John Combs is my most distant proven ancestor in the Combs line. His daughter Luremia, married Moses Estes about 1762 in Amelia County, VA.
According to John Combs’ deposition given in 1745, he was about 40 years old, so he was born about 1705, probably in Virginia, but we don’t know for sure. If he was born in Virginia, his father likely did not own property, because there is no Combs, or anything similar, on the list of 1704 Virginia Tax Rent Rolls of land owners.
Furthermore, I believe John had a brother, one George Combs, who was also born about that same time according to a different lawsuit. Bless those chancery suits.
Most of what we know about John Combs came in bits and pieces and fits and starts and I’ve had to piece it together like a big jigsaw puzzle with no picture and a few strategic pieces missing.
It has been speculated that our John Combs, was the son of another John Combs, of Richmond, who was born about 1662, probably in Old Rappahannock County, VA and died in 1716/1717 in Richmond Co., VA., appointing John Anderson the executor of his will. John Anderson is later found as a near neighbor to our John Combs in Prince George, then Amelia, County, VA.
However, John Combes of Richmond who died in 1716 does not mention a son John, nor a son George in his will. It’s not terribly unusual for the eldest son to be omitted from a will, especially if he already has the family land, but for two sons to be omitted?
The 1715 Essex County, VA Rent Rolls include both Edmund Booker and John Combs of Richmond. Mason Combs was the son of John of Richmond. He, along with Edmond and Richard Booker later removed to Amelia County where they are found adjacent to land of our John Combs. Even if our John is not the son of John of Richmond, he may well be related. John of Richmond is the son of Archdale Combs, who also had a son, William and also possibly sons Charles, Abraham and Phillip. Bottom line…we don’t know who our John’s father is.
John Combs in Amelia County
The first actual record we find of our John Combs is a land patent in 1732 on Flatt Creek in the part of Prince George County that would become Amelia in 1734.
Land Grant – John Combs, 400 acres (N.L) Prince George Co. on low side of Flatt Creek adjacent Edward Booker and Farguson’s lines, page 486, 40 shillings. Sept. 28, 1732
We find John, for the rest of his life associated continuously with the Booker, Farguson, Elam, Cobbs, Jefferson and Anderson families and sure enough, his early neighbors on his Flatt Creek land were:
- Edward Booker (1727 and 1732 grants)
- John Anderson (1728 grant)
- Benjamin Ward (1728 grant)
- Samuel Cobbs (1732 grant)
- John Farguson (1732 grant)
- John Elam (1735 grant)
- Field Jefferson (1733 grant)
This is the original home of Col. Edward Booker, now restored and functioning as a bed and breakfast, located at 11441 Grub Hill Church Road in Amelia County, photo compliments of Google Maps street view.
Field Jefferson, the Uncle of President Thomas Jefferson, owned land between Flatt Creek and Knibbs (Nibbs) Creek adjoining Col. Samuel Cobbs.
Finding the Booker land was a great help in locating the area where John Combs lived. On the map below, the red balloon is the Edward Booker home. To the far right, you can see where Flatt and Nibbs Creeks intersect. Flatt Creek is the creek at the top, and Nibbs the one on either side of the Booker’s house.
Highway 630, shown both above and below, running between the creeks, is Eggleston Road. We know that the Eggleston land and the Booker land both abutted John Combs land, so John’s land was very likely in-between Eggleston Road and Booker’s plantation.
Here’s a satellite image of the area. You can clearly see the cleared areas where farming would have occurred.
Joseph Eggleston built the plantation, “Eggleston,” shown below, on the upper side of Knibbs Creek about 1750. It’s very likely that John Combs stood in this very building. He may even have helped his neighbor to build it. Eggleston still exists today and is on the National Register of Historic places and Virginia Historic Landmarks.
The location of “Egglestetton” is shown in the application for the National Register of Historic Places, below.
You can see the Eggleston plantation today, at 16530 Eggleston Road, in perspective to the Booker plantation, below. My guess would be that Combs land was the land directly between the two, or to the right, touching both. The Eggleston plantation sits on only 16 acres today, so you can extrapolate the sizes of the original land grants based on the size of that plot.
So, John lived someplace in this area, likely here. Four hundred acres would be approximately the amount of land shown below between the bottom of the picture and the three roads.
In the 1742 court notes, we find the following entry:
1742, April 16 – Robert Forguson appointed surveyor from Combs bridge over Flatt Creek into the courthouse, John, Robert and William Forguson, John Combs and Richard Boram to do the same.
Looking at the Amelia County map, there are only two roads in this area with bridges across Flatt Creek that would allow George’s land to be located between Flatt and Nibbs Creeks, adjacent to Eggleston’s and also to Booker. On the map below, the Eggleston plantation is marked as well as the church Cemetery.
Either the bridge over N Lodore Road or Grub Hill Church Road has to be the Combs bridge. The N Lodore Road bridge does not go into Amelia Courthouse, but the Grub Hill Church Road does. This is the only candidate to be John Combs road and bridge.
At court, in January 1747, John Booker requests that the road near his house on way to Richard Booker’s mill be stopped and the old road near John Comb’s be kept open and he agrees to build a bridge over the run near Comb’s house and keep it in repair.
In 1751, the court ordered Samuel Cobbs, Gent, the surveryor of the road which leads from the church to Ferguson’s bridge and his tithes to work on the same together with the tithes at Anderson’s quarter, Robert Ferguson’s Sr’s tithes, William Southal’s tithes, James Ferguson’s tithes and William Ferguson’s tithes…in order to make a causeway on the upper side of said bridge. Given the map below, I wonder if the Grub Hill Church Road bridges over Flatt Creek was John Combs and the Lodore Road bridge was the Farguson’s.
If the Grub Hill Church Road (609) bridge is John Comb’s bridge, then the land between the church and that bridge must have been John’s too. Here’s a satellite view of this land between the intersection of N. Lodore Road (636) and John’s bridge on Flatt Creek.
Through the magic of Google Maps street view, we can “drive down” that road today and take a look, just the way John Combs would have done. This is Grub Hill Church Road moving northeast towards Flatt Creek. You can see that this would be very desirable farmland, very nearly flat.
In the distance you can see the tree line where Flatt Creek runs.
