Why was Old Man Jacob Dobkins’ Will Fraudulently Secreted, Concealed and Destroyed? – 52 Ancestors #375

Get yourself a BIG, oversized cuppa java, because this is better than the best soap opera.

Yes, really.

Know what else? We’ve vindicated Old Man Jacob Dobkins too. At least somewhat. When you’re done reading this, his last will and testament will no longer be “disappeared.” We’ve “reappeared” it, 191 years later, almost two centuries after John Hunt, the sheriff, wrote it for him. John then read it aloud to those in the room. Jacob acknowledged that it was what he wanted, then he sat down and signed it, in his home, in front of John Hunt, two unbiased, unrelated, witnesses, and a few nosey family members.

How could that will have simply disappeared without so much as a trace?

Back Story

For decades, the fact that Jacob Dobkins had no will made no sense. Truthfully, my cousins and I all looked, individually, and I think we just figured it was one more of those head-scratching omissions. I knew from Jacob’s Revolutionary War Pension papers approximately when he died – and I even read the court records page by page – all to no avail. Nada. Nothing.

That omission was inexplicable.

According to his Revolutionary War Pension application, Jacob Dobkins was born in 1751 in Augusta County, Virginia. I wrote about his early life and service in the article, Jacob Dobkins (1751-1835); Several Bullet Holes Through His Clothes.

He truly lived an amazing life.

By La Citta Vita – Shenandoah River, aerial, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26763408

After the War, where Jacob served in Kentucky and Ohio, he returned to his home in Shenandoah County, Virginia – to, his wife Dorcas and young children. But Jacob had experienced a taste of adventure and what lay beyond those Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley – and he would never be the same. He heard them calling.

Jacob packed up his family and struck out for the frontier, first settling in Washington County, NC, which was contested land between Virginia and NC. His name appears on a petition to the governor of North Carolina in 1789, asking, begging for help and protection after the State of Franklin dissolved. You can read my transcription, here.

Tennessee was not yet a state, and this territory referred to as “South of the French Broad” was literally the untamed wild west.

Then we find Jacob in Jefferson County, then Hawkins on the border with Greene County for a dozen years, then on to the Indian Boundary Line in what would become Claiborne County, TN in 1801.

His was one of the first homes established along Cedar Fork on the Powell River.

Jacob’s original Claiborne County home stood well into the 1900s, and likely still stands today in a reconstructed village. You can see more photos and read about his homestead in the article, Come Sit a Spell With Jacob Dobkins.

Jacob was already living in Claiborne County when it was formed in 1801, sitting on the original court as a juror. He was no young man by this time – about 50 years old. His eldest children were already marrying.

In 1802, Jacob bought land on the north side of Wallen’s Ridge from Longhunter Elisha Wallen, and added more acreage over the years. I believe his goal was to purchase enough land to provide an enticement to his children to remain nearby.

Two of his daughters, Jane (Jenny) and Elizabeth married Campbell boys from Hawkins County.

John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins owned land adjoining the Liberty Baptist Church today. The original house still stands next door.

Jacob sold land to Elizabeth Dobkins and George Campbell as well as to his son, Solomon, and his other daughter Margaret who married Elijah Jones.

His son John Dobkins patented land on the south side of Wallen’s Ridge and lived nearby too.

Jacob’s home wasn’t large, at least not by today’s standards. However, by the standards of the frontier, Jacob appeared to be rather well-off, at least for a humble farmer. His strategy of buying land on the undeveloped frontier, clearing it, then selling it a few years later to new settlers was paying off. You could always purchase more land on the frontier further west. Jacob seemed to be an upright, respected man within the community, serving on juries, witnessing deeds, attending court, and doing what normal men of his time did.

In 1809, Jacob did something quite out of character. Perhaps as he aged, he needed help. By 1810, his children were all adults, married and none remained at home. Jacob was 58 or 59 years old when he purchased slaves.

“I Jesse Cheek hath bargained and sold unto Jacob Dobkins 4 negroes names Aneker or Anekey, Mitilty, Jiary, Amelyer for the consideration of $130 in hand paid.”  March 29 1809 Jesse signs, registered July 30, 1809.  John Campbell and Solomon Dobkins are witnesses.

Jacob’s son, Solomon, who was of age to marry and did shortly thereafter, and son-in-law John Campbell were witnesses.

As much as I hate to say this, I think this building on Jacob’s property was probably the slave quarters. I could be wrong, of course.

There’s one other single chimney standing that was clearly attached to a structure of some sort.

In some cases, the enslaved people simply slept in the main house, but in this case, Jacob seems to have purchased a family unit.

That transaction broke my heart. However, those enslaved people tie into Jacob’s will, or lack thereof. They would affect his family for generations, much more than he could ever, ever have anticipated. I bet Jacob, from the other side, fervently wished he could go back in time and “undo” his action. However, that’s not a choice we get.

By then, all he could do was watch it unfold and unravel.

Jacob seemed to have a relaxed, close relationship with his children. They lived nearby.

Jacob began distributing his property to his children, including his enslaved people, in about 1814 or 1815. Solomon would have just returned from the War of 1812 where he got into some sort of trouble. He was court-martialed and stripped of his Captain rank. Solomon’s problems wouldn’t end there.

We find only snippets about the Dobkins family for the next several years. Early census schedules, a few deeds, tax lists, court notes, and such. Everything seemed pretty normal except for a thing or two.

Never ignore or dismiss “a thing or two.”

One of those “things” was that Jacob Dobkins died, with assets, including property, but not only did he NOT have a will, neither was his death reported to the court so an administrator could be ordered to process his estate.

That means his estate records, will, inventory, and such were missing from two separate sets of records – the Will book and the Court Minutes – both of which exist for this time period. How odd.

I found that even stranger because we knew exactly where to look in the records based on his pension payments and when they stopped.



A few days ago, cousin Debbie messaged me with this:

YAY! I finally found a document with proof that Jacob Dobkins is Jane Dobkins/Campbell’s father!

Of course, I wanted to know where and how. Debbie told me that the local DAR Registrar checked and found that a contested will existed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives that included Jane Dobkins’ deposition wherein she states that she is Jacob Dobkins’ daughter.

Now, we had known this for years, based on DNA matches among other evidence, but the problem is that none of that evidence was adequate for DAR membership, which was Debbie’s goal.

Debbie sent me the link to the Supreme Court case. She ordered the page she needed. I ordered all 59.

I was hoping against hope that the title of the case as indexed was in error and that William Fregate was actually William Fugate who was rumored to have been married to the sister of John and George Campbell. The person who initially set forth that theory is now deceased and declined to provide any evidence or even a source – except to say that there was a contested will and I would just have to find it myself.

Was this THAT will? It didn’t look hopeful from the name of the case, but hey, you never know.

J. B. Heiskell next friend vs Jeherle Fregate, admr.

Here’s the case description.

Add. plaintiffs: Avery Sinira Deadrick, mother of Cynthia Ann, Lewis, Nelson, & Hessy & Jean Jefferson. Defendant administrator of the estate of William Fregate (dec.). Through the will of the deceased, the complainants state they are entitled to their freedom. Defendant states the will was fraudulently obtained and altered.

Furthermore, searching for the keywords Dobkins and Campbell did NOT display this case – so I was very uncertain.

I ordered the case to be scanned anyway. I’ve spent a whole lot more for nothing before.

This case turned out to be an absolute goldmine.

However, I still don’t know if one of the Fugate men married John and George Campbell’s sister.

This document answered a whole lot of questions, exposed a family scandal, and gave birth to an avalanche of new questions.

Jacob’s Children

Here’s what we know, or thought we knew, about Jacob Dobkins and his wife, Dorcas Johnson’s children:

  • Andrew Dobkins born circa 1775 in probably Dunmore County, VA died in 1852 Greene County, TN, married Johanna Woolsey around 1800, and had children, William, Patsy, Rebecca, Dorcas, Rachel, and Mary “Polly.” Note – at the end of this case, I now believe that Andrew was NOT the child of Jacob, but of one of Jacob’s brothers, either Reuben or Evan who also migrated with him to the Virginia/North Carolina borderlands, but did not move to Claiborne County.
  • Jane “Jenny” Dobkins was born about 1777 in Dunmore County and died between 1850 and 1860 in Claiborne County, TN. She married John Campbell around 1800 and had children Jacob, Elizabeth, Elmira, Jane, Martha, Rutha, George Washington, and William Newton. Note – Her deposition provided us with her birth year.
  • John Dobkins was born about 1777, probably in Dunmore County, VA, and died after 1840 in Claiborne County, TN. He married Elizabeth Shaw before 1805 and had two known children, Lorenzo Dow and John.
  • Jacob Dobkins Jr. – Note – this person previously attributed to Jacob Sr. is the son of Solomon Dobkins and is not Jacob’s son. It’s likely that at one time Jacob did have a son with his name, but we find no records as an adult.
  • Reuben Dobkins was born about 1783 in Shenandoah County, VA, and died in 1823 in Claiborne County, TN. His wife’s name was Mary “Polly.” It’s unclear whether they had children before his death. Note – It appears she remarried to Thomas Martin.
  • Elizabeth Dobkins was born about 1783 in Shenandoah County, VA, and died after 1850 in Claiborne County, TN. She married George Campbell around 1796. They had Elizabeth “Betsy,” Barnabus “Barney,” Dorcus, Peggy, Jenny, Charles, James, John, and Jacob. Note – We only learn of son Jacob through this lawsuit.
  • Margaret “Peggy” Dobkins was born about 1785 in what would become Tennessee and died after 1850 in Claiborne County, TN. She married Elijah Jones in 1808 and had Elisha and Dorcas.
  • Solomon Dobkins was born about 1787 in the territory that would become Tennessee and died in 1852 in Kaufman County, TX. He married Elizabeth about 1809 and had Phebe, Jacob, George, Hugh, Alexander, Nancy Ann, Barthena, Lucinda, Manervy, Clinton, and Marcellus.


I learned an incredible amount about so many aspects of Jacob’s life, the lives of his children, and the neighborhood where he lived. This lawsuit, despite the horrible injustice done to the complainants, provided a plethora of picturesque information about day-to-day life in the first half of the 1800s in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

For the most part, I’m simply transcribing this incredible document. I will be adding commentary from time to time. I’ve labeled where my commentary begins.

In some cases, I have omitted legal jargon that does not add to the narrative. Three dots also means some text is omitted. Occasionally, I have simply summarized a passage.

Numbers are electronic page numbers in the pdf files, here and here, received from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The second document has the document page, along with the original page number. For the most part, I’ve left the punctuation intact and corrected little of the sentence syntax. In many cases, it’s obvious that commas and periods are missing. Bolding is mine for ease in reading. Indentions are the transcriptions.

The handwriting is difficult. Words I can’t make out have a ?, so maybe you can figure out that word. If so, please post in the comments with the page number and surrounding words so I can find it. Thanks.

The two pdf scanned files are:

To future researchers – you’re welcome!

The Lawsuit

J.B Heiskell by their next friend vs Jehile Fugate administrator of William Fugate

Comment: Yay – it is Fugate!

[Page 1] Filed Sept 12, 1853 – 12th Chancery Circuit – Motion to dismiss disallowed – affirmed and remanded to the chancery court – deft to pay the costs of this court.

[Page 2] Index – not transcribed

[Page 3] A record of a case began and determined in the Chancery Court at Tazewell in the Eastern Division of the State of Tennessee where in Cynthia Ann and others are complainants and Solomon Dobkins and others are defendants.

Comment: The chancery court records do not exist for this timeframe, so the only records we have are those that have been appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The process was that the local Clerk and Master would hand copy all of the pleadings and depositions and answers and send an entire packet of certified documents to the Supreme Court. That’s what we have today.

On Oct. 3, 1850, Cynthia Ann one of the complainants appeared before the Clerk and Master and took and subscribed the following oath, to wit:

Cynthia Ann and others vs Solomon Dobkins and others.

[She certifies her poverty and asks for a decree.]

Complainants Anny Louisa Deadrick and Cynthia Ann, Lewis, Nelson and Hessy, her children and Isam Jefferson, the last of who is the brother of complainant Any Louisa Deadrick. That about 14 or 15 years ago Jacob Dobkins departed this life in the said county, after making his last will and testament by the provisions of [Page 4] which your complainants are entitled to their freedom, that the said will has been fraudulently secreted and concealed for many years and they believe up to this time but if it is not yet concealed it has been destroyed lately, as they have been informed that within a very short time since, the said will was in the possession of George Campbell, who is the son-in-law of the testator, and your complainants Anny Louisa Deaderick and her said two children, Lewis and Hessy are in the possession of the said George Campbell, complainant Cynthia is in the possession of Margaret Jones, who is a daughter of the testator, but she lives with one Joseph Simmons.

Comment: Who lives with Simmons? Margaret or Cynthia, or maybe both?

Complainant Nelson is in the possession of and claimed by one William Fugate who has lately threatened to sell him to a negro trader, and complainant Nelson charges that this is a plan of the said William Fugate to have your complainant taken out of the country to that he can not assert his right to his freedom. Complainant Isom Jefferson is in the possession of and claimed by one Solomon Dobkins. Complainants show that they are all in a state of slavery are likely to continue such unless they can get the aid of the courts of the country. Your complainants further show that the said will as they are informed and believe was witnessed by Randal Lanham and William Lanham one of which has left the country, but the other is yet in the said County of Claiborne. Your complainants further show that they have been illegally held in slavery for many years and have been for a long time serving the persons herein before named without any compensation.

The premises? considered your complainants, who are all residents of the said county of Claiborne, pray that the said Soloman Dobkins, George Campbell, Margaret Jones, William Fugate, all of whom are residents of the said county, may be [Page 5] made defendants to this bill of complaint and that they be compelled to answer the same fully and in every particular and especially that they be required to answer and say at what date the said Jacob Dobkins departed this life? And where? Did he the said Jacob not make his last will and testament in the county of Claiborne and what are its contents? Who witnessed the said will? So if not ? in the possession of the said George Campbell? If not where is it? Do they or either of them know where it is? Where was it when they last saw it or heard of it? Let each answer and give answers to the statement and charges of this bill according to the best of their knowledge and information and belief, let them and each of them answer and say who are the witnesses of said will? And why it is that the said will was never presented to the court for probate and recording? Who were the executors appointed in the said will? And the said defendants and called on, if the said will is yet in existence, to produce and file the same with the answer, and especially let the said George Campbell and answer and say where the said will is? Was it not in his possession? If so when? Has he not shown the said will to some persons since the death of the said testator? If so whom? And to whom did he show it, let him state when last he saw the will? And if it is not in his possession, let him answer and say where it is according to his knowledge information and belief.

And in the mean time your complainants pray that are injunction may issue to restrain the said defendants from removing your complainants or either of them out of the county of Claiborne and that your Honors will also appoint a receiver to take them into possession so that they may not be sold or removed out of the county and beyond the jurisdiction of this honorable court.

[Page 6] And on final hearing, the prayer of complainants is that the said will may be set up in the Honorable Court if by the fraud of any of the said defendants it has been destroyed and complainants declared free, and if the said will is provided that the complainants be allowed to take steps under it to secure their freedom, that they have an account of their hire from the time that they were entitled to their freedom, and if in any thing they have mistaken their remedy they pray such other and further and different relief as they may be entitled to, under the circumstances of the case. This is the first application for an injunction in the case. They therefore pray for relief.

Netherland and Maynard Heiskell, solicitors for complainants.

Signed by Cynthia Ann with her mark on September 30, 1850

Court required defendants to post bond in “double the supposed value of the complainants for their good treatment” [Page 7] and failing to provide that bond the sheriff is to take the complainants into his possession and keep them safely until further order of the court.

Comment: I’m utterly dumbstruck – at several levels.

  • First – if true – I’m amazed that anyone would actually try to hide a death and will from an entire county – and apparently succeed.
  • Second, that Cynthia Ann, an enslaved woman who didn’t even have a last name, and her family members, had the MOXY to actually file suit against the ENTIRE DOBKINS FAMILY. People that could sell them down the river, could beat them, deprive them of food, and take their very lives. They could sell off their children. That happened all the time.
  • Third, that the slaves were able to find white men to file their suit as their “next friends” in the south is a testimony of a different kind.
  • Fourth – the fact that apparently many people are accused of being involved in this illegal fraud – and many in high standing in the county – is jaw-dropping.

Of course, this might not be true. We have to wait, look at the evidence, and see.

I have so many more questions than I started out with.

Subpoena to answer was filed and issued on October 3, 1850.

The Sheriff is commanded to summon Solomon Dobkins, William Fugate, George Campbell and Margaret Jones to appear at the Chancery Court to be held at the court house in Tazewell upon the first Monday of December next to answer the bill of complaint by Cynthia Ann and others, persons of color, filed against them.

Delivered October 8, 1830.

December 3, 1850 – Defendants allowed until [Page 8] second rule day to file their answers so as not to delay the hearing of this cause.

Comment: I’d say the defendants either weren’t taking this case seriously or were intentionally being uncooperative.

December 5, 1850 – Court issues interlocutory order because the injunctions had not been complied with. Margaret Jones has not complied with the order of the Judge granting the injunction and has suffered the said complainant Cynthia to be attached and that the sheriff has taken bond from certain other persons to wit: Thomas W. Jennings with George Rose his security for her forthcoming at the term of this court. William Fugate in like manner, failed to provide bond and that Nelson has been taken by virtue of the attachment and placed in the hands of Robert C. Woodson and bond taken with William Riley for security. Solomon Dobkins has given bond for the forthcoming of the complainant Jefferson at the present term of this court and for his good treatment until this time, but [Page 9] that the said bond does not embrace the time yet to come during the pendency of this suit. George Campbell has entered into a bond similar to the bond last named for the forthcoming of said Anny Louisa Deadrick and Louis and Hessy.

Cynthia Ann and Nelson to be delivered up to the Clerk and Master who is directed to hire the said complainants to some fit person at a fair rate per annum who shall give bond with approved security each in the penalty of $1200 for the safekeeping, kind treatment and care of said Negros during the space of 12 months from the first of January next and delivery at the expiration of the said period.

Comment: That’s exactly right – Margaret Dobkins Jones and William Fugate, neither one complied either initially or by the two extra days provided by the court. I bet the defendants are taking this suit much more seriously now.

That Solomon Dobkins and George Campbell enter into like bond for $1200 and that George Campbell in the sum of $200 as to the mixed treatment of the negroes, complainants, in their custody, respectively

[Page 10] Dec. 6, 1850 – Ordered to take the deposition of Elizabeth Campbell of Claiborne County, she being aged and infirm on giving defendants 5 days notice. Also deposition of George Campbell.

December 28, 1850 – Answers of George W. Campbell and wife was filed, which is as follows, to wit:

George W. Campbell to the bill of complaint filed in the chancery court at Tazewell

[Page 11] George Campbell says it is true Jacob Dobkins died in Claiborne County, TN about the time mentioned in the bill, but the precise time…does not now remember. It is true that respondent married one of the daughters (Elizabeth) of said Jacob. It is true that the complainants except the girl Hessy mentioned in the bill were the slaves of Jacob Dobkins at the time of his death, the said Hessy having been borned since his death. It is true that at the death of the said Jacob he was the owner of another slave named Berry, brother to the complainant Isham Jefferson. It is true that the death of the said Jacob Dobkins he made his last will and testament which was drawn by John Hunt who is since dead and was witnessed by William Lanham who resides in Claiborne County and Randall Lanham who has left the state. It is also true that the provisions of said will the complainants were entitled to their freedom.

