Darcus Johnson (c1750–c1835), Chain Carrier – Say What??- 52 Ancestors #349

The People’s History of Claiborne County, Tennessee tells us that, “Darcus Johnson was the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary “Polly” Phillips, was born in 1750 in the area of Augusta County, Virginia that became Dunmore County, then Shenandoah. Her father might have come from Pennsylvania. She died in 1831 in Claiborne County, TN.”

This may or may not be entirely accurate.

Bill Nevils, long-time family history researcher provided a great deal of information about his Claiborne County ancestors, some of which, fortunately, are mine too. Unfortunately, he’s gone now and I can’t ask him about his sources. I don’t know what data might be available now that was not available to him at that time.

First Things First

There is some question about the spelling of Dorcas, Dorcus or Darcus’s first name. It’s listed as Darcus in the Shenandoah County (transcribed) Marriage records. In the 1852 Greene County, TN will of Andrew Dobkins (wife Joanna), Darcus’s probable son, he listed a daughter named Darcas in his will.

I’ve also seen her name spelled Dorcas, several times, but never in an original document. That’s one of the problems, there is only one known contemporaneous document that is positively her and lists her name – her marriage. And even that misspells Jacob’s surname. So who knows.

I’m spelling her name in all three ways because I don’t know which one to choose. That way, no matter who is googling in the future, they’ll find this article😊.

Darcus married Jacob Dobkins, who I wrote about here, here and here.

The Shenandoah Co., VA marriage records don’t give a date for the marriage of Jacob Dobkins (spelled Dobbins) and Darcus Johnson, but they appear to have been transcribed in entry order. The marriage above theirs took place on September 6, 1775, and the following date, 7 couples later is October 2, 1775. I can’t help but wonder if “no date” means “ditto”, but regardless, they were married sometime between those two dates.

Jacob and Darcus were actually married in Dunmore County that became and was renamed on February 1, 1778, as Shenando, now Shenandoah. The Dunmore records have been incorporated into the Shenandoah County records since Dunmore wasn’t split, just renamed.


Darcus is reported in many trees to be the daughter of Peter Johnson (Johnston, Johnstone) and his wife Mary Polly Phillips. Peter reportedly lived in Pennsylvania and died in Allegheny County, PA. However, I am FAR from convinced that this couple was Darcus’s parents.

The distance from Shenandoah County, VA to Allegheny Co., PA is prohibitive for courting.

The Shenandoah County records need to be thoroughly researched with various Johnson families reconstructed. I’m hoping that perhaps someone has already done that and a Johnson family was living not terribly far from Jacob Dobkins father, John Dobkins. That would be the place to start.

What DO We Know?

We know that Jacob Dobkins was born about 1751 based on his Revolutionary War Pension application in 1832 where he said he was 81 years old. If Dorcas was 20 when she was married, then she would have been born about 1755, but later records place her birth about 1750 or perhaps even somewhat earlier.

In 1773, Jacob appears on the Fincastle Co., VA tax list as “not found.” Fincastle County was the parent of Dunmore which was the parent of Shenandoah. Not found means he had likely moved on. It’s somewhat unusual for a single man to be living alone, but we have no reason to think he was married before Darcus.

By 1774, Jacob was likely serving in the all-volunteer militia as Lord Dunmore’s War had commenced and one Jacob Dobler was listed as defending the frontier in a Fincastle Militia unit. Interestingly, so was one Patrick Johnston.

In January 1775, Jacob’s brother, Evan, married Margaret Johnson. Were Margaret and Darcas related? Sisters perhaps? We’ll likely never know, well, unless someone who descends from Margaret through all females to the current generation takes a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test. Darcus’s descendants have tested and their mitochondrial DNA would match, or nearly so, if Margaret and Darcus are sisters. If this applies to you and you descend through all females from Margaret (but a tester can be male in the current generation), please let me know because I have a DNA testing scholarship for you! We could solve a mystery together.

In May of 1775, Evin, also spelled Evan, Jacob, and another brother, Reuben, appear on a militia list of Dunmore County.


Of course, children began arriving soon after their marriage. Unfortunately, we only have a reconstructed list of children based on proximity, inferences and some legal and other documents. Unfortunately, the 1835 deed where the “Heirs of Jacob Dobkins” deeded his property is recorded in the missing Claiborne County Deed Book L, and the index entry only says “The Heirs of Jacob Dobkins.” I swear, every deed I “really need” is in that AWOL book.

