Isabel (circa 1753 – 1840/1850), Wife of Michael McDowell – 52 Ancestors #278

We’ve gathered quite a bit of information about Michael McDowell, here, here and here, but not so about his wife, Isabel. It appears that Isabel lived to be at least 87 years old and possibly as old as 97 years. That’s amazing, even today – but especially remarkable at a time when there were no antibiotics and childbirth carried the threat of death every year and a half for 20 or 25 years of a woman’s life.

Not to mention that Isabel appears to have crossed the mountains moving to a new home twice in her life, once when she was about 30 and again another quarter century later. Not an easy trip under the best of circumstances and the best of circumstances probably didn’t exist.

Isabel, spelled Isbell, is only mentioned one time – ever. If it was not for the deed that she signed with her husband, Michael, on February 16, 1793 in Wilkes County, North Carolina, selling their 75 acres of land on the Blackwater River in Franklin County, Virginia – we wouldn’t even know her name.

Michael McDowell Blackwater 1793 sale

Isbel signed with an X, three times, indicating that she could not read or write – and neither could Michael who signed with an X as well.

We don’t really know, positively, that Isbel, or Isabel, was Michael’s wife before or after that time.

We presume, and that’s a really dangerous word in genealogy, that Isabel was the mother of Michael’s children – including Mary McDowell, Michael’s daughter, born about 1785 in Wilkes County, 8 years before “Isbell” signed that deed.

We don’t find the name Isabel, by any spelling, among any of the children of Michael’s known children. But then again, we don’t know who all of Michael’s children were, nor do we know who all of his grandchildren were.

What we do know is that Michael was born about 1747, according to his Revolutionary War Pension application, and began having children when he lived in Bedford County, Virginia.

Who did Michael marry? We have no idea. Marriage records exist during that time in Bedford County, but Michael isn’t there. Of course, those records may be incomplete, but there’s no McDowell and no Isabel or Isbel.

Michael’s son, Edward was born possibly as early as 1773, but likely in either 1774 or 1775, which tells us that Isabel was probably born around 1753, assuming she was Michael’s only wife and the mother of all of his children.

When Edward was young, Isabel spent time alone in their cabin, without Michael at home. I hope she had other family members nearby.

Michael fought in the Revolutionary War in parts of 1777, 1778 and 1779. Michael reveals in his pension application that he initially marched to the lead mines and built a fort, taking at least 6 months, probably beginning about April 1777. After returning home, he was summoned again and “joined with some neighbors and friends with the citizens of the country calling themselves spies, to protect women and children from the skelping knife of the savage.”

Michael marched off to war at least 2 additional times, coming home in-between.

During the many months that Michael was gone, Isabel would have had to function alone on the frontier – not knowing if she would ever see her husband again.

It’s likely that Isabel was pregnant and probably had a second or perhaps even a third child during Michael’s 3 tours of duty. One of those children may have been their son, also named Michael, and other children may have not survived.

Whether Michael was present at home or not, life had to go on.

Isabel was responsible for cultivating the fields, planting seeds or tobacco plants, depending on what they were growing, tending animals and harvesting crops if necessary – not to mention taking care of toddlers. There was no “good time” for Michael to be gone – nor was Isabel ever safe.

Michael did eventually return home. Isabel must have been incredibly relieved. Finally, they could actually begin to plan their lives without the spectre of war constantly hanging over their heads.

On September 24, 1783, Michael bought 75 acres of land on the north side of the Blackwater River in Bedford County where they were living according to the tax list of 1782.

In 1783, Michael owned 2 horses and 4 cows, but in 1784, he was no longer on the tax list of Bedford County. We do find a Michael McDowell in Botetourt County, but then he’s gone from there too.

Michael is absent for a couple of years, but on February 4, 1786, Michael McDowell bought 161 acres of land from John Hall Sr. in Wilkes County, North Carolina characterized as “the plantation where Michael McDowell now lives.”