At the death of the testator this respondent together with the other sons-in-law of the testator and his daughter met at the testators house about the time of the death of the testator and after they were assembled, they all with the exception of Elijah Jones who married a daughter of said testator walked out to the garden fence and Solomon Dobkins son of the testator and one of the defendants in the court remarked to them that his father had made a will by which he set all his negroes free (the complainants.) And that if he, the said Solomon or John Hunt, who were named executors in it saw it, they would be found to go by it, said Solomon further said that they were all of age and that the best way was to burn or destroy the said will, to this proposition the wife of respondent objected and said she would rather have nothing than that her father’s will should be burnt or destroyed. The said Solomon said that the will was in [Page 12] a box in the house and in a chest. We went in the house and the said Solomon went to the chest, unlocked it, and took out the box and put it under his arm and as he went out of the house he plucked the coat of respondent and ? went out with said Solomon, who put the box containing said will I the respondents arms and respondent immediately handed them over to John Dobkins a son of testator and brother to Solomon, the said John was a man of weak and ? mind, he had the said will out, when he was about to destroy it or burn it, the wife of respondent spoke to her brother John and with much feeling said “in God’s name Johnny don’t destroy our father’s will” on which the said John handed the will to his said sister, who put it into her bosom and carried it home with her that evening. Respondent further says that the said Elijah Jones, who had married one of the daughters of said testator but had separated from her and was on bad terms with said Solomon was not as respondent believed present at that time in the house as said Solomon had ordered him away, but he was not far off as the said Jones went home with respondent and wife that night, and after getting to respondents house his wife took the will out of her bosom and handed it to the said Jones and said “That is what they say is my father’s will.” Said Jones took it and after reading it over said that it was the will of her father, and that in it the negroes were set free. The said will was then put in a chest of respondent’s house and it remained there until within the last three years, which it was taken away by some person, but by whom respondent does not personally know – nor does he now know where it is, but as to the contents of the will they are truly stated in the bill so far as the freedom of the complainants is concerned.

Comment: Holy cow. I can hardly believe what I’m reading.

He set his negroes free, yet his children, or at least one of them, schemed, apparently successfully, to keep them enslaved?

Elizabeth took her father’s will and literally put it where she knew her brother wasn’t going to get it? She would have been in her 50s at the time.

What happened to Elizabeth’s determination? What changed her mind? What happened to the will?

In the late 1800s, you can see the fence around the original homestead and another building that was added later. Is this the fence they stood beside after Jacob died? This photo was probably only taken some 70 years or so later.

In this section, we also learn that John Dobkins may have had a disability – or at lest he was described as such.

And we now know that neither Elizabeth nor George could read or write, but that Solomon Dobkins and Elijah Jones both could.

Elijah also tells us that he and his wife separated. I know from later documents that he remarried in the 1840s, but I never found an actual divorce. Ironically, Elijah, even twenty years after separating from his wife, was still on good terms with her family except for her brother, Solomon.

Respondent further states that during the time said will [Page 13] was in his wife’s possession it was seen by Barnibus Campbell and Charles Campbell, sons of this recipient, who came to enquire for it, because they said they had heard that said Solomon Dobkins had threatened to put respondent in the penitentiary for destroying the said will. It was also seen and respondent believes read by one Mordecai Cunningham who was examining among the papers of respondent for some title deeds and was reading them over and when said Cunningham came to the will and looked it over he remarked to respondent that it was the will of Jacob Dobkins, ? rather he spoke to respondent’s wife and said “This is your father’s will.”

Comment: For years there has been LOTS of speculation about whether or not Barney was in fact the child of George Campbell. This removes all doubt about what George thought, anyway. Some Y DNA from Barney’s descendants does not match the Campbell line, but other does, as does some autosomal, so while there is a genetic break downstream someplace, Barney is indeed George Campbell’s son.

Respondents will state why said will was not sooner spoken of and produced by him. On the day when it was determined to secret said will and to keep the complainants as slaves a bond was drawn up in the penalty of several thousand dollars binding each one who signed it, (and all both men and women were prevailed upon to sign it) and that they were to abide by a division or property that day made among them, and were to keep the said will a secret. Respondent further states that since the filing of the bill in this case that William Fugate one of the defendants in this care and complainant came to the house of respondent and told respondent and his wife that the said Fugate held “that forfeited bond, that he got it out of the papers of the papers of John Campbell and that he meant to enforce it,” and the said Fugate further stated to respondent and his wife that when they were examined about the matter all they had to say was that there never was any will there and further said he understood it as well as any of the lawyers and that the way was to let him and Barney look for it and that they could not find it, that he would show them about freeing the negroes. Respondent knew the hand write of the testator and so did his wife and he believes the signature to the said [Page 14] will was in the proper hand writing of the said Jacob Dobkins.

Comment: Holy chimloda! It truly was a cabal. Not only did they decide to defraud the complainants, but also to prevent their own father’s last wishes as stated in his will, from being carried out. Not just having to do with his immovable property, but also with the human lives he controlled, but wished to free upon his death.

I won’t even ask the question about why Jacob didn’t just free them before his death, because the answer is probably the same reason as why his children didn’t want to free them either.

Also, this confirms that John Campbell died in Claiborne county. I believed so, but there has been speculation otherwise. So John Campbell retained the paper that everyone signed pledging to keep their guilty secret on penalty of forfeiture of the bond.

Where was that bond money? Who held it? How much did they have to pledge? And maybe even more important, who told? Clearly, someone told.

How is William Fugate involved anyway?

Respondent further states that the names and ages of the complainants and the persons with whom they are living are correctly set out in the bill respondent further states that he knows that the complainants are entitled to their freedom under the will of the said testator and he has always insisted that those of them in his possession should be liberated at his death and he new freely consents that the complainants maybe emancipated. And having fully answered defendant prays to be dismissed with his ?.

George Campbell signed with his mark

Elizabeth also signed with her mark.

Comment: Prior to this suit, I have never seen a middle initial for George Campbell. I’m guessing the W. is probably for William, but that’s just a guess.

[Page 15] January 8, 1851 – the answer of Solomon Dobkins was filed.

Soloman Dobkins…states that there are many falsehoods contained in the complainants’ bill.

True that he is the son of Jacob Dobkins who departed this life in the latter part of the year 1835 as well as he recollects. He was at times in great intimacy with his father, having been his agent in the transaction of his business for near 20 years before his death. At the time of his death he was very old and infirm. About four? years before the death of Jacob Dobkins made his will and testament in which there as a bequest of freedom to all his negroes as respondent understood though he never read the same as he now recollects. This request of freedom extended to all of complainants who were then in ?. The said Jacob placed this will in the hands of respondent for safekeeping and it remained in his possession for a short time only when the said Jacob spoke to respondent and informed him that he had understood since he made his will that the laws of the state would not allow the emancipation of slaves unless they were removed beyond the limits of Tennessee, and that being the case he said “it would be better for the slaves to remain in slavery” or “that they preferred to remain in slavery” the precise expression respondent does not remember. He then took the will out of the hands of respondent, and it was the understanding of respondent that the said Jacob did not intend to set [Page 16] his negroes free. His object then as respondent supposed was to destroy the same, since which time respondent has never seen it or has he ever heard of the same until within a few years past, when he heard that George W. Campbell one of the respondents in this case had the will of the said Jacob, so soon as respondent heard this he remarked that it would penitentiary the said Campbell for he had concealed the same. The said Campbell and his wife Elizabeth were heirs of the said Jacob. Shortly after the said Campbell came to the house of respondent in company with his wife Elizabeth and denied to respondent that he had taken or concealed the will, this was done in the presence of said Elizabeth and it is a little remarkable if they had the will, or knew of its existence, that they did not inform respondent of it as he was one of the executors of the said Jacob in the will placed in the hands of respondent by the said Jacob, as respondent was informed at the time of its execution. The conduct of the said Campbell and wife in concealing the will from the knowledge of respondent can be accounted for alone upon the grounds that they were heirs of the said Jacob, and that if his will could be supplied, that would be in total to a childs part of the value of said slaves.

The charges in the bill of complaint as to what occurred about the time of the death of the said Jacob in response to the distribution of the will is basely false and without the semblance of truth to the best of the recollection of respondent but the respondent will state what did occur. About the time of the death of the father of respondent or shortly after, all the heirs not at the old family mansion of the said Jacob, respondent told them all that some years ago his father had made a will by which he had set his negroes free and provided that his [Page 17] other property should be equally divided amongst his heirs. That he did not believe that it was the will of the old man that the negroes should be free, but that if the will was found they would be entitled to their freedom, that if the old man had not destroyed it, and could be provided he would be compelled to execute it and free the negroes. But he if had done so and it could not be provided they should divide the property equally as it appeared to be the wish of the old man, that all his heirs should share alike.

Comment: It appears that Jacob gave his will to his son, whom he trusted.

The main home on a property was often called the mansion in old deeds and references. It probably was a mansion to some, but not in the way we think of Tara.

Here’s Jacob’s mansion.

Respondent further states that before the day Jacob was buried, the keys of the trunk he said Jacob were placed in the hands of the said G. W. Campbell who kept the same in his possession until Benjamin Sewell and John Hunt the commissioners agreed upon divided the property. Respondent never saw a tin box then as respondent now recollects as entirely (or untrue) as stated in the answer of said Campbell, the bond to which he refers in his special answer instead of containing a penalty against producing or discussing the will, only contains a penalty to abide by the award of the commissioners who divided the property, said bond is in existence and will be provided upon the final hearing if necessary. Randall Langham and William Langham were witnesses to the will before referred to and John Hunt and respondent were executors of the same, as respondent is informed and believes.

Comment: Of course, the commissioners divided the property not knowing the full scope of what they should be doing. So agreeing to abide by their division, which was predicated upon deceit, is exactly the same as saying they agree to keep their mouth shut.

Also, John Hunt was the man who physically wrote Jacob Dobkins’ will, so he would assuredly have asked about it. They clearly lied to Hunt who by 1850 is conveniently dead and can’t be deposed.

Respondent denies all knowledge of said will or its contents except as above stated. He never believed that it was the will of is father to set the negroes free after said will was given up to him. If said will is in existence respondent calls for the production of the same and full proof in ? thereto. Respondent never either distinctly or indistinctly agreed with any person to conceal or destroy the same, according to the best of [Page 18] his recollection and belief. Respondent has had the boy Isom Jefferson in his possession claiming his as his own property under the division of said commissioners and does not believe that the commissioners would ever have installed this suit, if they had not been prompted to do so by some evil-disposed persons and intermeddlers in other people business. Respondent denies all fraud or improper conduct and having fully answered he prays to be hence dismissed with his ?.

Solomon Dobkins signs

Comment: I can’t even…

January 8, 1851 – William Fugate answer.

That he came to the county of Claiborne some time in the year 1826. Some few years thereafter the same Jacob Dobkins departed his life, but at [Page 19] what precise time respondent is not informed nor has he any correct means of learning. Respondent had but a slight personal acquaintance with the said Jacob, having seen him but seldom before his death. The said Jacob Dobkins owned some negroes in his lifetime and complainant may have been among the number.

Whether or not the said Jacob made a will before his death, respondent knows nothing and consequently cannot speak of its contents. Respondent has no recollection of ever having heard that he had done so, until within the last twelve months. Respondent denies all knowledge of said will or its contents and call for any proof of the same. It is true as stated in complainants bill that he has in his possession the boy Nelson but no claims to him have been an innocent, honest and long? purchaser for a fair and ? consideration, without any notice that the said boy had any right or claim to freedom. Respondent purchased him of John Dobkins, now dead in the year 1837 as well as ? for $297.50, all of which has been paid in good faith to the said John Dobkins, said boy Nelson was five years old in August 1837, said boy Nelson was since he was purchased by respondent has been a locaky? and painy? child, until the last two or three years and has consequently been of little value to respondent. The said John Dobkins was one of the heirs at law of the said Jacob, decd.

Comment: This establishes John Dobkins’ death between the 1840 census and the 1850 census, before the suit was filed.

The charge in complainants bill that respondent intended to sell the said boy Nelson to a negro trader is utterly gratuitous and unfounded. Respondent may have threatened the boy to do so, but if so it was without any serious purpose on the part of respondent, but done with a view to scare him and make him a better boy. If the said complainant Nelson is entitled [Page 20] to his freedom under the will of the said Jacob Dobkins, respondent will interpose no difficulties in his way, but if not he insists upon his rights under the purchase from the said John. The bill of sale taken at the time of the sale of said boy will be produced upon the final hearing if required. Respondent denies all formal or improper conduct on his part and having fully answered he prays to be discharged.

William Fugate signed on January 8, 1851

Margaret Jones failed to answer.

Dec term 1852 death of Solomon Dobkins suggested.

Comment: This seems to be out of order.

January 11,1852?

Complainants represent that since the filing, Solomon Dobkins has made an arrangement to sell or has actually sold to said Fugate his valuable farm lying in Claiborne County [Page 23] and is making preparation to leave the state with his property to the state of Texas.

Comment: This sounds quite shady and is exactly what the original complainants asked the court to prevent from happening. Isom would have had no choice but to go, and Texas is way beyond the reach of the Tennessee courts.

Isom Jefferson is asking for his payment of the amount which is due to Isom Jefferson for his services for the last 15 years or more. Asked that the court enjoin Fugate from paying our any part to said Dobkins until the final hearing and Dobkins enjoined from transferring of negotiating any notes or choses in action given for the said purchases money or any past thing.

[Page 25] Dobkins answers and said he sold his farm to Fugate for $5195 to be paid by a negro girl for $500 and other payment terms listed. Claims Isom has no claim upon him.

[Page 26] It appears that William Fugate accepted Nelson in payment from the Dobkins heirs for “a claim which the said Fugate had upon the heirs of said Jacob Dobkins.”

June 3, 1851, the answer of William Fugate was filed to the separate suit against Solomon Dobkins and William Fugate. Fugate claims he has no knowledge of the complainant’s right to freedom, and that is a question between other parties. Admits he did purchase Dobkins tract of land [Page 28] and that respondent was to surrender all claim to a certain slave named Nelson to said Dobkins, which slave is one of the complainants in this case. Executed note to Dobkins due March 1, 1851 payable in Tennessee money.

Fugate said Nelson was to be traded. (page 28)

Comment: in October 1850, Solomon Dobkins and Jefferson, then using the Dobkins surname, sign an agreement wherein Solomon frees Jefferson, but Jefferson has to agree to drop his suit in chancery for his labor and wages in the 15 years since Jacob Dobkins’s death.

Did Jefferson sign this because he was afraid of being taken to Texas and this was his only safe way out?

When I initially found this several years ago, I was very confused by this transaction and could find nothing in the court record. It had seemingly appeared “out of the blue.” Solomon’s son, Jacob signed as a witness, and Nathaniel Brooks was Solomon’s son-in-law. John Campbell Dodson was the grandson of Jane Dobkins and John Campbell.

Did Jefferson high tail it out of town, or did he stay nearby his family? I cannot find him in any future records other than this suit.

June term 1851 – Court orders an investigation of Solomon Dobkins, William Fugate and Campbell and wife, and Margaret Jones, whether Jacob Dobkins made a will and if so ? the provisions of the will such as are alleged in the bill of complainants, or what the provisions of the same…to the next term.

Comment: This looks to be getting quite serious.

Clerk and Master report October 2, 1851

Clerk and Master has caused the parties to appear before him at his office on the 19 September and depositions taken.

[Page 32] The bill alleges that some 14 or 15 years before it was filed Jacob Dobkins made a will by which complainants are entitled to their freedom which will has been concealed.

The answer of Solomon Dobkins admits that a will was made by which the negroes were to be set free and that after he had made the will, the old man stated to him that he had understood the laws would not admit the emancipation of slaves unless they were removed out of the state and that it would be best for the negroes to remain in slavery, but denies any knowledge of assistance in the concealment of the will

The answers of defendant Fugate states that he knew nothing about the will.

The answer of G. W. Campbell and wife admit that a will was made which emancipated the slaves of the deceased, the complainants and the children of Amey Louisa Deadrick bring among the number.

From the evidence taken the ? facts appear.

W. Campbell states that a will was made by Jacob Dobkins which set his slaves free as stated more fully in his answer.

Elizabeth Campbell states that when they [Page 33] met to divide the slaves, Solomon Dobkins stated that his father had made a will which intended his slaves to be set free that him and John Hunt were the executors and of either of them saw it they would be compelled to carry it out; he recommended that it be destroyed; she took the will from John Dobkins who was about to destroy it and carried it home with her where it remained until a few years ago when it was taken out by some person to her unknown.

Comment: No wonder Soloman wanted to go to Texas.

William Lanham states that him and Randall Lanham witnessed a will made by Jacob Dobkins which was drawn by John Hunt. Solomon Dobkins was present. He did not hear that part of it which disposed of the property ?. The testator Jacob Dobkins signed and acknowledged it in his presence. He never witnessed but one will for said Jacob Dobkins.

Barnabas Campbell saw a paper which his mother handed him stating it was the will of her father. He did not read it.

Elijah Jones was present when the negroes were divided and he then heard that a will was made by Jacob Dobkins, he advised the heirs to have the will proven and to go by its intentions, but they stated they would lose too much and they had the negroes divided. He read the will at George W. Campbells; he cannot give the precise words of the will but so far as the freedom of the slaves was concerned, the will stated that the negroes were to be set free or emancipated if the laws of Tennessee would allow them to remain in this state and if it would not allow them to remain if emancipated, they were to stay on the farm of Solomon Dobkins and he Solomon was to take care of them and act as their agent for them and to have the control of them.

[Page 34] Then as other proof in the record as to a decision made by Jacob Dobkins of his slaves among his heirs several years before his death; but as this first decision was not regarded by the heirs in the settlement of the estate and a new division made by them, and not relied upon the answers; the master does not believe it affects the merits of the case as to the will and he does not examine it further.

From the foregoing facts in the cause the Clerk and Master reports that the said Jacob Dobkins in his lifetime made a will and which will was unreported at the time of his death and which will has been concealed since or destroyed so that it has never been proven or recorded. And by the terms of this will the complainants Isam Jefferson, Nelson, Cynthia Ann, Amey Louisa Deaderick and Lewis and Hessy, children of Amy Louisa Deaderick are entitled to be emancipated, in parcealnce? of the acts of assembly in such cases, made and provided, which was clearly in intention of the testator.

The evidence upon which the above report is founded is respectfully reported.

[Page 35] Response by Solomon Dobkins et al:

The proof shows that there was a division of the negroes in question by old man Dobkins amongst his children some 15 or 20 years before his death and the negroes delivered into the possession of his children and consequently the old man Jacob had no right to dispose of them by will or otherwise twenty years afterward.

Comment: It’s interesting that Jacob began parceling out both his land and other “property” about the time he broke his collarbone as he reported to the court. This was only five years or so after he purchased the enslaved people, who appear to be a family.

The fact that Jacob Dobkins made a will by which the negroes were to be emancipated does not sufficiently appear from the proof.

If he made a will from the proof, the emancipation of the complainants was only conditional, if the laws of Tennessee would permit them to remain in this state, as the laws of the state at that time of the death of Jacob Dobkins would not allow the complainants freedom, and to remain in Tennessee, the bequest of freedom was null?, as the condition would not be allowed by our laws.

[Page 36] Decree – June term 1851

That said Jacob Dobkins did in his lifetime make a will which was unrecorded at the time of his death, which will has been concealed, secreted or destroyed and that has been provided. By the term of said will the complainants as named are entitled to be emancipated and that the said provisions be drawn up in due form and filed as follows:

The last will and testament of Jacob Dobkins decd as ascertained in the Chancery Court at Tazewell in the cause pending in said court [Page 37] wherein Cynthia Ann, Isom Jefferson, Nelson, Amey Louisa Deaderick and her children Lewis and Hessy by their next friend…as complainants and Solomon Dobkins, William Fugate, Margaret Jones and George Campbell and wife as defendants and transmitted to the county court.

“I Jacob Dobkins do direct and will that all my slaves shall be set free at my death and emancipated according to law. I do appoint Solomon Dobkins and John Hunt my executors. May 1831. Signed Jacob Dobkins Witness William Lanham and Randall Lanham.”

The same being affirmed by this court.

Comment: So the court in essence “reconstructed” the will of Jacob Dobkins, as best it could, and ordered it to be recorded. *Only* 16 years later.

This also gives us an approximate time that Jacob wrote his will – in May of 1831 which means he must have been feeling poorly. He would have been 80 years old at that time. Fortunately, he lived to file for his Revolutionary War pension the following year, which provided us with a wealth of information.

Jacob died between September (final pension payment) and sometime in December of 1835 (when his heirs quitclaimed his land to daughter Betsey.) Maybe that land was the price of her changing her mind.