Here is John Combs bridge today. I was extremely lucky to be able to use the road orders plus the remaining historical buildings and the church to piece together enough information to determine where John Combs land was located. Now, of course, I want to visit.
In 1766, John’s son George Combs and his wife Phebe sell the 50 acres on the lower side of Flatt Creek to William Eggleston, saying it joins Joseph Eggeleston and William Eggleston’s lines, the land formerly belonging to John Booker. He mentions it is also bounded by John Ferguson, which may turn out to be a really important clue.
John Combs’ Life and Times
Given that John Combs was born about 1705, he was likely married about 1730, just about the time he obtained the land grant. His wife and the mother of his children, whose name is unknown, is very likely among the families that lived close by, but which family?
For a very long time I believed that she was a Booker, but I have tracked each of the Booker children and there is no unaccounted for child that is a candidate. Of course, there is always the possibility of missing children, but that is less likely with wealthier families than poor ones. More to lose.
John Combs is found serving jury duty in Amelia County beginning in 1736, a typical task for landowners.
In 1737, a George March/Marsh Combs appears in Amelia County records. In 1737, one George Combs was tithed by John Combs, which means he was over the age of 16. Is this John’s brother, George Combs, or is this someone else? March/Marsh may well be a clue to someone’s maiden name.
In 1755 a chancery suit tells us what George Combs, believed to be John’s brother, was doing in 1740. We know that Field Jefferson was a near neighbor of John Combs. This also provides insight into life in Amelia County in 1740.
Amelia Co. Chancery 1755-005 – Combs vs Jefferson (LVA roll 232-492)
January in the year of MCDCCXL (1740) in agreement was made and entered into by and between Field Jefferson whom your orator George Combs has made defendants to this bill and your orator, touching your orator’s becoming an overseer for the said Field Jefferson. In which agreement it was properly stipulated by…for in consideration of a share of corn and tobacco should forthwith…ownership of the said defendants plantation in the county together with 5 working slaves thereon belonging to the said defendant in order to raise a crop of corn and tobacco. By virtue of which…and agreement your entered on the said plantation as an overseer accordingly…during the space of two years and about ten months. That your orator raised considerable crops of corn and tobacco with the said 5 slaves on said plantation for the first 2 years for which the defendant duly accounted and that in the third year he had raised and housed among other things a very large crop of tobacco which he had mostly in bulk and shipped of near a hogshead of the same under mike? And which he fully intended to finish or compleat according to the tenor of the said agreement that about 6 weeks before Christmas in the said third year, the said defendant without any application of previous notice to your orator sent for and ordered his said 5 slaves off the said plantation from under the care of your orator his said crop of tobacco being then in the above condition and unfinished and sent a tenant (one Benjamin Hawkins) to live upon and take possession of the said plantation which the said Hawkins accordingly did and there up your orator being deprived of the assistance of the said 5 slaves and ousted of the said plantation by the said defendant was forced to leave his said crop of tobacco upon the said plantation unfinished. That your orator however well hoped and believed that the defendant would finish and take a just estimate and amount of his said crop of tobacco and duly pay and satisfy unto your orator his jut share and proportion of the same when he should be thereunto required. But now so it is may please your worships that the said def and although often in a friendly manner thereto requested by your orator doth altogether refuse to account with your orator ? his shares of the said crop or in any manner satisfying him for the same. All which actions and doing of the said def are contrary to the natural equity and good conscience and tend to the manifestation injury apprehension? and impoverishment of your orator. In tender consideration whereof and for that your orator is without remedy and in the premises? Of the strict rules of law he having no proof of the quantity of his said crop of tobacco and his evidence to the said agreement being either dead or beyond the seas and in part remote or unknown by the orator and for as much as he can only…as the defendant to set forth upon his oath and declare whether the agreement aforementioned was not entered into by and between himself and the said orator and whether he did not take the said five slaves and at what time from your orator as above set forth, his said crop being unfinished and whether he did not at the same time put a tenant, the said Hawkins, in possession of the said plantation and thereby oust your orator of his employment on the same. What was the quantity of the tobacco your orator had made ? and left behind him on said plantation? Whether your orator hath not often in a friendly manner requested the said def to settle with him for his share of the crop and whether he hath ever made him any just satisfaction for rendering him ? and that the def may fully and particularly answer all of the matters.
A note further down on the paper says “ and this complainant doth ? that his share of the aforesaid crop of tobacco for the year aforesaid amounts to 1/6th part to 7000 pounds of tobacco which this defendant prays may be ? to him.”
For not appearing to answer the bill of complaint of George Combs exhibited against him by the rule of court.
Ordered Field Jefferson on the 4th Thursday of December next
Feb Court 1755 George Combs vs Field Jefferson Plaintiff – The court this day heard and finds against the said def Field Jefferson to pay to the said George Combs 1176 pounds of tobacco being one sixth part of the tobacco mentioned in the bill.
John Combs’ daughter, Luremia was born about 1740 or 1742, given that she was married to Moses Estes about 1762, their oldest child George being born in February 1763. I’ve always wondered why this child was named George and not John. If they did have a John Estes, he died, although their grandson through George would be John R. Estes. George Estes never knew his grandfather, John Combs, because John died the year before George was born. I wonder if John Combs ever knew any of his grandchildren.
In 1745, John Combs gives a deposition in another chancery suit, Blake vs Tabb, wherein John states that he is about 40 years old, that he “assisted Frederick Blake away with his food? whom he removed from Capt. Tabbs plantation whereon he was overseer in cold weather and it snowed that night and snow was on the ground next morning. John “+” Combs (his mark) Sept 19th 1745.”
Based on the rest of the case, Blake was the overseer, not John Combs. The punctuation or lack thereof in these old cases is sometimes distressing. We also now know that John Combs is not literate and cannot sign his name. This does not suggest a wealthy or “gentlemanly” upbringing.
In November, 1747, John is appointed surveyor of the road where he lives in place of Edward Booker, Jr. At that same court session, George Combs sues Robert Ferguson, Jr.
John continues to be in the court records on juries and such until 1750.
In 1749, John tithed 6 people, which could have been a combination of both white and black people. We know that John owned slaves at this time, because in November, 1749, York, a negro boy belonging to John Combs was judged to be age 9 at court.