We know Michael was already living on this land at that time, but we don’t know how long he had been there.

Michael and Isabel didn’t sell their land in Virginia until 1793 from Wilkes County, when Isabel signed as his wife. Were they unsure about staying in Wilkes County? By the time they sold their Virginia land, they had been landowners in Wilkes County for at least 7 years and possibly as long as 9.

About Those Halls

I almost hate to say this, but I’ve wondered for some time if Isabel was a Hall. This is speculation, so please, please do NOT run over to your tree and add Hall as her surname.

It’s equally as likely that Michael married Isabel who was not a Hall in Bedford County, Virginia and was married to her for his entire life. Still, I feel compelled to at least look at Michael’s relationship with the Halls and the possibility that Isabel was, herself, a Hall.

Michael is heavily involved with the Hall family in Wilkes County. The Halls began entering land in 1778 on Mulberry Creek. Wilkes County Genealogy Society writes about the Hall family, here. WeRelate provides information about the family of Thomas Hall of Colonial Virginia, here.

Not only does Michael McDowell purchase land from the Halls, he fights with them as well.

No one fights as much as people who are related.

On January 24, 1786, Michael McDowell, along with Owen Hall posts a bastardy bond for William Profit who was charged with begetting a bastard child on Ann Hooper or Hoper. Both Michael and Owen signed with an X.

In November 1786, Michael is referred to in a deed between Owen and Robert Hall for 156 acres on Andrew Vannoy’s line, Mickel (sic) McDowell’s corner and the line between Hall and McDowell.” This confirms that they are neighbors.

In 1787 on the tax list, Michael has in his household 1 white male age 21-60, 2 males under 21 or over 60 and one white female. The man 21-60 would be Michael himself. There are only two children, both males?

  • If Edward was born in 1773, where are the children born between 1773 and 1787? That’s 15 years and only two surviving children? Isabel would have born in approximately 1753 or earlier if Edward was born in 1773.
  • If James McDowell who witnessed a deed in 1801 is the son of Michael and Isabel, he would have been born about 1779, so that would be the a second male.
  • Son John was born about 1782 or 1783, possibly in Virginia which would be a third male.
  • Son Michael witnesses a deed in 1799, so he would have been born before 1778, a fourth male.

According to these calculations, there should have been 4 sons living with Michael and Isabel in 1787. Where are the other boys?

In 1787, Michael is in court for a trespass case brought by the state. The same jury is ordered to hear Michael’s case as is hearing one between Owen Hall and John Hall Senior and wife, a “case for words” found in favor of Owen. The court then moved Michael’s case to the civil docket and finds him guilty as charged. Those cases seem to be connected.

Did the Hall family come from Bedford County, or an adjacent county? Where were they before Wilkes? There are Halls in Bedford County, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are the same Hall family.

However, in a letter dated 1782 from Henry Innes of Bedford County, Virginia to Ralph Smith of “The Pocket,” he says, “There is a large bull in this neighborhood which was formerly the property of Hezekiah Hall.” The 1782 Bedford County tax list includes both Owen and Hezekiah Hall as well as John Hall Jr. and Sr., two Williams and a Robert Hall. In 1773, we first discover Owen Hall on the Pittsylvania County, Virginia Tax list, so he appears to be about the same age as Michael McDowell.

That’s VERY interesting.

Michael McDowell’s’ father, also named Michael, spent time in Halifax County, adjacent Pittsylvania as well, but at least 20 years before Owen was found in Pittsylvania County.

It’s also possible that Michael was a widower when he moved to Wilkes County, or became a widower shortly thereafter?

By April 1785 in Wilkes County, Owen Hall was selling land to John Shephard on Mulberry Creek that runs with the lines of Owen Hall and Jesse Hall.

In 1790, Michael McDowell continued his involvement with Owen Hall when the state prosecuted Michael McDowell, Owen Hall and William Abshers who on July 20, 1790 “did beat, wound and ill treat Betty Wooten.”

