Mary Durham, daughter of Thomas Durham and Dorothy Smoot was born June 5, 1686 in North Farnham Parish in what was then Old Rappahannock County, Virginia.
Most of what we know about Mary Durham is related to her husbands, mostly her first husband by whom her children were born, Thomas Dodson.
Mary grew up along Totuskey Creek, red pin below, on the peninsula of land in Virginia known as the Northern Neck, surrounded on three sides by water; the Rappahannock River, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. It was then and remains rather insular. At that time, the economy was driven by tobacco.
Neighbors Married Neighbors
Based on deeds of her father as well as her brother, husband and husband’s father, it appears that Mary’s parents were neighbors with her husband’s parents, and she married the boy from across the fence. Mary and Thomas probably saw each other during their daily life, and on Sunday’s dressed up for church at North Farnham Parish, although the current church wasn’t built until 1737. Mary and her family would have attended the original church, located a few miles north of the present-day church, in a now forgotten location.
We don’t really know how Mary dressed or much about her lifestyle, but in general, the colonial Virginians attempted to keep up with the styles in England. The Durham family was not poor, but they also weren’t aristocratic. The lady above is fashionably dressed in 1700 in England. All I can say is that I hope it was winter with all of that fabric. She would have sweat to death in the summer, and washing machines were still an invention of the future.
Mary was quite young when she married Thomas Dodson. Their marriage was recorded on August 1, 1701 in the North Farnham Parish parish register. Mary was all of 15 years old, specifically 15 years and almost 3 months. That’s awfully young to marry, even in colonial Virginia. Thomas Dodson was all of 20 years old, young for a colonial male to marry too.
Of course, that raises the question of why they married so young. The first thought would be pregnancy. We can’t really rule that in or out, but here’s what we do know.
The first child recorded in the Farnham Parish Church registry for Mary and Thomas was George, born on October 31, 1702, a year and almost 3 months after their marriage. That means Mary did not get pregnant until they had been married 6 months. That too is unusual, as effective birth control did not exist at that time and there was no reason in that time and place not to begin a family immediately.
However, there’s son Thomas Dodson Jr. whose birth is not recorded in the Farnham Church register, which is known to be incomplete. Typically, the first male child is named after the father. If Thomas Jr. was the first child born to Mary and Thomas, then Mary would have to have been VERY pregnant when she married Thomas, in order for there to be enough time to have Thomas Jr., conceive George and give birth to him in October of 1702.
Mary’s son, Thomas Dodson Jr.’s birth is unrecorded, but he was married before 1725 to Elizabeth Rose, suggesting he was born before 1705.
If Thomas was the second born, who was the first born, George, named after, and why?
In February 1702/03, Thomas Dodson’s father, Charles Dodson, deeded land to Thomas. A month earlier, Charles had written his will and included that same land for Thomas. He apparently decided to go ahead and deed the land before his death. On the same day, he also deeded land to son Charles Dodson and indicated that Charles was already living on his land – so it’s likely that Thomas was too.
The land deeded to Thomas was half of Charles Dodson’s 300 acre tract and the half that brother Charles lived on was called Rich Neck. The other half is the land Thomas received, separated from Rich Neck by a branch of the creek.
In the article about Thomas Dodson, we identified where Rich Neck was located.
At age sixteen and a half, with a four month old baby, if not two children, Mary was now the mistress of a plantation.
In 1708 and 1709, and probably somewhat before and after, the Durham family was embroiled in a whopper of a scandal. In 1699, Thomas Durham, Mary’s father, had “purchased” an indentured servant named Anne Kelly. She was almost exactly Mary Durham’s age, 14 at that time, as judged by the court. I don’t know if the girls would have been allowed just to be girls, at least part of the time, or if their class difference would have kept them apart, even though they lived under the same roof.
However, Anne Kelly and Mary’s brother, Thomas Durham Jr. had no problem with class differences, it appears, at least not initially. In 1708, Anne was brought before the court, presented by her “master, Thomas Durham Sr.,” charged with fornication and bringing a bastard child into the world. Keep in mind that indentured servants were prohibited from marrying before their indenture was complete, so if they engaged in any intimate activity and a child resulted, the child was legally prevented from being legitimate because of their mother’s indentured status.