Defendants file bill of exception.

[Page 38] Defendants take exception to the language employed in the decree so far as the same declares that by said will it was intended to manumit complainants that bring an adjudication upon that point.

They also except to said decree pronounced on the report because the language of the will as set out in the report and decree is not in conformity with the language of the witnesses, giving the language of the will

And because the evidence does not so prove the will as to establish the same.

January 5, 1852

Clerk and Master reports:

    • Isam Jefferson to Abel Kesterson for $100
    • Nelson to Robert Woodson? For $65
    • Cynthia Ann to J. B. Heiskel for $30

Comment: I believe this is the result of the court ordering that some of the complainants be taken into protection and then let out for wages. It’s interesting that Isom is included given his agreement with Solomon Dobkins in late 1850 when he was supposedly freed. Perhaps Isom, Nelson, and Cynthia Ann are receiving their own wages now, under the oversight of the court.


Same as the following year, 1853.

At December term court, 1852, the death of Solomon Dobkins is suggested in this cause.

[Page 40] June 9, 1853 Court notes that defendant Solomon Dobkins is deceased. Jehiel Fugate as administrator. This suit to continue against Jehiel Fugate as administrator.

[Page 41] – Court is attempting to determine value of the 15 years of services. Judgement irrovuppo? was regularly entered against Margaret Jones in her lifetime, the other defendants having answered.

Comment – Referring to Margaret Jones “in her lifetime” means she is deceased as of June 9, 1853. Perhaps she was ill before, and that’s why she never answered the complaint.

Clerk and Master proceed to take proof and state an account of the value of the services of the complainants showing:

    1. How long they have been illegally held in servitude, by whom each complainant has been held.
    2. The value of the services of each of the said complainants from the time of the death of Jacob Dobkins deceased, computing interest on the same from the end of each year to the next term of this court.
    3. What allowance if any should be made to the persons holding said complainants for ? clothing.

[Page 42] And that the Clerk and Master make report the next term of this court. Made June term 1851 and should have been inserted at the proper place.

Supplemental Bill

Solomon Dobkins entering into bond with approved security in the sum of $2000 conditional to pay and satisfy all such sums as shall be decreed to the complainants Isom Jefferson for his services upon the final hearing and to abide by and perform whatever decree shall be made in the premiss?, that the imprimation? granted in this cause and the attachment preventing the defendant Fugate from paying to deft Dobkins the amount due him for the tract of land shall be ?.

On the 8 of Sept. 1851 a bond was executed and deposited which is as follows…Solomon Dobkins, William M Cocke and William Bullard…held and firmly bound…the condition that when a bill has been [File 2 page 1, original document numbered page 41] filed by said Isom Jefferson by his next friend…against said Solomon Dobkins and William Fugate (a supplemental bill) at attach certain funds in the hands of said William Fugate belonging to said Dobkins to satisfy an alleged amount due to complainant Isom Jefferson for his services and at the last term of the Chancery Court at Tazewell when said cause is pending, the imprimation? was dissolved upon the said Dobkins entering into bond. Now if the said Dobkins shall pay and satisfy all such sums as shall be decreed to the complainant Isom Jefferson for his services upon the final hearing and abide by and perform whatever ? shall be made in the permises?, then this bond to be void, otherwise to remain in full force and virtue. Sept. 8, 1851.

Comment: Again, this is after the document filed between Solomon Dobkins and Isom Jefferson. Perhaps the court didn’t care for those conditions. We know that Isom is no longer with Solomon though, so at least he didn’t get spirited away to Texas.

June term 1853 – Jehiel Fugate and William Fugate pray and appeal from the decree pronounced in this cause to the next term of the Supreme Court to be held at Knoxville upon the second Monday of September next, and said despondents having given bond and security.

[Page 2 – original document page 42]


William Fugate, William Niel and Jehiel Fugate bondsmen. June 10, 1853

Proof of complainants – depositions of George Campbell, Elizabeth Campbell, William Lanham and Barnet Campbell taken by complainants before the Clerk and Master.

[Page 3 – original document page 43]

George Campbell first sworn stated that he has now heard his answer which he had ? in read out to him and the said answer contains the true statement of the matters in controversy as far as he recollects, and adopts his answer as his deposition and adopts the same now; and he wishes to state further that he had never seen the keys spoken of by Solomon Dobkins in his answer or had them in his possession, and that the first time he saw them was on the day the divide was made when they was in the trunk and used then by Solomon Dobkins, they was never deposited in his custody for safe keeping.

  1. Question by respondent S. Dobkins by his agent Jacob Dobkins. Did I not propose to the heirs to divide according to my father’s will for if John Hunt or myself found that will it was my opinion that we would be compelled to go by it and the negroes would be free but from what my father had told me since he wrote will, I knew that was not his will at that time for them to be free.

Answer: My recollection is not good enough to recollect what he said now about it not being his will at that time. I am satisfied that he never stated that he knew that was not his father’s will at that time.

Comment: Jacob Dobkins is Solomon Dobkins’ son. Apparently, Solomon has already gone to Texas.

2. Did you not all agree, if he had not destroyed his written, that we would divide by it and all agree to it.

A: As for my part I did not agree to it, or have anything to do with it. The old woman managed it. I had very little to do with the proceedings from the start.

Comment: I think he just threw his wife, Elizabeth, under the bus.

3. Then did I not give you the key of my [Page 4, original document page 44] father’s trunk to keep until we could get ressris? To come ad divide the estate, and did you not take the key home with you and that night come and steel four of the negroes and take them home and conceal them in your loft and claimed them as your own property and stated that your lawyer had advised you to do so, and then did I not ? you, that if you did not take them back it would penitentiary you, and you sent them home again that day and also after that did not ? John Hunt and B. Sewell to come and divide our father’s estate equal among us soon as it was convenient and the day was set and the heirs all met and you come and fit ? the key of father’s trunk, then did I not give you or your wife father’s trunk to unlock, supposing father’s money to be in it, and you took it, and did you not unlock it and the ? divide the money?

A: He never gave me the key of the trunk to keep, and I did not bring the key with me. Then was four of the negroes come home and by a lawyer’s advise then were kept in the loft and if the old woman (my wife) had got her just rights they would all have belonged to her by a divide that the old man had made before he made he will, I think he had some talk then about penitentiarying me for it, but he would have been short of penitentiarying me for that, I sent them back again. I think they did agree to let Sewell and Hunt divide the negroes. I had no hand in it and cannot recollect but little about it. I never took the key and never had it in my possession. I never unlocked the trunk or had my hand in it. These negroes were a part of the negroes that were divided.

Comment: Oh boy, the plot gets even thicker. Those poor enslaved people, being stolen back and forth and hidden in the barn loft. What little peace and continuity they had in their lives was gone.

4. Who unlocked the trunk?

[Page 5, original document 45]

A: John Dobkins unlocked the trunk and took the will out.

5. Do you know who he gave the will to?

A: I do not know any more than what my wife states, that he gave it to her.

And further this deponent saith not.

George Campbell signed by his mark.

Elizabeth Campbell next sworn states:

That as near as she can recollect Jacob Dobkins died in 1835. She is a daughter of said Jacob, the first that she knew of the will was on the day we had met to have the negroes divided. My brother Solomon Dobkins came to us and stated that father had made a will by which he had set his negroes free and that if John Hunt or him saw it they would be compelled to carry it and the only way was for us all men and women to agree and destroy the will, and I said to him in the name of God with my hand held up that I would have no hand in it, that if father had made a will and had not given me a cent, I would rather it would stand and I turned off and left them, who were all standing at the garden fence, and the minit I saw the will, John Dobkins had it out in the yard, he gave it to me and I brought it home. Elijah Jones came home with me that night, and took the will out of my bosom, and handed to him, stating that here is the paper they say is my father’s will, and he took it and read it over to himself and stated that it was his will and by it the negroes were free; the will was put in a chest and kept locked up and I do not know when it was taken out, or by whom.

Hessy is a child of Amey Louisa Decubinch?. She is about 11 years old on the instant of [Page 6, original document page 46] January last, as well as an idiot?.

Comment: If “idiot” is what this says, that was the accepted term of the time for people with intellectual developmental disabilities. It was not a derogatory term then.

Solomon Dobkins was sick with the mumps some three years after father’s death, he expected to die and sent for us to come and see him. My husband and me went to see him, and I stated to him in a conversation that he had not treated my husband as he should have done, that he had threatened to send him to the penitentiary for breaking open a trunk and taking out the will, and he asked George Campbell if he did not open the trunk and take out the will, and he replied that he had not done it, and Solomon then asked him who had done it and George said that it was your brother John.

Comment: I have never seen mumps referred to in a historical document before, nor did I realize it was potentially fatal. Apparently, mumps victims sometimes develop encephalitis and other severe diseases. Thank goodness for the mumps vaccine that began being administered to children in 1963.

Witness states that she could read when she was young and was acquainted with her father’s hand write, that she looked at the will and she believed that the signature to it was in his hand write.

Witness states that she was in a small box which was in a chest that Solomon Dobkins unlocked the chest and took the same box which contained the will out, he went out with it and she did not see him open it. John Dobkins had the will in his hand and handed it to her as she has stated.

While the will was in her house, Barney Campbell, and Charles Campbell who were her sons saw the will. Barney Campbell came and stated that Solomon Dobkins had been there and threatened to send George Campbell to the penitentiary for croming? the will of Jacob Dobkins and he had come to see about it. Charles Campbell came also for the same purpose. Mordicai Cunningham also saw it.

Comment: This is interesting, because it appears that Elizabeth’s two sons did not know what their parents had schemed to do, and that the evidence was still locked inside in that chest. Having said that, I wonder if Solomon was trying to stir up trouble. What was his objective in telling Barney and Charles?

The will continued there until about three years ago when it disappeared, she does not know who took it, or what had become of it the only person who was about the house who would likely have taken it was her grandson Nathaniel Brooks, and she does not know that he got it.

Witness states in cross examination that the will was kept with some deeds, the last she recollects of seeing it was about three years ago, but she missed it first about a year ago and Brooks would have known the will from his education from the other papers.

On the night after father was buried we were all there but George Campbell and Solomon Dobkins stated that his father had left him and John Hunt to settle the matter and his father wanted the male? to have the property equal, he did not say that he had made a will, and that if any of us was contrary he had it in his power to cut us off without anything. My father never told me he had made a will, or said anything to me about a will, I could read a little and was used to father’s hand write that was the way I knew it was his signature to the will. The chest was locked and the key usually hung up on the bed nail.

Comment: A bed nail was what people hung their clothes on.

That was very clearly a threat from Solomon.

She never read the will, she looked at it when Jones handed it back and saw her father’s name to it signed by him as she believes and witnesses by William Lanham and Randall Lanham, and heard Solomon Dobkins say it was her father’s will

Witness states that the key hung up that unlocked the chest when the will was kept and Brooks could have for the key and opened the chest if he wanted to he is the son-in-law of Solomon Dobkins, he was then not the son-in-law of Dobking was visiting then.

Further this deponent saith not.

Elizabeth Campbell signed with her mark.

Comment: When trying to figure out when Dorcas Johnson, Jacob Dobkin’s wife died, I was able to establish that she died before Jacob, in part because she did not apply for his pension as a widow.

Furthermore, Jacob apparently did not mention her, or, if he did, the people who read the will didn’t mention that because it was irrelevant after she died.

I had previously discovered an index entry that Jacob Dobkins’ heirs all quitclaimed his land to Betsy Campbell, here called Elizabeth. Of course, that’s the deed book that is missing. So we don’t know who all signed.

I found it very odd at the time that they all quitclaimed to her, not her husband. A quitclaim is not a buyout, but in essence, simply a relinquishment of rights for no remuneration. I still wonder why, but I’m now sure it has something to do with that clandestine agreement and what she and her siblings and their spouses all colluded to do.

Until reading this, I don’t think I ever fully comprehended what it meant to not be able to read. It’s not just having to make an X for your signature. It’s not being able to verify anything – even that the document you hold in your hands is your own father’s will. You must trust everyone else, even for the most critical transactions of your life.

[Page 8, original page 48]

William Lanham next sworn states that some time in June or May, the year he does not recollect, Alexander Dobkins a son of Solomon Dobkins came to him in the field and states that John Hunt was at his grandfather’s doing something writing and wanted me to go and witness it. I told him to go and get Randall, my brother and he done so. I went up to the house and John Hunt, Jacob Dobkins, and Solomon Dobkins were there. Hunt said they wanted us to witness some writing, he commenced reading a paper which he said was the will of Jacob Dobkins, he read on down to the disposition of the property and he stopped and stated that it was not usual for the witnesses to hear that part of a will and implied that if that was the way I did not care about knowing; when he was done reading Old Jacob Dobkins went up to the table and set down and signed the paper. Hunt asked him if he acknowledged the execution of the will and he stated that he did and acknowledged the contents of it. My brother Randall Lanham and myself witnessed it. Randall Lanham moved to Indiana and from there to Missouri and the report is he is deceased, but I do not know whether it is true or not.

Witness states that he did not read the will and he did not know that it is the same will that Mrs. Campbell spoke of, he never knew its contents or that the negroes were to be free, until he heard it spoken of, he thinks it was upwards of twenty years ago that the will was witnessed, he never witnessed but one will for old Mr. Dobkins.

Witness states he was well acquainted with Isom Jefferson, he was a good boy to work and industrious and peaceable and from 1835 up to this [Page 8, original page 49] time his since were worth after clothing him seventy four dollars a year upon earning?.

Signed William Lanham

Comment: I’m stunned that this man doesn’t know if his brother is actually deceased, or not.

Barnabus Campbell next sworn stated that Solomon Dobkins came to my house and stated that he intended to penitentiary Old George Campbell for burning his father’s will, this was a short time after the death of Jacob Campbell, George Campbell was my father and immediately came to his house to see about it, and when I come my mother handed me a paper which she stated was her father’s will. I took it in my hands and looked at it, but did not read it. I handed it to my brother Charles and he handed it back to mother, told my mother what Dobkins had said and she said the will was not burned, nor never should be that he ? Solomon Dobkins would be glad it was burnt. The rumor of the county was that the old man had made a will setting the negroes free.

Signed Barnet Campbell

Comment: This Jacob Campbell has to be a previously unknown son of George and Elizabeth, because the Jacob Campbell who was the son of John Campbell and Jenny lived into the late 1870s and died in Texas.

Deposition of Elijah Jones and William H. Jennings taken by complainants May 16, 1851 (1851?) before the Clerk and Master.

Elijah Jones sworn states at the time that the heirs of Jacob Dobkins Sr. met (after the death of the said Dobkins, I was present, I believe it was in December 1835). They met I was informed in order to divide the estate as they would all of age, then was something said about the old man Dobkins having made a will, they all as well as I knew ? at a ? that they would not have the will proven and recorded; my advice to them was to record the will [Page 10, original document page 50] and live up to the contents; they refused to do so and said that they would lose too much if that was done. My understanding was that if the will was proven that they would lose the negroes; the will was not shown to me then, but I believe that I saw and read the will at George Campbell’s that evening or the next morning. I am not certain which, I cannot now state what was the whole contents of the will, as it has been so long, but I feel very confident that the negroes were to be free, but on what terms or conditions I do not recollect. I knew that as I insisted they heed the letter not divide the negroes, that Solomon Dobkins became very much irritated and ordered me to leave the place. I replied to him that it was a public day and that I would not leave, but that I would say no more, only that I thought they would someday wish they had taken my advice. They proceeded to make a decision. John Hunt and Benjamin Sewell was two if not all that was chosen by the heirs to make the decision. I am not certain who were the witnesses to the will. I believe that William Lanham was one but am not certain that he was. I have almost forgot all about the will and the whole transaction, but since I was summoned I have reflected brought second things to recollection, that I could not have stated when the subpoena was served. There was very little interest in the will if the negroes were set free, for them was not much other personal property belonging to the estate. This was the reason that they all agreed to divide all the difference in the price of the negroes were made up in other property.

And further this deponent saith not.

Elijah Jones

[Page 11, original document page 57]

Comment: Even knowing that John Hunt was aware of Jacob’s will, they STILL involved him, perhaps not wanting to arouse suspicion. How did they even look the man in the eye? Is it possible that Hunt simply looked the other way? He couldn’t insist on enforcing a will that Jacob could have destroyed. However, he could and should have required the estate to be submitted to the court for administration. Why didn’t he? He was, after all, the sheriff.

Thomas W. Jennings next sworn deposeth and saith that before William Fugate bought the boy Nelson, he came to my house and asked me if I knew anything about there being a will of Jacob Dobkins and I told him all I knew about it was from the report in the neighborhood, he said he was talking about buying this boy and he did not think it would be any effect, that it was not recorded.

By William Fugate: Have you not been an agent for these complainants, in this matter, and did you not threaten that you would file a bill to have them set free.

Answer: I have not been an agent for them. I have never stated that I would have it done, but I have stated that it would be done.

And further this deponent saith not

Signed Thomas W. Jennings

Comment: It appears that there is another person that supports their bid for justice.

Depositions of Jenny Campbell, William Riley, and Elijah Jones taken Sept 12, 1851 before the Clerk and Master

Jenny Campbell first sworn:

Question by Solomon Dobkins: If your father Jacob Dobkins made a distribution of his negroes before his death amongst his children, please state when it was and how it was.

Answer: I know nothing of my own knowledge only from information.

By same: Which one of the negroes did your sister Mrs. Jones take home with her, how long did she keep him and what did she do with him?

Answer: Jefferson was the one she took home with her. I do not know how long she was with him. She went back to her father’s when her and her husband parted but I do not recollect

[Page 12 – original document page 52] when that was. The boy remained with her and she took him back with her to her father’s. The boy was with her several years before she went to her father’s.

How old was the boy when she took him away?

Answer: I do not know exactly, but from my best recollection he was about 9 or 10 years of age, the boy stayed at Old Mr. Dobkins after she came back and I think Mrs. Jones clothed him and she remained there until a short time before the death of old Mr. Dobkins.

Question by complainant’s solicitor: What is your age? Can you write or read writing?

Answer: I am in my seventy-fourth year. I cannot read or write. I never saw the will and know nothing about its contents.

Comment: These few sentences are packed full. Jenny is my ancestor. First, this absolutely confirms that she is Jacob’s daughter. It’s this deposition that cousin Debbie was seeking.

This is also the only place she ever provides her age – and the only words we have from her own mouth.

Her deposition also provides significantly more information about Margaret Dobkins Jones. She apparently took Isom when he was a child. When Margaret separated from her husband, she went back home to her father’s. I wonder if she took her children with her. I can’t help but wonder what happened between her and Elisha. He allowed her to take her possessions, and if I recall, returned the land too.

Divorce was unheard-of at the time and required Supreme Court permission. There was no such thing as no-fault. I did not find their divorce in the index at the Tennessee Archives, but their indexing system leaves a lot to be desired since this case didn’t even come up using the surname of Dobkins.

Where did Margaret go before Jacob died, and why did she leave her father’s home? She was about 30 when she left her husband and a little over 50 when Jacob died. In 1850, Margaret is age 65 and living with Daniel Leonard, a carpenter, who is living one house away from Joseph Simmons

We also learn that Jenny can’t read or write, and her age which gives us a birth year of 1777, assuming she had already had her birthday in 1851.

While Jenny did live nearby, it was across Little Ridge, so she and John Campbell were not direct neighbors with Jacob Dobkins or her siblings. She seems to not have maintained day-to-day contact with people in that group. Plus, she was raising her daughter, Elizabeth’s children and probably had no time for drama. Still, she and John were a part of the group who agreed to secret her father’s will and divide the slaves.

Jenny lived beside present-day Liberty Baptist Church, and Jacob lived on what is now A. L. Campbell Lane. Solomon Dobkins as well as George Campbell and Elizabeth lived adjacent to Jacob Dobkins on the Powell River.

