Michael McDowell Sr. could have been born in Baltimore County, Maryland, on the boat to Maryland, or back in Ireland.
We don’t know.
What we do know is that in 1752, Michael McDowell sold portions of the property in which he had an interest that had belonged to Murtough McDowell, an immigrant. Murtough was living in Baltimore County in 1722.
We are presuming that Murtough’s wife in 1730 was indeed the mother of Michael, but we don’t know that for sure either. It’s certainly possible that Elinor was a second wife, but there is absolutely no evidence either way.
Halifax County, Virginia
Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg in 1752, and that’s where we find Michael McDowell in that same year, selling his father’s land in Maryland. Thank goodness for this link, because without it, we would never have been able to connect Murtough McDowell in Baltimore County, Maryland with Michael McDowell in Virginia.
The following power of attorney was issued in Halifax County, VA and recorded along with a land sale in Baltimore County, Maryland.
May 3, 1755 – Page 407 – Power of attorney from Michael Macdowell to John Hawkins, signed in Halifax County.
The power of attorney itself was entered into the Baltimore County record below the deed sale and is dated September 19, 1752.
This signature does not contain an X for a signature, which may be a later differentiator between Michael McDowell Sr. and his son, Michael Jr.
The following document is recorded in Baltimore County, Maryland:
Mich McDowell to Joseph Murry Jr. – September 19, 1752, Michael McDowell of Halifax County in the colony of Virginia to Joseph Murray Jun of the County of Baltimore in the Province of Maryland, 10 pounds current money, land known as “Bring Me Home” beginning at two bounded white oaks at the head of the north line of Jones Falls…
March 5, 1753 John Hawkins by virtue of authority of power of attorney to him made for that purpose by the within Named Micheal Macdowell to Joseph Murray Jr., and the land and premises herein mentioned to be the estate rights and interest 6 pounds current money. Signed and witnesses by Thomas Hooker and Joseph Hooker
These signatures above do not contain an X for Michael’s signature.
Based on the above information, Michael was not in Baltimore County in person, but in Halifax County, VA on September 19, 1752 signed a Power of Attorney document. In 1753, the land was sold to Joseph Murray.
These dates are confusing, because they don’t tally exactly with the dates in the deed books.
For example, the sale date for Bring Me Home is noted as in 1755, not 1753. I’m left with the impression that some of the documents we need are missing or perhaps some transcriptions are in error.
It looks like in 1752 Michael sold his shares in this property to Joseph Murray, and in or by 1755, he sold the actual land to Joseph. This suggests that perhaps Michael is related to Joseph Murray, which means that Joseph Murray may have been married to Michael McDowell’s sister. Unfortunately, there are a lot of “suggestions” here and not much more. Worse yet, if accurate, Joseph Murray’s wife is shown to be one Margaret Jones. I might just have gone down a rathole.
We know that in 1753, Michael was in Halifax on May 3rd per the deed registration in Baltimore County, or at least that’s what was registered based on the Power of Attorney document signed in 1752. What we don’t know is whether or not Michael was actually living in Halifax County in 1753, or if he had moved on by that date.
Regardless of the actual sale date, the essence of this is that Michael, from Halifax County, Virginia, appears to be the son of Murtough McDowell from Baltimore County, Maryland. Unfortunately, no will or other administrative or estate records for Murtough or his wife have emerged.
There are no other records for Michael McDowell in Halifax County, although there is a Peter McDowell found there in 1752. However, if Peter was also Murtough’s son, you would think there would be another power-of-attorney document for Peter, and there is nothing.
A Land Entry
In Marion Dodson Chiarito’s book, “Entry Record Book 1737-1770” which covers land in the present counties of Halifax, Pittsylvania, henry, Franklin and Patrick, she says the following:
This book contains land entries in the western portion of the original Brunswick County, namely Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry, Franklin and Patrick. The area concerned was south of the Roanoke-Staunton River, west of Tewahomony Creek, now Aaron’s Creek which divides Mecklenburg and Halifax cuonties, and extending to the Blue Ridge Mountains. These counties were formed from Lumemburg which was separated from Brunswick in 1746.
It must be pointed out that an entry for land was but a statement of intention. Ownership of land resulted from satisfying the requirements for settlement the land and improving it. For this reason, many entries were voided.
On page 161 of Marion’s book, on page 203 of the original entry taker book residing in current day Pittsylvania County, we find an entry for a man who might be Michael McDowell:
Michael McDuell 400 on a Branch of Black Water River beginning at a white oak with 4 chops in it in the fork of said branch then up both forks and down the branch.
If this was Michael McDowell, I’ve failed to find a deed of sale at any time, and he is next found in Bedford County which, indeed, did have a Blackwater Creek.
