Thomas Batte was born probably in Virginia between 1633 and 1638, the second of three sons of John Batte, who arrived in Virginia in 1621, and his wife, whose first name may have been Dorothy. Very few facts of Thomas Batte’s life are known. He married a woman named Mary before 1660. They had three daughters and a son, also named Thomas Batte, who was born about 1661 and died early in 1691. On April 29, 1668, Thomas Batte and his younger brother Henry Batte patented 5,878 acres of land on the south side of the James River below the mouth of the Appomattox River, near the property of Abraham Wood, a member of theand the leading Indian trader in that part of Virginia.
Many Virginians of Batte’s time believed that the Appalachian Mountains lay at the center of a narrow continent. In 1670 Governordispatched John Lederer into the wilderness to seek “a passage to the further side of the Mountains.” Lederer did not reach the “further side,” but his expedition prompted Wood to send out his own exploring party headed by Batte and Robert Hallom, or Hallam, about whom even less is known than about Batte. The only two known copies of Hallom’s lost journal of the expedition that were evidently taken directly from the original render Batte’s surname as Batts and Hallom’s as Fallam.
The Batts and Fallam Expedition, as it has thus erroneously come to be known, departed from Fort Henry, near the present site of Petersburg, on September 1, 1671. The party included Thomas Wood, who was probably Abraham Wood’s son, one unidentified servant, and Penecute, or Perecute, an Appamattuck guide. Near modern-day Charlotte Court House they crossed the Staunton River and picked up additional Appamattuck and Saponi guides. By then Thomas Wood had fallen ill and was left behind. They crossed the Blue Ridge about fifteen miles south of where the city of Roanoke was later founded, left their horses with the Totero Indians on the New River near where Radford now is, picked up another guide, and then traveled westward parallel to the New River to present-day Narrows in Giles County on the Virginia–border. The most dangerous leg of the month-long journey was the steep climb up 1,200-foot-high East River Mountain. While crossing into what is now southern West Virginia, their food ran out and their Totero guide abandoned them. Sustained by haws, grapes, and two turkeys, they reached the Tug Fork near the modern city of Matewan, West Virginia, on the journey’s sixteenth day. There, 75 miles west of the crest of the Appalachians and 260 miles west of the frontier settlements of Virginia, they measured for a tidal effect and convinced themselves that the westward-flowing river was “very slowly dropping.” Before turning back they marked trees with their initials, “TB” and “RH.”
Batte and Hallom, the first Anglo-Virginians to cross the Appalachians, retraced their steps and reached Fort Henry on October 1, 1671. On their way back they learned that Thomas Wood had died. The expedition neither proved nor disproved the theory that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans were close together. But it established the first solid British and Virginian claims to the Ohio and Mississippi River watersheds, an achievement formally placed on the record when(d. 1725) presented a transcript of the expedition’s journal to the Royal Society in London on August 1, 1688.
Batte was appointed a justice of the peace of Henrico County in April 1683, and the records of the county’s orphan’s court mentioned his name several times. By August 1689 he had moved out of Henrico County, perhaps back to the land in Bristol Parish he had patented with his brother in 1668. Thomas Batte’s name last appears in the public records on August 5, 1695. He died probably not long thereafter.