Anne refused to reveal the name of the father, and was fined and sentenced to jail. We’ll never know of course, if Anne was protecting someone, or if she was fearful. One way or another, she was certainly vulnerable.
Dorothy Smoot Durham, Thomas Durham Sr.’s wife came into court that same day and paid Anne’s fine, preventing Anne from having to spend time in jail. Why Dorothy performed this brave feat is unknown. It could have been out of the goodness of her heart. It could have been because she knew the identity of the father, or it could have been because she did not want to have to deal with an infant whose mother was in jail, and a servant who couldn’t serve. Regardless, Dorothy did what she needed to do – and reading between the lines, what her husband would not..
Just 10 months later, Anne Kelly was back in court again with another “bastard child,” but this time she told the court that both children were begotten by Thomas Durham Jr., Mary’s brother – although he would only have been 17 or so when the first child was conceived, if not younger. Given that there was only 10 months between Anne’s first court appearance the her second, for the second child, it’s feasible that the first child was born perhaps a year before she was actually brought into court initially. If so, then Thomas Durham Jr. would have been 16.
The second time Anne was fined, it wasn’t Dorothy that intervened, but Thomas Dodson, Mary’s husband. He paid Anne’s fine, and it appears from the court record that Anne was already serving at Thomas Dodson’s house. In any event, after her original indenture, Anne was obligated to serve additional time working for Thomas Dodson because he paid her fine. The added time to an indenture for each child was 5 years, typically, and the indenture for the fine might have been 5 years as well.
So, in addition to her own family, Mary had Anne living with them with her two children that were Mary’s nieces or nephews. In 1710, this means that Mary had at least 4 children under the age of 10 in the household and possibly as many as 8.
What is that Chinese blessing/curse? “May you live in interesting times.” Certainly these days were, especially in light of the fact that Thomas Durham Jr. married the neighbor girl, Mary Smoot about 1710 while Anne Kelly was still indentured to the family, serving extra time and raising HIS two children to boot. I’d wager Anne was none too happy for various reasons which would have added more drama to Thomas Durham’s wedding when he married Mary Smoot, related to his mother.
So 1708, 1709 and 1710 would have been very interesting years in the Durham family as well as at the Dodson’s plantation next door.
Mary’s Father Dies
In 1711, Mary’s father apparently became ill and wrote his will on August 4th, 3 days after Mary would have celebrated her 10 year wedding anniversary. In Thomas Durham’s will, among others, he mentions daughter Mary Dodson and her son, Thomas Dodson. We now know unquestionably that Thomas was born before August of 1711 and probably named after Thomas Durham, his grandfather.
We can guess, based on the average of one child every other year that Mary had born 5 children by this time. However, given what we know about the rest of her children, and who was living in 1739 when Thomas Dodson made his will, the children born between the first two sons and 1710 or 1711 died. There would have been three children whose names are unknown today that Mary gave birth to and buried, if not as children, then within her lifetime, before Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739. Many children died in an age with no inoculation’s and no antibiotics.
Daughter Alice Dodson’s birth is unrecorded, but about 1729, she married William Creel who was born in 1712, so we’ll count her as being born about 1712 as well.
Thomas Durham, Mary’s father, did not die until 1715, with his will being probated in June of that year. This suggests that he was ill from 1711, 4 years. Thomas would have been about 55 when he died, certainly not old by today’s standards.
Mary would have been 5 months pregnant for daughter Mary when she buried her father. She would have stood at her father’s grave beside her mother with at least three living children, if not more. It would have been a sad day in later winter or spring.
I wonder if Anne Kelly joined the family, bringing Thomas Durham Sr.’s two illegitimate grandchildren, if they were still living, to his funeral. If so, I’d bet you could cut the tension with a knife between Anne Kelly, Thomas Durham Jr. and his wife who probably had at least one child herself by this time.
Births and Remarriage
Daughter Mary Dodson was born a few months later on October, 5 1715. We know she lived because her father’s will in 1739 mentions her as Mary Oldham.