Next Stop – Bedford County
Michael McDowell was listed on the Bedford county tax list in 1755. And before you ask, no, we don’t know for sure that this is the same Michael McDowell. Fortunately, Michael McDowell isn’t a popular name, and the best we can do is track the name forward and backward in time.
Perhaps Michael was using his inherited money on the frontier where land was cheaper than in Halifax County which was largely settled at this point in time. The problem with that theory is that we have no record of any Michael McDowell purchasing any land until 1783 in Bedford County, and by then, the Michael who purchased land could have been Michael Sr. or Michael Jr. who was born in 1747.
Based on subsequent records, including Michael McDowell Jr.’s Revolutionary War pension application which states that he was dismissed in 1777 or 1778 and returned to his home in Bedford County, combined with a land sale in 1793 in which the land purchased in 1783 was sold by a Michael McDowell who made his mark when signing with an X, it appears that the land in 1783 was purchased by Michael McDowell Jr., not Sr. Michael McDowell Jr. apparently could not write his name, while it appears that Michael McDowell Sr. could.
We also know, according to that pension application, that Michael Jr. was born in 1747.
What else do we know about Michael McDowell Sr.?
There are be more hints in Lunenburg County.
Lunenburg County, Virginia
We first find Michael McDowell in Lunenburg County in 1748, but what did he do between then and 1752 when we find him in Halifax County? Or perhaps Michael didn’t move, but the county line did.
Keep in mind that Halifax County, where we positively identify Michael McDowell Sr. as Murtough’s son in 1752, was Lunenburg County before Halifax was formed in 1752.
However, we may have an even earlier sighting of Michael.
We find a similar name in Albemarle County, VA in the 1745 road records, dated June 27th in which Andrew Wallace was appointed surveyor of the highway from D.S. to Mitchams River. Archebald Woods, Jeremiah Marrow, William Shaw, Robert Mannely, John Dickey, William Wallace, Merlock McDowell, Micah Woods Jr., Micha McDowell, Anthony Osbrook, John Lawson, John Cowan, William Little and Robert Anderson ordered to assist in clearing. Looking at this list, I have to wonder if Merlock McDowell is actually a Mortough McDowell Jr. and if Micha is Michael, of course. The rest of these people would have been their neighbors up and down the road. Is this our Michael? There is no way to know.
A search of Albemarle deed and will indexes from 1748 through 1753 shows no McDowells. Albemarle was formed from Goochland in 1744, although deed and will records didn’t begin in Albemarle until 1748. A search of Goochland County records from 1731-1749 also show nothing, so if Michael and Merlock were there, they are silent residents.
Lunenburg County was formed in 1745 from Brunswick County, Lunenburg deeds and marriages exist from 1746. Brunswick County land records exist from 1732, but no marriages. Michael McDowell is not in the compiled Virginia marriages, created from extant early records. Strike, strike, strike and out.
The 1748 tax map for Lunenburg is the first tax list available, so we don’t have any way of knowing whether or not Michael Jr., born about 1747 was born in Lunenburg, or if his father was still living in Maryland or elsewhere when Jr. was born.
The Lunenburg County 1748 tax list shows Michal McDanel with 1 tithe in the district taken in June by Mathew Talbot from Bleu Store to Little Roanoke.
Sunlight on the Southside by Landon Bell provides the Lunenburg tax lists, where extant. We find the McDowells mentioned in the intro portion as being from Lunenburg Co., Va. before they went to NC.
In 1749, we find Michael McDowell in William Caldwell’s district, which was probably the district that would eventually become Charlotte Co., which neighbors Halifax. Michael had 1 white tithe, meaning white male over 16, and no negroes. His neighbors were as follows:
- William Russell
- Thoms Walters
- Thomas Lewis
- Michael McDowell
- Robert Wood
- Estate of Major John Cole
- William East overseer for John Cole
In 1749, the Lunenburg road orders included a Michael McDaniel, who may have actually been Michael McDowell who was ordered to work on Randolph’s Road from Thomas Worthys to the Mossing foard.
Looking at a current map, the Roanoke is called the Staunton between Halifax County and Charlotte County, and at a location called Randolph, Virginia, very near the River in Charlotte County, we find another Staunton, probably referred to in the road minutes as the Little Roanoke.
You can see that Charlotte County, shown in red below, abuts Halifax to the west. Michael’s 1752 Power of Attorney was sworn in Halifax County. The court house at that time was near the village of Halifax.