  • Assuming Andrew Dobkins was the child of Jacob and Darcus, and I know assume is a dangerous word in genealogy, he was born about 1775 according to the 1850 Greene Co., TN census. He did name a daughter Darcus, and Jacob Dobkins did live in this area about the time Andrew would have been marrying. Alternatively, Andrew could have been the child of a different Dobkins man, probably one of Jacob’s brothers.
  • Darcus’s first proven child, Elizabeth was born about 1776 and died sometime after 1850. Elizabeth would marry George Campbell, a near neighbor in Hawkins County, Tennessee. They named their daughter born about 1799 Dorcus/Dorcas.
  • John Dobkins was born about 1777, lived his adult life in Claiborne County, TN, and reportedly married Elizabeth Shaw. His children are unknown and I cannot confirm his birth year estimate. He first appeared in the court notes in 1808.
  • Another possible daughter named Dorcas Dobkins fits here. The Murphy family Bible record shows her birth as May 29, 1780. She married Malachi Murphy in 1796, according to the Bible, although neither a birth or marriage location is recorded. She could also have been the daughter of one of the other Dobkins men, brothers of Jacob, or someone else. I’m not convinced that Dorcas is the child of Jacob and Dorcas Dobkins, in part because of her birth date. Let’s set this aside for the moment.

There was a gap between John and the next child. Jacob was serving in the military far from Shenandoah County. Darcas nearly lost her young husband. Bullets ripped through his clothes during the Battle of Pickaway. If Jacob hadn’t survived, the course of history, at least my history and Darcas’s, would have been forever altered.

  • Jacob Dobkins Jr. was reportedly born about 1782. There has been a lot of confusion surrounding this man, and he is listed as having married Johanna Woolsey. However, Andrew Dobkins married Johanna Woolsey and was listed as early as 1819 in Greene County, TN where he died in 1852 with a will. Jacob Dobkins Jr., spent most of his adult life in Claiborne County, TN, first appeared in the records in 1803 and was on the tax list of 1833 as Jacob Jr. when Jacob Dobkins Sr. was still alive. He was still noted in records in 1839 and 1842, and probably died between then and 1850 where he is still listed on the agricultural census but NOT in the regular census.
  • Reuben Dobkins was born in 1783 in Shenandoah County, married Mary Polly, last name unknown, and died in Claiborne County in 1823. Some people show this Reuben as Jacob Dobkins’ brother, not his son. Reuben first appears in the Claiborne County court notes in 1815.
  • Margaret, known as Peggy Dobkins was born about 1785, married Elijah Jones, and died in March of 1852. They were divorced before 1844 when he remarried, according to his widow’s pension application. Peggy named her daughter born in 1811 Dorcas.
  • Solomon Dobkins was born in 1787 in what would become Tennessee, married Elizabeth, surname unknown, and died in 1852 in Kaufman County, TX.
  • The youngest daughter, Jane, known as Jenny Dobkins was born between 1778 and 1780, probably in Virginia, and died between 1850 and 1860 in Claiborne County, TN. She married John Campbell, believed to be the brother of George Campbell who married her sister.
  • George Dobkins was born between 1782 and 1788 in Virginia, married Nancy Parks, and died after 1840 in Claiborne County, TN.

This may be only a partial list of children.

Inferred History

Most of what we know about Darcus Johnson Dobkins is extrapolated from the life of her husband and children. We’re taking it on faith that the woman who bore his children was the same woman Jacob married back in Virginia, and that she had not died along the way and he remarried. That’s probably a pretty safe bet at least through Margaret born about 1785 because she named a child Dorcas.

Darcus’s early married life was anything but settled.

In 1775, Jacob enlisted in the local militia in Shenandoah County and participated in Lord Dunmore’s War, a conflict between Virginia, which extended through present-day Kentucky and west without boundary, and the Shawnee and Mingo nations. In 1780, his unit was mustered out, but by then, Jacob was already in Kentucky, serving under the command of George Rogers Clark. Jacob marched from near Louisville to near Cincinnati, pursuing Shawnee Indians. For that matter, we don’t know if Jacob ever had a horse during these years. We do know the men were on foot most if not all of the time.

Jacob Dobkins had enlisted in the militia to fight specifically in the Revolutionary War in May of 1779 where he was already living – Harrod’s Fort that eventually became Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and served for at least two years. If you are counting on your 9 fingers, this means that if Jacob left before he enlisted and was already in Kentucky, he could not have fathered Dorcas Dobkins if she was born in May of 1780. Of course, sometimes birth years were recorded incorrectly, but this suggests that Dorcas Dobkins who married Malachi Murphy was not the child of Jacob and Dorcas Dobkins. Maybe she was named in honor of our Dorcas.