In February 1716, just 8 months after Mary’s father’s will was probated, her mother, Dorothy remarried to Jeremiah Greenham. This marriage was apparently not a negative turn of events, because the Dodsons and Durhams and Greenhams appear in many documents together. Even more telling is that Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson named a son Greenham, so obviously Jeremiah Greenham was much loved. Greenham Dodson was born sometime between the 1716 marriage and 1720, so let’s assign him to the 1717 slot, given that he was married by 1740.
That means that son David, who wrote a will with a possibly pregnant wife in 1740 would have likely been born about 1719.
A child who would have been born about 1721 is missing, so was probably born and died at some point before Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739.
Son Abraham Dodson was born April 4, 1723 in North Farnham Parish. He married Barbara, surname unknown and moved to Faquier County where he died in 1768.
The Next Generation
Mary’s son, Thomas Dodson Jr. was apparently married in 1724, because on February 21, 1725, Mary’s first grandchild, a grandson, Joseph was born to Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth Rose. Mary was pregnant herself at that time, so her grandson Joseph would be older than her own two youngest children.
Son Joshua Dodson was born May 25, 1725 in North Farnham Parish, three months after her first grandchild was born. Joshua was living in Faquier County in 1762 with wife Ruth when the Broad Run Church was constituted.
On April 30, 1726, George Dodson left the fold and married Margaret Dagod. That December, a daughter, Mary, named after her grandmother of course, was born to George and Margaret. I wonder if Mary felt particularly close to her namesake granddaughter.
Mary’s last child, Elisha, was born in 1727 when she was 41 years old. Mary had been bearing children for 25 years, a quarter century, risking death with each birth, for herself and the child as well.
Elisha Dodson was born February 22, 1727 in North Farnham Parish. He married Sarah Averitt (Everett) whose parents were William and Margaret Everett.
Four days apart in October of 1728, Mary’s second and third grandchildren arrived, son Lazarus to George Dodson and Margaret Dagod and son Thomas to Thomas Dodson and Elizabeth Rose. What a week that must have been!!! Babies and toddlers everyplace in the Dodson family, as the next generation had begun in earnest.
The Westward Movement Begins
In December 1733, Thomas Dodson Sr, wife Mary, Thomas Dodson Jr. and his wife Elizabeth sold land on the main swamp of Totuskey to Johnathan Lyell. That land sale is actually very helpful, because just below Rich Neck, today, there is a Lyell Church and about 3 or 4 miles northwest of Rich Neck is a Lyells crossroads. This deed which was originally the Thomas Durham Sr. land helps us to locate where this family group lived. You can click to enlarge the map below.
Mary signs this deed with her mark, an M, indicating that she cannot write her name. Education for women in terms of reading and writing was deemed unimportant and unnecessary for women in colonial America.
After this land sale, Thomas Dodson Jr. moved to Prince William County, the part that became Faquier County in 1759 and was a founding member of the Broad Run Baptist Church in 1762.
The Broad Run Church was about 105 miles from Rich Neck, but 100 miles in a wagon was about a 10 day journey, or a couple days if you were just riding a horse. By stage, at least two days, if not 3. Mary may not have seen Thomas’s family again. Perhaps he returned for an occasional visit by horseback. I hope so, for Mary’s sake, but it was very unlikely that his family came along.
Daughter Alice married William Creel about 1729 and by 1746, they too were buying land in Prince William County.
About this time, Mary’s son Elisha experienced a devastating eye injury that blinded him for life. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we do know from the Reverend Elias Dodson who wrote about the Dodson family about 1860 that Elisha was blind from an accident or event dating from Elisha’s childhood. I have to wonder what could have been so devastating as to blind him entirely, not just in one eye. Measles, uevitis and trachoma are all 3 diseases known to cause blindness. Some type of accident could have as well, but I suspect an accident would have been more likely to only blind one eye.
Death, Death and More Death
Daughter Mary would probably have married about 1735 and son David, about 1737 or 1738, given that he had one child in 1739 when Thomas Dodson wrote his will.
