she had been raised an orphan under the storm cloud of her mother’s terrible death and her father’s inferred guilt.

How her mother’s death must have haunted her.  To lose your mother is bad enough, but to know she died horrifically, and possibly, or probably, at the hands of your own father, is an unspeakable burden for anyone, let alone a child.  How could she embrace the memory of her father who took her mother from her?  In essence, she lost both parents when her mother died, and her father again at his own death.  Of course, it’s also possible that whoever raised her shielded her from the truth, and perhaps that is why this story never descended through the family.  Maybe Elizabeth never knew the extent of her father’s involvement.  Maybe she never knew the terrible truth about how her mother died.

Elizabeth’s DNA

Elizabeth’s one daughter, Elizabeth had two daughters.  We don’t know much about either of them.

Ann Shepherd was born about 1737 in Spotsylvania County and is reported, by some, to have married a Benjamin Holliday or Holloway.

Elizabeth Shepherd was born about 1745 in Spotsylvania County and married Gabriel Shelton.

I have a DNA scholarship for anyone descended from either of these women to the current generation through all women.  The current generation can be either male or female, because women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only the females pass it on.

I’d love nothing more than to honor Elizabeth by telling more of her story held in her DNA.

Honoring Elizabeth

I wanted to find a way to honor Elizabeth Day.  Regardless of who killed her, she was certainly, unquestionably, a victim.  Her life was taken from her in a most heinous way.

I must admit that it bothers me that some of Thomas Day is in me, even though it is only .39%.  I would still probably carry at least some of his actual DNA, likely about 3,000 of the 700,000 autosomal SNPs tested at Family Tree DNA.  Maybe that explains a bit of my flash temper.

Death or abuse at the hands of one who is supposed to love and protect you is the ultimate betrayal, second only to a betrayal by a parent I think.  Reading the depositions about her death chilled me to the core, knowing what she probably tolerated day to day before the abuse escalated to the point where he killed her.  It probably wasn’t the first time she had been abused.  I could feel her dread and fear.  Perhaps she couldn’t leave.  Maybe she had no place to go.  We’ll never know.  All we know is the outcome, that she died, horribly.  At some point during that terrible night, she realized that the man she loved, whose child she had borne, was killing her – that indeed, she would die, as consciousness slipped away.  Were her last thoughts wondering what would happen to her defenseless daughter, left through her death to her murderous husband?

This was very difficult for me to read and to deal with.

I posted a query about discovering an ancestor you don’t like to the Cumberland Gap list and we discussed dealing with the emotional aftermath of finding ancestors that you don’t really care for – like Thomas Day, and the horrible knowledge of what he very likely did.  Many of the people who participated in that conversation had examples much more current, such as parents and grandparents.

Someone suggested creating a memorial, a virtual cemetery on Find-A-Grave for Elizabeth so that she is not forgotten and is memorialized.  In addition, someone made the following commentary.

“You are most honest and ethical Roberta!  Each of us, if we shake our family tree long and hard enough, will have a few nuts fall out.  Chuck offered good advice. Honor the victim and realize that while you share some of the same genetics, you are not the abuser. The question of nature/nurture will always loom unanswered. We don’t know what causes one member of a family to do monstrous things and another to be acclaimed in their community for their selfless acts of bravery and/or generosity. Do your best to live in the here and now and enjoy this moment. Every shining act that you commit proves the darkness did not win. We can’t change the past but we CAN affect the future.”

That is great advice.

Another person wrote, “We must memorialize if for no one other than ourselves. It is a necessary ritual for all the Pearl Harbors, the Dachaus, Trade Centers, tears, parental betrayals, abandonments and broken promises, the innocent humans of their day and standing insufficiently for each stance of human fragility.  We can raise one in the dancing flame of a candle set near the window, a wish upon a star, or by placing a marker on an unmarked grave—cyber or otherwise We must never lose the trail for the tears.  Darkness is defined by DAY.”  Indeed, in this case, it was.

We can’t bring Elizabeth back and make it possible for her to live out her life.  We can’t restore to her what was taken from her, or her child.  We can’t change the actions or calm the anger of her attacker that night, or mitigate their ripple effect.  We can be aware and wary of the anger issue in our ancestral line, and we can make sure the darkness does not win.

For Elizabeth:



The Virginia research compiled by a cousin at http://www.danielprophecy.com/daye.html.




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26 thoughts on “Elizabeth Day (c 1667 – 1699), Murdered, 52 Ancestors #40

  1. A sad story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Was there a trial and evidence presented against the man who was eventually executed for Elizabeth’s murder?