We originally believed that all of John’s children were born before November of 1750 when he married a second time to Frances Elam, who may have been a widow herself. However, now there is doubt. Don’t you just love genealogy, disproving what you think you knew!
September 11, 1750 (Amelia Marriages C:1) John Combs and Frances Elam. Sur. John Booker. Witness to bond, Samuel Cobbs and William May Cock.
In 1751 John Combs purchased another 50 acres on Flatt Creek from John Booker that was adjacent his own land.
In 1751 and 1752, John is listed in the estate account of Frederick Blake and appraised the estate of Michael Nowland, along with attending the estate sale.
In 1752 John Combs’ negro girl Sue is adjudged to be 12 years old. (AC-COB3:72)
This suggests that Sue may not have been born to John as an owner, because if she were, he would not have had to have the court judge her age unless it was simply to confirm what he said. Slave’s ages were judged at court in order for them to be tithed, or taxed, when they reached a certain age.
In seventeenth and eighteenth-century Virginia, the term “tithable” referred to a person who paid (or for whom someone else paid) one of the taxes imposed by the General Assembly for the support of civil government in the colony. In colonial Virginia, a poll tax or capitation tax was assessed on free white males, African American and Native American slaves (both male and female), all age sixteen or older. Owners and masters paid the taxes levied on their slaves and servants, including indentured servants. In 1680, the age that “negro children” were tithable was dropped to 12, “Christian servants” were taxed at age 14 and Indian women the same as negro women brought into the state of Virginia. White women weren’t tithable, but women of color, both black and Indian, enslaved, bonded or free, were.
John Combes continues to be in the court record through 1754 when he purchased 303 acres in Lunenburg County from James Mathews of Lunenburg. Although the deed does not identify this land, later processioning records do. You can read more about this land in the article about Luremia Combs.
In 1754, George Combs was summoned at a witness for Field Jefferson against Benjamin Hawkins, 4 days attendance at court, coming and returning 28 miles. This is very likely a chancery suit covered in this article and George is probably coming from Charlotte County. The Fargusons are also summoned for this same case, also as witnesses for Field Jefferson.
In September 1754, the court orders John Combs to appraise the estate of Lucy Clark who is the sister of Edward Booker. Generally there were three appraisers, someone from the wife’s family, someone representing the largest debtor and someone unrelated and disinterested.
In 1755, George Wainwright brings suit against John Combs for debt, and wins.
On February 26, 1756 the court ordered that John Combs clear the Road from Flatt Creek to the courthouse and that the male laboring tithables of Colonel Harrison be added to those already under his direction. (AC-COB4:32)
Four months later, on June 24, 1756 in the court record we find a presentment of the Grand Jury against John Combs for not keeping the road whereof he is surveyor in repair. (AC-COB4:73)
Given that John bought land in Lunenburg in 1754, but continues to appear in the Amelia County records in 1755 and 1756, he may well have not actually moved. I find it hard to believe the court would order someone who didn’t live there to clear the road.
In 1758, during the French and Indian War, the House of Burgesses passed an act for the defense of the frontier. A list of men from Amelia County in included, but John Combs is not among them. At age 53, he may have been considered too old.
In 1762, John Combs died at about age 57 – clearly not an old man, and apparently with some children still at home. He died intestate, without a will, so his death was likely unexpected.
28 May 1762. Inventory and Account of estate of John Combs. Administratrix: Frances (X) Combs. Returned & recorded May 27, 1762. Witnesses: Wm. Eggleston, John Booker, Edward Booker. Value: 259/5/1-1/2. Slaves: Negro boy Ned and Negro man Harry. (Will Book 2X:18 Amelia County, Virginia. Gibson Jefferson McConnaughey)
- 15 pigs
- Four basins
- Four dishes
- 11 plates
- 15 spoons
- 1 skimer
- 10 forks and six knives
- 3 trays
- 4 bottles
- 1 butter pot
- 1 iron
- 2 slays
- Loom and harness
- 2 sack bags
- 4 pails
- 4 reep hooks
- Iron pots and hooks
- 1 flesh fork and skimmer
- 1 mans saddle
- 3 wheels
- 3 washing tubs
- 1 grindstone
- 39 pieces of bacon
- 7 joles of bacon
- Some soap and barrel
- 1 barrel
- 1 ? pot
- 10 pounds fat
- 3 old sifters
- 1 gum 1 box
- Part of sides of leather
- 2 sides, bed cord
- 1 old blanket
- Cart and wheels
- 1 gun
- Parcel of old iron
- 2 drawing knives
- 3 augers
- 2 adz
- 1 iron
- 1 hammer
- 3 files, 3 chisels, 1 gouge, 1 hand saw, 1 stock and bit, rule and ? of compasses, 3 gimblets, 1 old lock, 1 pair of fleams, 1 all, 1 parcel of brimstone – from 3 files to here is listed together
- 4 axes
- 4 iron wedges
- 1 iron sadle
- 5 hilling hoes
- 1 gurbbing hoe
- 1 band hoe
- 4 harrow hoes
- 4 plow? Hoes
- 2 old brass kettles
- 20 barrels corn
- 14.5 barrels wheat
- 9 old casks
- 6 bushels oats
- 1 box
- 1 white horse
- 1 bayhorse
- 1 gray horse
- 1 gray mare
- 3 bells
- Parcel of Harness
- 1 bed rug blanket
- 2 sheets and bed cord, piller and matt
- 1 bed bolster piller
- 3 chest locks
- 1 basket and a parcel fo flax
- 1 trunk
- 3 pair cards
- 1 box and some spun cotton
- 1 basket and cotton
- 1 jug
- 1 bag and wool
- 5 chairs and 1 table
- 7 books
- 3 yards linen
- 1 looking glass
- 1 bed run blanket, pair sheets, bolster piller , cowhide bedsted and cord (one parcel of goods)
- 1 chest
- Two bowls, 1 mug, 1 salt seller, pepper box and shears, 2 pair scissors (one parcel goods)
- 1 candlestock
- 2 flat irons
- 1 sword bayonet cartouch box
- 1 negro boy named Ned
- 1 negro man named Harry
- 1 table cloths and 1 bag
- 1 yearling
- 1 cart and wheels
- Parcel of fowls
- Plow hoe
- Two cow hides
- Two slays and harness
- 5 books
- One pair money scales
- Razor straps
- 2 cups
- 2 galley pots
- Four vials on pepper box
- 5 chairs
- Hone warping bars and boxes and meal tub
- One bedsted and one chest and oaks
- One cradle
- Parcel shoe leather
- Parcel carols
- Parcel corn
- Parcel pork and tub lard
- Parcel tallow and one table
- One hh?