Why was Jacob Donkins already at Fort Harrod in 1779? Was he on a reconnaissance mission, thinking about moving west, when he needed to enlist because the war on the frontier had heated up? One John Dobbin filed for land on North Elkhorn Creek in 1778. John could have been his father or brother. Jacob would not have taken his wife on that type of expedition. By this time, she had small children at home and was probably pregnant again. The land claim was sold by 1780.

Jacob spent 1780 in Harrods Fort and Shawnee Springs, now in the state of Kentucky but then the western frontier of Virginia. Later that fall, he fought in the Battle of Pickaway in Ohio where the bullets flew fast and furious, shreddinging his clothes into tatters. It’s amazing that he escaped with his life. Many didn’t.

Home Again

In August of 1781, Jacob finally headed back to his bride in Shenandoah County who was waiting with at least two and possibly as many as four children. I’m using the word “waiting” loosely here, because she was certainly not sitting around waiting. Dorcas was doing the work of two people. Hers as the wife and mother, plus the tasks Jacob would have been doing too. Her tasks would have included childcare, cooking, cleaning, and doing everything by hand. Covering his responsibilities meant taking care of any animals, plowing, planting, weeding, harvesting, and obtaining food, generally by hunting – all with babies. I don’t know how she did it, but I hope fervently she had family nearby to help. I mean, think about it. How could you even plow, assuming you HAD a plow and an ox, with two babies in tow? And when you got done with all that – you still had all the inside traditional women’s work to do.

If she was pregnant when Jacob left, she gave birth without him nearby, and if the child died, she also buried her baby without her husband’s support.

Fortunately, Jacob did make it home and in 1782, 1783, and 1784 is recorded on the Shenandoah County, VA tax lists.

Their next child was born in 1783 as well.

The 1783 tax lists provided additional information and the family is shown with 8 whites, which would mean that they had 6 children or other people lived with them.

We don’t know exactly where they lived but we do know they were closely associated with the Holeman family. One of Jacob’s brothers married a Holeman woman and the men served in the militia together. The Holeman and Dobkins families both received land grants and settled along Holeman’s Creek near present-day Forestville, VA.

Holeman’s Creek runs between the two red arrows before dumping into the North Shenandoah River.

However, Jacob had caught an itch while he was away. And that itch was to move west.

Westward Ho

Jacob would have passed through Martin’s Station, located in Lee County, VA, just east of the Cumberland Gap on his way to and from Kentucky. That’s not far from where Jacob and Darcus would eventually settle permanently, but first, they tried a few other locations. Tennessee wasn’t yet a state, nor was that area open for settlement.

In 1785, the couple was not listed on the Virginia tax lists. The family had likely packed up and already started down the Great Wagon Road that eventually morphed into I81.

Jacob may have come and gone between two locations because in 1785, a Washington County, North Carolina document subpoenaed Jacob Dobkins of Shenandoah County to testify.

By Iamvered – I, Esemono, drew this map myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3874104

It appears that Jacob and Dorcas moved to the State of Franklin and likely became embroiled in early politics. The State of Franklin was not a state, but it wanted to be, seceding from North Carolina in 1784. Eventually, the area involved in the State of Franklin became the easternmost counties of Tennessee, but then, it was the wild west – the fringe of the frontier.

By 1786, the residents were negotiating with the state of North Carolina for readmission. “Oops, we’re sorry and had a moment.”

The State of Franklin had become a no man’s land meaning they weren’t a part of any government and had no rights or protections. Residents couldn’t file for land, for example, or vote, or hold court. The two sides were literally at war with one another. They had a mess on their hands and eventually, most people just wanted order to be restored.

By Iamvered – I, Iamvered, drew this map myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3868073

In 1787 and 1788, Jacob and his brothers were living in Washington County, NC, the part that had been the state of Franklin and would become the counties of Washington, Sullivan, Greene, and Hawkins in eastern Tennessee after Tennessee was admitted to the union in 1796. Jacob bought land in Washington County in 1788, so apparently intended to stay.

In 1789, Jacob’s name appeared on a petition along with a group of men who were considered to be living on Indian land not purchased by the US government. They petitioned the NC government, begging for help.

Jacob may have given up and moved back to Shenandoah County, VA because his name appears there on the 1790 reconstructed census with 8 whites. However, the reconstructed census used tax lists, and we already know he was listed in 1783 with 8 people, so his whereabouts in 1790 are unclear.