Wow. I can’t help but wonder if they had been drinking. I also wonder what Isabel had to say to Michael. I sure hope she wasn’t on the receiving end of that kind of treatment.

Wooten Creek is a small creek feeding into Mulberry Creek near where the Hall, Absher, Vannoy and McDowell families lived, just south of Hall Mountain.

Isabel Hall Mountain.png

In the 1790 census, Owen Hall was Michael McDowell’s neighbor and probably about 40 years old. Robert Hall was Michael’s neighbor on the other side, probably about the same age. John, Jesse and William Hall live a few houses away.

Michael McDowell in the census has 1 male over 16, 4 males under 16 and 2 females. This tells us they have 4 sons and one daughter.

In July 1792, the court granted Michael McDowell permission to rebuild his mill. I wish they had told us what happened, but I’m guessing a fire. It would have had to be either fire, flood or tornado.

We know there was an arson in the neighborhood in 1789 when John Roberts burned the cabin of Braddock Harris and his wife Rachel Hickerson. The Hickerson family lived slightly south on Mulberry Creek. Arsons did happen, and it’s certainly possible. It seems the entire neighborhood was feuding during this timeframe, judging from the court cases.

On July 23, 1792, a deed was executed between Owen Hall and Robert Hall for 115 pounds, 156 acres adjacent Andrew Vannoy’s line, Michael McDowell’s corner, line between Hall and Michael McDowell including the land Owen Hall bought of John Hall Sr., witness Jacob McGrady, signed Owen X Hall, page 269.

I wish I knew if John Hall Sr. was Owen’s father, but there are no clues.

In February 1793, Michael McDowell and Isabel sold their land in Virginia. Perhaps they needed the money to pay bills given that their mill was out of commission. Or maybe they needed the funds to rebuild the mill. Note that today on Mulberry Creek, very near this location, we find Halls Mills.

In 1799, Michael sold his land to the local preacher, Jacob McGrady who lived just north of Hall Mountain and whose wife was Amiah, reportedly born about 1760 in Bedford County, Virginia, daughter of Owen Hall. Michael signed the deed but Isabel is glaringly absent. The property is located on Mulberry Creek, abuts Robert Hall’s line and is witnessed by Michael and Edward McDowell as well as Robert Hall. However, no mill is mentioned.

It’s difficult to deduce much about the relationship between the McDowell family and the Halls since they are clearly neighbors. Specifically, it looks like Michael is literally surrounded by Hall men.

Following that 1799 sale, Michael officially owned no land. How did the family earn a living? In 1799, Michael is shown with 200 acres but there are no deeds. Perhaps he was renting or we have an unrecorded deed.

In the 1800 census, Michael was 53 years old, Isabel is apparently still alive, even though her signature was absent on the 1799 deed, given that a female over age 45 is living in the household. Additionally, they have 2 males age 0-10, 1 female 10-16 and 2 females 0-10. It looks like the older sons have left the nest, but we don’t know where they are.

On November 23, 1805, a deed of conveyance occurs between Owen Hall, Russell Co., VA, and Robert Hall, 60 pounds for 156 acres, Andrew Vannoy line, Michael McDowell corner, marked line between Hall and McDowell, Witness William Abshire, Hezekiah Hall and James Quyth (?) Signed Owen Hall, page 287

Owen Hall moved north too, apparently.

December 5, 1805, a deed between Robert Hall and John Abshire, 150 pounds, 156 acres, Andrew Vannoy line, Michael McDowells corner marked line between said Hall and McDowell. Wit Jacob McGrady, William McGrady and Owen X McGrady. Signed Robert x Hall

Claiborne County, Tennessee

In 1809, Mary McDowell married William Harrell, the neighbor’s son. Harrell was spelled Harrold at the time and the family lived on Harrold Mountain, just to the east. Within the year, Michael, and presumably Isabel, along with most of their children left for Claiborne County, Tennessee. Mary McDowell and William Harrell moved with Michael too.