William Riley next sworn

In the fall of the year 1834, I taught a school in the neighborhood of the old Mr. Dobkins, perhaps the schoolhouse was on his land. During the school I went to Old Mr. Dobkins’s one night to stay all night with him. While in conversation with Jacob Dobkins decd he said then was a boy then by the name of Berry that he had given to Mary Martin when he was a child. His mother died left him and if she would raise him she might have him. He told me that she had taken him in her bed and raised him and he intended the boy Berry for her and that a short time previous he had sent the boy home to her and the boy stayed some time with her and got dissatisfied and had come back to him, and that he had sent word to Mary Martin and Thomas Martin to come and get him, that he intended the boy for them. He also told me to tell [Page 13 – original page 53] them to come down and get the boy and he would make them a bill of sale to him, for fear that he might drop off said he, and the heirs might rock them out of the boy.

Did Mrs. Martin get the boy away before the death of the old man, if not what became of him?

Answer: She did not. He remained then until the death of the old man, when he and the complainants were divided amongst the heirs.

How long after this conversation was it until Old man Dobkins died?

To the best of my belief, he died in the year of 1835.

Signed William Riley

Elijah Jones next sworn:

Mr. Jones you will please state all you may know in relation to a division of the negroes of Old Man Dobkins in his lifetime, if there was one, if so who got the complainant Isom Jefferson?

Answer: There was a division in part of the negroes, I believe it was in the year 1815. The boy Isom Jefferson was given to my wife, [I] was not present, we then lived in Powells Valley. I moved the boy to my house and kept him then for some time. I cannot say how long but I think it was something near 12 months when me and my wife separated. I sent the boy home to the old man Dobkins by my father with a letter. In that letter stated to the old man, as he had given me the negro, that I would return him to him and he might give him to his daughter if he saw proper. He remained there as I believe until the death of the old man. When the property and negroes was to be divided I was there, and insisted of the negroes was to be divided, that Isom Jefferson should [Page 14 – original page 54] belong to my wife. I claimed no interest myself. I then stated that as the old man had given him to me, and her that I claimed no part, that she ought to have him. The answer by all was that the old or former division was of no effect and they would not let her have the boy, is all I know at this time about the division as respects that boy. There was another boy the old man gave to Mary or Polly Dobkins wife of Reuben Dobkins. She did not get him at the last division. I insisted she ought to have him, for he took him when helpless and had all the trouble that was the frowned?. The old man stated he gave her to the boy Berry, then the heirs all still insisted that the former decision or gifts should not hold, nor did they let them. I believe that George Campbell and wife the first decision was to have a girl Amey but I do not believe that they received her at that time. I got Isom Jefferson but believe she was to remain with the old man perhaps as long as he lived, but I am not certain. They got her at the last division but did not get all her children. My wife for one Cynthia Ann and John Dobkins got one. I am not certain what was his name, he was a small boy. I supposed his name was Nelson. They both are children of Anny as I was informed and am informed that by an complainants in this bill.

Comment: This is quite interesting because it confirms that the Reuben Dobkins who died in 1823 was the son of Jacob Dobkins, and not Jacob’s brother by the same name. This progression makes me think the Mary “Polly” who was Reuben’s wife remarried to Thomas Martin, which is why Jacob tried to gift her with the child, Berry. What happened to Berry?

Was not Old Mr. Dobkins at the time of his death a very aged infirm man, what was his age and what we the condition of mind, had not age made him very childish?

Answer: He was among the best? of men. I have not been with the old man for some time [Page 15 – original page 55] before his death. I perhaps passed by there one time not more than one or two years before his death. The old man was appeared the last time I saw him to be in as good a state of mind then as is common of his age, which I believe was eighty or upwards.

In your former deposition you state something in relation to the will of Old Mr. Dobkins and that you think you saw it. Please state in whose handwriting, if you know it, the will appeared to be.

Answer: I believe the will that I read was in the hand writing of John Hunt. I was well acquainted with his hand writing; as respects the freedom of the slaves, I cannot give the details? Precisely, but will give the meanings or substance. The will stated that the negroes were to be set free or emancipated if the laws of Tennessee would allow them to remain in the state and if it would not allow them to stay if emancipated, they were to stay on the farm of Solomon Dobkins and the Solomon Dobkins was to take care of them, and act as their agent for them, and to have the control of them, is I believe what in substance the decd stated about the negroes, as to the date of the will, I think been date some three or four years before the death of Jacob Dobkins but cannot say precisely.

And further this deponent saith not.

Elijah Jones signed his name.

Deposition of Susan Hardy taken January 17, 1852.

Question by respondents council: Please state what you may have heard Old Jacob Dobkins, in his time, in relation to freeing his slaves and what he intended to do with them, if he gave any reason why he would not free them, state what it was, when and when did it take place, and how long before his death.

Answer: I never heard Old Jacob Dobkins say anything about setting his slaves free and never had any conversation with him on that subject.

And further this deponent saith not.

Susan Hardy signs.

Comment: I have no idea who Susan Hardy is or how she is connected.

The bill of costs is attached, but I did not transcribe it.

So, What Happened?

I don’t know, nor do I know how to find out. With former chancery suits heard at the supreme court, I’ve called the library and asked about the outcome, and apparently, they don’t have the disposition information. Just the case files.

How incredibly ironic. It’s like missing the last page of the book.

I tried to find the complainants in 1860 with families that would be likely candidates, but I couldn’t.

In 1850, George Campbell was listed on the Slave Schedule with people:

  • Female 40 – black
  • Male 15 – black
  • Female 10 – mulatto

The mulatto description begs another question for which there will never be an answer.

Next door was Solomon Dobkins with:

  • Male 43 – black
  • Male 39 – black

One of those men was Isom, but who was the other? Did he wind up in Texas?

I’d like to think that these people received their freedom, albeit 17 or 18 years late. Better late than never.

I also can’t help but wonder how much, if any, wages they were compensated for. Isom was supposed to receive a horse and saddle. Did he receive that, and did he receive anything else? Did he use that horse and saddle to ride into the sunset and never look back. He was 43 years old in 1850. Where did he go?

Did they change their names, or leave the county, or both? Is that why I can’t find them in the 1870 census? They could also have died, of course. Twenty years is a long time, and we know the three oldest people were born in the early 1800s

What happened to Isom Jefferson’s brother, Berry, and his sister, Anny Louisa Deaderick who was probably born about 1810 or so.?

If Isom Jefferson was 9 or 10 in 1814/1815, he would have been 4 or 5 in 1809, or born about 1804 or 1805.

Berry was his brother, and was quite ill as a baby. If Berry was given to Reuben Dobkins’ when they were married, that occurred before Reuben’s death in 1823. If Barry was given to her when she was a widow, that happened after 1823 when Reuben died. This also tells us that when Barry was born, Isom Jefferson and Anny Louisa Deaderick’s mother died, so Barry was clearly the youngest. Their mother was probably one of the four people named in 1809.

Aneker or Anekey, Mitilty, Jiary, Amelyer

Was Isom’s father with the family in 1809 too?

I’ve done my best to reassemble the family, here.

Name Relationship Age When With Whom When
Anny Louise Deaderick Mother and sister 40 in 1850 census, so born about 1810 Jacob Dobkins, then George and Elizabeth Campbell in 1835
Cynthia Ann Daughter of Anny Can’t find in census, but since she filed the lawsuit in 1850, that suggests she is an adult Margaret Jones, but can’t find her in 1850 census
Lewis Son of Anny 15 in 1850, so born about 1835 George and Elizabeth Campbell
Nelson Son of Anny 5 in 1837, 19 in 1850 so born about 1831 John Dobkins until 1837, then bought by William Fugate, with Fugate in 1850
Hessy Daughter of Anny Born after 1835, 10 in 1850 census George  and Elizabeth Campbell
Isom Jefferson Brother of Anny Louisa Deaderick 8 or 10 in 1814, 43 in 1830 so born about 1807 Solomon Dobkins
Berry – Ill as an infant and not expected to live. His mother died. Brother of Isom Jefferson Before Reuben died in 1823? Mary Martin, widow of Reuben after she married Thomas Martin, then back to Jacob Dobkins until his death. Did John and Jenny Campbell receive him? Probably deceased by 1850 since he’s not listed in the lawsuit.

Based on this information, it appears that probably only Isom would have been named in the 1809 purchase transaction, but the mother of Anny, Isom, and Berry certainly was, and possibly their father as well.

I hope that descendants of these people can find them if they are looking. One thing is for sure, their acts were legend-worthy.


I’m left with lots of questions and some thoughts.

First, I have so much respect for the bravery of Cynthia Ann, the young woman of color with no last name. The trouble-maker. The rabble-rouser. The incredibly brave enslaved woman who initiated and signed this lawsuit on behalf of herself and her family members – including her mother, uncle, and siblings. Despite the odds against her, and the long drawn-out nature of the suit, she did receive a positive outcome, even if the defendants filed an appeal and kicked it to the higher court. I hope that Cynthia Ann didn’t suffer ill-treatment as a result.

Injustice was committed for days, months, and years – but that day, justice, or something resembling justice was finally done.

I hope they were freed before the Civil War freed all slaves. I hope they did receive justice, or at least some compensation, and found a way to live a joyful life from thenceforth. I wonder if Cynthia Ann’s motivation was outrage at injustice or if there were other reasons. I surely would like to know what happened to that family and to her in particular. I can’t help but wonder how one would transition from enslaved to free in the blink of an eye. Were they prepared for making their way in the world? Where did they go? Did their families know, a couple of generations later, how brave Cynthia Ann was? Does she have descendants today?

My second set of thoughts is that a WHOLE LOT of strangely misfitting pieces in the Dobkins/Campbell family line now make a lot more sense.

I knew there was a secret, but I had no idea the magnitude of that secret. I know my ancestor’s daughter, Jane Campbell Freeman was divorced in 1830, a HUGE scandal. I thought it might have been that.

I knew from another suit that, let’s just say, one Campbell daughter was caught by one of the slaves copulating in the barn with her double first cousin, the son of the other Campbell brother. This family was no stranger to scandal.

I knew that something was unusual about Margaret Dobkins Jones’s situation, but I didn’t know what. I never expected that she lived separately from her husband for most of her married life and probably never divorced, but he remarried.

Yet, her husband, Elijah, remained connected to her family, except for her brother, Solomon. Was he defending his sister’s interests, or was there something else?

Of course, Solomon had his own set of issues.

Then there was that cousin who made insinuations about William Fugate, but absolutely WOULD NOT get up off the family scuttlebutt. She enjoyed holding information hostage, unfortunately. Maybe she was embarrassed.

Then, someone else who lived in Claiborne County told me that one of their relatives in Barney’s line started researching this family some years back, found something, tore everything up, and stopped. They wouldn’t tell anyone what they found and said no one needed to know. I thought that they might have discovered that Barney did not belong to George Campbell, but now we know, based on this and DNA, that Barney WAS in fact George’s son, so it wasn’t that.

There was a break in Barney’s genetic male line a generation or so later, though, so who knows what they might have found. I’m guessing that went to the grave with the two adults involved back in the 1800s.

I’m not a betting person, but I’d bet what they found was either part of this chancery suit, or something having to do with it. That paperwork may still be floating around in that family someplace, or was then. Maybe they found the agreement that everyone signed. We never did see that that produced in the lawsuit.

Maybe they actually found Jacob’s will, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that was burned sometime between 1847 and 1849, between the last time Elizabeth saw it and then noticed it was missing – assuming she’s telling the truth.

My guess is that the guilty culprit who burned the will was George Campbell, because it was his box or chest that held the will all those years, and he was the one who was threatened to be “penitentiaried.” Maybe he or Elizabeth decided that enough was enough, and the evidence needed to disappear.

It’s VERY clear that what they did was extremely serious, and VERY illegal. I don’t think the penitentiary was an idle threat.

There wasn’t one innocent party in that family – not one. That’s why everyone, men and women, and their spouses, had to sign that clandestine “do not tell” agreement.

Yet, somebody told. That information hit the grapevine highway.

The Dobkins siblings also couldn’t have pulled that off alone. People gave them cover for not registering Jacob’s death, and several people knew he had a will at one time, not long before his death. In particular, John Hunt, long-time sheriff and friend of Jacob’s who wrote the will, along with the witnesses.

You know John Hunt had to have asked about Jacob’s will.

You know the family lied and said they found no will. So Jacob had probably changed his mind and torn it up or burned it – at least that’s what they would have said to John Hunt when he inquired.

That’s what the compact was for – to discourage anyone from telling that ugly truth – by making it VERY expensive to do so. Plus, that penitentiary threat, to some extent, hung over everyone’s head.

That agreement and what they had done, plus maybe a guilty conscience, caused them to fight between themselves for the duration of their lives. Solomon tried to leave it behind and died soon after arriving in Texas. I don’t think his family never knew, just like they never knew about his issue, whatever it was, during the War of 1812. He was stripped of his rank, according to his military records, yet he was still called Capt. Dobkins in the family and in Claiborne County. Nope, he never told that secret either.

Word of this misdeed never trickled down in my line either, although it was many generations ago. Rumors that reflect poorly upon direct ancestors don’t tend to get repeated.

None of our ancestors are perfect. Some are more imperfect, in different ways, than others.

I’m grateful to know the truth, whatever it is.

And I feel that in some small way I’ve vindicated many people by publishing Jacob Dobkins “will,” such as it is, and along with it – the truth.

It’s no longer fraudulently concealed, secreted, or destroyed. In fact, we’ve just raised it from the dead!


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Connect Your DNA Test, and Others, to Your Tree

To optimize your DNA tests, each tester needs to take advantage of the features offered by each vendor.

In order to do that, we need to perform the following tasks.

  1. Upload or create a tree (except at 23andMe who does not support trees)
  2. Connect our own test to our own profile card on our tree
  3. Connect other tests we manage to their (or our) tree, depending on the vendor
  4. Connect matches who are known relatives to their profiles on our tree

Each vendor handles these situations differently, so we’ll look at each one of the vendors with step-by-step instructions for handling those situations. We all want to get the most out of the tests we’ve taken!

Plant a Tree

If you have not created or uploaded a tree at each one of the vendors (except 23andMe who does not support genealogy trees), please do so. However, 23andMe does provide for links to your tree elsewhere, so we will review that function.

I manage my “master tree” on my own computer, but I also maintain trees at both Ancestry and MyHeritage where I attach documents and research found at that vendor. I also update my ancestors at WikiTree to be sure other researchers benefit from new discoveries.

I have not uploaded my full tree from my computer anyplace because I have many private notes that are not appropriate for disclosure, not to mention speculative and unproven relationships. I created a pared-down tree at one time to upload to both Ancestry and MyHeritage, and build those trees out from there.

I’m often asked about replacing your tree at the various vendors with an updated tree. If you do that, be aware that you will lose your DNA connections and document links. I do NOT recommend that. I simply maintain multiple trees. I wrote about this in the article, “Genealogy Tree Replacement – Should I or Shouldn’t I?” If you are considering that option, PLEASE read that article first.

RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, and Legacy Family Tree Software all provide a syncing option with various vendors and FamilySearch, although not every vendor allows access to each of those software companies. I probably should experiment with the syncing option, but given a family member’s terrible experience some years back, I’ve been unwilling to do that. My biggest fear is that I will corrupt the file and not notice it until it’s far too late to revert to a backup.

When you upload or create a tree, make sure deceased and living people are marked as such, and you’ve opted to share your tree. If you don’t, you accidentally have a private tree. Worse yet, you might not realize it. I wrote about that in Quick Tip: Trees, Death Dates and Unintentionally Private Ancestors.

Now, let’s take a look at each vendor.


23andMe does not support traditional genealogy trees, but they do provide a location for you to link your tree at another vendor or source.

Under your name at the right side, you’ll see “View Your Profile” under the dropdown.

I’ve not been able to find a generic Ancestry tree link that will allow non-Ancestry subscribers to view my tree, but it’s easy to do at MyHeritage. Simply open your tree at  MyHeritage and just copy the link at the top. Don’t worry, people won’t see anyone living.

If you want to use “one world” types of trees, you can also link to other trees such as FamilySearch or WikiTree, but just remember that you don’t control that content.

You don’t need to connect yourself to your tree at 23andMe, because there is no genealogy tree. However, 23andMe constructs a “genetic tree” for you using your closest matches, based on how you match other people, and how they match each other.

You can view your tree under “Family and Friends,” then “Family Tree.”

I added my ancestors’ names so it’s easy to keep straight. You can do that by simply clicking on the colored circle representing the ancestor, starting with your parents.

If you know that one of your matching relatives is not in exactly the correct tree location, you can click on their circle, and then click on Edit to make modifications.

You may want to add a relative that you can identify but who isn’t connected on the tree that 23andMe constructed.

Looking on the far-right side of the tree, in the lower corner, you’ll see “Add a Relative.” Click there and follow the instructions.


At Ancestry, you need to link your test to “you” in a tree. Your test can only be linked to one person in one tree at a time. You can change this, but you will lose any ThruLines you currently have. They will be regenerated based on the new tree you connect your test to, but based on the tree and other factors, they may not be the same. My recommendation is if you’re going to disconnect yourself and reconnect yourself elsewhere, record everything first.

Alternatively, you can take a second DNA test and simply link that second test to another tree. IMHO, that’s a better alternative. You can leave one in place as your research tree and use the second test to experiment with.

To link your test to your tree, select the “DNA” tab. At far right, you’ll see “Settings.”

You need to tell Ancestry who you are in your tree. Click on “Settings,” then scroll to “Tree Link.”

You can also link other tests you directly manage to their placards in your tree as well.

These links allow Ancestry to form ThruLines using both DNA matches and common ancestors in trees for 7 generations.

On your DNA Match page, Ancestry will ask you if you recognize a match.

If you click on “Yes,” you’ll be asked which side the match is on.

Then you’ll be given a long list of possible relationships in most-likely to least-likely order. Literally, Erik is the last option offered.

Select and confirm.

I’m not positive exactly HOW this helps Ancestry help you, but I suspect it confirms and helps Ancestry perfect ThruLines, relationship predictions, and perhaps even “sides” of ethnicity.

I wrote about Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines.


At FamilyTreeDNA, every DNA test kit has its own kit number and associated tree, so you don’t need to tell FamilyTreeDNA who you are if you create a tree from scratch on their site.

FamilyTreeDNA offers a unique family matching feature that sorts your matches into maternal and paternal sides.

In order to take advantage of this, you will need a tree. You can upload a GEDCOM file, although the upload at FamilyTreeDNA does not seem to do well with very large files.

If you don’t have a GEDCOM file on your computer, you can download a tree from either Ancestry or MyHeritage and upload to FamilyTreeDNA.

I wrote about this in the article Download Your Ancestry Tree and Upload it Elsewhere for Added Benefit.

If you upload a tree, you’ll be asked to select the person in the tree that is “you,” meaning the person who tested their DNA.

You’ll want to link known matches to your tree to enable Family Matching, aka bucketing, so that FamilyTreeDNA can divide and assign your matches maternally and paternally.

If you are building your tree at FamilyTreeDNA from scratch, simply click to begin and complete the information on the placards to add your information, then your parents, building out from there. You’ll want to add the ancestral lines to connect with your closest matches on your match list.

Family matching, or bucketing, is enabled by linking known matches to their proper place on your tree. FamilyTreeDNA then evaluates each match, determining if they match a common segment with you and someone you’ve linked. If that match does share a segment with both of you, meaning they triangulate, then that person is assigned either maternally, paternally, or both. I wrote about Triangulation in Action at FamilyTreeDNA, here.

The best people to link are your parents and grandparents, of course, but that’s not always an option. You’ll want to link as many matches as you can.

To link people, either click on the Family Tree tab at the top of the page, or on the “Link on Family Tree” under Relationship Range for individual matches.

Simply click on “Link Matches,” then drag and drop your match to their placard.

Here’s an example of linking parents.

Once someone is linked, the green dot will appear signifying that they are linked, and which type of test. Green is a Family Finder autosomal test, blue means they’ve taken a Y DNA test, and pink is a mitochondrial DNA test.

If your parents aren’t available to test, link every upstream relative that you can identify. By this, I mean that your children and full siblings will match you on both sides, so aren’t helpful for parental-side assignment.

People who have DNA tests from both parents can expect around 80% of their matches to be assigned maternally, paternally, or both.

If you have relatives who have tested at other vendors, you can ask them to upload to FamilyTreeDNA for free matching.