- Parcel beef and one pigeon
- One tub and two hoes
- 5 knives and forks
- 1 frying pan
- 1 side leather and one horse skin
Signed by Frances Combs, admin, her mark
Ordered recorded May 27, 1762
Amelia County Tax lists exist for the next few years and give us a perspective on the Combs family.
1762 – Combs
- Frances tithes – Thomas Tabb’s List, Raleigh Parish [between Flatt Crk & Appomattox River]
- George – Ditto
- Philip – John Winn & Hampton Wade’s List, [middle & lower end?] Nottoway Parish
1763 – Combs
- Frances tithes – Capt Edmd Booker’s List, Raleigh Parish, the upper side of Flat Creek
- George – Ditto
- Philip – Thomas Bowrey’s List, the lower part of Nottoway Parish
Given that John’s estate was filed in Amelia County, and his widow is clearly living there, it’s unlikely that John ever moved to his Lunenburg land.
Fortunately, two chancery cases filed provide us with a lot more information about John’s family, including the names of his children:
- George was not yet 21 when his father died in 1762, so George was born after 1741. By 1766, when George sold the additional 50 acres in Amelia County that his father had purchased, he had married as his wife Phoebe relinquished her dower. George and Phoebe Combs would move to Halifax County, VA.
- Martha was married to either James Bowls or Bowlins, so she was likely born before 1742 or earlier.
- Lurany, wife of Moses Estes, probably born about 1740-1742.
- Mary Combs
- Clarissa Combs
- John Combs. The only other tidbit about John is that there one document in Amelia County in 1778, but we have no idea if it’s the same John Combs.
- Samuel Combs
Estis et us vs Combs – Amelia Co. Va. Chancery Causes 1764 001 (LVA Reel 234-247)
Humbly complaining Moses Estes and Luranna his wife, James Bowlen and Martha his wife, Samuel, George, Mary, Clarissa and John Combs that one John Combs, your orators father, being in his lifetime seized and possessed of a considerable estate and on the (blank) day departed this life intestate. Soon after the deceased on the motion of Frances Combs, the widow and relict of the said John admin. of all singular the goods and chattels rights and credits which were of the said John Combs at the time of his death. And that said Frances then took into her possession all the estate, that by a certain act of assembly made in the year of our Lord 1705? And in the 4th year of the reign of her ?. The orators have appealed to the said Frances Combs for their proportional part aforesaid but the said Frances refuses unless she may be ordered by the court. Your orators show that they are in some distress in being detained form their rights above contrary to equity… beg for consideration…ask that she be compelled to deliver (writing very faint).
Next document is a summons
Summon Frances Combs, admin of John Combs decd, Samuel, Mary, Clarissa and John Combs children of he said John Combs decd to appear… to answer a bill in chancery filed by Moses Estis and Loranna his wife.
Amelia court held July 22, 1762
Moses Estes Lorana his wife vs Frances Combs wife of John Combs decd
This cause heard and answered this day and ordered that John Booker, William Eggleston and John Cooke do assign to the def her dower in the lands and slaves of one third part of the estate of her late husband John Combs and that they divide the residue of the estate of the said John Combs among the complainant, children of the said John in equal proportions and assign unto each of them his or her share according to law.
Agreeable to the order here unto annexed we the subscribers have laid off and do assign unto the said Frances Combs widow of John Combs decd her dower in the lands and slaves one third part of the personal estate of said John Combs decd and have also divided the residue of the estate of the said John Combs decd in equal portions among the children of the said John Combs decd and do lay off and assign each their part in manner following viz’
To Frances Combs for her dower in the lands of the said John one hundred and fifety acres beginning in William Eggleston line on the upper side of the same Combs plantation thence down the said Eggleston´s line to his corner at the branch and from thence along Joseph Eggeleston´s line to a new dividing line and then with the said line to the beginning in William Eggleston´s line which includes the houses and plantation whereon the said Frances Combs now lives and for the said Frances dower in the slaves of the said John decd assign unto her one negro fellow named Harry and we do further assign unto the said Frances for her third part of the personal estate the sum of 52 pounds ten shillings 9 pence three farthings.
To Moses Eastis and Lurany his wife for his part of the personal estate of the said John Coombs decd the sum of 14 pounds and 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing.
To James Bowls [could be a slightly different name] and Martha his wife for his part of the personal estate of the said John Combs decd also the sum of 14 pounds 17 and 7 pence farthing.
To George Combs for his part of the personal estate of the said John Combs decd the sum of 14 pounds 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing and being his part equal with the other children.
We also assign and allot unto Samuel Combs, Mary Combs, Clarissa Combs, John Combs each of them the sum of 14 pounds and 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing current money for their part of the personal estate of the said John Combs, decd given under our hand this 25th day of ? 1762.
In a second suit, Moses Estes filed suit against his brother-in-law, George Combs, regarding the ownership of the slave named Ned. In this suit, we confirm that John Combs did have 6 children living when he died (although 7 are listed in the suit above) and that he had not disposed of any of his property before his death. We then hear the story of Ned. Poor Ned – I wonder whatever happened to him.
