Recently, I became aware of petitions in the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), by county, when reading this article by Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist. If you have ancestors in Tennessee, check this resource.
Between 1840 and 1850, several of my ancestors lived in the area of Claiborne and Hawkins County, Tennessee that would become Hancock County in 1848 when the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled attempts to block the formation of the new county.
This process of forming Hancock County was not straightforward and resulted in numerous petitions being filed, which was probably terribly frustrating at the time and probably divisive within the community. However, the petitions are a goldmine of information now. Not only can we discover how our ancestors felt about the county’s formation but even more importantly, signatures are found on the petitions.
In order to sign a petition, one must be a registered voter. I know for sure that voters had to be white and male, but they may have also been required to be landowners although I have some doubt about that.
Some signatures appear to be original, and others appear to be transcribed from a list.
I ordered the petitions from the Tennessee State Archives and they arrived a couple weeks later.
Who Lived in Hancock County, Tennessee?
My ancestors who lived in this region between 1840 and 1850 included the following men who were old enough to sign the petitions in the 1840s.
|Ancestor||1840 County||1850 County||Signs Petitions|
|Joel Vannoy 1813-1895||Claiborne, the part that became Hancock||Moved to Little Sycamore Community in Claiborne County||Yes 1841 (2), 1843 (2)|
|Elijah Vannoy c 1784->1850||Claiborne, part that became Hancock||Hancock County||Yes 1841 (2), 1843 (2)|
|William Crumley III 1788-c1852||Claiborne, part that became Hancock||Hancock County, on Blackwater, the portion that was previously Hawkins||Yes 1841 (second petition), 1843 (2)|
|Joseph Preston Bolton (1816-1887)||Giles, VA but received at Thompson Settlement Church in 1842 by experience, suggesting he is living in what would become Hancock by this time||Hancock County, on 4 Mile Creek||No|
|William Herrell (c1789-1859)||Claiborne, part that became Hancock||Hancock on Powell River||No|
|Michael McDowell||Claiborne, part that became Hancock||Lived on Powell River, died before 1850, may have died before petitions||No|
|Fairwick Claxton/Clarkson (c1799-1874)||Claiborne, part that became Hancock||Hancock on Powell River||No|
The Crumley and Vannoy families intermarried, and the Bolton, Herrell, McDowell and Clarkson families lived adjacent on the Powell River very near the Virginia border and intermarried as well. The Crumley/Vannoy group signed the petitions, and the Bolton/Herrell/McDowell/Claxton/Clarkson group did not.
I’m sure there was some underlying reason for how these two groups of residents felt, that that information has not trickled down to us today.
There is a very unexpected surprise involving the signature of William Crumley on this petition.
First, let’s look at the petitions themselves.
In total, 6 petitions existed between 1839 and 1844. In 1848, the Tennessee Supreme Court finally decided the fate of Hancock County and since it exists today, we know that they voted in favor of the county formation.
On these petitions, the introductory paragraphs stated the purpose of the petition, followed by the signers. Not all petitions had signature pages nor were productive, so I’ve included the petition pages that included names of my ancestors.
Claiborne County petition from 311 signatures from Hawkins and Claiborne Counties asking they be allowed to form a new county. (Hancock County)
- Roll – 16
- Year – 1841
- Petition – 122a
Detail from actual petition:
On September 2, 1841, residents petitioned for the following, the verbiage extracted.
“Petition as a result of the inconveniences under which we labor traveling some 25 miles over large cragged mountains to serve as jurors or in other cases and at great expense and trouble, we heretofore employed a surveyor to run out the boundary of a new county composed of the parts, Hawkins and Claiborne. He returned 389 square miles in said bounds, which is 30 square miles over and above the constitutional number of square miles prescribed for any new county.”
This first petition was not granted. However, there were six total pages of signatures that appear to be the original signatures, not a transcribed list, dated September 2, 1841.
Elijah Vannoy is signature #5
Joel Vannoy’s signature is #99.
TSLA petition summary:
Claiborne County – new county – Petition from certain citizens of Claiborne County asking they be permitted to form a new county.
- Roll – 16
- Year – 1841
- Petition – 85
From the petition signed Dec. 22, 1841, submitted on Dec. 31, 1841, heard on January 25, 1842.