On February 7, 1739/40, Thomas Dodson penned his will saying he was sick and weak of body. He left Mary the plantation along with all of the negroes and moveable estate during her natural life. He does not say anything about reducing her inheritance to one third or a child’s portion that if she remarries. Clearly, he loved Mary dearly and provided for her as best he could.
Thomas leaves land and other items to their children. Thomas’s will is the only way we know about son David, because David’s birth is not found in the North Farnham Parish register, nor is his marriage, and he lives in another county.
Thomas does not pass away immediately after writing his will. His death is shown in the North Farnham Parish register as occurring on November 21, 1740. Thomas was apparently ill between February and the end of November when he died. Mary would have cared for him for these nine months. Ironic, nine months to bring a child into the world and nine months to usher Thomas to the other side.
Mary’s heart must have been sick with worry and grief. Her son, David, living in Prince William County, wrote his will on April 27, 1740, just 2 months and 20 days after his father wrote his will. David’s will was probated three months later on July 28th, so before Thomas’s death. In February, when Thomas Dodson wrote his will, he left 20 shillings to his granddaughter, the daughter of David Dodson, but two months later, when David wrote his will, the daughter was apparently deceased, because David leaves his slaves to his wife during her lifetime and then to his child, “if my wife should prove to be with child.” I wonder what caused the deaths of David’s child, and David himself, and if they died of the same thing. I wonder if wife Amey was with child, and if so, what happened to Amey and the child.
Of course, communication at that time was by letter, and if the people involved did not read and write, they would have had to have someone write the letters for them, as well as read them when received. News traveled slowly, so the granddaughter may have already died when Thomas Dodson wrote his will. Regardless, that child was dead by the time David Dodson wrote his will, and we don’t know if David’s wife was with child, nor what happened to her. Clearly, Mary couldn’t go to help, had she known, because she had her hands full at home. Mary’s youngest child would have been 12. At least the children were old enough to be of assistance. I would wager that during this time Mary spent many tearful nights alone by the fireplace after everyone else went to bed.
As the months and years rolled on, after Thomas’s death, more grandchildren were born in the rhythmic two year cycle of pregnancy and birth. I hope Mary enjoyed those children in the bright sunshine of the Northern Neck summertime.
Was Robert Galbreath A Scoundrel?
Mary’s life seems to have taken a downturn after Thomas’s death. Thomas’s will was probated on March 2, 1740/41 with Mary and son, Greenham, as executors.
Mary received the plantation with son Elisha inheriting it after her death. We don’t have any record of what happened to that plantation, unfortunately.
Thomas Dodson’s estate inventory should be interesting, if it is detailed, because all items were deemed to have been owned by the man when he died. Therefore all kitchen items, bedding, cloth, spinning wheels, and anything owned by the “couple” or the “woman,” except her clothes and unless it was specifically deeded to her, without him, was legally the mans and inventoried as part of his estate. Even though this practice of exclusive male spousal property ownership, by today’s standards, is barbaric, it does serve to give us a peephole into their lives. Looking at a man’s estate inventory tells us how the entire household lived.
Eighteen months after Thomas’s death, on September 29, 1743, Mary Durham Dodson married Robert Galbreath and sure enough, lawsuits followed – just 10 months later. Robert Galbreath or Galbraith is not a known name in the neighborhood. One wonders where he came from and how Mary met him and became familiar enough to marry.
On July 3, 1744, in chancery court, Greenham Dodson files on behalf of himself as executor of the estate of Thomas Dodson, and others, against Robert Galbreath. (Court Record Book 11-406)
On May 7, 1745, the suit was resolved and the court decided that the petitioner, Greenham Dodson, should “take possession of the coverture, according to the intention of the testators will” and that he should use it for the benefit of Mary Galbreath during her coverture. Robert Galbreath refused to give security and was ordered to pay costs. (Court Record Book 11-458)
I checked the Virginia Chancery Suit index site for Richmond County, and either those records never made it to the State Library, or they aren’t online yet. I would love to see the entire case file for this suit. More specifically, I want the juicy tidbits. What was the problem? Was Mary in danger, and if so, why? The court’s position is rather extreme, as these judgements go in early Virginia – especially given that women in essence lost rights and property to their husbands when they married. The only saving grace was that at least the land owned by Thomas Dodson wasn’t owned by Mary in fee simple, so Galbreath couldn’t dispose of it, as it was a life estate to go to Elisha at Mary’s death. The balance of the moveable estate that Thomas left, not so. Galbreath would have had the legal right to do anything he wanted with everything not left to someone other than Mary. For the court to remove that right from a colonial male would have been a decision not reached lightly and only due to a serious problem.