At MyHeritage, you will connect yourself and any relatives whose tests you manage to your tree.

Under “DNA,” select “Manage DNA kits.”

At the right, you’ll click on the three dots, also known as a hamburger menu (who knew.)

Select Assign (if this is a new test or a transfer) or Re-assign a kit.

Be sure to do this for every kit you manage. I made that mistake and wrote about how I discovered and fixed the problem, here. Kit assignment enables Theories of Family Relativity and other super-helpful features.

I wrote about several things you can do to optimize your chances of receiving Theories of Family Relativity, here.

You can upload DNA kits to MyHeritage from tests taken at other vendors, here.

Fish in All the Ponds

I have provided step-by-step download/upload instructors for all vendors, here. It’s important to fish in all available ponds by making sure you have DNA tests at all four vendors. Then, upload or create trees and complete this bit of housekeeping to increase your chances of catching fish!


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Rest in Peace, Queen Elizabeth – 52 Ancestors #374

Her full name was Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of the House of Windsor. She was born as Princess Elizabeth of York to The Duke and Duchess of York, later to become King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. After King George died, her mother was known as Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother to avoid confusion with her daughter, then Queen Elizabeth II.

Not being British, at least not in the past 246 years or so, the British tradition of names combined with titles that change is somewhat confusing to my American mind. Let’s just say I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article here.

Queen Elizabeth has been Queen of the United Kingdom and several Commonwealth realms longer than I’ve been alive. She ascended to the throne in February 1952 when her father, King George, died, pledging herself to the service of her country in a speech to Parliament.

A little-known fact about Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who was really quite remarkable, is that she was literally in a treehouse in Kenya when she was informed that her father had passed away unexpectedly, and consequently, she had become Queen.

She was staying at the Treetops Hotel at the foothills of Mount Kenya, in a treehouse built in the branches of a huge fig tree on a series of tall but quite spindly-looking stilts. Her husband, Prince Philip, learned of King George’s death from a reporter, before Elizabeth, and conveyed the sad news to the 26-year old woman who had no idea she was, at that very moment, already the Queen of England.

You can view the original treetop structure here.

Clearly, Elizabeth returned immediately to assume the mantle of public service she would humbly wear for the next 70 years.

Seventy years and seven months – the longest reigning monarch in British history and the longest-reigning female monarch in world history. Only one other monarch, ever, reigned longer than Queen Elizabeth – French King Louis XIV who ascended the throne at age four. Clearly, he wasn’t making decisions at that age. Her Majesty celebrated her Platinum Jubilee in June of this year. I’m glad that both she and the British people were able to experience that celebration together.

By Stuart Yeates from Oxford, UK – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=728182

Her Majesty, the Queen, had recently been experiencing health challenges after having contracted Covid in late February this year, although there’s no evidence that was a factor in her death. She passed away at Balmoral Castle, her home in Scotland, on September 8th, 2022, at 96 years of age, after fulfilling duties just two days previously.

The Queen was greatly-loved, not only in England but also in much of the rest of the British Isles and Commonwealth countries. Many of the British subjects, and others, never met the Queen in person, but are grieving deeply. She was widely viewed as a lovely, kind, grandmotherly person.

Nature published an article explaining the science behind the outpouring of public grief. Let’s face it, Queen Elizabeth has been a constant in all of our lives for most all of our lives. While some of her family members have been embroiled in numerous scandals, she herself has been a unifying factor within the Royal family and also, for the most part, the rest of Great Britain too. She always offered hope and comfort.

The Queen brought four children into the world, and the monarchy has descended to her eldest son, Charles, now King Charles the third. While he is officially King, he has not been ceremonially crowned, as yet, and won’t be until several months after Queen Elizabeth has been laid to rest. No one feels like celebrating just yet.

If you’re interested in the royal line of succession, which also baffles me, there’s a good article here with a pedigree chart – something genealogists understand. The net-net of this is that Prince William is next in line, and then his eldest son, who is, of course, still a young child.

Cousin Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth, although I didn’t know it for a very long time, even after becoming a genealogist, was my 11th cousin, three times removed, 11C3R. Her great-grandchildren are my generation. We appear to also be related in other ways as well, but those are either unproven, and what I would consider speculative, or more distant.

If you’re rolling your eyes right about now, trust me, I was too. That’s part of why I discounted that tidbit for such a long time.

Several years ago, cousin Bill Nevils told me that we connected to the Royal Monarchy through the Muncy line. Bill was a remarkable, meticulous genealogist, as was James Muncy who also, independently, reached the same conclusion long before the days of quick copy and paste internet trees.

I’ve spent the past several years confirming my ancestors, one per week, in the 52 Ancestors Series (plus DNA when possible), and to date, I’ve worked my way through 6 and most of 7 of the 14 generations between me and Sir Andrew Windsor and his wife Elizabeth Blount who were married about 1490, my common ancestors with Queen Elizabeth,

I’m not terribly concerned about the accuracy of The Queen’s genealogy. Once one intersects with a Royal line, the genealogy has been scrutinized with a microscope by people with far more resources and money than I have at my disposal. I’m VERY grateful for that!

Queen Elizabeth, along with all of the other British Monarchy, are descended from William the Conqueror – along with an estimated 5 million other people. William the Conqueror is descended from Charlemagne, as is most if not all of the rest of Europe, including the British Isles, and the European diaspora.

So, one way or another, or more likely in many ways, if you have any European heritage at all, you too are probably related to the recently deceased Queen.

Gateway Ancestors

If you’re looking for what are known as “Gateway Ancestors” in the US, colonial immigrants, you can find a curated list of well-researched lines at WikiTree, along with the Magna Carta Project gateway ancestors here.

Our Connecting Lineage

The genealogy connecting Queen Elizabeth and me, which sounds very odd, I must admit, beginning with Sir Andrew Windsor and Elizabeth Blount is shown below. Beneath that, I’ll provide the WikiTree links and my ancestor stories, where they exist.

 Gen Name WikiTree 52 Ancestors
1 William Sterling Estes https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Estes-2199 Many, see Wikitree entry
2 Ollie Bolton https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Bolton-1715 Ollie Bolton Estes Robbins (1874-1955) and the Wrath of a Woman Scorned
3 Margaret Clarkson/Claxton https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Claxton-738 Margaret N. Clarkson/Claxton (1851-1920, Baptist Church Founder
4 Samuel Claxton https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Claxton-328 Samuel Claxton/Clarkson (1827-1876), Civil War Veteran
5 Agnes Muncy https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Muncy-246 Agnes Muncy (1803-after 1880), A Grieved Mother
6 Samuel Muncy III https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Muncy-93 Samuel Muncy (1761/1768-1839), Who’s Your Daddy, Your Mamma, and Your Kids?
7 Samuel Muncy Jr. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Muncy-225 Revolutionary War Veteran
9 Samuel Muncy Sr. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Muncy-95 Revolutionary War Veteran
10 Francis Muncy https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Muncy-96
11 Hannah Brewster https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Brewster-1099
12 Sarah Ludlow https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ludlow-121
13 Roger Ludlow https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ludlow-37 Immigrant – Great Migration
14 Thomas Ludlow https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ludlow-8
15 Edith Windsor https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Windsor-38


Twice I’ve been to London and in close proximity to the two Royal castles that grace central London. The Royal family is front and center everyplace in England, and the Royal flag indicates whether Her Majesty is in residence at the time, or not, in any specific location. I was stunned that everyone in London knew, without looking.

In 1970, as a student and long before I was interested in genealogy, I visited Buckingham Palace and watched the ceremonial changing of the guard.

My cousin, The Queen, would have been 44 and not even approaching her mid-life point yet. Of course, none of us knows at the time when that milestone occurs.

A few years ago, I stayed just a couple blocks away from Kensington Palace.

Here, I’m walking through Hyde Park on the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, with Kensington Palace in the background. I’m not at all sure I realized that until I saw this photo later that the Palace was back there. I wanted my picture with the marker in the walk. I was glad Diana hadn’t been forgotten and omitted altogether. I didn’t realize Diana had been my 12C2R by marriage, and her children, Princes William and Harry, are my 13C1R.

The palace gate was a block or so from my hotel, and across from the bus stop.

I wondered out loud to my husband if the black car exiting the Palace grounds might have been the Queen. I discounted it as even a possibility due to the lack of pomp and circumstance – then a local told me that no, the Royal Standard flag was not flying over the Castle, so she was not there. She was in Balmoral for a visit, I was informed, just matter of factly. Everyone felt an affection and kinship with the Queen, like a favorite family member.

It was just accepted that everyone knew where the Queen was, and what was going on with the Royals. As someone said to me, “She is ours, and we are hers.”

By Conay – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2656298

Here’s the Royal flag flying above Buckingham Palace.

Apparently, the Royal Standard also flies on the car in which the Sovereign is riding and on the Royal plane when it’s on the ground. Right now, it is also draping the Queen’s coffin.

Preparing to Lay the Queen to Rest

Queen Elizabeth will be laid to rest on Monday. Londoners are waiting for 24 hours now, in the cold, and the line stretches for many miles to leave flowers and pay their respects. These are no casual acts of reverence – but a deeply felt connection to the woman who served Great Britain as the only Monarch most have every known. Simply put, they love her.

King Charles, along with Elizabeth’s other children are standing ceremonial guard over their mother’s coffin as she lays in state in Westminster Hall, which is also Westminster Palace, the famous complex where the British Parliament meets, seen here from across the Thames River.

Queen Elizabeth’s four children, including the King, entering together in full dress military uniforms, standing vigil, each on one side of her coffin, was emotion-packed and exceedingly difficult to watch. Grieving is hard enough in private – but this is on full display to the world.

By Terry Ott from Washington, DC Metro Area, United States of America – Built in 1016, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=122737498

Today, however, was the most agonizing part for me – watching her grandchildren stand vigil. You can see Prince William’s lip quiver as he fights public tears as the world watches. I couldn’t even breathe when my mother died, let alone manage to grieve combined with upholding an exceedingly public Royal tradition, broadcast ’round the world. Nothing could ever prepare you for this.

My condolences to the entire Royal family and the British people as well. I hope their memories and great love sustain them.

The good news is that they had decades to make wonderful memories – and Queen Elizabeth was remarkably healthy right up to very near the end. The bad news is that everyone had so long to form those bonds that have been snapped. Great love equates to great grief – and these people, all of them, are clearly in mourning.

Funeral Service

Queen Elizabeth’s funeral will take place Monday, September 19th in Westminster Abbey, the same location where she was crowned in 1953. She will be interred in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, beside Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years who died in 2021, and her parents. Her funeral service commences at 11 AM UK time and will be broadcast live on probably every news channel imaginable if you care to join me in watching what will assuredly be a memorial like no other. The doors open at 8 AM, so if you’re one of the dignitaries attending in person, don’t forget your invitation, and don’t be late! 😊

At 11:44 AM, sharp, the Queen’s coffin will be moved from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, an 8-minute trip, with King Charles III leading the Royal family as they walk behind, escorting their beloved mother and grandmother, a woman who just happened to also be their revered Queen, one last time.

The funeral service will be followed by two minutes of silence at noon. Details can be found here.

History is literally being made with the first funeral of a ruling British Monarch to be televised. I hope you’ll watch. After all, Queen Elizabeth is probably your cousin too.


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Elizabeth (c1767-1838), Andrew McKee’s Incredible Widow – 52 Ancestors #373

Elizabeth was Andrew McKee’s wife, but who was she? What do we know about her?

I can tell you one thing after researching the details of her life and fleshing out as much as possible – that woman was made of absolute grit! I would love to sit down for a few days and talk to her about her life and what was going on around her. I know, I just know that there’s an untold story here. I can smell it, but I can’t find it.

Amazingly, we didn’t even know Elizabeth’s name until her husband died.

Everything we know about Elizabeth’s early life, we know through Andrew and her children.

Given that Elizabeth’s youngest child was born in either 1810 or shortly thereafter, and if we estimate that she was 43 years old at the time, we can reasonably establish her birth about 1767. Of course, she could have been anyplace from 40-45, so born between 1765-1770.

Based on this, it makes sense that Elizabeth would have been marrying about 1788. She would have been about 21 years old.

Why 1788?

Andrew McKee, her husband, had land surveyed on October 5, 1789. Now this could mean a couple of things.

Andrew could have already been living on this property, leasing, and decided that, indeed, he did want to purchase the patent option, have it surveyed, and settle here permanently.

He did, in fact, settle there permanently. The home he brought his bride home to is the only home they ever had. The only one either of them lived in.

In fact, it still stands – as amazing as that sounds. How cool is this?!!

The home is listed as having been built in 1765, so, it’s possible that Andrew didn’t just obtain a hill with a forest that had to be cleared, but land with a home. Yes, the surrounding land was probably mostly uncleared. I’m not convinced that this house was built in 1765, but it’s certainly the home where Andrew and Elizabeth lived. There’s no question about that.

It’s unlikely that Andrew, as a single man, purchased this land. It’s possible of course.

Marriage records for Washington County do exist, but they seem to be only partially complete, and there is nothing for this timeframe for Andrew and Elizabeth.

Where Was Andrew Before 1789?

That’s a good question.

The early Washington County records, including the tax lists beginning in 1782 don’t show any McKee men, except for one Elias Mackey in 1784. He lives 9 houses from John Kelly, who became Andrew McKee’s neighbor in 1789 when his land was surveyed. John Kelly is in the county as early as 1782 and possibly earlier, along with the Robinsons and lots of Edmistons (Edmondson) – families that would be Andrew’s neighbors his entire adult life.

In 1785 and 1786, there are no McKee or Mackey men in the county.

Andrew McKee apparently wasn’t in Washington County prior to 1787 when he first appears on the tax list. Either that or he was too young to be taxed, or on someone else’s list. On the 1787 tax list, he’s 21 or over, but he has no property at all, not even a horse. His birth year was 1766 or earlier.

If he was living with someone else in 1787, he was taxed on his own and not on their list.

Unfortunately, the 1787 tax list is recorded in letter order, not tax or house order. Andrew McKee is listed as the person chargeable and the white male above 21 – no blacks, no horses, no cattle, no stud horses – nothing else.

Andrew had to come from someplace. Did he come with other McKee men?

The 1788 property and land tax list is, unfortunately, in alpha order, but shows several people of interest.

  • May 21 – John Mackey 1 – – – 3
  • July 26 – Samuel Mackey 1
  • Sept 10 – Alexander Mecke (I believe this is Meek or Meeks from later lists) 1 – 1 2
  • Sept 19 – Andrew McKee 1
  • October 5 – Thomas McKee 1

Those last two are definitely McKee, but apparently, Thomas moved on. They were not visited on the same day, or even close, so they may be entirely disconnected.

All these men have one tithable, which means they are living in their own households and only have one white male, age 21 or over, no horses (except John) and no blacks.

Thomas’s name was definitely McKee, but he is never found again.

Andrew may have arrived by himself on the frontier. If those other men in 1788 were family, they moved on. Elias did serve in the Revolutionary War from Washington and Montgomery Counties, but he moved on too. Andrew named none of his boys any of these names except Alexander, and that’s the name I’m fairly certain is actually Meek or Meeks.


In 1787 and 1788, Andrew was probably calling on Elizabeth, maybe picking wildflowers along the way, Queen Anne’s Lace and Daisies perhaps, and tying them into a bouquet, trying to win her heart.

Maybe Elizabeth is the reason why Andrew didn’t move on with those other McKee men.

Given that he didn’t have a horse on the 1787 tax list, we know Andrew was walking or, if lucky, maybe riding a mule. Maybe 1787 is when they married, which is why he’s on the tax list.

Maybe Andrew proposed as soon as he could afford a horse. Or maybe his father-in-law-to-be took pity on young Andrew and sold him an old nag real cheap!

Ahhh, young love.

If Andrew and Elizabeth were married in 1788, or thereabouts, then they would have been married in the Ebbing Springs Church that no longer exists. It wasn’t located too far away. In fact, people in a Facebook group for Washington County, VA say they can remember walking from the land that John Kelly owned, across Price’s Bridge spanning the Holston River to the cemetery where the old church used to be. Of course, back when Andrew lived there, no bridges existed, and the river would have either been waded, forded on horseback, or in a wagon when (if) the water was low enough.

Of course, it’s also possible that Andrew married Elizabeth elsewhere, and they came with her family.

Andrew’s not on the land or personal tax list in 1789, but then his district could be missing.

On August 18, 1790, Andrew McKee had 1 tax levy, himself, and one horse/mare, no blacks or any stud horses or anything else.

At least he’s been able to save up enough for a horse.

Given that Elizabeth probably would have been too young to marry before 1787, it’s likely that Andrew married a local gal and settled down near her parents. Maybe even beside her parents.

Hmmm, who are the neighbors?


Andrew’s immediate neighbors, whose land borders his, are:

  • John Kelley (Kelly)’s land was surveyed in 1782
  • Samuel Kithcart had his land surveyed in 1782
  • Jacob Halfacre whose land was surveyed in 1783 and acquired the Dozer survey
  • James Thompson’s 2600 aces was surveyed in 1746 and some also in 1794

Near neighbors include

  • John Starnes who settled in 1774
  • Aaron Lewis whose land was surveyed in 1785
  • John Kirk who settled in 1772, but whose land wasn’t surveyed until 1783
  • David Craig whose land wasn’t surveyed until 1801
  • Nathaniel McClure settled in 1770 and his land was surveyed in 1785
  • Henry Oakwood settled in 1773 and his land was surveyed in 1784
  • Jonathan Cunningham settled in 1775 by George Hice and had lis land surveyed in 1782
  • Abraham Lefever settled in 1774 and had his land surveyed in 1785, also another trace surveyed in 1784
  • Adam Morrow settled n 773 and had his land surveyed in 1784
  • Joseph Cole settled in 1771 and had his land surveyed in 1782
  • Philip Grever settled in 1773 and had his land surveyed in 1782
  • John Bowles settled in 1773 and had his land surveyed in 1784
  • Thomas Edmundson had two tracts of land surveyed in 1783
  • Jonathan Cortney has his land surveyed in 1798
  • Patrick Watson’s land was surveyed in 1783
  • James Robinson’s land was surveyed in 1783
  • David and Samuel Robinson had land surveyed in 1785 and David in 1796

Jeffrey La Favre mapped these early land grants, here, and discovered that there’s n marker in the David Robinson 1796 survey that refers to a corner with Andrew McKee. I’ve drawn that with a green arrow. (It’s also worth noting that point is very close to the old McKee cemetery.)

The problem is that Andrew McKee’s land is shown in yellow, at the top. What gives?

We know from Andrew’s 1805 will that he had “two plantations,” adjoined.

Jeffrey also discovered that Samuel Kithcart sold 192 acres to Andrew McKee in 1791.

Samuel Killhart [Kithcart] sells to Andrew W. Kee [McKee] 192 acres on the Middle and South Forks of the Holston River. Washington Co., VA Record of Deeds 1, p. 226. David Robinson’s 100-acre tract surveyed 27 June 1796, lists Andrew McKee as owner of adjoining land, which on the map below is Samuel Kithcart’s 191 acre tract. Actually, due to problems in fitting the tracts on the map, Robinson’s tract does not adjoin Kithcart’s tract, although the survey descriptions indicate that they do adjoin.

Now we know that Andrew McKee bought Kithcart’s land. Was that an arm’s length transaction, or had Andrew married Kithcart’s daughter?

The land transaction was for 105 pounds and lay between the middle and south fork of the Holston. The original survey referenced James Dozer and Zachariah Wolsey, whose land Andrew McKee patented originally. It mentions John Kelley’s line along with Thomas Edmondson and Adam Morrow.

The deed was proven in court on August 16, 1791, where Elizabeth Kincart, his wife, relinquished her right of dower. Unfortunately, the name Elizabeth is very common, so we can’t really draw any inferences from that.

The following deed registered in the deed book was another sale transaction from Samuel Kithcart to Samuel Eakin, also for 110 pounds of Virginia money, so indeed it does sound like Kithcart was selling out and leaving.

I was so hoping that Kithcart had sold his land to Andrew at a low price, a lower price than normal, which might have suggested that Andrew was his son-in-law, but no such luck.