A younger Michael McDowell, presumably Michael’s son, stayed in Wilkes County, but the rest of the McDowell family left for the Powell River on the border of Claiborne County, Tennessee and Lee County, Virginia.

As Michael and Isabel packed up the wagon to set out over those mountains for Tennessee, Michael would have been 63 years of age and Isabel wasn’t far behind. Given that four children were born between 1790 and 1800, we can infer that Isabel would have had her last child about 1797 or 1798, suggesting she was born about 1754 which is in line with Edward McDowell having been born about 1773.

After arriving in Claiborne County, Michael McDowell settled on land named Slanting Misery. I’ve always wondered why they chose that land, because it truly was slanted and miserable, both. Or maybe it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. They were certainly used to mountains from living in Wilkes County, so maybe Slanting Misery simply felt like home.

Slanting misery panorama

The 1810 census is missing, but the 1810 tax list in Lee County, Virginia, on the Powell River, shows Michael and two of his sons.

Four year later, in 1814, Michael begins claiming and amassing land in Claiborne County, just across the border from Lee County, beside his son-in-law, William Harrell who was married to his daughter, Mary McDowell.

Sons John and William McDowell live beside and claim land adjacent Michael as well.

Unfortunately, the 1820 census is lost too, but in 1830, a female is living with Michael, age 70-80, so born 1750-1760. That surely looks like Isabel.

In 1840, a female age 80-90 is living with Mary and William Herrell and it appears that Michael may have been living with the rather unfriendly preacher, Nathan McDowell.

It’s worth noting that two McDowell males, Nathan S. McDowell and John P. McDowell, clearly with ties to Michael McDowell based on deeds transferred to them “for love” are probably too young to be children of Michael and Isabel. It’s possible that these males were grandchildren of Michael and Isabel, especially given that we don’t have a full accounting of their children.

Children

In summary, the children attributed to Michael and Isabel are as follows:

  • Michael McDowell born between 1774-1778, either dead or gone from Wilkes County by 1820. (I’m confident of this relationship, but Michael is not confirmed as Michael’s son.)
  • Edward McDowell born possibly as early as 1773 or as late as 1780 (confirmed)
  • John McDowell born 1782 or 1783 (confirmed)
  • Mary McDowell born 1787 (confirmed)
  • Luke McDowell born circa 1792 (confirmed)
  • William McDowell born circa 1795 (confident, but not genetically confirmed)
  • Daughter born between 1790-1800 (no further information)
  • Daughter born between 1790-1800 (no further information)

Nathan and John P. McDowell are unlikely to be Isabel’s children, although it’s not impossible, given that Isabel was born about 1753 or possibly slightly earlier. If born in 1753, Isabel would have been 44 in 1797 and 49 in 1802.

There are two sons born between 1790 and 1800 as well – one of which could be Nathan.

Based on their transactions and activities, Nathan and John P. certainly appear to be related to the family in some fashion. I’m betting on grandsons, possibly through son Michael who stayed in North Carolina. A persistent rumor exists that the son, Michael McDowell, died on September 3, 1823 in Stokes County and is buried in Winston-Salem. A Billion Graves entry shows us a stone that says the Michael who died was in the 42nd year of his age, which would put his birth in 1781. I’m not convinced that this Michael is the Michael who was the son of Michael McDowell of Wilkes County, but it is a possibility..

  • Nathan S. McDowell born 1797 could be Isabel’s son or possibly a grandson or related in some other way. Nathan did not live close to Michael, roughly 20 miles away, and had no children, so this can never be proven genetically one way or another.
  • John P. McDowell born about 1802 is probably not Isabel’s son, especially since John born about 1782 is proven to be Michael’s son. John P. is probably a grandson or related in some other way.

Without documentation that doesn’t exist today, we’ll never know for sure.