“Petitioners of Claiborne County secondly petition your honorable body that we are a people far remote from the county cits (seats) Tazewell and that we employed a surveyor will qualified and after being duly sworn…”
Followed by a description of the proposed county bounds and signatures of petitioners within the pounds of the territory of the county” that appear to be original. They state they have 160 qualified voter signatures and ask if the petition is not granted, “if the ballot box says we have, let us hear it and if not, let us not trouble your honors further.” They state they have an overwhelming majority and a constitutional right to establish a new county.
Only 93 signatures are included.
William Crumley signed at #21 and his son John Crumley at #23.
Joel Vannoy signed at #73, his father Elijah Vannoy Sr. at #92 and Joel’s brother, Elijah Vannoy Jr. at #93.
Claiborne County – Petition from 246 citizens Claiborne and Hawkins Counties to form a new county to be known as Hancock County. Map of proposed county and statement of Richard Mitchell, deputy surveyor, included in the folder.
- Roll – 16
- Year – 1843
- Petition – 61
From the petition:
November 1843 – Petitioners of Hawkins and Claiborne County living at a remote distance from the seat of justice of each county and often having to attend as jurors and in other business, over cragged mountains and high waters, we pray your honorable body to grand unto us a new county composed in the parts of Hawkins and Claiborne. We have not approached closer than 12 miles to the existing county seats. We have at least 600 qualified voters in the bounds of the new contemplated county and this being our third petition…”
Joel Vannoy signed at #12 and Elijah Vannoy at #33.
E Vannoy signs at #69, but either this one or the signature at #33 would be Jr. Many of these signatures look very similar, causing me to wonder if some of the signatures were transcribed from an original list, not actually signed on this document.
William Crumley signs at #202, but it matches the rest and does not appear to be an original signature. William’s son, Aaron F. Crumley signs at #194.
This document is followed by the survey dated by the surveyor as to its accuracy November 11, 1843. I wonder if some of the signature papers were lost, although at the end of the signature section there were 34 more that said “signed over legend” which I presume means people who signed with an X witnessed by another individual.
That does not equate to the 600 mentioned, but perhaps this is in addition to an earlier petition.
Claiborne County – new county – Petition from 106 citizens of Claiborne County asking they be allowed to form a new county.
- Roll – 17
- Year – 1843
- Petition – 146
From the petition:
Nov 25, 1843 – Petitioners of Claiborne County who reside in the part in the bounds and in favor of a new county.
William Crumly signed at #14, with son Aaron F. Crumley at #13, son John Crumley at #19 and Elijah Vanoy at #18. Of course, we don’t know the order of the homes of the people involved, but Elijah’s son, Joel married William’s daughter, Phoebe, in 1845.
Some of these signatures appear to be original, but the Aaron and William Crumley signatures appear to be the same.
Elijah Vanoy Sr. or Jr. signed at #28 and Elijah Sr.’s son, Joel signed at #85.
There were a total of 106 signatures on 3 pages. Only the people in the affected area needed to sign one way or another.
William Crumley’s Signature Solves a Mystery
With 4 William Crumleys in successive generations, keeping them straight has been a challenge, to put it mildly.
In the article about William Crumley (the third born 1788), son of William Crumley (the second born 1767/8), I discussed the fact that both men lived in Greene County, TN, and one of them married Elizabeth Johnson in October 1817.
For a very long time, it was presumed, based on her probable age, if Elizabeth was who we thought she was, that she had married the younger William Crumley, and that his wife, Lydia Brown had died shortly after giving birth to a child in April of 1817. Speedy remarriages weren’t uncommon in that time and place.
The only somewhat unusual circumstance is that Elizabeth Johnson would have gotten pregnant in June, because the next child born to William Crumley (the third) and his wife was my ancestor Phoebe who arrived in March of 1818. It was also a little unusual that Lydia Brown’s mother’s name was Phoebe Cole and Elizabeth named her first child Phoebe. But then again, the Johnsons and Browns were intermarried too or maybe Elizabeth was just incredibly generous.
Or, maybe Lydia didn’t die after all and Elizabeth married a different William Crumley and was not the mother of Phoebe.
By testing the mitochondrial DNA of the descendants of the child born in April of 1817, Phoebe’s descendants along with the descendants of the next child, Malinda, born in 1820, we confirmed that their mitochondrial DNA was identical. Now granted, this could happen if the two women, Lydia and Elizabeth shared a common matrilineal ancestor.
That’s rather unlikely since Phoebe Cole was from New Jersey and Elizabeth Johnson’s father, Zopher, was from Pennsylvania – but with genealogy you never know for sure. Stranger things have happened.
However, William Crumley’s signature on this petition is corroborating data for the mitochondrial evidence.