Eastes et al vs Combs – Amelia Co VA chancery 1769-001 (LVA Reel 235-247)
Your orator Moses Estes and ? blank Eastes that in the year 17 [blank] and George Combs of this county seized and possessed of a certain negro named [blank] and on the day aforesaid departed this life without making any deposition thereof leaving at that time blank children and on this day your orator being one and after the decease of the said Combs one George Combs being the heir at law of the deceased claiming the same possessed himself accordingly without any regard to your orators and the other children then living and since has utterly refused to make any distribution thereof not withstanding your oratrices ? from said equity she is entitled to her dividend part that being the ? upon an equal distribution all while acting and doing of the said George Combs is contrary to equity and good conscience and tend to the manifest injury and appression of your oratrices. Your orator cannot compel him the said George Combs to make an equal distribution thereof without the assistance of a court of equity where they are properly reliable to the end therefore that the said George Combs my upon his corporal oath make his answer to all the matters of things hereinto contained as to whether blank Combs father of the def was not seized and possessed of a certain negro slave named [blank] at the time of his death an if he was what has since become of him. Whether the said George Combs is not now in the possession of him and how doth he claim the same. Whether the decd did not have 6 children your oratrice being one of them. Whether the said [blank] Combs did not depart this life without disposing of any part of his estate and if any what part your orator and oratrice pray that the said negro slave in the bill set forth may be so disposed of as for them to get their equal and distribution part thereof and that they may have such further and other relief as shall be agreeable to the court.
Aug 1763 – George Combs summoned (in the third year of the rein of George the third ) to answer the bill of chancery filed by Moses Estes
The defendant George Combs by enotes? Taken not allowing confessing or acknowledging all or any of the matters and things in the said complaintants bill. He says that John Combs died and in his lifetime in the parish of Raleigh in the Co. of Amelia being then possessed of the said slave Ned in the said plaintiff´s bill mentioned as of his own proper slave made an actual gift of the said slave Ned to this def. being then an infant under the age of 21 years whereby the absolute right and interest in the said slave became vested in this def and that he this def by virtue of such gift became possessed and is now possessed of the slave as of his own proper slave and therefore this def doth plead the said gift….the def father John Combs died intestate leaving this def his eldest son and heir at law then an infant under 21 years of age and that this def is now under twenty two years of age. His father left several other children now living and lastly this def.
Order to examine “George Combs, an aged person” in relation to this case. Aug 1765
George Combs of Charlotte County aged about 60 years being sworn…says that some time about ten years ago John Combs the father of George Combs the def in the dedimus mentioned by the one certain John Baldwin one negro boy named Ned and this deponent sayeth the first time he see the said John Combs after he had bought the said negro he heard the said John say he had bought him for his son George and that he should have him and he further heard the aid John Combs say that several people had been asking him why he chosed to give all to George and nothing to his daughters when this deponent sayeth that the said John informed him that this intent w[a]s that his son George should have all his land and negroes and that the rest of his estate should be equally divided among his daughters. George “+” Combs (his mark) taken October 6 1765
Ordered to take depositions July 1766
Next document – Deposition of James Ferguson taken November 26, 1766
James Farguson aged about 46 years being first sworn…says that he was in the company some years past with John Combs decd at John Baldwins and [t]hat the said Baldwin asked the said Combs if he knew of anybody that wanted to buy a negro when Combs asked what sort of a negro Baldwin said he would show him and brought to him a small boy named Ned when this deponent asked the said Combs what service such a small boy as this would be to him, when the said Combs answered “None at al but that it might be of service to his son George”, this deponent further sayeth the next time he went to the said Combs, the said Combs had bought the above said negro boy Ned and the said Combs says to this deponent “I have got my boy how do you like him?” when this deponent “I have no calion? to like him, how do you like him?” when the said Combs said “my boy likes him” and calling the negro boy Ned and then calling George saying “come here my son” and taking each of them by the hand said “here a negro for you my son” and taking the negro boys hand and putting it into his son George´s hand says “I give you this negro boy here before your uncle Jamey and Aunt Patty” which was then delivered to him.
James Fergusson signature
Deposition of John Feerguson aged about 61 years old
Being sworn…says that he heard John Combs in his lifetime say at several times that he had given negro Ned unto his son George and that once he said the he would send his son to court one of my daughters and that he had given him one negro and would make something of him if he lived. John Fergusson
Nov 26, 1766
Deposition of Parriott Poindle [Prindle] aged about 47…that he has heard John Combs in his lifetime at several times say that he had bought a negro Ned for his son George and that he shall have him at his death for he had worked for to help to pay for him and he shall have him. Parriott “P” Prindle (his mark)
William Eggleston aged about 35 being sworn…says he was an appraiser for the estate of John Combs decd and that there was a young negro fellow named Ned appraised of the estate of the said John Combs and that no person laid any claim on property on the said negro at [t]he appraisement as he knowed of and he was appointed by the court to lay off the widow of the said John Combs her third of his estate and that [t]he above said negro Ned was then judged to be the estate of the said John Combs decd and that she had her third of the same. William Eggleston (signature)
Nov 26 1766
Deposition of Edward Booker aged about 35 says he was an appraiser of the estate of John Combs decd and that there was a young negro fellow named Ned appraised of the estate of the said John Combs and that no person laid any claim or property in the said negro at the appraisement as he knows of. Edward Booker (signature)
Nov. 26, 1766
The testimony of George Combs causes me to wonder if all of John’s children were by his first wife as was originally believed. Piecing this event together, it appears that Ned was bought by John for George about 1755, a full 5 years after John married Frances Elam. At that time, George said that people asked why he gave everything to George and not his daughters. Not his “other children,” but specifically his daughters. However, in the chancery suit after John’s death in 1762, his two eldest daughters were married, so they were clearly born before his 1750 marriage, but three sons are mentioned – George, Samuel and John. If all of this is correct, then John and Samuel would have been less than 10 years old when his father died. It’s odd that no guardianship papers were found.
The repeated useage of the name George, as in John Comb’s brother, John Comb’s oldest son and then Luremia’s oldest (but not necessarily first) son suggests that George is a family named in this Combs line.
From this suit, we find our one and only clue as to a relationship between John Combs and any other people.
We know that James Farguson was age 46, so born about 1720, and was married to Patty, which could have been a nickname for something else, in about 1755 when the purchase of Ned occurred, according to George Combs the elder, probably the brother of John Combs.
If James Farguson and Patty were the aunt and uncle of George (the younger), that means that either James or Patty were the siblings of John Combs or his first wife, whose name we don’t know.
Since the surname is not Combs, we know that James Farguson is not the brother of John Combs, unless he is a half-brother.
There is a James Farguson who continues to be involved with George Combs after he moved to Halifax County. We find those records in 1772 and 1783.
I decided to do a quick runthrough on the Farguson family to see what I could find…and I’m telling you, the Combs men, meaning both George and John, fought way too much with the Farguson’s NOT to be related.