You might have noticed that children continued to arrive during this time. Was Darcus exasperated beyond her limits? Someplace between 6 and 8 children and constant threats to their safety? Did she perhaps give Jacob a wifely ultimatum? I have to wonder, because even the staunchest of pioneer wives could certainly have reached their limit under those circumstances. Sometimes situations change, and something that at one time seemed like a really good idea, in reality, wasn’t. This turmoil wasn’t short-lived either. Darcus was now approaching 15 years of upheaval. Her entire married life.

Many families did move back to a safer and less stressful environment. Holeman’s Creek probably looked quite welcoming!

That arrangement, if they did move back, did not last long.

Retry – Back Again

In 1792, the family is living in newly formed Jefferson County where Jacob sued John Sevier – yes – the governor. Sevier had been involved with the State of Franklin too, and Jacob had been called to testify in a lawsuit against Sevier in 1785. Perhaps whatever was going on in 1785 was still unresolved in 1792.

I can just hear the gossip and drama, even across 230 years. Everyone but everyone would have been talking about that and assuredly had an opinion – probably a strong one. Tongues would have been wagging, that’s for sure!

The church was not only the religious center, but also the social center of the community, especially for women. I don’t know what church they attended in Virginia, but in later years in Tennessee, they were assuredly Baptists.

By 1792, Dorcas would have been about 40 years old. We don’t know of any children born this late, but there certainly could have been some that we aren’t aware of or that did not survive. Or, Dorcas could have been slightly older than we know. George was reportedly born between 1782 and 1788. If Dorcas was 43-45 when he was born, and he was born in 1788, that puts her birth possibly as early as 1743.

Jacob bought land again, this time in the area known as “The Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio” on Bent Creek in Hawkins County, near the main road between the ford of the Holston River and Bull’s Gap over the mountain.

Clearly, this part of the country, destined to become Tennessee, was having either birthing pains or an identity crisis, but that didn’t stop the settlers from arriving, clearing land, and staying.

By this time, Dorcas’s eldest children were of age to begin marrying. Elizabeth Dobkins married George Campbell and Jenny Dobkins married his (presumed) brother John Campbell, sons of Charles Campbell who lived near the Holston River.

In 1793 Jacob bought land in Jefferson County, and in 1796, Jacob sold at least some of that land. Around this time, the family likely migrated, probably with the Reverend Tidence Lane to what would become Claiborne County. We know that Jacob and Darcas were established in Claiborne County by October 1801 because Jacob is mentioned in the first court notes establishing the county. An entire group, including Jacob’s two Campbell sons-in-law, appear to have moved and settled together.

This was the last move for Jacob and Darcas. They packed up one last time, pulled out in a heavily loaded wagon, settled in Claiborne County, and stayed.

Now roughly 50 years old, I’d guess Darcas was VERY tired of packing everything into a wagon and moving. Their entire married life had been punctuated by instability. First, a war, then moving to “the west,” the State of Franklin, then not a state, then Washington County, NC, then the Territory South of the River Ohio, then Washington Co., TN, then Hawkins County, then Jefferson County, then finally Claiborne county which means they likely lived in Grainger County before Claiborne was formed. Oh yes, fighting Indians, clearing land and suing the governor sprinkled in there for good measure. I’m exhausted just thinking about this.

Darcus must have heaved a huge sigh of relief. By this time, they had older children and adult sons to help clear land and fell trees. They bought a tract large enough to entice all of their children to move with them. That was a brilliant strategy because that seems to be exactly what happened. Maybe that was what enticed Dorcas to move just one more time, into the peaceful little valley on the north side of Wallen Mountain.

Jacob and Dorcas built a log cabin, and their children built cabins nearby.

Amazingly, their cabin still stood into the late 1900s. I wrote about discovering the cabin, here.

The War of 1812

However, Darcus would be forced to deal with war once again, this time the War of 1812. Many local men joined or were drafted to fight, including her adult son, Solomon Dobkins, who was a Captain and fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Her son-in-law, Elijah Jones, fought alongside her son in Alabama.

Many Claiborne County men died, both of wounds and illness. Most men didn’t even have horses and walked to war, supplying their own armaments too.

Darcus certainly knew how close she came to losing Jacob all those years ago. I’m sure she wondered if she would lose Solomon and Elijah. She would have stepped up to help her daughter and daughter-in-law while the men were gone.

Court Martial

All was not well with the Dobkins family in Claiborne County. Some records are difficult to find and don’t show up for another generation or two. Solomon Dobkins died in 1852 in Fannin County, Texas. His son, Jake (Jacob) Dobkins was living in Gainesville, Cooke Co., Texas on July 5, 1856 when he made application for “anything the government may have to offer him as the heir of his father, Solomon Dobkins.” He states that his father served in the Creek Indian War in 1812 and 1813 under General Jackson. He further states that his father died in 1852 in Fannin County Texas.