  2. Roberta, thanks so much for sharing this information. Elizabeth was also my 7th great-grandmother! My line is


    James McNiel and Mary “Polly” Shepherd
    Robert Shepherd and Sarah Rash
    George Shepherd and Elizabeth Mary Angelique Day(e)
    Thomas Day (1651-1706) and Elizabeth (murdered 1699), last name unknown

    I had never heard about Elizabeth being murdered. I think you’re right, that her husband killed her. Wow!!

    Thanks for creating the Find-A-Grave memorial for Elizabeth.

  3. I feel badly for the circumstances in which Elizabeth lived and died, and also for how you feel about having an ancestor who did such a dastardly thing. I’m wondering if a descendant of John Smith is somewhere believing that their ancestor commited murder, or realizes that he was unjustly convicted and executed. That would be an interesting leaf of a tree to explore. But “Smith” is such a common name. So sad, all the way around.

  4. Thank you for this! I know none of us in “the family” had any idea of this happening! Your memorial is beautiful; may the evil that men die with them, and the light for Elizabeth’s soul carry on forever ! – cousin Pam (from the McNeil side)

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  7. Very sad, I have been reading articles on your blog since Nov when I first received my DNA results in Nov. I was browsing previous articles and stumbled on this one and realized this Elizabeth was my ancestor too, 7th great-grandmother. I am in shock he was acquitted, would be interesting to know more details about this Smith.

    • I agree Melanie. This article was really upsetting for me to write, but I felt she needed to be memorialized truthfully. Let’s see if we have any matching DNA. Where did you test and are you at GedMatch? I’m kit F6656 at GedMatch.

      • Hello, I am sorry I missed this. I tested my DNA with Ancestry I have my results at Gedmatch too kit A010999. I have your kit number so I will go and review what we have.

  8. I too am a decedent of Thomas and Elizabeth. I read the same transcription and would like to offer a different scenario. What if John Smith attacked Thomas Day, beating him so badly that Thomas was suffering from amnesia? We hear it often today about a brain injury causing a loss of memory of the time around the event. What if Thomas was knocked out, when he came to finding his young wife in that horrible state and the shock combined with his injuries left him too confused to go for help in the dark and leaving the child alone with her mother or trying to carry that child. You must remember that a neighbor could be a bit of distance away. The jury basically found him guilty because he would not give an explanation of the events. We have no record of how John Smith came to be charged in a case that had already been settled in court. Something must have brought Smith to the attention of the authorities. Perhaps he( Smith) confessed? that would explain the lack of information on the court records Just a thought

  9. Well, finding your page was both a blessing and a disappointment. Last night, I *thought* I was related to Thomas and Elizabeth. Since you were so kind as to provide your GEDmatch kit number, I ran it against my own this afternoon – no shared DNA at all. Oh well. My Shepherd/Sheppard line has been impossible to track so far. Every lead has proven a dead end. My Shepherds/Sheppards did end up in Wilkes/Surry Counties NC area, but I think my 2nd g-grandparents were dropped off there by an alien spaceship. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog, even if we’re not related. Thanks for all the great information.

    • Don’t be discouraged. Not matching someone who shares an ancestor that far back doesn’t mean we’re NOT related or that you’re NOT from that line. It only means that we don’t share enough DNA today to be findable.

      • This line has just been such a frustration. We have no male descendants to test for anything. There are three of us (all women) who are comfortable with our 3rd g-grandparents through census and other records, but everything else does not match DNA/record/date wise to any of the established Shepherd lines. I did find an Ancestry DNA match with someone who has George Shepherd and Elizabeth Day in their tree, but the pieces still do not fit with records and dates on my side. Plus, my line supposedly comes through George Jr., and his son James, on which I can find nothing concrete to make the links work reasonably. Sigh. As my grandfather Sheppard was killed in the coal mines of West Virginia when my mother was only two, and the family had no contact with the Shepherds/Sheppards at all after that, I am grateful that I have at least found three additional generations, and as i pointed out above, two new cousin lines with whom I can share information. I’m not giving up completely, just letting this one rest for a while. Hopefully something will turn up in the future.

  10. I just retested with everyone here who posted their GEDMatch numbers, using a smaller cM than the default 7 (I used 3), and I’ve hit with very small segments with all of you! Apparently I’m a very, very distant part of this tree, which is okay! I’m just excited and relieved that this is actually my line. If anyone would be willing to double-check, my GED # is A282150. Roberta, it looks like I match another one of your kits with a bigger piece – T062850?

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  12. I’m also descended from Thomas and Elizabeth. I think a good way to honor Elizabeth would be to discover her sir name and her history. I’m confident people have tried. Maybe someday someone will get lucky.

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