William Crumley who married in 1817 has a different signature than two other documents signed in Greene County by a William Crumley as well.
William Crumley the third would have been called Jr. in Greene County, given that William Crumley (the first) was already long deceased by 1817, so William Crumley the second would have been William Crumley Sr. in Green County.
I had to make a chart to keep all of the Williams and their signatures straight.
|Who||In Greene County, TN||Signed What|
|William Crumley I, 1735/6-1793||Never in Greene County, TN||Nothing in Greene County|
|William Crumley II, 1767/8-c 1839||Sr.||1796 court order in the Territory South of the Ohio, possibly 1807 marriage document for William III, possibly 1817 marriage document.|
|William Crumley III, 1788-1859||Jr.||Married in 1807 as Jr., signed War of 1812 affidavit in 1814, marriage of Aaron Crumley in 1814 and signs as William Jr., 1816 marriage for Isaac Crumley where he signs as Jr.|
|William Crumley IV, 1811-1864||Married in 1840 in Greene Co.|
We don’t know which William Crumley married in 1817. What I really NEED to know if if William the third married in 1817, because my ancestor, Phoebe, was born in 1818.
We know unquestionably that the 1796 document was signed by William Crumley II because the older William Crumley was dead by then, and the younger one still a minor. This does of course assume the signature is actually Williams.
A comparison of the various signatures, assembled by researcher Stevie Hughes some years ago shows us the following variations.
The next signature is William Crumley from the 1841 petition and looks to be nearly an exact match to the 1816 signature but NOT to the 1817 marriage signature.
The signature from William Crumley’s 1814 power of attorney having to do with his War of 1812 service is shown below. This signature looks to be identical to the 1814 signature, again, assuming this is his actual signature and the clerk did not transcribe it. the clerk would have been the same person if these signatures are transcribed, so the signatures would “match.” No wonder I’m confused.
We know that William Crumley in 1807 is in fact the man who married Lydia Brown and that signature does not match the man who signed the 1796 document just a decade earlier. What we don’t know for sure, at least without further analysis, is that the first bondsman in 1807 was the groom and not the groom’s father.
The signature in 1807 and 1817 looks more alike than the other two signatures, who also resemble each other. This 1807/1817 resemblance is what led researchers for years to assume that the William who married Lydia Brown is the same William that married Elizabeth Johnson.
The surnames look very similar, but the Ws look different. The W in 1817 looks a bit wobbly.
Jotham Brown was Lydia’s brother, and William Crumley Sr. would have been the father of William Crumley Jr. who married Lydia Brown. How do we know that?
William Crumley who married in 1807 was underage, so his father had to sign for him. He could not sign for himself. So clearly, there is some confusion about who is being called Jr. and Sr. and who is marrying who in 1817.
What we still don’t know positively is if the man in 1817 who married Elizabeth Johnson was William the second or third.
The signature on the petition in Hancock County matches exactly to that of William Crumley the third (Jr. in Greene County, born 1788) and not that of the man who married Elizabeth Johnson in 1817.
We know the man who signed the Hancock County petition in 1841 was William the third born in 1788 (Jr. in Greene County) because this William died between 1837 and 1840 in Lee County, VA, right across the county line from Hancock County, TN.
My Unexpected Gift
When I requested this petition, I thought I might learn something interesting about my ancestors and the history of the region where they lived, generally.
I never expected to solve a long-standing mystery. I didn’t even realize what I had, at first, and then the light bulb clicked on and I retrieved the various signatures for comparison.
We now have two important independent pieces of evidence that point to the same conclusion. We have full sequence mitochondrial DNA results from Family Tree DNA that match, strongly suggesting that Phoebe Crumley had the same mother as both her older sister who was born in 1817 before William Crumley married Elizabeth Johnson and Phoebe’s younger sister born in 1820. Furthermore, we have a signature for William Crumley (born in 1788) in Hancock County in 1841 which is not the signature of the William Crumley who married in Greene County in 1817.
William Crumley (the older of the two men in 1817) would have been 50 years old, marrying for the second time, and did not need a separate bondman. He had enough money to be his own bondsman while his son who had been a minor in 1807 did not. William Crumley born in 1788, the younger of the two William’s would also have been marrying for the second time, and he wouldn’t have needed a secondary bondsman either in 1817.
Regardless of the signatures, given the question about originality, I’m extremely grateful for the mitochondrial DNA test results.
You just never know what one single signature, DNA test or piece of information will do for you and more information is always better.
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