Any benefits from the government to this heir were denied because Solomon Dobkins was Court Martialed and Cashiered.

Cashiering is a demotion as a result of a court martial. I always wondered why there was no pension application for Solomon. This answers that question.

Everyone would have known, and apparently, no one spoke of it. I can’t help but wonder what happened, when, and where. A court martial is very severe.

This situation must have caused Dorcas both pain and embarrassment.

I continue to find Solomon in the Claiborne County court records in positions of responsibility, so whatever happened seems to have been largely forgotten, although he was prosecuted by the state at one time.

A Fireside Chat Heralds Changes

Jacob and Darcus probably sat beside the fireplace one night, or maybe on the porch in rocking chairs, and had a talk. I’m guessing that they had many serious talks over the years. Whether to leave, or not. Whether to return, or not. Whether to move back, or not. Whether to move on, or not.

This talk was a bit different. They were aging, approaching 65 which was beyond “retirement age” back then. Well, I guess you never really got to “retire,” but you did get to stop paying taxes at some point when you were either infirm or old. That’s what retirement looked like in that era. You worked until you couldn’t anymore, then you died or lived with your children.

Jacob and Dorcas decided to begin distributing their land. In 1814, about the time Solomon and Elijah returned from the war, Jacob sold land to two sons-in-law, Elijah Jones and George Campbell. Nothing like a wake-up call to realize tomorrow simply isn’t guaranteed.

In about 1817, Jacob suffered a disabling shoulder and collarbone break in some type of accident. He stated in court in 1832 when he applied for his pension that he had not been able to attend court since that time and suffered greatly from “phrumatic pains.” This also means that Dorcas was probably caring for Jacob and once again had to pick up more chores, even though she assuredly had aches and pains herself by this time. Thankfully, she had children and grandchildren nearby to help.

In 1823, their (presumed) son, Reuben died. I wish we had more information. Was he ill or was there an accident? Without antibiotics, any farm injury could quickly become septic, and something like a ruptured appendix meant sure and certain death. Was Reuben actually their son, or was that Reuben Jacob’s brother?

The 1830s

The 1830 Claiborne County census shows columns for ages, with Jacob Dobkins listed as 70-80 and the female living in the household as 80-90. Of course, it’s easy to mismark a column or misunderstand an age, but if Dorcas was in fact 80-90 in 1830, that means she was actually born between 1740-1750. If she was born in 1750, she would have been slightly older than Jacob. That might also explain why we find no children born after roughly 1788 and possibly no later than 1782.

The 1830s are fuzzy for Dorcas. We know that Jacob died in 1835, but we don’t know if she died before or after Jacob. Some show her death in 1831, but I don’t know why.

There is, however, one very intriguing record.

Say What?

This March 27, 1833 survey is quite interesting.

Dorcas Dobkins is listed as a chain carrier. Say what?

Yes, a chain carrier, shown just beneath the drawing as, “Sworn Chainers.”

I’m not sure who else this could have been, unless it was a granddaughter. The problem is, other than the Dorcas Dobkins born in 1808 and who lived in Greene County, I don’t know who else this could have been, other than Dorcas, the wife of Jacob. It’s also fair to say that I only have two known children for Darcus’s son John, and no documented children for Reuben who died in 1823, assuming he was their son, nor for son Jacob who died or disappeared from the records between 1840-1850. Of course, there are questions about the identity of some of those men, and some of them may not have been old enough to have daughters serving as chain carriers in 1833.

Neither sons Solomon nor George have known children named Dorcas.

This survey is for Lorenzo Dow Dobkins, the son of John Dobkins. His brother was also named John, the name of the other chain carrier, so it’s possible that he had a sister by the name of Dorcas. Or, his grandmother wanted to help out.

Personally, I’m voting for an irreverent grandmother who was itching to get out of the house on a beautiful spring day.

Let’s eavesdrop…

“We don’t have another person as the chain carrier. We can’t do the survey today.”

Dorcas: “Oh yes you do!”


Dorcas, pointing to herself: “Me.”

With a slight smile, “Maam, with all respect, you can’t do that.”

Dorcas, more determined than ever: “Hrummph, watch me!” as she wipes her hands, takes off her apron and pins up a stray hair or two.

Men, looking at each other, shrugging, “OK.”

I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a female chain carrier in a record. A chain carrier needed to be of age and able to testify as to the fairness and accuracy of the survey process if called upon. Not only that, chains were heavy and the terrain was sometimes rough.