Or maybe, Elizabeth was John Kelly’s daughter?

Of course, maybe neither, but you have to be close enough to court a gal before you can ask her father for her hand in marriage and then propose to her.

Did Samuel Kithcart, who had been settled there since at least 1782, sell out and move on a decade later? Where did he go, and more importantly, perhaps, did he leave a will?

The Beginning of the Family

We know that Andrew and Elizabeth’s children started arriving not long after their presumed marriage about 1788.

For example, we know that son James McKee was born on January 12 of 1791, but he may not have been their first child. In fact, I’m fairly certain that he wasn’t.

How I wish the 1790 census existed. Although, James McKee, on his War of 1812 bounty land requisition, says he was drafted and that on April 23rd, 1852, he was 59 years old, which places his birth in 1793, not 1791.

His tombstone provides his birth, by subtraction, as December 22, 1790, as does the Washington County, VA death register. The book, High on a Windy Hill provides the location of James’s grave as the McKee Cemetery. This would have been on the land he owned, originally owned by his father, and may very well be where Andrew, Elizabeth, and his siblings are buried as well.

I wrote about the McKee Cemetery, here, including the location.

Daughter Sally McKee was probably their firstborn child, maybe in 1788 or 1789. She married Robert Larimer in December of 1810.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that I compiled a large spreadsheet involving every record for Andrew’s children that I could find that would even hint at their age. I’ve used the various columns to hone in on the most likely birth years I’ll be publishing the information about their children in birth order. The spreadsheet includes:

  • Andrew’s 1805 will – list of his children
  • 1810 census
  • Marriage date
  • Andrew’s 1814 estate sale purchasers
  • Tax list appearance date
  • Guardianship date
  • 1820 census
  • 1830 census
  • Elizabeth’s estate purchasers
  • Margaret’s estate purchasers
  • Spouse’s estates
  • 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870 census
  • Death information
  • Their children’s birth information
  • Military records
  • Other resources

James was probably the oldest son based on the order of children listed in Andrew’s will and also based on the fact that he served as the guardian for his minor siblings after his father’s death.

Based on this, we can presume that Elizabeth probably had Sally 18 months to 2 years earlier than James, so July of 1789, just before Andrew’s land was surveyed. Since we didn’t find Andrew on the tax list that year, was he on his father-in-law’s tax list, or did I miss the listing or was his page missing? If their child was born in July of 1789, then we might say they were married in the summer of 1788.

That makes sense, especially since we first find Andrew on the 1787 tax list.

Children Sally and James would have been baptized in the old Ebbing Springs church just a few miles away from home.

We don’t have all the tax lists, but by 1790, according to that year’s tax list, Andrew had obtained a horse. Thank goodness!

On May 21 of 1791, Andrew had 5 horses, and 4 in 1792.

Their family kept growing, year by year.

I suspect their son William McKee was born about 1792 or 1793, especially if James actually was born in January of 1791, which I suspect is accurate. That date comes from his War of 1812 pension application.

William McKee, Merchant of Abingdon

I’m going to take a minute here to dispel some misinformation. We know, based on Andrew McKee’s will that William was born before March 24, 1805, but we don’t know when, exactly. We also know that William is listed as the second son in the will, which means that William could NOT have been born before 1791. If Elizabeth and Andrew were married about 1788, William would not have been older than 16, at the oldest, when his father wrote his will in 1805.

There is a William McKee and Company who is granted a merchant’s license in Abingdon, 8 or 9 miles away, in 1803, two years before Andrew wrote his will.

It’s almost impossible that this William, who would have been at least 21 AND had the money for inventory, is Andrew’s son, William.

Because of the same name, but without thorough evaluation, it has been assumed (there’s that word) over the years that William of Abingdon is William, Andrew’s son. Plus, William of Abingdon has a grave marker, so he’s easy to find. However, notice that one of his children, Julia Ann, died in New York in 1826 at age 13. New York???

As it turns out, William McKee of Abingdon married one Phebe Ogden of New York.

He has ties to New York and a home in Richmond. William is a wealthy merchant with a store that carries silks and upscale items. He also owns a tanyard, and in all of his business dealings, not one person is a familiar person or surname associated with Andrew McKee’s group in the northern part of the county. I can’t help but wonder, though, if Y DNA were involved if those two lines descend from the same line back overseas. William McKee is also a Presbyterian based on the location of his grave marker, in the Sinking Spring Cemetery.

William McKee’s will was probated on May 27, 1833, and dated October 29, 1832. William estimated that his estate was worth a quarter million dollars, back then, and mentioned his nephew, Thomas Wallace.

He lists several underage children, including son William Carlton McKee who he suggests be placed in a dry goods store in NY after his education. Also, children Mary Elizabeth McKee, Adeline Taylor McKee, Sarah Ann Helms McKee, and Henry Ogden McKee. Elias Ogden is the executor. The children’s guardian is William Fulton out of Lynchburg, and William mentions Richmond, VA. His long estate settlement can be seen here.

The New York Evening Post reported his death and referred to him as “of this city.”

Furthermore, the 1803 merchant date means that if William was 21 at that time, he would have been born in 1782 or before, which means that Elizabeth, if she were his mother, would have to have been born in 1764 to have a child as late as 1810. This isn’t impossible, but we have an entire group of improbable things that would all have had to occur in series.

The William McKee, merchant, in Abingdon, is NOT the son of Andrew and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s Son, William

I don’t know what happened to Andrew and Elizabeth’s son William, but perhaps tax lists and other records can help us sort through what might have happened to William, and when. As it stands, we only know that he was alive in 1805 and seems to be in 1810.

Ebbing Springs Church

Something else happened in 1792 that would have reverberated through the community. I’m guessing that opinions were split about this rather dramatic change.

Andrew and Elizabeth would have been attending church at the Ebbing Springs Presbyterian Church. That alone tells us that Andrew and Elizabeth were probably Scots-Irish. We know that Andrew was, but we don’t know about Elizabeth. Given that these were the only churches in the region, and the majority of the settlers were Scots-Irish, I’d say it’s a good bet.

For some reason, in 1792, the congregation abandoned the Ebbing Springs site and moved to Glade Springs, about three miles away. Without knowing why the move was made, it’s hard to gauge how church members might have felt. If Elizabeth was a local gal, which I suspect she was, then she likely had family members buried in the graveyard beside the Ebbing Springs church.

This 1950 aerial view of the remnants of the buildings where the original Ebbing Springs Church and cemetery were located, circled in red, showing the proximity to what I believe is the Ebbing Spring, itself, at the red arrows. The Holston River is the dark meandering line.

Here’s the same location on Google Maps today.

Andrew and Elizabeth lived at the star in the upper right. Andrew owned about 250 acres to the west of Friendship Road, between the Holston and the road, and John Kelly owned most of the rest south to Kelly Chapel Road.

Ebbing Springs Church was about two miles as the crow flies, and maybe five as the wagon traveled.

The original Ebbing Springs Church was established on Capt. James Thompson’s land back when Fort Kilmachronan existed, before Washington County was even established in 1776 from Fincastle County.

You can view photos of some of the original gravestones, here.

Charlie Barnette posted an entire public album of Ebbing Springs photos in the Historical Society of Washington County, VA Facebook group, here. The original James Thompson survey can be seen, here with the Ebbing Springs land in the very lower left corner, where you can see dotted lines showing the old wagon road that ran alongside the river to the church.

Ebbing Spring itself, which would have provided water for Elizabeth and the other churchgoers, as well as the baptismal font, can be seen, here.

These stones mark all that is left of the chimney of those log cabins that were still standing in the 1950s and 1960s, with a remembrance stone placed by Glade Springs marking the cemetery, in the distance near the river on the right.

Of course, a new cemetery was begun at Glade Springs Church, about 3 miles further away. It’s unclear what happened to the old Ebbing Springs Church, but the gravestones were pushed into the river sometime in the 1900s, except for one. The current owner has fenced the cemetery area to prevent further desecration, and the Glade Springs Church erected a monument in the field, seen in the distance at right in the above photo.

One local person says they grew up on the old John Kelly land, and they remember walking from Price’s Bridge up to the old cemetery when they were a kid.

We do know that John Kelly, who died in 1834, stipulated in his will that he was to be buried by his wife in the Ebbing Springs cemetery, so it was still in use at least occasionally then.

The new church, Glade Springs, was another 3-ish miles distant.

Did Andrew and Elizabeth make that 7-mile trip, one way, every Sunday? Somehow, I doubt this. Especially not with young or newborn children, and Elizabeth was either pregnant or had a young baby for more than two decades of her life.

Was another child born, and lost, about 1793 or 1794, or maybe both? Were those babies buried here?

The McKee Homestead

Andrew McKee was a farmer, and a distiller based on the still sold in his estate sale. While no one was wealthy in the country, he also wasn’t poor. Their home was not a small 8×10 or 10×12 one-room log cabin, and Andrew owned more than one horse.

On April 16th, Andrew had four horses on the 1793 tax list, enough for a team to pull a wagon or even two. In 1794 and 1796, he had 7 horses and probably 3 were colts. The 1795 list was illegible.

A third son, Edward McKee, was born about 1795. He married Mary Hand in 1818.

Elizabeth spent her days cooking in this fireplace where the family gathered ’round the hearth on cold winter days.

Soup or beans would have been simmered in the kettle on the pothook almost all the time in the days before refrigeration.

Elizabeth would have stirred these embers thousands of times in her life. Andrew would have chopped and split wood to be brought inside to keep the fire burning, and carried ashes out in the ash bucket.

Elizabeth had to be careful to keep the children away from the fire, of course.

The next child, Andrew McKee, named after her husband, arrived about 1797, making me wonder if James and William were named after his and her fathers, respectively.

That made four boys and one girl.

Life was humming along quite nicely in the McKee homestead within sight of the Middle Fork of the Holston River.

Andrew and Elizabeth were back to their 4 horses in 1797 and 1798, which suggests they might have been breeding horses and selling the colts.

A new baby joined the household every 18 months or so. It would have been a relief when the oldest child could begin to help watch the younger ones.

The 1799 tax list showed Andrew’s land split into two entries, one for 150 acres which is the original plat where the three horses were listed, and a second entry for 192 acres for the second “plantation,” as he called it. Plantation did not mean what it meant further south. Neither Andrew nor his children enslaved others.

Mary McKee joined the family in 1799, according to her death record on December 17, 1855, when she died of consumption at age 56. She married John Larimer in January of 1820 and lived the longest of the children who stayed in Washington County, and the second longest of all of Elizabeth’s children.

Ann McKee, my ancestor, was probably born between 1799 and 1801, but no later than 1804, based on multiple census records. Considering the dates on all of them, the most likely birth year was 1800. She married Charles Speak in February of 1823. For some reason, when her sisters were being assigned guardians in 1822, she was not, which lends credibility to the 1800 birth date.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the 1800 census either, but the tax list shows Andrew with 4 horses in 1800, 6 in 1801, and 7 again in 1802.

By 1800, his oldest sons, James and William, would have been maybe 8 and 10, old enough to ride horses and certainly to help at the barn and in the fields.

Daughter Charity McKee was born sometime between 1801 and March of 1805. Charity was a minor in June of 1818 when a guardian was appointed. She married William Griever in May of 1823.

Daughter Jane McKee was born after 1801 and probably in 1802 or 1803 based on the fact that she was a minor in January of 1822 and married about 1823.

Elizabeth McKee, named in her father’s will, also called Eliza in other records, was born probably in 1803 or 1804, but before March 1805 when Andrew wrote his will. She was a minor in January of 1822 and married Eleazer Rouse in January of 1823

In the spring of 1803 and 1804, Andrew had 8 horses.

Something Happened in March of 1805

Something bad happened in March of 1805 – so severe that whatever it was caused Andrew McKee to write his will at about 40 years of age. We don’t know what, but he was obviously either very ill or badly injured. Elizabeth must have been terrified. She was either pregnant, or had a babe in arms, and probably both.

Story of her life. Her oldest child, Sally, was probably 15 or 16, so at least able to help reliably in the house and with food preparation. Her next four older children were boys and could help in the barn and at least tend the stock.

It’s thanks to Andrew’s will that we discover Elizabeth’s name, and he refers to their children and names them, first the boys, then the girls, in what appears to be birth order.

Andrew pulled through, survived, and was well enough to father at least three additional children.

On April 5, 1805, Andrew had 10 horses on the tax list, so during his illness, someone had to look after the horses and his other livestock. Not to mention, March and April are plowing time, getting ready to plant. Who helped him?

Tax Lists

Given that I was already reading more than 3000 unindexed tax record pages, one by one, spanning nearly 60 years (yes, you read that right), I was also keeping an eye on William McKee in Abingdon, just in case there would be something to tie him to Andrew. Sometimes you find amazing and unexpected tidbits.

Normally, William in Abingdon had one horse, or none, but paid a hefty tax for one and sometimes two stores, plus eventually, a tanyard.

In 1806, Andrew had 8 horses, then 7 in 1807. 1808 is missing.

Tithables Tell Tales

In 1809, Andrew is taxed with two tithables for the first time, plus 9 horses. This complicates things a bit. To begin with, we don’t know if white male tithables are taxed at age 16 or 21 that year. Based on what I know of other years in Virginia records, and Washington County later, white males 16 and over are taxed because they could work productively. This additional tithe would be James which would put his birth year at 1793. However, remember that 1808 was missing. If he were on that tax list, that puts his birth year at 1792, which is at least more in line with other records.

The next year, in 1810, Andrew had two tithables and 5 horses.

Finally, a Census – 1810

Between 1805 and the first extant census, in 1810, Elizabeth had two more girls and a boy not listed in Andrew’s will.

Based on the fact that they had 10 children in 1805, and 13 in 1810, we can infer that Elizabeth had a child every 19 months or so from 1788 through 1804. That’s just about exactly how often one would expect if every child lived, which would have been very unusual.

If a child died at birth, the mother had another baby about a year later, so we have no way of knowing if Elizabeth lost a child or two – but we do know that the majority of her children lived.

Daughter Rebecca McKee was born sometime between 1805 and 1809, probably about 1808, based on what little we know about her children.

Another daughter, Margaret McKee, only discovered this past week, was born after March of 1805 and before the 1810 census. More on her rather amazing story in a few minutes!

A male child was born after Andrew’s 1805 will and the 1810 census. That could be Alexander McKee, but I’m not convinced. I think he was born later, and the child in the 1810 census died.

But before we discuss that, let’s look at what else happened in 1810.

Sally McKee and Robert Larimer

On December 6th, just a few weeks before Christmas in 1810, Elizabeth’s first child, Sally, married Robert Larimer. Sally’s first child and Elizabeth’s last child were the same age. In fact, it’s possible that Elizabeth’s last child was younger than Sally’s first child. They would not be the first mother-daughter pair giving birth at the same time.

Sally McKee and Robert Larimer had many children before Sally’s death sometime after 1840. Robert married Rachel Debusk in July of 1847. Rachel was 18 years younger than his oldest child with Sally.

  • Rebecca Larimer 1811-1841
  • Andrew J. Larimer 1812-1849
  • William Larimer 1814-1879
  • John Larimer 1815/1818-1859
  • Mary Jane Larimer c 1817-1855
  • Female born 1810-1820 (1840 census)
  • James Larimer 1819-1890
  • Robert Eakins Larimer 1822-1882
  • Andrew Edmondson Larimer c 1824-1908
  • Isaac Larimer 1828-1856 (was living with James McKee, his uncle, in 1850)
  • Samuel M. Larimer 1831-1875
  • Emmett B. Larimer 1832-1877

It appears that Sally and Robert lost at least three children, the daughter born between 1810 and 1820, one in 1826 and another in 1830.

William’s Death

In 1811, Andrew McKee has three tithables, plus 4 horses which means the second son has turned 16. Based on this, second son William’s birth year would be 1795. However, this does not add up for William’s birth year – but is almost exactly Edward’s birth year of 1795.

Given this, I think that William probably died in either 1810 after the census, or early 1811 before the tax list.

Is that 1810 Male Child Alexander?

The last child was Alexander, probably after the 1810 census. He never married, and thanks to him mentioning his sisters and their children in his 1839 will, we know that Rebecca existed.

However, there’s something interesting about Alexander. We know that Elizabeth and Andrew have a boy in the 1810 census, and also a boy under 10 in the 1820 census. It’s probable that these are two different boys. To be Alexander, the boy on the census would have to have been born in 1810 before the census, because in 1820, he’s in the under-10 category, and in 1830, in the 15-19 group, which would mean he was born 1811-1815. Of course, we know that census ages can be fluid. So, I’d say Alexander was born about 1811, but this also means that Elizabeth lost another child – the boy on the 1810 census.

If Elizabeth was 21 when she married in 1788, she would have been 43 in 1810. Of course, she could have been a couple of years younger when she married.

All I can think of is how bone-tired that woman would have been.

Maybe after Alexander’s birth, Elizabeth thought perhaps she would have a few years of relative peace and quiet, meaning no new babies arriving. Well, she was wrong about the peace and quiet part. She had no idea what was up ahead.

In 1812 and 1813, Andrew still has three tithables, meaning himself, James, and Edward, with 6 and 5 horses, respectively.

The tax list shows that there is one carriage, not to be confused with a wagon, in the entire county, plus two “riding chairs.”

Return From the War of 1812

In 1813, James McKee, Elizabeth’s eldest son, then about 21 years old, would march away to war.

He enlisted to serve in the War of 1812 in August of 1813, served at Fort Norfolk, Virginia, and was discharged on March 10, 1814.

He was allowed 24 days for travel home, 480 miles to Washington County, VA from Fort Norfolk, which means about 20 miles a day, hopefully on a horse and not on foot. However, I’d bet he was walking, because horses were expensive commodities and my ancestors who served in that war all walked, including Nicholas Speaks who also served from Washington County. In fact, that connection may be how James McKee’s sister, Ann, met her future husband, Nicholas Speak’s son, Charles, but I digress.

James, according to his enlistment, had dark hair and blue eyes.

James would have arrived home in the first week of April. He might, just might, have been in time.

Andrew Dies

Andrew McKee’s will was probated on June 21, 1814. Andrew would have died sometime in the 90 days prior.

Andrew’s death was probably sudden, and probably a shock, given that he never updated his will.

If Elizabeth turned 43 or so when her last child was born in 1810, in 1814, she would have been roughly 47. Perhaps as young as 45 or as old as 50. Andrew was about the same age, maybe slightly older.

Regardless, she had a three or four-year-old child and stair-step children, with at least 11 children still at home.

Andrew’s will was probated in court on June 21, 1814, with both Samuel Kelly and John Kelly Jr. serving as executors, just as they had been instructed back in 1805. The men who had signed as witnesses to Andrew’s 1805 will were Andrew Edmiston, John Todd, and Andrew E. Kelly. The Kelly men were all sons of John Kelly Sr., Andrew’s original neighbor.

Three Kelly men are involved, two as executors with no bond required. That’s exactly what one would expect to see of close family members or very close friends. I suspect the answer to who was helping Andrew McKee back in 1805 was John Kelly and probably his sons, who were somewhat older than Andrew’s children.

Andrew Jr.

The 1814 tax list confirms an approximate birth year for Andrew Jr.

Unfortunately, the 1814 tax list is not dated. Dates range from February through late April. Andrew McKee is still listed with 2 tithes. He would be gone, although the farm would still be in his name. James wouldn’t be listed either because he was in the military, so these two tithes would be Edward and Andrew, which places Andrew’s birth year about 1798, which is about right.

Andrew’s Will

Like with every widow in that time, the terms of Andrew’s will dictated the rest of Elizabeth’s life, unless she chose to remarry, of course.

Andrew left his two plantations to the four boys who were living in 1805.

Elizabeth can stay in the “dwelling house” so long as she doesn’t remarry. She has the right to one-third of the money from the sale of Andrew’s personal property. Of course, everything is Andrew’s personal property except for Elizabeth’s clothes.

Elizabeth can keep as many children with her as she wants, but the executors are to bind out the rest of them to learn a trade. Generally, that only means males unless the children are literally starving.

The executors are to rent out the plantations to provide income and support for Elizabeth and the children.