That suit doesn’t sound friendly at all, and it wasn’t resolved between July of 1744 and May of 1745 by the parties involved, as is often the case. The term coverture means the legal status of a married woman, considered to be under her husband’s protection and authority. Perhaps the Dodson children felt that Robert Galbreath was utilizing the estate of Thomas Dodson for himself, not for Mary. Mary would have been 57 years old.
This entry is the last record of Mary. After that, the screen goes dark. I worry, posthumously of course, that Mary was in danger or ill and not taken care of in the last months of her life.
I feel good about the fact that Greenham took a stand and was sticking up for his mother, whether it was for the benefit of his mother or whether it was to preserve his father’s estate. Regardless, someone was looking out for Mary’s interests, which were the same as the Thomas Dodson estate’s interests, and was willing to go to court to do so.
We don’t know what happened next. Divorce was unheard of, but Greenham could have “had a man to man talk” with Robert, as it appears that Robert might have hightailed it back to Lancaster County. Mary could simply have continued to live on the land in Richmond County, until she died and the land fell to Elisha, as Thomas’s will indicated. Son Elisha would have been 13 when his father died, so a young man that within just a few years would have been able to run the plantation quite effectively. By 1744 Elisha would have been 17 and in 1745, 18 years old. He didn’t need Galbreath to run Thomas Dodson’s plantation.
Following the Trail to Prince William County
In 1746, both Greenham Dodson and William Creel, husband of Alice Dodson Creel are buying land in Prince William County. I feel that Mary likely died about this time, being the impetus for several of Mary’s children to pull up stakes and move west, with nothing holding them in Richmond County any longer.
Elisha would have turned 20 in 1747. Apparently moving west was more attractive than living on the family plantation, because he too moved to Prince William County, although we don’t know when, other than it was before 1762.
Robert Galbreath died 4 years after Greenham filed and won the suit, but with no mention of a wife. Does that indicate that Mary had died by this time? Did Mary move with Robert to Lancaster County? Or maybe after the suit, she moved with her children to Prince William County? Or did she live with George Dodson in Richmond County, or remain on her own plantation? We’ll never know.
Abstracts of Lancaster County, Virginia Wills 1653-1800 by Ida J. Lee
Galbreath, Robert. Will. 10 Oct. 1749. Rec. 9 March 1749. Cousin, Richard Weir; Ezekiel Morris; Margaret Carter. Extr. Cousin Richard Weir. Wits; Isaac White, Michael Dillon. W.B. 14, p. 274.
Inventory of above, returned by Isaac White, admr 11 May 1750. W.B. 14, p. 285.
Suit: Isaac White, Pltf. vs Katherine Jones, Defd. Robert Galbreath had made a gift to his daughter-in-law Katherine Carter, since intermarried with Humphrey Jones. Dated 29 Sept. 1752. Rec. 18 June 1753. W.B. 15, p. 139.
The end of Mary’s life may have been difficult, at best. I hope her children sheltered her from whatever storms she encountered.
Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson’s Children
Thomas Dodson and Mary Durham were married on August 1, 1701. Some of their children are well documented, and others are virtually unknown.
- George Dodson was born on October 31, 1702 in North Farnham Parish and on April 20, 1726 married Margaret Dagord.
George Dodson had a son, Rawleigh born in 1731. The name Rawleigh was shared in Richmond County by Rawleigh Travers, a family member of the Travers family that Charles Dodson, father of Thomas, bought land from, Rawleigh Downman, neighbors of the Dodsons, and Rawleigh Chinn, the son of Alice Smoot born in 1642 who married a Chinn. Alice Smoot was Mary Durham’s aunt. Sir Walter Raleigh may have popularized this name in the early 1600s. I’ve always wondered where the name Rawleigh came from in the Dodson family. Perhaps this is a clue.