I can’t help but wonder if Dorcas was a chain carrier because she wanted to keep her eye on what was occurring. After all, this survey did abut her son John’s land. If that was the case, she was clearly not dead at this time. And being a chain carrier, in spite of what someone might have thought, wasn’t likely to kill her😊.

We know from Jacob’s 1832 pension application and testimony that he was disabled and therefore he would not have been able to be a chain carrier. Dorcas would have been at least in her late 70s if not her 80s.

Jacob’s Pension Payments

Jacob’s pension payment records don’t say anything about Dorcas. One record, from 1835, shows the list of pensioners and does not indicate a death date for Jacob, although there are death dates in 1833 for others. That means that either he hadn’t died when this list was compiled in 1835, or the death date wasn’t entered. Since the legislation was to compile a list of pensioners being paid, it’s very unlikely that he died before 1835, but not impossible. He was also on the Claiborne County tax list in 1833.

A second record indicates the last pension payment was made in September of 1835. I was unclear whether that payment could have been to Dorcas as his surviving spouse, or, it would only have been paid to Jacob directly.

As it turns out, widows were not eligible to receive payments until an act of July 4, 1836. This confirms that Jacob was last paid, himself, in September of 1835. He died sometime between September of 1835 and the next payment date in March of 1836.

All we can surmise from this is that Dorcas did not apply for his pension beginning in 1836, so my presumption would be that she had died before July of 1836.

In 1835, Jacob’s heirs quitclaimed his land to Betsy Campbell, their daughter who had married George Campbell. Of course, that’s the deed in the book that’s missing, so I’ll never know if Dorcas signed, or who all of their heirs were.

I don’t find a woman of Dorcas’s age living with one of her children in the 1840 census, so I’d feel safe in saying she had died by then, and most likely by the end of 1835 when the land was conveyed.


For all that I don’t know, what I do know is where Jacob and Dorcas are buried. Of course, they established a graveyard on their land, behind the house and up the hill towards the Powell River. According to cousin Bill Nevils, when we visited some years ago, the family lore states that Jacob is buried beneath the huge tree in the center. That would make sense.

Jacob would have spared that tree when he cleared the land. Maybe he said to Dorcas one day, “That’s where we’ll be buried, with our kin, looking over our land.”

Maybe Dorcas figured if he established a burying ground, they were finally someplace to stay.

Jacob and Dorcas certainly weren’t the first to be buried there three decades after they purchased the land. Nor were they the last.

No stone marks their resting place, save for the beautiful tree of course.

  • I don’t know where all of Dorcas’s children are buried, but I’d wager that Elizabeth, called Betsy, is buried right there. Her son Barney wound up owning the land and last I knew, his descendants still do.
  • Son John is probably buried in the cemetery too, assuming he didn’t move away. He died sometime after 1834.
  • Darcus probably buried Reuben, throwing clods of dirt on top of his casket as her final act of motherhood. That had to be an incredibly sad day, but he was always nearby, up on the hill.
  • Peggy joined her mother in March of 1852. In the 1850 census, she was living with an unknown family. As a divorced elderly woman, she may have been supported by the court and placed with a family who would care for her. We don’t know when she divorced, but it was before 1844 when Elijah Jones remarried, according to his widow’s pension application after his death. I wonder if Peggy was able to retain any of her parent’s land that Jacob and Darcus sold to her husband, Elijah, in 1814. Divorce was virtually unheard of at that time and required the approval of the state assembly. It’s unknown when the divorce occurred, but it certainly could have been prior to Dorcas’s death.
  • Jane known as Jenny died between 1850 and 1860 and is either buried with her mother or on the Campbell land across the ridge.
  • George died in 1837, just a couple of years after Jacob, and would rest near his mother as well.
  • Jacob Jr. died sometime between 1840 and 1850 and likely rests in the family cemetery.
  • Solomon made his way to Texas, and of course, Andrew died in Greene County.

Of the 9 children believed to be hers, 7 are either buried with her or nearby. That idea of purchasing a large tract of land to share seemed to have worked. Solomon, while he did die in Texas, didn’t leave until after his mother had passed on. At least she didn’t have to wave goodbye to that wagon carrying her son and 11 of her grandchildren.

This beautiful, peaceful cemetery is populated with Dorcas’s descendants. The first person buried there would probably have been either Dorcas’s child or grandchild in one of the many unmarked graves.

Some of her 35 known grandchildren are buried here as well, as are a dozen generations of her descendants scattered across the sundrenched field.


I have more than 100 autosomal DNA matches with Dorcas’s descendants through 5 of her children. There is no question that she’s my ancestor.

