Phebe (c1747-c1803), Is Jotham Brown’s Wife Zopher Johnson’s Daughter?, 52 Ancestors #99

I love her name, Phoebe.  There have been other Phoebe’s in the family line – her granddaughter, Phoebe Crumley, assuredly named for her.  Nine generations later, we have another Phoebe, but her parents had never heard of Phoebe Brown or Phoebe Crumley.  I like to think that they were somehow influenced by forces unseen to select a beautiful family name.

We don’t know a lot about the original Phoebe, Jotham Brown’s wife, whose name was also spelled Phebe, Pheby and Feby.  For example, we don’t know who her parents were.

There has been speculation for years based on the close relationship of the Brown and Johnson families in Frederick County, Virginia and Greene County, Tennessee, that Phebe was the daughter of Zopher Johnson the Elder.  I wish she was, because I think Zopher is a really cool name and someone else has already done a lot of quality research on this family who was originally found near Philadelphia, but alas, I really don’t think so.  Let’s take a look at Phoebe’s life and see how the evidence stacks up.

We know that Phoebe was living in Virginia in 1768, because on the 1850 census, her daughter, Jane Brown Cooper gave Virginia as her birth location.

We also know that Zopher Johnson, “the Elder” who is Phoebe’s speculative father, was living at the Forks of the Delaware between 1754-1762 when his son, Zopher Johnson, Sr., was born.

Zopher Johnson the Elder clearly did moved to Virginia sometime before 1781 when he was on the tax list in Frederick County, VA.  This is also the first location where we find Zopher Johnson living in the same location as the Jotham Brown family.  They are both found on the 1782 tax list.  We also know that Jotham Brown was living in Hampshire County in 1778 and remained there until about 1781.

Spring Gap Road with Mountain

This land in Hampshire County is still very remote and wooded today as shown by Google Maps street view.  I can’t even imagine how forbidding it looked 237 years ago when the first settlers were obtaining land grants.

Spring Gap Hamphire Co

Spring Gap and Bethel Road where they cross the creek feeding into Little Cacapon River.  This is the area where Jotham and Phebe Brown owned land.

In 1778, Jotham Brown would have been about 38 years old and Phebe maybe a few years younger.  Given that their oldest daughter, Jane was born in 1768, and is believed to be their oldest child, Jotham would have married Phoebe about 1767 – wherever they were both living at the time.

The problem is that we don’t know where they living in 1767, although it’s likely they were living in Virginia given that their daughter was born there a year later in 1768.

Had Zopher Johnson moved to someplace in Virginia by 1767?  If so, where?  He wasn’t in Hampshire County, or at least not that we can tell, although most Hampshire County records are missing, but Virginia land grants for this area exist.

Conversely, was Jotham Brown living in Pennsylvania in 1767?  There are no records that indicate that’s the case – but it’s possible.

However, in order for Zopher Johnson’s daughter to marry Jotham Brown, they had to be in the same location at the same time.  You can’t court someone who doesn’t live nearby – at least not then in Virginia.

By 1781/1782, both families had moved to Frederick County, VA.  Was this move coordinated or pre-planned or simply circumstantial?

The 1782 tax records tell us that Jotham Brown and Phoebe had 8 children, which could mean that they had been married roughly as long as 16 years, about 1766, which correlates with their the known birth year of Jane in 1768.

There was a strong Quaker presence in Frederick County, and the Crumley and Babb families into which the Brown family would eventually marry years later in Greene County, TN were both Quaker.  Did the Johnsons and Browns live near the Quaker families on Apple Pie Ridge in Frederick County?

Catherine Crumley 2

It’s likely, because, in 1787, when Berkeley County, West Virginia was formed from Frederick County, the Johnson family is found in Berkeley County.  So was William Crumley whose land actually spanned the states, with the state line running between the fence and the white barn below.  This area was heavily Quaker, but not to the exclusion of others.

William Crumley 6

By 1790, Zopher Johnson had moved to Greene County, Tennessee.  Within a few years, William Crumley’s son, William (the second), moved to Greene County, TN as well.