The balance of his money, except for Elizabeth’s third, is to go to his six daughters, plus the sons are to pay the daughters $200.

Of course, by the time Andrew died, one of his original sons had died, and he had a new one – at least one. He also had eight daughters instead of six.

Life is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans

Elizabeth’s life came unraveled at that point. Thank God her son James was back home, because she really, really needed his help on the two plantations.

I’m actually very surprised that Elizabeth didn’t remarry. That was certainly the custom of the time, especially for widows with young children. Of her 13 children, 11 were still at home, and Alexander was 3 or 4.

Elizabeth’s older sons were adults. In 1814, James was 23, William was gone of course, Edward was about 19, and Edward was about 17.

My guess, and that’s what it is at this point, but it’s logical, is that everyone stayed put in the homeplace, and James simply took over the daily chores and running the farm.

In fact, that’s what the 1815 tax list tells us.

Elizabeth has 2 tithes (Edward and Andrew), 3 horses, 5 cows, and 1 chest of drawers. More personal property is being taxed that year.

James McKee also has 1 tithable, 3 horses, and 5 cows.

By comparison, William McKee, the merchant in Abingdon has 12 rush bottom chairs, 1 side board, 2 looking glasses, 4 plates, 5 cut goblets, 3 tumblers, 1 bowl and several other things. Yes, he’s doing VERY well. He has a new business partner and is paying for 2 stores.

Andrew’s Estate Sale

The difficult part for Elizabeth was going to be the estate sale. Everything had to be sold. How was James, or any of the sons, supposed to farm without Andrew’s farm tools?

Yet the estate sale had to take place.

Other than Elizabeth, James bought the most, including a saddle and bridle, a bull, a heifer, 2 steers, a black mare, and a grindstone.

Andrew, who was 18 or so by the time the sale took place, bought a saddle and bridle too, along with some farming equipment, a black horse, and a sorrel colt. He was obviously planning to farm.

That left Elizabeth. Poor Elizabeth.

She would have had the right to one-third of the proceeds of the sale, including the money she spent, herself.

I’m hoping they allowed her to just run a “credit,” and subtracted the money for what she wanted from the total. I can’t even imagine having to purchase my own items from my “husband’s” estate.

To care for herself and all of her children, she purchased:

  • 1 bedstead, bed and furniture
  • 1 small and 1 large bedstead and bed
  • 1 bed
  • 1 chest of drawers
  • 2 spinning wheels
  • 1 table
  • 6 old chairs
  • cupboard and furniture
  • 1 counting reel
  • 3 old keggs
  • 1 bag
  • 2 baskets
  • 2 lines
  • 1 loom
  • 1 hackle
  • 2 pair cards
  • Flat iron
  • 1 large kettle
  • 2 churns
  • 1 small pot
  • 1 pot
  • 1 oven
  • 1 pail and washtub
  • 2 pot racks
  • 4 cows
  • 1 grey mare
  • 6 sheep

It’s evident that the cows were for milk, as evidenced by the churns to make butter. The sheep would have been for wool, as evidenced by the spinning wheel to spin the wool into strands which can be carded and woven on the loom.

I was curious about the hackle which is a type of comb used to clean wool and flax before spinning.

The counting reel is used to wrap yarn before producing shanks of yarn.

The cards were to card and comb the wool.

Elizabeth was very clearly a weaver. You can watch a video of a woman reenact weaving from this timeframe, here and here. Notice the basket hung on the loom. Women used baskets and bags for everything from gathering produce from the garden and eggs from the chickens to holding wool.

Today, the bedroom in the McKee home retains the spinning wheel, probably where Elizabeth’s sat all those years ago. The only difference would have been a candle instead of a lamp, and no fan, of course. I wonder if the loom was here too, or maybe in front of the second hearth.

Elizabeth spent a total $85.56 buying her property back. Everything else was sold, including pots, ovens, skillets, and kettles. Some went to her children, James and Andrew McKee. Her son-in-law, Robert Larimer, spelled Larrymore, bought 17 geese and 4 sheep. I bet her daughter, Sally, was a weaver too.

John Larimer, who was not yet her son-in-law, bought Andrew’s still, the single most expensive item at the sale. I guess the still left the family, then eventually married back in a few years later!

The total sale brought $671.69, which means Elizabeth was entitled to $223.90. She bought $85.56 worth of goods, so she would have been due $138.34.

The final sale document was filed with the court on February 20, 1816. The sale had taken place the previous August.

James McKee and Sally Roe

According to James McKee’s widow, Sarah (Sally) Roe’s pension application, she states that they were married by the Baptist preacher on January 4, 1816. James was clearly buying equipment at his father’s estate sale with the intention of marrying and starting a family.

James and Sarah would have:

  • Nancy McKee 1817-1875
  • Mary Ann McKee 1820-1897
  • Andrew J. McKee 1822-1862
  • John R. McKee 1826-1863
  • Eliza J. McKee 1827-1911
  • Rebecca McKee 1830-1907
  • Madison McKee 1831-1855
  • William B. McKee 1832-1902 who died in Smyth Co., VA
  • Margaret L. McKee 1835-1875
  • Sarah J. McKee 1838-1915, who died in California
  • Joanna McKee 1841-1898, who died in Exeter, California
  • James A. McKee 1842-1918, who died in Parsons, Kansas

It looks like they may have lost children born in 1819, presumably the boy in the 1820 census, 1824, maybe 1829, maybe 1834, 1837, and maybe 1839. Elizabeth would have been alive for all of these deaths except the last one.

Elizabeth lived beside James until her death, so she would have been close to these children.

Andrew McKee and Nancy Roe

Just two months later, on March 17, 1816, Andrew McKee married Nancy Roe, possibly Sally’s sister. They had two children, in 1817 and 1819, before Nancy died between 1820 and 1822.

Spreading Wings

Fortunately, Elizabeth’s children had begun to marry – but unfortunately, of course, it was the eldest who were the ablest to help.

1816 seems to be the year that several children spread their wings and set out on their own. Of course, the boys had their father’s property and the money from the sale. They settled on the same land as Elizabeth, or nearby. James likely took the neighboring plantation. Maybe the other boys built houses on some of the land, creating their own little “McKee Village.”

The 1816 tax list shows:

  • James McKee 1 – 3 – 54 cents
  • Edward McKee 1 – 1 – 16 or 18 cents
  • Elizabeth McKee 0 – 2 horses – 30 or 36 cents
  • Andrew McKee 1 – 2 – 36 cents

It’s interesting to compare the amount of taxes with the amount various items brought at Andrew’s sale. A wheel was 30 cents, which I’m presuming is a spinning wheel. An oven was 50 cents. A pot rack was 30 cents, and a small pot was 25 cents.

For William of Abingdon, the cost of one merchant license for his mercantile store in Abingdon was $20.

In 1817, Elizabeth has no tithes, so no males 16 and over, 2 horses, and paid 30 cents tax. James, Edward, and Andrew McKee had one tithe each and 4, 1, and 2 horses, respectively.

What Happened in 1818?

Something is going on in 1818. I wonder if Elizabeth, by then 51 or so with 8 children at home, became ill. She’s missing on the tax list. She would only be listed for her personal property, at least until Alexander reached age 16, but she’s absent entirely, meaning she had no horses either. All 3 of her adult sons are listed with 8 horses between them.

On June 16, 1818 — John Clark was named guardian of Charity McKee, orphan of Andrew McKee, deceased.

Charity was probably the oldest child at home who was not of age, but she wasn’t the oldest at home. Ann and Mary were both still living at home. Furthermore, her 5 younger siblings did not have a guardian appointed.

This is strange.

Edward McKee and Mary Hand

On December 20, 1818, Edward McKee married Mary Hand. They had a child in 1819 who died before 1830, then a child in 1820 and 1822.

  • Andrew G. McKee was born in 1824 and died in 1883 in Texas.
  • Another child was born in 1826
  • William McKee was born in 1828. In 1847, Andrew McKee was named guardian of William McKee, orphan of Edward. James McKee was the surety.
  • Another child was born in 1829.

Sadly, Edward McKee’s inventory was dated October 27, 1831. His wife was pregnant at his death. He was only 35 or 36 years old

  • Alexander B. McKee was born in 1832 and died in 1833.

In 1819, James, Edward, Andrew, and Elizabeth are still listed on the tax list. Elizabeth has no tithes, of course. James has 4 horses and is taxed 72 cents, and everyone else has one horse each and is taxed 18 cents. I wonder if Elizabeth’s horse is for riding or for plowing, or both.

Everything is the same in 1820 except Edward and Elizabeth now have 2 horses each

Interestingly, the neighbor, John Kelly is on a list of people to whom licenses were issued for merchants, hawkers and peddlers, ordinary keepers, and keepers of houses of private entertainment. I can’t help but wonder what John was up to. My guess, based on an account book a generation or so later, is that he started a country store that catered to farm families.

Mary McKee and John Larimer

On January 20, 1820, Mary McKee married John Larimer. Yes, the same John Larimer who purchased several items a few years earlier at her father’s estate sale, including his still. His first wife had died, and Mary became a stepmother to two children only slightly younger than her.

Mary and John had:

  • Jessee Larimer born in 1821
  • Andrew Larimer 1822-1895
  • William G. Larimer 1823-1896
  • Alexander W. Larimer 1827
  • Eliza Larimer 1829
  • Ann Larimer 1831
  • Nancy Larimer 1833
  • Edward F. Larimer 1835
  • Jeremiah Fulton Larimer 1836-1919
  • Catherine Larimer 1837

Looks like they lost one baby in 1825. Elizabeth would have helped her daughter with that grief.

1820 Census

The 1820 census is interesting. Unfortunately, it’s in alphabetical order, not in house order.

We find:

  • Andrew and Edward McKee, both with young families. Both are ages 16-25, both with a wife the same age, 1 son and 1 daughter, each, under 10. Both are engaged in manufacturing of some sort.
  • James McKee with a family of 5, including 1 male 26-44, 2 females under 10, 2 females 16-25, one of whom may have been his sister.
  • Elizabeth McKee with a family of 6, 1 female over 45, 2 females 16-25, 2 females 10-15, 1 male under 10.

Also, in 1820 Andrew McKee sold his share of his father’s estate to his brother, James.

Sometime between the census in 1820 and December of 1822, Andrew McKee’s wife, Nancy Roe, died. Of course, we’ll never know why. After her death, I expect her mother and Elizabeth would both have been trying to help Andrew with two babies.

I wonder if this is what caused Andrew to sell his land to James.

Nov. 11, 1820 – Andrew McKee to James McKee 8-289 – Andrews McKee Jr. of Washington Co. for $75 to James McKee “my right and title of all claims in my father’s estate.”

I don’t know where Andrew was living, or maybe he was still living in the same place, but working for his brother. Maybe he left for a while. He certainly couldn’t nurse or raise a baby and a toddler and farm by himself.

On the 1821 tax list, we find Elizabeth with 2 horses and colts, James with the same, and Edward with 1 horse, but no Andrew.

Guardian Drama

In 1822 we find Edward McKee with 1 horse, James with 5 horses, and again, no Andrew. Elizabeth is missing this year too.

The events in January 1822 might provide a clue about Elizabeth.

On January 15, 1822, James McKee was named guardian of Jane and Eliza McKee, orphans of Andrew McKee, deceased, Bond: $250. Surety: John Clark.

Is this Andrew who died in 1814, or his son, Andrew? Did son Andrew die too? As it turns out, no, he didn’t. These are Elizabeth’s daughters, but it’s certainly unclear from this record.

In 1822, Elizabeth would have been about 55. Was she ill or unable to provide for her children? If so, then why were guardians appointed for just the older minor children left at home? Yet, there were three other minor children at home, the youngest three, with no guardian appointed.

I sure would like to know what was going on, and why.

Andrew McKee and Rachel Fisher

On December 19, 1822, Andrew McKee married Rachel Fisher. They had children in 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826, 1828, and 1830. In 1847, Andrew was appointed guardian for his brother Edward’s son. I can’t find Andrew or Rachel after that.

The 1823 tax list shows that Andrew is back again with 1 tithe and no horse, but the tax list must be incomplete because neither James nor Elizabeth are listed.

I’m so glad Andrew seems to be doing better and starting over again. Elizabeth must have heaved a huge sigh of relief.

1822 and 1823 were clearly a time of joy and weddings!

Eliza McKee and Eleazer Rouse

Eliza McKee, Elizabeth’s namesake, married Eleazer Rouse on January 23, 1823. She reportedly died after 1870 in Columbus, Bartholomew County, Indiana, but I cannot find her on the census. She and Eleazer migrated after his father, John Rouse, died in 1831. In 1835, Eleazer obtained a land grant in Indiana.

They had children:

  • Frank Rouse 1823-1823
  • Male Rouse 1824-1940
  • Eunice Rouse 1825-1825
  • Andrew J. Rouse 1826-1826
  • Mary Ann Rouse 1829-1860 died in Bartholomew County, Indiana
  • Female Rouse 1830-1840

  • John Rouse 1830-1883 was an invalid by 1877 according to his Civil War pension index card and died in Bartholomew County, Indiana. I can’t help but wonder if his eye condition is congenital or a result of an injury, and if he was allowed to serve with the condition.
  • William Rouse 1833-1886, born and died in Bartholomew County, Indiana
  • Sarah Rouse 1834-1861, born and died in Bartholomew County, Indiana

Eliza buried at least three children in Washington County before leaving for Indiana.

Eliza would have been Elizabeth’s second child to leave, taking with her 3 or 4 of Elizabeth’s grandchildren that she would never see again.

Elizabeth’s tears must have watered their hair as she hugged and kissed them goodbye one last time – committing their faces to memory forever. Would they remember her?

Ann McKee and Charles Speak

On February 27, 1823, Ann McKee married Charles Speak, son of Nicholas Speak who would found the Speaks Methodist Church in Lee County, Virginia. Ann and Charles joined him there shortly after their wedding. So far, none of Elizabeth’s children had left, except for James who went to war. But he returned.

It must have been crushing for Elizabeth to watch the wagon pull away with her daughter, headed for Lee County. I wonder how she felt about her daughter marrying a Methodist who converted from being a Presbyterian.

Of course, 114 miles today would have been a week in a wagon then, one way, or perhaps more, depending on the weather and terrain.

Elizabeth knew she would never see her daughter again, or any of Ann’s children. How her heart must have ached.

Anne’s father-in-law, Nicholas Speaks, the Methodist minister, built this tiny cabin where he raised his family. Charles and Ann probably lived in a very similar cabin on the same land. It makes the McKee house look huge by comparison.

Ann had six known children, but there must have been more, specifically in 1830, 1834, 1836, 1838, and 1840.

  • Sarah Jane Speak 1824-1888, married Andrew Callahan
  • Nicholas Speak 1825-1869, married Rachel Callahan
  • Andrew McKee Speak 1826-1900, died in Grant County, Kentucky
  • Rebecca M. Speak was born in 1827, married James Painter and died after 1867 in Kentucky
  • Charity Speak 1829-after 1880, married Adam Harvey Johnson
  • Elizabeth Ann Speaks 1832-1907, married Samuel Claxton and died in Hancock County, Tennessee

Ann’s last known child, Elizabeth Speaks, named for her grandmother, was born in 1832, in Lawrence County, Indiana, of all places. This family didn’t stay in Indiana, but returned to Lee County, Virginia before 1840. I can’t help but wonder why they reverse-migrated.

We are fortunate that pictures exist of two of Elizabeth’s grandchildren who were living in the time of the Civil War when cameras began to be used, but only for very special occasions. This is Elizabeth Ann Speaks who married Samuel Claxton, a Union soldier from Tennessee who died as the result of that War.

Both Ann McKee and Charles Speaks died sometime between 1840 and 1850. At least Elizabeth never had to receive THAT letter, but she probably did receive letters telling her that at least three of Ann’s children, in a row, had perished prior to 1840. Or maybe Ann spared her mother those messages and simply said nothing.

Not only did Elizabeth never see her daughter again, but Ann didn’t see her mother either. That must have been incredibly difficult.

Charity McKee and William Griever

The third 1823 marriage (and 4th McKee wedding in 6 months) took place on May 22, 1823, when Charity McKee married William Griever.

They had at least five children.

  • Mary Ann Griever born in 1824
  • Male child born about 1825
  • John Griever born about 1826
  • Charles Griever born about 1827
  • Female child born about 1830

Charity had died sometime before February 1837 when William remarried to Mary Wisely. Between 1838 and 1840, this family relocated to Lee County, Virginia.

In 1824 Elizabeth is on the tax list with 2 horses. Andrew has 1 tithe and no horses. How is he living without a horse? James has 2 horses, and Edward has 1.

In 1825, Elizabeth still has 2 horses, James has 3, and Edward has 2. Un oh – Andrew is missing again.

Jane McKee and Richard Jones

Jane McKee married Richard Jones sometime after 1822 when she was assigned a guardian and before 1825, based on the 1830 census. She died before her brother, Alexander, whose will mentioned her children. She and Richard had five children.

Richard Jones was dead by October 28, 1837, when his property was sold, and he was noted as deceased. Jane was gone before March of 1839.

  • Andrew McKee Jones 1824/26-1911
  • John Jones 1826/28-1864
  • Elizabeth M. Jones 1830-1905
  • Sarah Ann Jones 1836
  • Fanny R. Jones c 1838-1861

Jane lost at least three children, in 1828, 1832, and 1834. I wonder if all these McKee children are buried in the McKee Cemetery.

On March 13, 1826, Elizabeth has three horses, Edward has 1, and James has 3.

On March 1, 1827, Elizabeth has 2 horses, James has 4, Edward has 1, and Andrew has none.

Alexander McKee Turns 16

In 1828, one male tithe appears on Elizabeth’s tax list. That would be Alexander. If he is 16, that puts his birth in 1812. These years seem to be a year odd, so maybe this is the tax for the prior year. That would put his birth in 1811, which makes perfect sense. That does, however, suggest that the male under 10 in 1810 is not Alexander and subsequently died before 1820.

Rebecca McKee and William Jamison

Rebecca McKee married William Jamison sometime around 1829 or 1830 following his wife’s death. He had four children from his first marriage. Rebecca and William had two known children:

  • William Hardy Jamison 1833-1887
  • Sarah (Sallie) Jamison 1835-1837/1842

William Jamison’s estate was probated November 27, 1837. Rebecca attended her mother’s estate sale in 1838, but was gone by the time that Alexander wrote his will in March of 1839

The 1829 tax list shows tithes and horses

  • Andrew McKee 1 – – –
  • James McKee 1 – – 5
  • Elizabeth McKee 1 – – 3
  • Edward McKee 2 – – 2

The 1830 Census

The 1830 census shows us that Elizabeth is 50-59, so born between 1771 and 1780. I suspect she is older than that.

She has three children living with her. I have connected the names with the ages of the people they must be.

  • Rebecca is 20-29, so born 1801-1810
  • Margaret is 20-29, so born 1801-1810. It’s this record that confirms that the Margaret we discover a few years later fits into this family in this location.
  • Alexander is 15-19, so born 1811-1815.

In 1830, the tax man made his rounds on March 25th:

  • James McKee 1 – – 5 40 cents
  • Elizabeth McKee 1 – – 3 24 cents
  • Edward McKee 2 – – 2 16 cents
  • Andrew McKee 1 – – – no tax

Andrew never seems to do as well as Elizabeth’s other children.

Edward McKee Dies

1831 was a grief-filled year for Elizabeth. While losing a young child is difficult, losing an adult child is devastating. When a young child passes, the parent loses the possibilities and hope. Loses their sweetness and the vision of their life. But when an adult child passes, a parent loses the entirety of their life.

In this case, Elizabeth also had to watch Edward’s pregnant wife, Polly, and children suffer. Polly had given birth to 4 children, as recorded in the 1830 census, but only two of those children lived to adulthood. Polly’s grieving wasn’t over.

Edward clearly didn’t expect to die. He was only 35 or 36 years old and had 4 children under the age of 7. Things seemed to be going well. Polly was pregnant for baby number 5 who would be arriving sometime the next year.