However, what I really need is to discover more about her parents. Ancestry’s ThruLines only reach back 7 generations before you hit a hard stop, meaning Ancestry does not calculate ThruLines beyond 7 generations. Ancestry also does not provide segment information, so you have little to work with.

To find her parents, I need to be able to track specific segments that I’ve been able to confirm to Jacob Dobkins and Darcus Johnson back to people who have Johnson ancestors in their tree, hopefully in a timeframe that could be Dorcas’s parents.

Using segments from vendors who provide segment information, meaning FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GedMatch, I’ve identified several segments that I know descend from Jacob and Dorcas and painted them at DNAPainter.

I can’t associate segments with (my unknown) ancestors any further back than either Jacob or Dorcas without matching segments from people who descend from their parents, respectively.

What I DESPERATELY need is the ability to use these segments to focus on all of my matches and their trees that triangulate on these specific paternal segments assigned to Jacob and Dorcas. I need the ability to work with the trees of people who carry those segments but aren’t descended from Jacob and Dorcas in order to unravel the identity of their ancestors.

That feature isn’t offered anyplace, at least not yet. I’m hopeful though.

However, that’s not the end of the DNA resources. We can utilize mitochondrial DNA that is passed from women to their children – but only women pass it on. That means both men and women can test today. Mitochondrial DNA testing represents a special DNA unique to their direct matrilineal line.

Dorcas’s Mitochondrial DNA

I’m fortunate enough to have Dorcas’s mitochondrial DNA results through two different daughters of Jane “Jenny” Dobkins. They match exactly, which is a good thing because I want to be able to depend on an exact match to be able to help identify other people’s trees that may hold the key to Dorcas’s parents.

Our testers have 9 full sequence exact matches at FamilyTreeDNA, the only vendor that does full mitochondrial DNA testing.

Of those matches, some have listed an EKA, Earliest Known Ancestor, from this line, some have provided trees, some both, and some neither.

Tracking the information back through their trees I’ve discovered:

  • One EKA is Matilda Holt 1830-1889 from Monroe Co., TN. Matilda Holt married James Willis in Claiborne County. Her mother was Rutha Campbell whose mother was Jane Dobkins, daughter of Dorcas.

Now we have three of Dorcas’s descendants.

  • Another match shows their EKA as Margaret Ida Hamilton born in 1877 in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, died in 1947, and married John Lincoln Brown 1864-1942. She was the daughter of Margaret Adaline Jones (1849-1910) whose mother was Susan Caroline Terrell born about 1820 in Obion County, TN and married Paul Guy Jones (1823-1970). I lost the trail there.
  • A third match descends from the wife of Elias Harrison (1769-1836) who died in 1836 in Claiborne County, TN. With that same location, this match is VERY interesting. Elias Harrison’s wife is purported to be Martha Hedgepith or Hedgepath (1772-1820), although documentation points elsewhere. One record suggests Martha was the daughter of Richard Beasley whose will was probated on October 5, 1800, in Stokes County, NC leaving his estate to his wife Martha but named a daughter, Patty Harrison. Martha and Patsy are common names for each other. The first two daughters of Elias and Martha were reported to have been born in NC. On March 3, 1792, one Jonathan Harrison sold 100 acres on Marshal’s Creek, a branch of Big River in Stokes County to Richard Beasley. You can read more about this couple here and here.

The fascinating thing about this record is that given the dates and locations, the wife of Elias Harrison is clearly not a daughter of Jacob Dobkins and Dorcas Johnson because one of Elias and Martha’s children was born in 1791 and another in 1792. Therefore, Martha’s connection to Dorcas reaches back into earlier generations.

The next logical step would be to research Richard Beasley’s wife who would have contributed Martha’s mitochondrial DNA through her mother’s line. A quick search shows that Richard Beasley was born in Essex County about 1730, reportedly married in Caroline County, and was in Stokes by 1790 where he died in 1800.

I do wonder if there is a reason that these families wound up in the same area of Claiborne County – did they previously know each other?


Darcas’s mitochondrial haplogroup is H2a1.

Her Matches Map shows some matches in the UK, but many clustered in Sweden and Finland. You might also note that only one exact (red) match is shown on the map meaning that 8 people didn’t enter their geographic information. Just think how much more useful this tool could be with tree and location information included.

On the FamilyTreeDNA dashboard, at the bottom under “Other Tools,” you will find both “Advanced Matches” and “Public Haplotrees.”

Advanced matches provide you with the ability to see if any of your mitochondrial DNA matches also match you autosomally, assuming both people have taken both tests.

The public haplotree link allows you to view the countries where your haplogroup is found.