However, Jotham and Phoebe Brown didn’t stay long in Frederick County.  They were gone by 1783 when they bought land in Botetourt County, VA on Brush Creek (below) where they lived until Jotham died sometime between March of 1797 when he and Phoebe sold a plot of land and May of 1800 when Phoebe and Jotham’s eleven children sold Jotham’s remaining land in preparation to move to Greene County, TN.  It’s that deed that tells us the names of all of Jotham and Phoebe’s children, at least the ones that were living at that time.  We don’t know of any that died, but in that time and place, for all of your children to live to adulthood would be remarkable indeed.

brush creek mountain from the creek

By this time, Phoebe’s oldest daughter, Jane, had married Cristopher Cooper and Phoebe probably accompanied them when they moved to Greene County.  Of Phoebe’s eleven children, nine moved to Greene County and two moved to Kentucky – so certainly Phoebe went someplace and didn’t stay in Montgomery County alone with no family and no land. That would have been a death sentence.

By this time, the Johnson and Crumley families were already established in Greene County.  The Brown/Cooper family would join the Johnson and Crumley families in the Cross Anchor area.  Was this planned, and if so, as a function of knowing each other in Frederick County…or was there something more – an already established family tie other than Sylvanus having married Ruth Johnson in Montgomery County?  If Phoebe was Zopher’s “the Elder’s” daughter, Ruth would have been Sylvanus’s first cousin.  This marriage does tell us that at least some of the Johnson family was also in Montgomery County.

William Crumley (the second) had helped to establish the Methodist Church in Greene County, TN in 1797.  At least two of Phoebe Brown’s sons-in-law were Presbyterian as both Christopher Cooper and William Stapleton signed a religious petition in Botetourt County in 1785 to establish a Reformed Church of Scotland.  Zopher the Elder’s son, Zopher Sr., is buried in the Kidwell Cemetery in Greene County which was a Methodist churchyard at one time, and some of his descendants married Presbyterian, so although we don’t know Zopher the Elder’s religious conviction, it doesn’t appear to be Quaker.  He’s not mentioned in any Quaker church records.

We know that Phoebe Brown was still alive in 1802 when she witnessed the sale of land by her daughter Jane and Jane’s husband, Christopher Cooper in Montgomery County.  By December 1803, Jane and Christopher were purchasing land in Greene County, and it’s very likely that Phoebe was along with them with her two youngest, unmarried children.  By this time, Phoebe would have been less than 60 years old, probably about 55 given that she had her last child about 1790 – not elderly by any means.

Cooper land

We don’t know when Phoebe passed away, but assuming she did not die before leaving Montgomery County, she would be buried on her daughter, Jane’s land in what is now referred to as the “Old Cooper Cemetery.”  Cousin Stevie Hughes set a beautiful marker so that it will never be lost in the underbrush again.

There are other tidbits and hints too – but those tidbits don’t speak favorably about Phoebe being the daughter of Zopher Johnson.

Phoebe and Jotham Brown had the following children, according to Stevie Hughes excellent research:

  • Jane Brown, born 1768 in Virginia, married Christopher Cooper on October 20, 1786 in Montgomery County, VA.  She died between 1856 and 1859 and is buried in the Old Cooper cemetery on Spider Stines Road near the Cross Anchor area in Greene County, on the land where she had lived.

Old Cooper burial stone

  • Sylvanus Brown born about 1771, married Ruth Johnson, daughter of Moses Johnson, a son of Zopher Johnson, in 1794 in Montgomery County, VA.  They moved to Greene County in 1805 and lived on Smith’s Fork, also known as Tillman’s Fork, very close to William Crumley who also lived on Tillman’s Fork.  In fact, four of Sylvanus’ children married Crumleys.
  • David Brown born about 1773 married Nancy Craig in 1795 in Montgomery County.  He also came to Greene County where he served in the War of 1812.
  • John Brown was born about 1774, married Elizabeth Wilson and migrated from Montgomery County to Lincoln County, KY by 1802.
  • Esther Brown born about 1775 married John Willis in 1793 in Montgomery County.  She was in Montgomery County in 1818 when John died and in 1820, but is believed to have migrated to Greene County by 1830.
  • Elizabeth Brown born about 1780 married Joshua Wilson in Lincoln County, KY in 1802.  She apparently moved there with her brother John.
  • Mary Brown born about 1780 married William Stapleton in Montgomery County.  They were in Greene County by 1812.  The family migrated to Hawkins Co., TN and then to Lee Co., VA where Mary died in 1843 and is buried in the Roberts Cemetery.  They lived close to sister Lydia Brown and her husband, William Crumley the Third.