I surely wonder if James Farguson’s wife, Patty, is a Combs. That would explain both John and George’s constant interaction with this family. John Combs first wife could also have been a Farguson.
The Farguson family certainly is interesting. When you look at the six families who obtained the land grants in the 1730s and in essence, cast their lots together, whether intentionally or otherwise, one would presume that they are about the same economic and social level. Not so. The Booker family was quite wealthy. We find them sitting as judges at court and Edmund Booker represented Amelia County in the House of Burgesses.
John Combs seems to have been a relatively respectable “normal” man for that place and time. This means he owned land, served on jurys, helped to maintain the roads, and yes, he owned a few slaves. He was not a large plantation owner but owned a respectable size farm. He was “middle class” for his day.
The Fargusons, on the other hand, were, well, the wild children of the neighborhood. Every neighborhood has one of those families, and the Farguson’s seem to be the group that was constantly in some kind of trouble. Usually not terrible, although there is one notorious exception to that – but ever-present and chronic.
Uncle Jamie, or James Farguson was sued so many times for debt, assault and trespassing that I stopped keeping count. He was also presented to court several times for “profane swearing.” I don’t know what he did, but at least once he was sent to prison directly from court for his “ill behavior” during the court session. It might be worth mentioning that at this time in history, there was a lot of drinking that went along with court sessions.
James was sentenced to jail several times too, but generally it was only until he paid his fine. However, in at least one case, he spent at least 20 days in jail because he refused to pay.
1740 – George Combs sues James Farguson
1742, April 16 – Robert Forguson appointed surveyor from Combs bridge over Flatt Creek into the courthouse, John, Robert and William Forguson, John Combs and Richard Boram to do the same.
1743, July 25 – Court Order Book 1, Lodwick Ferguson committed on suspicion of felony. Prisoner brought to bar and milemus read. The following testimony given under oath.
Thomas Whitworth said he had in a small trunk belonging to his daughter, about 35 pounds, chiefly consisting of gold pieces, which were as he believes, double doubloons, and said money was stolen from the trunk and that he has strong reason to believe that Lodwick Fergerson stole the same.
James Fergerson, brother of said Lodwick, came to his house and asked him to go to Lodwick’s father, which he did, and said Fergerson with sons John and Robert wanted to compound with him and offered to enter into bond payable to Whitworth for payment of what money he had lost if he would discharge the prisoner and say he had gotten his money.
Thomas Whitworth, Jr., said…that Lodwick had been committed to the prison for an examination. Fergerson offered to compound with him on behalf of his father, telling him he could make up about 22 pounds of the money and he would have bond and security for the rest, for he would rather do anything than be hanged.
John Harrison said when Fergerson was in prison, he, Fergerson, desired him to tell his brother John to help him, for he expected to die. Lodwick told him that he had borrowed 8/14/0 from Samuel Martin, that old Fergerson, father of the prison John Ferguson, Robert Fergerson, brother to him and John Gillintine were to become liable to pay Whitworth the money he supposed Lodwick had stolen from him, if Whitworth stay 2 years.
Prisoner to be tried at next general court held at the capitol in Williamsburg next October. Prisoner requests bail and court considers that prisoner must give 200 pounds and his securities 100 pounds each against his appearance at next general court. Robert Fergerson, John Fergerson and Robert Fergerson Jr. securities.
I find no further records of Lodwick, so I wonder what happened to him. Was he hung in Williamsburg?
1743, December – John and Elizabeth Fergerson vs Thomas Burton. Jury sworn. Verdict: By evidence of John Willson and James Robertson that “Thomas Burton did say he never wanted for f***ing the plaintiff’s wife when he pleased.” (Yes, that really was the f word in the court notes. I always wondered how long ago that was in use.)
1745 – George Combs sues Robert Farguson
1745 – James Farguson sent to prison for 20 days
1746 – George Combs vs Robert Farguson in trespass
1746 – James and Robert Farguson sued for debt together
1746 – John Farguson sued Benjamin Hawkins
1746 – John Farguson is on the same road crew as John Combs
1747 – John Farguson sued Benjamin Hawkins for slander
1748 – James Farguson for trespass
1748 – James Farguson – treason for speaking against the King and refusing to keep the peace
1749 – Robert Farguson to keep an ordinary at his house
1750 – James Farguson – profane swearing
1751 – James Farguson – profane swearing
1751 – James Farguson’s to the bridge which is on the same road as Winterham, the name of the Edward Booker plantation
1751 – James Farguson – assault and Battery – sent to jail with a fine of 10s until paid with costs
1753 – James Farguson – assault and battery
1753 – Bridge over Flatt Creek near James Farguson’s out of repair
1754, April – James Farguson ordered into prison for his ill behavior during the sitting of this court.
What the heck is “profane swearing?” I mean, I think I know, but maybe not.
I couldn’t find Virginia’s statute, but here is Maryland’s from 1723.
“If any person, by writing or speaking, shall blaspheme or curse God, or shall write or utter any profane words of and concerning our Saviour, Jesus Christ, or of and concerning the Trinity, or any of the persons thereof, he shall, on conviction, be fined not more than one hundred dollars, or imprisoned not more than six months, or both fined and imprisoned as aforesaid, at the discretion of the court.”
So, I guess damn is swearing, but profane swearing would add God in front of that. Got it.
Another researcher, using detailed tax and tithe records, found Lodwick and James both listed as tithes of Robert Farguson.
Based on all of the combined information, here is the Farguson family reconstruction as best I can tell.
- Robert Farguson, wife Mary
- Sons James, Robert, Lodwick and John.
- James Farguson is the Uncle of John Combs’ son, George, so James either is a sibling or married to a sibling of John Combs or his first wife.
So, I have to wonder, what did John Combs and his wife tell their children about their irreverent uncle, James Farguson, who was always in some kind of trouble? Was he the family member that everyone uses for a bad example?
“Don’t cross your eyes like that…you’ll wind up like Uncle Dufus.”
You have to admit, life was certainly interesting, much more so than one would expect. This is not exactly the southern plantation stereotypical lifestyle of Tara, sitting around in white dresses under parasols drinking peach brandy and sweet tea.