DNA

Mary McDowell’s mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup U5b2b1a1, inherited directly from her mother’s matrilineal line. Of course, we’re presuming here that since Mary was born in 1785 in North Carolina that indeed she is the daughter of Isabel McDowell whose birth surname is unknown.

U5b2b1a1 is found mostly in the British Isles, although with some mutations, also in Scandinavia and central Europe.

Given that we first find Isabel in (probably) Bedford County, Virginia, it’s likely that she either descended from the Scotch-Irish population, Germanic settlers or from colonial English stock. We need more testers before we can draw any conclusions, although there are matches to a few families in this region in the right timeframe.

Isabel Mito map.png

We find Mary’s earliest known ancestor migration map matches scattered across the rather traditional migration path, so nothing unusual here.

Autosomal DNA

I was really hoping to find a smoking gun, or maybe a smoking Hall in my own DNA matches that might suggest that Isabel was a Hall.

I have neither ThruLines nor Theories of Family Relativity that suggest Halls, although Isabel is 6 generations back in my tree.

Looking to sift out more information, I used two wonderful tools which were both inconclusive.

First, I ran the Genetic Affairs cluster analysis along with tree reconstruction and didn’t find anything suggestive of a Hall connection. I was hoping for a fortuitous tree reconstruction, but it was not to be had unfortunately.

I then utilized DNAGedcom.com’s service that obtains the direct line ancestors in the trees of my matches, and indeed I do have a significant number of DNA matches with Hall ancestors out of Wilkes County.

The problem, of course, is that the Hall family remained in Wilkes and were neighbors of my family members with the following surnames:

  • McDowell
  • Herrell/Harrold/Herrald
  • McNiel
  • Shepherd
  • Hickerson
  • Vannoy

It’s very likely that I share a different line with these people who have Hall in their trees. In fact, I do share multiple ancestors with two of the most promising matches. This what happens when everyone stays up on that mountain and marries their neighbors. Within a generation or two, everyone is related to everyone else, and the neighbors are marrying are their cousins because everyone is a cousin.

Unfortunately, what this means is that for autosomal testing, I would really need to find a group of people who descend from Hall ancestors from this same line BEFORE they migrated to Wilkes, and who don’t share a different line with me.

Colonial Virginia is a tough nut to crack in this type of situation, especially this far back in time. Isabel would have been born in the early 1750s and many Virginia counties have experienced record loss of one kind of another. Unfortunately, there is no recorded marriage for Michael McDowell, nor a will that leaves anything to Isabel or any Michael McDowell from a father-in-law – so we’re out of luck unless something turns up one day in a previously buried record.

Or of course, if the right person just happens to DNA test, that could turn the tide as well😊

Hope springs eternal.

If you descend from Michael McDowell and Isabel or the Hall line, please be sure you’re in all of the databases (Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, MyHeritage, GedMatch and 23andMe). It’s not just who you match, but who your matches also match. The power of the newer tools is found in groups of matches that descend from the same ancestral couple – and each vendor has unique matches and tools that other vendors don’t have.

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4 thoughts on “Isabel (circa 1753 – 1840/1850), Wife of Michael McDowell – 52 Ancestors #278

  1. Roberta, I’ve read that the legal age for witnessing a deed in Virginia was most likely 14 in colonial times. My reference is this blog post which references Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on The Laws of England, Book 1, Chapter 17. Absent other evidence for birth years of Michael’s sons, this might explain why there were only two sons noted on the 1787 tax list.

    https://genfiles.com/articles/legal-age/

  2. There is something missing in this sentence.
    In 1787 on the tax list, Michael has in his household 2 males under 21 or over 60 and one white female, in addition to himself. Only 2 males? Only two children?

    • Thank you, you’re right, there was. I’ve fixed it. Other than Michael and his wife, there were 2 males “under 21 or over 60.”

  3. Sons were often on the tax rolls independent of their parents at age sixteen. It is hard for us to think of a sixteen-year-old considered an adult.

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