Mary Brown Stapleton gravestone

  • Jotham Brown Jr. was born October 2, 1783 and moved with his family to Greene County where he married Margaret “Peggy” Maloney and served in the War of 1812.  He lived on the Waters of Lick Creek.  There is a Malone Cemetery on the land by the Union Church where this couple may be buried.  This is very near Tilman’s Fork.

malone cemetery

  • Mercy Brown born about 1784 married William Babb in 1807 in Greene County,  eventually settling in Hawkins County, TN..  The Babb family had lived near the Crumley family in Frederick County, VA and were Quakers.
  • William Brown was born about 1789 and married Martha Blair in 1811.  He likely died young with only one son and possibly a daughter.
  • Lydia Brown, the youngest child, was born about 1790 in Montgomery County, VA.  She would have come with her mother and siblings to Greene County where she married William Crumley (the third) on October 1, 1807.  There has been a lot of discussion, along with mitochondrial DNA testing, to determine whether or not Lydia died before 1817 or whether she lived beyond 1817.  While this may seem trivial, it isn’t, at least not to me, because my ancestor, Phebe Crumley was born to William Crumley (the third) and his wife in March of 1818.  One William Crumley married in October of 1817 to one Elizabeth Johnson.  William Crumley the Second and his son, William Crumley the Third were both living in Greene County at that time.  Suffice it to say that based on mitochondrial DNA testing, it appears that William Crumley (the third) was not the William Crumley who married Elizabeth Johnson in 1817.

With all of these children, if one’s father was named Zopher, wouldn’t you think one child, or one grandchild would be named Zopher?  Well, there isn’t, except for a son of Sylvanus but then Sylvanus married a granddaughter of Zopher Johnson….so that isn’t unexpected.  No other children or grandchildren named anyone Zopher.

To me, this is fairly damning evidence – but it isn’t everything.

Several weeks ago, I set a “honey pot” trap on  That means I intentionally added Zopher Johnson to my family tree.

Ancestry Zopher Johnson

This would cause anyone who matched my DNA and also had Zopher Johnson in their tree to pop up as a shakey leaf DNA match.  Now, clearly, some of these could be valid in that Sylvanus Brown married a Johnson granddaughter of Zopher – so I could legitimately match those descendants who legitimately have Zopher in their tree.  I could certainly match them through the Brown side.

Needless to say, I have to be exceedingly careful when I evaluate those matches – well, I would be – if I had any matches to descendants of Zopher Johnson.  At Family Tree DNA, I don’t have any Zopher matches either except for people from my own line who have Zopher in their tree as Phoebe’s father.  What I’m looking for are matches to people with whom I share no other common ancestor.

We recently found a man who descends from Zopher Johnson’s son and whose family did not intermarry with any Crumley lines.  He graciously tested, and there are no matches between any of the known Crumley descendants of Phoebe and Jotham Brown.  I have several cousins who have tested.

There are no matches to our Zopher Johnson descendant by any of the people who descend from Phoebe, Jotham Brown’s wife.

There are two things to consider – the distance of the proposed relationship and that you can’t prove a negative.

This relationship is quite a ways back in the tree, if it exists, but still, you could expect the Johnson descendant match to someone since there are several cousins who have tested.  For example, Zopher is 7 generations back from me, counting my father as generation 1, but others descended from this line are as much as 2 generations closer.

Unfortunately, we can prove, genetically that Phoebe DOES descend from Zopher Johnson (if she does), but we can never prove that she DOES NOT descend from Zopher Johnson – at least not this far removed generationally.  You simply can’t prove a negative in this case.  At this point in time, there are no matches and it doesn’t look like Phoebe is Zopher Johnson’s daughter.

We do have the mitochondrial DNA information for Phoebe, Jotham Brown’s wife, but since Zopher Johnson the Elder’s wife is unknown and there are no known daughters, there is no one available who descends from Zopher Johnson’s wife to test.

In time, there could be DNA matches that contradict the combined genealogical, location and autosomal DNA match implications so far.  But I have a feeling that’s going to be a very, very long wait.  I really don’t think that Phoebe, the wife of Jotham Brown, is the daughter of Zopher Johnson the Elder, although I’d certainly welcome any unknown information of any kind proving or even hinting otherwise.

Regardless of who her parents were, Phoebe moved a lot for a pioneer woman.  She married about 1767 and had a child someplace in Virginia in 1768.  She was first found in Hampshire County in 1778 with husband Jotham Brown.  Just a few years later, in 1781, and with a family, they moved across several mountains to Frederick County, VA where they only stayed for a year or two.  Then, in 1783, probably quite pregnant, Phoebe headed off to Botetourt County, the part that would become Montgomery County, VA where they lived on Brush Creek.  She continued to have children until about 1790 when Phoebe would have been in her early/mid-40s.  You would think by then the family would have been quite established, especially since her older children were marrying and settling nearby in Montgomery County, but that wasn’t the case.  After Jotham’s death sometime between 1797 and 1800, the entire family picked up once again and moved on, most of them to Greene County, TN.