- Thomas Dodson Jr.’s birth is unrecorded, but he was married before 1725 to Elizabeth Rose, suggesting he was born before 1705. About 1733, Thomas moved to Prince William County, the part that became Faquier in 1759 and was a founding member of the Broad Run Baptist Church in 1762. In 1766, Thomas moved to Halifax County, wrote his will in 1779 and died in 1783. In later years, in Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties, the records of various Thomas Dodsons are intermingled and confused.
- Alice Dodson’s birth is unrecorded, but about 1729 she married William Creel, born in 1712. They had children, one being John Creel born in 1732. Daughter Alice Creel was mentioned in Thomas Dodson’s 1739 will. By 1746, William Creel was buying land in Prince William County and in 1757, William died with Thomas Dodson (Jr.) being one of the men to appraise his estate. His wife was listed at that time as Anne, with Alice apparently having died sometime between 1739 and 1757.
- Mary Dodson born October 5, 1715 had married an Oldham by the time her father wrote his will in 1739. Nothing more is known about this line.
- David Dodson’s birth is unrecorded. His wife’s name is Amey, surname unknown. David died in Prince William County in 1740, his will dated April 27th that year and probated in July. He left his wife the use of his slaves and then to his child if his wife should prove to be with child. Thomas Dodson left 30 shillings to his granddaughter, the daughter of David Dodson, but nothing more is known of this child. She probably died between the time that Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739 and David Dodson’s will in 1740. Either that or David omitted his daughter from his will, or the David who died in 1740 is not the son of Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson.
- Greenham Dodson’s birth is unrecorded, but he was married to Eleanor Hightower by 1740, meaning he was probably born 1715-1720. In 1746, Greenham sold his land in Richmond County and moved to Amelia County. He had moved to Halifax County by 1772 and in 1777, a Greenham Dodson signed a loyalty oath.
I have always wondered about the genesis of the name, Greenham. Jeremiah Greenham married the widow Dorothy Durham in 1716, probably not long before Greenham Dodson’s birth to Thomas and Mary Durham Dodson. Jeremiah would have been Greenham Dodson’s step-grandfather and possibly also his godfather.
- Abraham Dodson was born April 4, 1723 in North Farnham Parish. He married Barbara, surname unknown and moved to Faquier County by 1762 where he died in 1768.
- Joshua Dodson was born May 25, 1725 in North Farnham Parish and was living in Faquier County with wife Ruth in 1762 when the Broad Run Church was constituted. Joshua may have lived in Halifax County on his way to Surry County, NC where he settled and may have died there before 1790. It’s also possible that he moved on to South Carolina.
- Elisha Dodson was born February 22, 1727 in North Farnham Parish. He married Sarah Averitt (Everett) whose parents were William and Margaret Everett. He was left land after his mother’s death, by his father’s will, but there is no record of the disposition of the land. By 1762, he was in Faquier County when his brother, Thomas, released his claim on his father’s estate. In 1774, Elisha moved on to Halifax County where he died in 1796 or 1797. According to the manuscript of the Reverend Elias Dodson, Elisha was blind due to an eye injury as a child.
All of Mary’s sons eventually moved from Richmond County. Thomas Jr. first in 1733 when he sold his land and move to Prince William County, the part that became Faquier in 1759. His siblings would follow over the years.
David left before 1740. Greenham left in 1745, after he filed and won the suit against Robert Galbreath on behalf of his mother and his father’s estate. Did Mary perhaps die at this time or shortly thereafter? Was her ill health what caused Greenham to file suit? Was Robert not caring for her properly? Did Mary’s death free Greenham to move to Prince William County in 1746 along with Mary’s daughter Alice Creel as well? Did Mary’s three youngest sons move with their siblings at this time, or did they stay in Richmond County until later? There is no record of land ownership to help unravel that question.
Given the 1745 lawsuit and the fact that both Greenham, who was obviously looking after his mother’s interests, and daughter Mary left for Prince William County in 1746, I suspect Mary died between 1745 and 1746.