Randolph’s Road, from the Lunenburg County road orders seems to be a main road that crossed the Roanoke at the Little Roanoke River where a ferry was located. According to the 1821 field survey notes the Little Roanoke is located in Charlotte County. Of course, Randolph’s road continues on through Lunenburg and into Prince Edward County so Michael’s road duty may have been elsewhere along this then major road. It’s referred to as a “roling road,” which means tobacco casks were literally rolled down the road to the docks to be graded and loaded onto boats. However, given the fact that the road order includes mention of a “foard,” this suggests that the road crosses some river that is more significant than a creek, but probably not as large as the Roanoke which is too large to ford without a ferry.
I suspect that Randolph’s Road is Highway 59 today. Some road orders reference George Moore’s. He owned Moore’s Ordinary which was located on what is now Ordinary Road, near the Whistle Stop.
In 1750 we find Michael in Nicholas Hale’s district with one tithe again as follows:
- John Freer
- Robert Baker
- John Helton
- Michael McDowell (Michal Macdowel)
- Nicholas Alle
- John Pybon
- Jacob Pybon
In 1751, Michael is missing from the list and in 1752, Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg. We already know that Michael is in Halifax in 1752.
According to the map below, in 1746, reflecting the 1748 tax lists, Mathew Talbot’s District became Charlotte County in 1764, formed from Lunenburg. On the 1746 map, it looks like the Little Roanoke is called “Roanoke Creek.”
Michael Talbot’s district is the area that would initially become Charlotte County in 1764. Today Charlotte County is separated from Halifax County by the Roanoke River, which is the dividing line between Mathew Talbot’s District and Cornelius Cargill’s District in 1746.
The Lunenburg Order books 1746-1755 reflect the following:
June 1753 Michael McDuel vs Jacob Pyborn – Pyborn not inhabitant of county – suit abates.
What this does not tell us is whether Michael was still a county resident, and we don’t know when the suit was filed, except at a session prior to June of 1753.
Note that Jacob Pybon was one of Michael’s neighbors in 1750.
May court 1754 John Thompson vs Michael McDuel – def not inhabitant of county – suit abates.
This tells us that Michael probably left between June of 1753 and May of 1754, and it might give us some idea of why. Trouble was brewing perhaps.
We also know that Michael McDowell was in Halifax County on March 5, 1753 where he was considered a resident, at least according to the deed filed in Baltimore County, Maryland. Of course, that information could have been based solely on the information in the Power of Attorney document. We don’t actually know that Michael was still living in Halifax in March of 1753. He could have moved on. He seemed to do that pretty regularly.
Sept. 1755 – John McDuel witness for Richard Booker vs Samuel Seekright, paid by Booker for 3 days attendance and once coming and returning 50 miles.
Is this John somehow connected to Michael? If so, he either died or moved on too.
There were no McDowells in the order books, deeds, road orders or wills from 1746-1766.
Bedford County was created in 1753 from Lunenburg County.
Reconstructing Michael’s Movements
As best we can tell, Michael spent his childhood in Baltimore County, Maryland. Of that we are positive based on Murtough’s records. Murtough owned this land at the head of the North Branch of Jones Falls which Michael sold.
I wonder how Michael felt selling his boyhood home. Difficult under the best of circumstances, and even moreso if your parents were buried there – especially if you never got to say goodbye.
Today, this guardrail marks the location near 12100 Park Heights Avenue in Owings Mills, Maryland where the road crosses the North Branch of Jones Falls Creek. This would have been Murto, then Michael’s, land, or very close.
Michael may have been in Albemarle County by 1745, which probably meant he was at least 25 years old, so born 1720 or earlier.
There was a Michael McDowell in Lunenburg by 1748, probably in a portion of Lunenburg that became Charlotte County, just across the river from Halifax. MIchael could also have been living in the portion of Lunenburg that simply became Halifax.
We find Michael, Murtough’s son in Halifax County in 1752 when he signed the Power of Attorney, then possibly in 1753.
The possible land entry for 400 acres was registered in 1754, but appears to have been abandoned.
Michael McDowell is in Bedford County on the 1755 tax list.
We find no other records of any Michael McDowell during that time in Virginia or Maryland.
And there, our trail goes cold.
The next piece of information about any man with that name is what we discovered in Michael McDowell Jr.’s 1832 Revolutionary War Pension. We know that pension application is not for Michael Sr. because the Michael McDowell who filed for the pension doesn’t die until after 1840, and he gives his age in the pension application which tells us that he was born in 1747. Clearly not the man who sold property in Maryland from Halifax County in 1752 when he would have been 5 years old.
What happened to Michael McDowell Sr.?
We simply don’t know, other than he’s surely dead by now.
It’s pretty clear that MIchael was in Bedford County in 1755 and his namesake son lived there in 1777, but the years in-between are entirely devoid of information. We simply know Michael Sr. died sometime after 1755 and didn’t own any property.
The possibility that Michael Sr. bought the property in 1783 and sold it from Wilkes County in 1793 exists, but is unlikely.