In just under 25 years, from 1778 to 1802, Phoebe lived in 4 different frontier locations, all of which required exceedingly difficult work to clear the lands and build cabins to make them inhabitable.  This would be hard enough without children, but she had at least 11, in anything but optimal conditions, plus any she buried along the wagon trail or on those lands where they lived.  Those children, she would have had to leave behind when they moved on.

Phoebe was no shrinking violet, no wall-flower and clearly wasn’t afraid of hard work. I can’t help but wonder if she delivered her own babies, then rested for a bit before going to chop firewood to fix supper.

From today’s perspective of a nice heated house with no drafts, watching the snow fall, I can’t even imagine the privations of Phoebe’s life.  Yet, she not only survived, she thrived as did her children…who had children…who had children…who eventually had me.  I think when I want to complain about something, I’ll stop and think about Phoebe first.  After all, there is a part of her in me…and I’m doubting seriously if Phoebe, the woman who survived unknown challenges and created a family life on four frontiers, was very tolerant of whiners and complainers.

Update:  I’ve never had to update an article before I hit the publish button, but there’s a first time for everything.  I’m adding this tidbit with the hope that it will ring a bell with someone and produce actual verifiable information.

Recently, the Jotham Brown line had a Y match to a Sylvanus Brown/Esther Dayton family from Long Island, NY who was found there in the early 1700s.  Sylvanus is such an unusual name that along with the Y DNA match, it’s quite compelling.  We know they do share a common Brown ancestor, we just don’t know where or when.

In addition, another long-time researcher tells me that the Cooper family was already established in Montgomery County when Jotham Brown and Phebe moved there in 1783.  Jotham and Phebe’s daughter, Jane, married Christopher Cooper, son of James, whose will was contested, and whose brother was named…Sylvanus.  So we have two families that include the very unusual name of Sylvanus meeting (again?) in Montgomery County, VA.

According to “Annals of Southwest Virginia”, Christopher and John Cooper were the first to acquire land on Brush Creek of Little River (Feb. and Nov., 1782). Jotham acquired land there August 20, 1783.  Moses Johnson acquired 200 acres on Brush Creek August 20, 1783, the same day Jotham Brown acquired his land.  James King (another Long Island and New Jersey surname) acquired 300 acres on Brush Creek September 2, 1782, so he was there early with Christopher Cooper.

Furthermore, the Zopher Johnson line that went to Illinois carries a story that Zopher Johnson Jr. (the grandson of Zopher Johnson the Elder) had an inheritance on Long Island but never pursued it due to lack of money.  True?  We don’t know, but that’s a very odd location for oral history out of Illinois.

Is this coincidence?  We don’t know, but if anyone has any information about the Johnson, Brown or Cooper families that can unite them on Long Island (or elsewhere) or provide an explanation for what is today, circumstantial evidence, I would be exceedingly grateful.



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9 thoughts on “Phebe (c1747-c1803), Is Jotham Brown’s Wife Zopher Johnson’s Daughter?, 52 Ancestors #99

  1. Roberta… My lineage includes the John Johnson family from Hamilton County, Illinois. There is a book by Dupre which differentiates my John Johnson family from the said Zopher Johnson family. Denee

  2. The Long Island ref perks me up… seeing more and more early Shenandoah Valley and Valley of VA folks w/ some L.I. bkgrd., sometimes w/ one or more of the early Dutch surnames in their bkgrd., too. Oyster Bay, L.I. was not far east of Brooklyn, Flatbush, etc. Oyster Bay was first settled by some folks from New England, from MA. I don’t know many details yet. Pat Davis in seOH

  3. This is interesting. I have Brown and Johnson from counties around Montgomery VA. I do match you, but I also share another family with you, so Brown and Johnson might not be significant. If you’d like further information, please contact me.

  4. Hello. My Geneology search has led me to Phoebe Johnston Brown. She would’ve been my grandmother’s great, great, great grandmother. Her great grandmother was the daughter of William Bobb/Babb. I’m curious if any more info on Phoebe being Zophers’ daughter has surfaced?
    Thank you for any reply

  5. My husband descends from Jotham And Pheby thru John Brown and Elizabeth Wilson. Thank you for all the wonderful info.

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