Mary’s son George sold his land in 1756 in Richmond County and appears to have been the last to leave, although we don’t know what happened to George and Margaret after that sale, because they are never recorded elsewhere. Their children, by virtue of who they married, had to have been living nearby their Dodson cousins. Two of George’s children married other Dodson family members..
In 1762, Thomas Dodson of Faquier County, released his right to his claim on the estate of his father, Thomas, to his brothers; Greenham Dodson of Amelia County, Abraham, Joshua and Elisha of Faquier County. Brother George is notably absent and is not found again after selling his Richmond County land in 1756. One could presume that Mary has died by 1756 – otherwise it’s unlikely that George would have sold and left his mother. By 1762, when Thomas relinquished his right to his share of his father’s estate, and with all of her sons gone from Richmond County, Mary was assuredly buried in the churchyard beside Thomas Dodson.
In 1745, Mary would have been 59 years old, in 1756, age 70 and in 1762, 76 years old.
Where is Mary Buried?
Both Mary and Thomas Dodson died after the new Farnham Parish Church was built in 1737, although their children died before the new church was constructed.
They could have been buried where earlier family members rested but the most likely location for their burial is the cemetery behind the church. There are no marked graves from this early date. The other possibility of course is that there was a family cemetery, now lost to time, although family cemeteries did not seem to be prevalent in this part of Virginia at this time.
It looks like there is room for lots of unmarked burials in this location.
Eventually, Mary’s 9 children that lived to adulthood would give her a total of 47 known grandchildren, and probably many more. We don’t know how many children Alice Dodson Creel or Mary Dodson Oldham bore. Furthermore, we know that more than 47 had to have been born. Using the known children’s births and a reproductive span of 24/25 years for each woman, giving them the opportunity to have approximately 12 children, spaced 2 years apart, assuming all children lived long enough to nurse for the first year (in many cases, effectively preventing conception of another child,) we calculate that at least 37 additional grandchildren were born and died.
If you add the 47 grandchildren we know about, the 37 that had to have been born and died, and 20 additional births through Alice and Mary, if they survived beyond 1739 when they were recorded in their father’s will, that’s 104 grandchildren.
Of the 34 grandchildren for whom we have documentation, 21 were born in Mary’s lifetime. Two of Mary’s children didn’t begin having children until about the time she died, or after. Mary’s son, George remained in Richmond County and had several children that Mary would have been close to, as he lived on land adjacent to Mary.
Son Thomas left in 1733, taking his grandchildren, aged 8 and under, along with him. That must have been difficult for Mary, seeing her grandchildren leave and knowing she might well not see them again. Mary’s daughters Alice and Mary would have been marrying about that time though, so perhaps those grandchildren that we don’t know about helped to sooth the ache in Mary’s heart. We also don’t know if Alice and Mary remained local or left as well with their husband’s while Mary was still living.
What we do know is that son George stayed, with his children who were probably very close to Mary. Son Greenham stayed until between 1745 and 1746. Mary would have known his children as well. Abraham, Joshua and Elisha were only just beginning their families in the mid-1740s when Mary was aging and probably died.
Mary’s grandchildren’s births spanned roughly half a century, from 1725 to about 1772.
Mary probably had at least one great-grandchild when she died, although she wouldn’t have known the child. Grandson Joseph who was born in 1725 had son Thomas in about 1746, beginning the next generation. Unfortunately, Thomas Jr. had moved to Farquier County in 1733, so unless Mary went along as her sons moved westward, she would never have gotten to hold her great-grandchild.
At least 8 grandchildren died within Mary’s lifetime, meaning that except for David who lived distantly, she would have stood at the funerals and gravesides of 7 grandchildren, and probably 5 of her own children as well. Plus her parents, in-laws, husband and probably at least some of her siblings and their children as well.
Not an easy life, by any means.
Life and Death in Colonial America
I created the chart below to visualize what the “typical” family looked like, in terms of birth, survival and death of children. Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson’s children are listed across the top. The ones in red died or are slots in which we know children would have been born. Mary’s grandchildren are listed in the columns under each child, the red ones known to have died or are unfilled slots – silent sentinels to children who were born and died with no record that they existed except for the blank spot on the chart.