John’s Final Resting Place
So, after all of this, where is John buried? Well, we simply don’t know, but let’s look at the possibilities.
First, there are a lot of early Eggleston burials in the Grub Hill Church cemetery located not far from the Eggleston property. In fact, it’s certainly possible that this was the original Eggleston cemetery.
The Booker family reports that there was a family cemetery on the Booker plantation, but the current owners say there is no cemetery there now. Likely, there were no marked graves and over the years it disappeared and either returned to nature or became farmland. There are no Farguson burials or pre-1900 Ferguson burials, so that family may have left entirely.
Grub Hill Church, the oldest church in Amelia County, was built around 1754 and rebuilt in the 1850s and it lies in very close proximity to these plantations.
It’s very likely that John Combs attended this church, as it was the only church at that time and Anglican church attendance was required. Given that, he may well be buried in this churchyard. It is the closest cemetery to his homestead, or, he’s buried in a lost family cemetery. The church reports that they have burials into the 1700s. John’s first wife, mother of his children, is a candidate to be buried here as well, as is his second wife, Frances.
As I write each one of these 52 ancestors articles, I feel like I really get to know that ancestor on a personal basis. I try my best to learn what their life was like – how their community worked, where they went to church, and any tidbits I can find about their home life. I try, as best I can, to see their life from the perspective of the time they lived, not from my cultural and social vantage today. Often, the only glimpse we get inside their daily life is an estate inventory or sale – where the cumulative efforts of their life work are sold with the proceeds divided among their heirs.
After my step-father’s death, my mother had an auction before she left the farm and moved to town. It was the equivalent of an estate sale and it was exceedingly painful to watch.
In colonial America, because our ancestors lived so long ago, there are no family stories or memories about John Combs or anyone in this timeframe to be passed down through the family. He is my 5 times great grandfather, or 7 generations upstream from me. Oral history stopped at about the 4th generation. Anything we find has to be through public documents such as deeds, court notes or chancery suits. That’s the only way we find out about rowdy cousin Jamie Farguson. It’s also the way we find out about things like slavery.
Because slaves were treated as property, because, at that time, that’s what they were – there are often, but not always, records of transactions involving slaves. In some cases, sales are recorded in court or deed books. That’s not the case in Amelia County in records relevant to the Combs family.
We discover in three ways that John Combs was a slave owner. First, two slave children that he owned, Sue and York, were presented to the court for their age to be determined. Second, he was tithed at one point with too many people for them to have been family members – so it’s likely that at that point in time he owned 5 slaves over the age of 12 or 16. Lastly, when he died, there were two slaves in his estate, Ned, a boy, and Harry, a man. The chancery suits fill in a few blanks.
If we think our genealogy is difficult, try having only the first name of a slave ancestor and if you’re exceedingly lucky, an owner’s name.
John may not have owned slaves until 1749, just prior to his marriage to Frances Elam. His son George is too young to have been tithed to him, so it’s likely that John Combs had 5 slaves that year over the age of 12. One of them was York. The others may have been York’s parents. Sue may have been one of those slaves too.
We know that John bought the child, Ned, about 1755 for his son George. I’d like to think that they were playmates, but even if they were close, the expectation that as they became older, that one would serve the other, for the rest of his life, or until sold, was clear. It was not a friendship of equals, if it was a friendship at all.
My heart goes out to Ned. He was called a boy in 1762 in John Combs estate, and that was several years after John had purchased Ned. George Combs refers to Ned as a “young boy” when he was purchased. Ned was obviously separated as a child from his parents and anyone else that might have been his family. We don’t know the circumstances. His parents could have been dead. What we can probably say without fear of being wrong is that Ned was without parents or even parent-figures. Ned was a black child in bondage, alone, except for the white child he had been given to.
Ned’s saving grace was that he did have value based on the labor it was expected he would be able to produce as an adult – and for the time being – as a playmate for George Combs. In many cases, the fact that slaves were so valuable is what literally, saved them. For example, indentured servants, who were only bound for a period of time, often 7 years, were sometimes literally worked to death – because they had no residual value to their masters.
Slavery, meaning bondage for life, bothers me…a lot – both in practice and in principle. Indentured servitude does not. It may have been rough, but people signed up for that willingly. Slaves had no choice in the matter and no opportunity for freedom other than through the generosity of their masters or groups like the Quakers who bought slaves with the intention of freeing them.
I’m so very thankful that John Combs wasn’t involved in slave trading. We pretty much know who those slave-trading families were. Wealth went along with slave trading – and so did being inherently heartless. The fact that John owned (at least) four slaves, even though not a lot by Virginia standards, bothers me. The culture of slavery bothers me. That fact that “everyone else was doing it” does not justify the behavior. In fact, “everyone else” was not participating, but certainly the wealthy Virginia landowners were. John owned a relatively small tract of land and his slaves would have been working alongside himself and his family members. There were no overseers. In fact, John’s brother George was an overseer for Field Jefferson – which also bothers me. Clearly the family, as a whole, had no problem with slavery as an institution and participating in that institution.
It’s easy to make excuses, like, “If I don’t buy them, someone else will. They’ll still be slaves anyway. They’d be better off with me.” While that might have been true, it still doesn’t justify slavery. Nothing does.
I try very hard when I write these summaries of my ancestors to not judge their lives or what they did. I try to view these people in historical context, and although slavery is a dark blot and stain on the history of our country as a whole, it is a fact of life and it was accepted as normal at the time. It happened and it’s over. Some even say that the slaves here and their descendants represent those who were lucky enough to live. Before slavery offered a lucrative option for what to do with war captives in Africa, they were killed. In the colonies, the same was true of Indian wars and war captives. Before white traders got involved as middlemen, both African and Indian slaves were captured and killed or sold, by a different tribe of their own people.
While slavery was awful, and those caught up in its tentacles were clearly victims, it wasn’t sure and certain death. Was it better than death, for the Africans who survived the Middle Passage and went on to have descendants, and for the Indians captured as children and raised as slaves? Probably, because without our slave ancestors, we descendants would not be alive today. And there was always hope for a better tomorrow.