I selected “mtDNA Haplotree”, then “View by Country,” then haplogroup H, then entered the branch name. The requested haplogroup is displayed with the grey bar along with how many times a specific country has been selected by testers. You can mouse over each flag or click on the three dots at right to view the country report.

Just as a note, the “23” means that H2a1 has 23 subgroups, and Darcus’s DNA is not in any of them, just H2a1.

The takeaway with this report is that the deep ancestry of Darcus Johnson is found in Scandinavia, in Sweden, and Finland. How far back is deep? We don’t know exactly. Her more immediate ancestors’ most likely source of origin would be from the British Isles, or Scandinavia.

Haplogroup information alone may or may not be helpful genealogically – only time will tell. It can rule out a great number of possibilities – like Native American and other world regions in this case.

However, the Beasley line information is the most promising. Perhaps a proven daughter of Richard Beasley has a descendant through all females who will DNA test to either confirm or lay to rest that possibility.

Additionally, I’ll be contacting the matches who have not provided either earliest ancestor or pedigree information. Who knows what gems might still be hiding there.


Our trail has taken us far afield from Dorcas herself. She would be amazed or maybe amused to know that we are searching for the information that was familiar to her from birth. She would also be amazed to think we could connect her with her ancestors using something called DNA that her descendants carry inside of them, from her. That would have seemed a lot like magic, but then so would computers, phones, and automobiles.

Ironic, with all of our technology, we still have to search for what our ancestors knew.

Like, for example, the names of their children, grandchildren, and where they went. Who were her parents and where did they live? Where did they attend church and what were their religious beliefs? What was their life like?

When did Darcus die? What did she like to do? Did she sit on the porch of the old Dobkins home, when it was brand spanking new, and make quilts for her family? I like to think of her that way.

Darcus learned to be self-sufficient and independent early in her marriage when Jacob was gone not for days, weeks, or months, but for years during the Revolutionary War. She probably had no idea if he was alive or dead. She simply did what needed to be done, and prayed that one day he would ride or walk up the path to their house – wherever that was.

Given her resiliency, it’s no surprise then that the last record Darcus may have left us was a surprising one documenting a very non-traditional role for a southern pioneer woman – that of a chain carrier.

What a legacy she left, even though much of her life is revealed peeking through the shadows of her husband, children, and history that was unfolding around her.


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9 thoughts on “Darcus Johnson (c1750–c1835), Chain Carrier – Say What??- 52 Ancestors #349

  1. Another extraordinary article with a lot of very helpful info. Presented in a clear and precise manner. Thank you.

  2. Jacob Dobkins must have been following Gov John Sevier, who lived in New Market, VA, very close to Forestville, prior to going to Tennessee. Unfortunately, it sounds as if they fell out about a matter. My original ancestor to VA also lived in the Forestville area but arrived there in 1787, just missing Jacob Dobkins. There is a book about the original settlers of Forestville called Life Along Holmans Creek written by Joseph Floyd Wine which includes a map showing the original landowners.

  3. I have been curious as to whether or not females could serve as chain carriers. As I understand it, the chains were fairly heavy and therefore required significant strength to move around. So this was probably not a task easily performed by many women. I also don’t know if there were any laws that prohibited women from this work.

    Several years ago I came across an 1816 survey for William C Ray in Warren Co, TN for which one of the chain carriers (not a sworn chain carrier) appears to be Johannah Ray. William C Rea/Ray had a daughter Hannah who was probably 14 or 15 in 1816. (William’s mother was Johanna Rea). William had made a deed of gift to Hannah in 1815 of some livestock and a variety of household items. The survey was for a small 15 ac tract, so It seems plausible that his young daughter might serve as a chain carrier, but I have not seen any other instances of women serving as chain carriers.

  4. You asked what topics we would like you to cover in 2022. I’m not very far along in using DNA, but thanks to you I’ve begun to learn about contacting matches, etc. and have had a breakthrough in one of my Scottish lines. So, many of your articles on that subject are beyond me but something to work toward. However, I really love your articles on your ancestors because you really flesh them out as I like to do. Except, I flesh them out in my mind, but don’t flesh them out enough on paper. So that is another thing to work toward. I really don’t have anything new to suggest, but wanted to say, I like what you’re doing!

  5. I wanted to share one update for your Virginia notes on Jacob Dobkins. Frederick Co VA, not Fincastle Co VA, was the parent county of Dunmore Co VA, which became Shenandoah Co VA. The location of Fincastle Co (now extinct) is about 100 miles southwest of the location of what was Dunmore Co, now Shenandoah Co.
    Enjoy the blog very much! Thank you.

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