Mary’s two daughters married, but their descendants have never been traced. If the daughters lived after their father’s 1739 will, they would have had additional children as well, not shown below. You can click to enlarge the image.
- ? Before the name means I’m uncertain if this child is in this family. If not, another child would have filled that slot.
- ? After the nickname means I’m uncertain if that is this person. For example, there are multiple candidates for “Second Fork” Thomas and the various George nicknames are confused.
- ? After a first name means that the person’s surname is unknown.
- Reverend Silas Lucas was unable to differentiate between the later generations of George Dodsons – there is a significant amount of confusion regarding who married whom.
- Green = my lineage
- Red = young deaths or children unaccounted for in the birth order, probably born and died
- No birth years are known for Greenham’s children – placed at 2 year intervals based on estimated marriage and birth dates of their childen, and continued for 25 years.
- Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739 and died in 1740.
- Mary Durham Dodson was living in 1745, but in 1749 when her second husband Robert Galbreath wrote his will, she is notably absent, although they may have been living separately.
- Grey = children who married cousins
Just looking at the amount of known red – that’s a lot of death. At that time, it was considered normal to lose roughly half your children before they reached adulthood.
Looking at this another way, the death of 6 of the children of Mary Durham Dodson reduced the number of descendants a few generations downstream by half, which is literally thousands. Just in the first generation, had those children lived to fully reproduce, that would have been another 72 grandchildren for Mary.
Taking a look at this phenomenon in a chart, you can see the potential in the reduction of descendants with just one missing child, or conversely, the potential addition of descendants in a few generation with just one added child. I stopped around 1900, because that’s the timeframe that birth control became popular and family sizes began to shrink.
Five surviving children per generation is certainly reasonable. Ten is likely too optimistic.
It’s no wonder, though, with that number of descendants in just one generation why people with heavy colonial ancestry have high numbers of autosomal DNA matches.
Mitochondrial DNA, which could tell us a great deal about Mary’s heritage on her direct matrilineal line is MIA. Why is it MIA? Women pass their mitochondrial DNA to each of their children, but only female children pass it on. In order to find Mary’s mitochondrial DNA, we would need to test a descendant of Mary through all females to the current generation, when males are eligible as well.
And of course, it’s the two daughters that we don’t know anything about.
If anyone has done research on the daughters, Alice Dodson married to William Creel, or Mary Dodson who married an Oldham, please speak up. Not only can we update their information, but we may be able to find an appropriate person to test for Mary’s mitochondrial DNA. I have a DNA testing scholarship for the first eligible person.
Mary’s was probably a typically colonial wife, albeit marrying very young. Depending on the family social standing, Mary’s life could have ranged from helping in the fields to overseeing the household and the “domestics” inside. We do know that at least by the time Thomas Dodson died, he did own slaves in addition to at least one indentured servant during his lifetime. Most of the labor would have been for the growth and harvesting of tobacco, and not for household labor. Their “plantation” was probably modest. The Northern Neck was not Tara and they did not own one of the mansion houses.
Mary’s life was probably defined by church and children. While church attendance was mandatory, and men were fined for non-attendance, religion seemed to sooth the heart of those who endured devastating losses. And pretty much everyone who had children experienced devastating losses. In Mary’s case, probably 5 or 6 children died in her lifetime, possibly more, not to mention several grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and her husband. Death is a part of the cycle of life, but that’s an awful lot of death to endure, at least by today’s standards.
Yet, Mary continued to function. She had more children. She went to church and when necessary, she went to the cemetery which was certainly a place far too familiar.
The early cemeteries, whether on plantations or in churchyards are lost to time. Few stones exist on the Northern Neck for people who were born before the mid-1800s. The location of the early Farnham Parish Church is lost to us today, too, and that may have been where family members were buried before the present church was built in 1737. Plantations, and all farms then were considered plantations, may have had their own cemeteries, now reclaimed by Mother Nature or development.
In many ways, the fact that the Northern Neck is a peninsula and not easily accessible has protected it from development, so the unmarked and unknown graves of the colonial planters may still remain unmolested as they rest in peace on one of the first American frontiers.