Yes, I said we. I am mixed race – a combination of European (white), Native American from multiple lines, and African. My white ancestry and ancestors have been much easier to find than my ancestors of color. That’s because the black ancestors were enslaved and the Native ancestors were annihilated in a variety of ways. Most people don’t take well to invaders taking their land and slaughtering their families. The only alternative to death was assimilation – and my ancestors did, as quickly as possible. It was a matter of survival.
For me, it’s particularly difficult when I read about slavery among my ancestors, because I know I have family on both ends of the stick and I feel very strongly about equality and freedom of choice. Not only am I mixed race, having endured discrimination on both sides of that fence, especially as a child, too dark to be white but too white to be “of color,” but I am a female who grew up in an age where discrimination against women in various forms was accepted as the status quo. It too was institutionalized, cultural and considered “normal.” And it too was and is wrong, unjust and indefensible.
When I write these summaries of my ancestors, I’m limited by the records we can find that reflect the various stages of their life. John Combs may not actually have been identified in his lifetime by being a slave owner, especially as compared to his neighbors with large tracts of land and lots of slaves.
For all I know he was a pious man and loved his slave family as his own family. But we have no letters from John, no diary, no account books, nothing. All we have is the dry court order books, tax lists and the chancery suit following his death. And in these records, the theme of being a slave owner runs through each one. I can’t shake it, and when I think of him, that’s really what I think of. I wish I knew more so that I could have a better rounded picture of John Combs as a person, but I don’t. All I really know is that he owned land and owned slaves, and that fact permeated every aspect of his life, even after his death. It’s the elephant in the room I can’t seem to see around. Today, it’s the aspect of his life that defines him, perhaps because there are records of slaves and there aren’t records of other things. Regardless of why – it’s still what defines him because that is the information we have.
This certainly makes me pause to think about what will be left of my lifetime to represent me in another 250 years, assuming I have any descendants and anyone is interested. It won’t be court orders, that’s for sure, but if they mine Facebook, they’ll discover that I take pictures of flowers in my garden, have 3 websites/blogs (will they know what a blog is?), that I have a special penchant for cats, have a fur family, including a grand-puppy, and that I’m a quilter. Of course, it goes without saying that they’ll know I’m a genealogist too, with grandchildren. They’ll be able to get to know me at least somewhat through my postings and my blog listings, although assuredly the blogs will be long gone so they would only be looking at the first paragraph or so posted on FaceBook and one of the photos. They will probably be pulling their hair out, wishing that somehow, those blogs had been preserved in time. I feel their pain!
I wonder what kinds of things we do today that won’t be considered culturally and socially acceptable in another 250 years, and how my descendants will think of me. I’m guessing my 52 ancestors article title would be something like, “Roberta Estes, Mis-Behaved Cat Loving Genetic Genealogy Blogger, Quilter and Gardener.” But then again, that’s from my perspective today. Not to mention that my Facebook page omits several aspects of my life. My 30+ year career, my college degrees, my husband and children, etc. It’s more complete for me than the information we have about John Combs, but it’s still woefully lacking.
I’m sure there are many aspects of John Combs life that we are missing too. John Combs might have looked at his article title, “Slave Owner,” with pride because owning land and slaves was the measure of success in Virginia in his lifetime. Given that John started out as a man without an education, unable to even sign his name, he would likely have been very proud of his achievements – rising to the status of landowner, slave owner and juror.
The one aspect of John we’ve yet to investigate is DNA. In this case, we have a serious problem, because we only know what happened to one of his sons, George. John’s sons, John and Samuel disappear, but they may have survived. We don’t know.
John Combs’ son George married Phoebe, whose surname is unknown and they moved to Halifax County. They had daughter Judith who married Jesse Dodson, Polly who married Bolling Hamblett, Larcenee who married George Shelton, Phebe who married Thomas Yates in 1788 and then moved to White County, TN, and one son, George, who married Elizabeth Yates in 1809.
To test George’s Y DNA, we would need to find a direct male descendant of his son George who married Elizabeth Yates who carries the Combs surname. The problem is, we don’t know what happened to him. And for all those couples who have hundreds of Ancestry trees, there isn’t one, not one, for him.
Our other possibility would be descendants of George Combs the elder, who was born 1701-1705, likely the brother of our John Combs. He lived in Charlotte County, but we don’t know what happened to him either, or if he had sons.
Looking at the Combs DNA project, we can see that indeed, there is one person who descends from Archdale Combs, haplogroup I-M233. Judging from the number of markers utilized, the original Combs DNA project was, unfortunately, not at Family Tree DNA. All of the other companies have discontinued their Y DNA testing business. Based on this information, I checked at www.Ysearch.org and discovered that indeed, these testers are haplogroup I-M233.
So, if our John Combs is somehow descended from Archdale, this would be his Y DNA haplotype and haplogroup. The problem of course is that making that determination with almost no evidence a very broad step, more like a leap of faith, an assumption with a lot of maybes and it’s a very large leap I’m not comfortable making.
Furthermore, even if our John was proven to descend from Archdale on paper, that doesn’t mean the DNA matches. One should always, if possible, confirm by testing at least two descendants of the male ancestor in question, meaning through different sons. Of course, in the case of our John, we can’t even find one son’s descendants, so we’re left waiting for future developments.
The next avenue I tried was to contact the Combs DNA project administrators and ask if Family Finder folks were welcome. Many Y DNA projects don’t want to deal with autosomal matching. Fortunately, the admin was very gracious and it says right on their project site that they welcome autosomal folks. That’s the good news. The bad news was that we did not match the male who tested from Archdale – assuming he has taken the FF test, which I can’t tell.
Lastly, I used Family Tree DNA’s new search function to see if I could find anyone in their data base who descends from our John, or George. If they haven’t taken the autosomal test, this would be a great opportunity. Unfortunately, no luck there either.
Three strikes and I’m out – for now.
I’m hopeful that someone who descends from John Combs or his brother George Combs will read this and perhaps they too will be curious. If so, please let me know. I have a scholarship for the first proven male Combs descendant!
I can’t end this article without saying something about collaborative research.
Combs researchers are very fortunate that for several years, through 2010, there was a very active research group whose work is, thankfully, preserved on the Combs-Coombs website. I am both a contributor and a benefactor and I am very grateful for all of those who have contributed, coordinated and preserved these Combs records. I wish all of my surnames had a site like this.