First, Michael Sr. would have been more than 63 years of age in 1783, purchasing his first land. The man who sold the property from Wilkes County in 1793 when Michael Sr. would have been about 73 signed with an X, meaning he couldn’t write. Michael Sr. could write. Additionally, in the 1787 “census” of Wilkes County, only one Michael McDowell lived there at the time, not an older and younger version.
The connection of Michael McDowell Sr. and Michael McDowell Jr. as father and son is not concrete. There is no will or other relationship-defining document. The names and locations are the same, but there is room for error. And the DNA doesn’t help us this time, at least not yet.
DNA Will Tell the Story – Someday
We have what is purported to be the Y DNA of Michael McDowell Jr. I say purported, because the DNA comes from a line not firmly attached to Michael Jr. through a presumed son, Edward. However, there is paper evidence to suggest that Edward is either Michael Jr.’s son, or is at least connected to Michael Jr.
Two types of evidence, both genetic and genealogical, confirm a male line.
First, if one male who takes a Y DNA test matches other men who have taken the same test at 37 markers or more (generally), then the surname line is confirmed – meaning that these men share a common ancestor at some point in history.
What that test cannot tell you is which common McDowell ancestor or which point in history, at least not exactly.
That information needs to come from a combination of genealogy and genetics, with the genetics confirming the paper trail genealogy.
Sometimes this methodology is lacking. In this case, my McDowell male matches two other McDowell men at 25 markers, but both of their genealogies reach back to Michael Jr. There is no other McDowell match at that level.
This leads to a couple of questions.
First, is the historical surname really McDowell? In other words, why aren’t their more McDowell matches, and some matches with genealogy reaching further back in time.
My McDowell male was originally only tested to 25 markers, and we’ve recently ordered an upgrade to his Y DNA to see what kinds of matches we retain at 37 markers and above. Unfortunately, many McDowell testers tested early and haven’t upgraded. Neither do they have trees online today.
Second, if the historical surname is McDowell, is my tester really descended from or related to Michael McDowell Jr. on the paternal line? Fate is sometimes a jokester and might just have put Michael McDowell beside his known son John, plus Luke and Edward, on the 1810 Lee County tax list just to mess with me. Could happen. Stranger things have happened before.
One of the best indicators of Luke being related to Michael McDowell Jr. will be if the McDowell male tester also matches people who descend from Michael McDowell Jr. through autosomal testing. The autosomal test, known as Family Finder, is underway at Family Tree DNA.
Third, if we knew of other sons of Michael McDowell Sr., we could simply (and I say simply like it really is) test a McDowell male descendant of a different son.
Some things are simpler than others, and this isn’t one of them. We don’t know the identities of any of Michael McDowell Sr.’s other children, assuming he had them and they lived.
We will likely never be able to find additional sons of Michael McDowell Sr., at least not through paper trail genealogy, barring that miracle Bible discovery. However, in time, if we find enough McDowell males who match this line through Y DNA as well as match at some level utilizing autosomal DNA, we may be able to find people who we think may be descended from Michael Sr.
Notice the weasel-wording, “if”, “may” and “think,” because success proving additional children of Michael McDowell Sr. is not assured – ever. One of my life-long mottoes is, “if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed!” This is no different. So much progress has been made in the past few years utilizing DNA testing that who knows what tools will be available to us in the future.
The answers to the questions we can answer today reside with the descendants of Michael McDowell – proven or otherwise.
Is it YOU?
- If you are male or female and descended from Michael McDowell Jr. born in 1747 and died after 1840 in Claiborne County, Tennessee (now Hancock County), please contact me.
- If you are male or female and descended from Edward McDowell who married Lucy Harris in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY and died in 1858 there, please contact me.
- If you are male or female descended from Luke McDowell born in 1791 who married Frances Field in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY and died in 1879 in Dekalb County, TN, please contact me.
- If you are a male McDowell descended from Michael McDowell Jr.’s proven son, John McDowell or William McDowell from Claiborne (now Hancock) County, Tennessee, or John’s line that settled in Lee County, VA, please contact me.
The only way to prove Michael Sr.’s line is to first prove Michael Jr.’s line, and to do that, I specifically need to find a male McDowell, meaning a male who carries the surname today, from a proven son of Michael Jr.
In the meantime, if we can prove that either a group of people, either males or females proven to descend from Michael Jr., through autosomal DNA testing, matches our McDowell Y DNA tester descended through Edward, especially on the same segments, that too is pretty compelling evidence.
The only way to compile that evidence is for descendants to test.
Is that you? If so, please contact me and let’s discuss how we can get that done, or maybe you’ve already DNA tested someplace. Regardless, I’d love to hear from you. It’s always fun to meet cousins and exchange information!
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