There was no will, not even a deathbed nuncupative, or oral, will. He didn’t even have time for that. Just Edward McKee’s estate inventory, dated October 27, 1831, submitted by Polly. That tells us that Edward died in the 90 days prior, probably in the summer of 1831. Perhaps Elizabeth helped Polly make the list of their household goods to submit to the court.

Based on Edward’s inventory, he had been a shoemaker and also owned carpentry tools.

He probably lived on the land where Elizabeth lived, or the property next door. There were two farms, and Andrew had left the farms to the boys. Andrew (Jr.) had already sold his portion to his brother James. Someone had to be working the farm where Elizabeth lived.

Polly gave birth to the child sometime in 1832, and that baby died the following year, joining Edward on the other side.

Edward is present on the 1831 tax list.

  • Andrew McKee 1 – – – – –
  • Edward McKee 2 – 3
  • Elizabeth McKee 1 – 3
  • James McKee 1 – 5

The 1832 tax list reflects Edward’s death.

  • February 8 – Mrs. Polly McKee – – 1
  • March 12 – Mrs. Elizabeth McKee 1 – 2
  • James McKee 1 – 4
  • April 14 – Andrew McKee 1 – – –

Alexander Comes of Age

The 1833 tax list shows some changes.

  • James McKee 1 – 3
  • Alexander McKee 1 – 1
  • Mary McKee – – 2

Polly is still there under the name of Mary, synonymous with Polly, and she has two horses.

However, Elizabeth is absent, and now Alexander has taken her place on the tax list. This tells me that he has come of age, 21 years, so born about 1812 or maybe as early as 1811, and he is taking over the farm where Elizabeth lives. He’s no longer a tithe on his mother’s tax list, but in charge as an adult. The farm will be his, and so is the accompanying tax bill!

Elizabeth is now 67 years old and is likely very grateful for this shift.

She probably has her hands full trying to help Edward’s wife, Polly, with her babies and trying to manage that farm. I suspect that James is helping too, as is Alexander and Polly’s family, although her parents are elderly and pass away within a year or so. I can’t help but wonder if another wave of dysentery or flux is being passed among family, friends, and neighbors there on the Middle Fork of the Holston River. Death records from a few years later show this pattern.

On November 12 of 1833, Mary “Polly” Hand McKee remarried to Robert Sherwood, which was probably a relief for everyone.

They were living in Washington County in 1840, but I don’t find either of them in 1850. In 1847, Andrew McKee was named guardian of William McKee, orphan of Edward. James McKee was the surety. This might be a sad clue as to what happened to Polly and Robert.

Elizabeth’s oldest grandchild, Andrew J. Larimer, married Isabella McClure on October 26, 1833, in Smyth County, Virginia. The next generation is beginning. This must have been a joyful day!

I wonder if Elizabeth sat down at her loom and wove her first grandchild to marry a special wool comforter. I bet she did!

In 1834 Alexander had one horse, and James had 4. They had the same number as 1835, and the tax man visited one day apart, February 24 and 25.

In 1836, both were visited on February 17th, and by this time, Alexander had 2 horses.

Of course, the tax list is only a very broad brushstroke of what was actually happening within the family. Elizabeth had many grandchildren. Several were born each year, and sadly, several probably died as well. We will never know all of their names. Perhaps Elizabeth spent a lot of time helping her daughters and daughters-in-law.

The changes that happened in 1837 aren’t shown by the tax list. On March 1st, 1837, James and Alexander had the same number of horses as the year before.

That was before all Hell broke loose in the McKee family.

The 1830s Were Brutal

Something was happening in the middle and late 1830s. Or maybe it was just the grim reaper carrying his staff of Dysentery, Consumption, and Bloody Flux, raging across the countryside again.

Elizabeth’s daughter, Charity had died sometime after 1830 and before March of 1837 when William Griever remarried. My best bet would be that they lost all the children born in the 1830s, then finally Charity herself in 1835 or 1836.

James McKee lost a child in 1837.

Jane McKee’s husband, Richard Jones, died, with his estate being sold on October 28, 1837. Jane was pregnant at the time and had a baby in 1838, but Jane herself was gone before May of 1839, and the baby too, soon thereafter.

The estate of Rebecca McKee’s husband, William Jamison, was probated on November 27, 1837.

Elizabeth McKee and Margaret McKee both died in the 90 days before their estates were filed on February 26, 1838, so sometime during the winter.

Rebecca McKee Jamison died sometime between her mother’s estate sale in March of 1838 and her brother’s death in May of 1839.

Alexander McKee, a young man about 27 or 28, wrote his will on May 20, 1839 and probably died shortly thereafter. It was probated on July 22, 1839.

However, there was someone else who died in late 1837 or early 1838 that we didn’t know about before.

Another Child for Elizabeth

The fact that Elizabeth McKee never remarried served us in good stead, because it meant she owned her own personal property, and her estate was registered with the court. Maybe she swore she’d never have to purchase her own property back again.

I can only wish she had a will, but she didn’t.

Cousin Carol found and sent me the link to Elizabeth’s estate administration, but that’s not the only thing I found. Of course, to find Elizabeth’s entry, I had to read the entire page, beginning at the top.

February 26, 1838

On motion of James McKee who took the oath of an administrator…bond $500 with Robert Larrimor his security as the law directs. Granted to administer the estate of Margaret McKee decd, in due form.

Of course, James McKee is Elizabeth’s son, and Robert Larimore is her son-in-law.

Ordered that Andrew E. Kelly, Samuel Kelly, Alexander M. Robinson, and James Allen or any 3 of them sworn before a justice…to view and appraise all the personal estate of Margaret Mckee decd.



Who’s Margaret McKee?

No, no, I’m searching for Elizabeth.

There’s Elizabeth, following Margaret.

For a minute, I thought that either they had incorrectly written Elizabeth as Margaret, or Elizabeth’s name was actually Margaret, but then I realized that there were actually two nearly identical entries, scribed the same day, by the clerk, one after the other.

Who was Margaret McKee? I had to know. This question sent me into an insane rabbit hole – literally for days. Ok, maybe a couple of weeks. But when I emerged into the light of day, I knew who Margaret was, AND, far, far more about this family. That’s the information I’ve compiled, here, to write Elizabeth’s story.

What else can we discover about Margaret?

And why would her estate have been entered just ahead of Elizabeth’s?

What the heck was going on?

March 3, 1838 – Margaret’s property was inventoried, appraised, and filed on April 28th in court.

Also, on March 3rd, her estate was sold.

The proceeds were filed on April 23rd in court.

Purchaser Item Amount
Granville C. Parks 1 dun cow 11.00
William Allen 1 black cow 10.675
James C. Kelly 1 brindle heifer 5.00
Nickerson Snead 1 dun calf 4.00
Samuel Snodgrass 2 sows 4 pigs 4.60
James McKee 1 bed and furniture 20.25
Adams Helnick 1 saddle 12.00
Samuel Parmer 1 bridle 1.00
James McKee 1 set plates .77
Lucy Franklin 1 set plates .60
Lewis Smith Set cups and saucers .40
Lewis Smith Set cheny cups and saucers 1.00
Rachel Grieves 3 glasses and 1 pitcher .60
Lewis Smith 1 sugar bowl .40
Rachel Grieves 1 lot of ware 1.17
Andrew Kelly 4 bowls .40
John Ensly Pitcher 70 cents, looking glass 1.55 2.25
Rachel Grieves 1 baker and lid 1.20
Susan Calihan 1 tin bucket .57
James McKee 1 table .35
Andrew Edmondson 1 iron shovel .55
Thomas Lilley 1 wooden bowl .50
Nelly Winn 1 lot crocks .47
John Kelly 2 chairs .40
James Lilly 1 rone mare 35.00
William Griever 7 geese 1.75
Lewis Smith 1 sheet .55
Andrew Larimore 1 set knives and forks 1.25

Elizabeth’s son and son-in-law both purchased items. I’ve bolded family members making purchases, along with items in Margaret’s and Elizabeth’s estates that match items purchased by Elizabeth at Andrew’s estate, back in 1814, all those years ago.

I notice that Margaret has eating utensils, but no cooking items, like pots and kettles. I’d wager that those were all Elizabeth’s.

People apparently paid Margaret’s estate during 1838, 1839 and 1840.

Just a month earlier, Elizabeth’s own estate had been appraised and sold. You’ll notice many of the same purchasers.

Elizabeth’s Estate

On the motion of Robert Larriser (Larimer) who took the oath as administrator…bond of $500 with James McKee granted him to administer the estate of Elizabeth Mckee decd.

The same two family members as administrator and bond, just the roles are reversed.

Ordered that Andrew E. Kelly, Samuel Kelly, Alexander M. Robinson and James Allen or any 3 of them sworn before a justice…to view and appraise all the personal estate of Elizabeth McKee decd.

Item Appraised $ Purchaser Purchase $
Lot of chairs (5) 1.25 James Houston 1.50
2 pots 1.00
Oven and griddle .25 Arthur Speer (oven) .45
Table 1.00 Miss Franklin .55
1 dresser 1.00 James Lilley .55
2 pales .375 Andrew Larrimer .69
lot of old lumber 1.00 John Robinson .40
1 case (chest?) of drawers 6.00 Robert Larimer 6.90
2 bags .25 Thomas Palmer 1.05
1 loom 4.00 Robert Larimer 3.30
1 reel .50 William Griever 1.00
 Hackle 1.00 Rebecca Jamison 1.25
1 lot of books .25 Sinder .50
Vinegar bag .50 Claiborne? Kelly .70
2 cans or canes .30
2 cards and wool shears N Snead .125
Smoothing iron Andrew Edmondson .50
1 pot trammeble or trammelle? .50 Claiborne Kelly .50
1 pewter dish Miss Griever .375
1 lot of old ware James Robinson .31
1 lot of old ware Miss Winn .12
2 small wheels 1.25 Andrew Edmondson .5625
1 large wheel .25 Leven Quillen .55
1 churn .25
1 lot of hogs 6.00
1 lot of sheep 2.50 Susan Callihan 5 heard sheep 3.75
1 bed and furniture 12.00 Miss Farnsworth 15.25
Lot of corn 20 cents per bushel Thomas McGee 45 cents bushel 16.615
Lot of oats 20 cents per bushel Moses Robinson 21.5 per bushel 5.3675
Lot of wheat 62.5 cents per bushel Robert Larrimer 93…5 per bushel 4.625
1 black cow 9.00 N Snead 8.50
1 lot of crocks .875 Sincler or Linder 1.45
1 lot of flax .50
1 crock of fat .30 William Griever .75
1 lot of bacon 6.25 cents per bound Daniel Troxel – 8 cents per pound 7.38
1 sifter .375 Claiborne Kelly .695
1 set plates .375 Lewis Smith .32
4 plates Lewis Smith .24
1 bed and furniture 7.00 Miss Franklin 10.125
1 bed and furniture 3.00 Mitchell Robinson 3.125
1 lot of old lumber 12.5 Robert Sherwood 1.00
2 fat hogs 10.00 Samuel Snodgrass (lot of hogs) 10.55
1 fat hot N. Sneed 5.60
1 fat hog John Tucker? 5.05
1 sow 1.00
1 lot teacups and saucers Arthur Speer .1625
1 lot knives and spoons James Surber .3
1 lot cupboard ware Arthur Speer .35
1 pot James Kelly .60
1 baker Robert Larimer Can’t read
2 pot hooks Miss Franklin .21
1 pot William Griever .135
1 kettle James Kelly .70
1 kettle James McKee 1.86
1 sheet Miss Griever .50
1 sheet Seavis? Smith .40
1 lot wheat Alfred Surber 10.57
2 reeds or reels William Griever .125
1 coffee mill Robert Larimer .0675

Robert Larrimer admin.

Signed by Andrew C. Kelly, Alexander Robinson and Samuel Kelly

Inventory and appraisement of estate of Elizabeth McKee decd returned to court and ordered to be recorded on March 27, 1838.

Several of Elizabeth’s children and their spouses purchased items. Of course, two of her daughters, Ann and Eliza had moved on. Ann was in Lee County, Virginia, and Eliza was living in Indiana.

William Griever purchased. Elizabeth’s daughter, Charity, had already died, but William was clearly still on good terms with the family. Did he bring his daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1824, so would have been 14 years old? Is that the Miss Griever who purchased a sheet and a pewter dish of her grandmothers? Be still my heart.

Elizabeth must have been beaming! From the other side, of course.

I noticed that Elizabeth had purchased six chairs from Andrew’s estate, which were now five. Or maybe one of those chairs was in Margaret’s estate.

Many of the items from Andrew’s estate were purchased by family members, probably in part for sentimental reasons.

Rebecca McKee Jamison had recently been widowed, but was still living and purchased a hackle which tells me she, like her mother, was a weaver. She, too, would be gone before March of 1839.

A settlement of the estate of Elizabeth McKee deceased was returned to court by the commissioner and ordered to be recorded on May 27, 1839.

October 28, 1839

In Elizabeth’s settlement, bills were paid to several people including one to a “girl for nursing the decd when in her last illness – $1.25.” I surely hope that girl didn’t catch whatever it was that was killing McKee family members.

Alexander McKee’s Death

The McKee family’s hell wasn’t over yet.

The tax collector gave me the first hint. Apparently, Alexander wasn’t farming anymore, and I’d wager that James had taken over.

In 1839, on March the second, James McKee has 5 horses, but Alexander isn’t listed.

Elizabeth’s administrators filed on May 27, 1839 with the court that they were ready to settle her estate, but her son, Alexander, had made his will a week earlier signaling that something was very wrong.

Did the family wonder when this string of death was ever going to end? Whatever was claiming this family was brutal.

Alexander McKee’s will was written May 20, 1839, and probated on July 22, 1839 at the next court session.

He stipulated that:

  1. Perishable part of estate to be sold immediately
  2. Land to James McKee which fell to me by heirship to him and his heirs forever and $30
  3. Sister Ann Speaks and her children $30
  4. Sister Jinny Jones children $10
  5. Sister Rebecca Jamison children $10
  6. James McKee executor

Witness Andrew Patterson, Robert Sherwood, James Allen

Probated July 22, 1839, James McKee exec with John Clark Sr. his security

This signifies that both sisters Rebecca and Jinny have passed away. Robert Sherwood is Edward McKee’s widow, Mary Hand McKee’s second husband.

Alexander’s inventory was taken on September 14, 1839 and submitted to court January 27, 1840. It’s worth noting that he has no furniture or kitchen items.

Given that he lived with his mother, between his inventory, that of Elizabeth and Margaret, I’d wager we are seeing the entire contents of that home.

I surely wonder about those three books. Books give us so much insight into the reader.

Given the proximity of their deaths, that they lived together, and that two of the three were relatively young, I can’t help but wonder about consumption. We also know that Elizabeth didn’t die quickly because someone was paid to care for her during her last illness. Consumption is also what took James McKee and his sister, Mary, in 1855.

Widow For 24 Years

Elizabeth was almost widowed in 1805 but was actually widowed nine years later, in 1814, leaving her to care for a passel of stair-step children.

She probably buried Andrew beside or near to their children who had already died, and those who would soon, perhaps in the McKee Cemetery.

For a woman whose name we almost didn’t know, she led an incredibly eventful life. For starters, she lived on the frontier – and survived – for 70 years, plus or minus a year or two.

She was born near the end of the French and Indian War and before the Revolutionary War. She would have been about ten years old, or so, at the outset of the Revolutionary War, and probably lived in either Pennsylvania or Virginia. Her father and brothers may have been soldiers.

I have no idea who her parents were, but I’ve eliminated a number of possibilities. She and Andrew seem to be particularly close to the John Kelly family, their near neighbors, but John Kelly had a will and Elizabeth is not there.

What I can tell you is that Elizabeth was European, based on her base mitochondrial DNA haplogroup J. I’d love to have a direct descendant through all females who is willing to take a mitochondrial DNA test. The tester can be male in the current generation but must descend from Elizabeth through all females to carry her mitochondrial DNA. If this is you, I’m offering a no-cost scholarship, so please reach out.

Elizabeth would have moved westward with her family into the newly formed Washington County, Virginia, still uncut, uncleared woodland, probably after the final battle of the Revolutionary War. Cheap land called opportunity beckoned.

Elizabeth married Andrew McKee, a Scots-Irishman, sometime around 1788. It’s likely that one or both of them had blue eyes, because their son, James, did, along with dark hair.

They settled within sight of the Middle Fork of the Holston River, where they stayed until, literally, the wagon took them to the graveyard. Them and their children too. Elizabeth staked her ground, and she was NOT giving up. That woman’s tenacity is utterly amazing.

The community graveyard was at the Ebbing Springs Church in the beginning, but the family probably established the now lost McKee Cemetery at the southernmost tip of their property during her lifetime. We know son James is buried there, so it stands to reason that she is too. This family alone would have filled the church cemetery!

Elizabeth cooked and cleaned and bore children, like the other pioneer wives. First with Andrew, then alone. But that wasn’t all.

Elizabeth repurchased her own kitchen utensils, along with her spinning wheel, loom, beds, furniture, and livestock at Andrew’s estate sale in 1814.

She would have farmed and butchered and put vegetables up in this root cellar, beside the house, for the winter.

The house was raised and designed defensively.

The family lived in the upper level, probably for safety in terms of possible Indian attack as well as the notorious Holston River floods. The attacks seemed to be mostly in the past after the Revolutionary War, but the floods were everpresent.

Elizabeth likely stored items in the lower level, like these crocks where vegetables and possibly meats would have been brined and pickled. Those three “old keggs” she purchased at Andrew’s estate sale were probably stored here too. She opened this old door thousands of times, bringing vegetables, wool, and other things into the lower level from outside.

We know that Elizabeth churned butter because she bought cows and her own churn at Andrew’s estate sale. She would have milked cows at dawn every morning.

Her extra workspace, even though it did flood from time to time, was probably the envy of every woman in the neighborhood. Of course, when it flooded, the family had to move quickly to keep things dry. They would have had to move their animals to high ground too. Did they get stranded on the second floor by floodwaters from time to time? Those Holston flood waters rise rapidly, and the current is swift and dangerous.

After Andrew’s death, this would all have fallen to Elizabeth to manage.

The house was divided into two sections, with two fireplaces, one at each end with its own chimney. The second fireplace would probably have been the area where her adult son, Alexander, and possibly her daughter Margaret would have lived too. I an only imagine how difficult it was to cut and hew those beams, and lift them into place.

Margaret and Alexander both died about the same time as Elizabeth – Margaret within days, and it’s evident from both of their estate inventories, plus Elizabeth’s, that her children owned no cooking utensils. The good news is that they had each other. The bad news is that they likely all died of Consumption, today’s Tuberculosis, or some other equally-as-awful malady that they shared within the same household – their lives winking out one after the other.

The actual size of this home was probably a luxury, although the stairs weren’t, especially as Elizabeth aged.

Elizabeth packed all 13 of her children into 2 or 3 beds that she purchased at Andrew’s estate sale, as was the custom of the day.

That woman would have worked from sunup to sundown, and past, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Church, where maybe she could fall asleep unnoticed for a few minutes, might have been her only respite.

Or maybe spinning and weaving on her loom provided that as well – along with much-needed fabric for bedding and clothing.

Based on the tax lists, and guardians being appointed for Elizabeth’s children at different times, it appears that perhaps Elizabeth became ill, or something happened.

Once in 1818, when Elizabeth would have been about 51, and again in 1822.

It baffles me why guardians were only appointed for some of her children, but not all of her minor children.

But, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Elizabeth rallied every time. She beat the odds more than once, and, it appears, more than several times. Somehow she managed not to succumb.

Yet, death surrounded her. I simply cannot imagine what this woman endured, or how she managed not to be broken when she had to bury so many people she loved – and that’s not counting her parents and siblings.

Keep in mind that the relatives listed here are only the closest people we know about. Every single one was a person she loved dearly. Someone she missed every day for the rest of her life.

Elizabeth’s son William died in 1810 or 1811 at 17 or 18, which probably broke her heart.

She lost another, younger son, about the same time, who we see in the 1810 census but whose name we don’t know. I wonder if he died of the same thing, at the same time as William – likely Dysentery or Flux.

Then came her husband Andrew’s death in 1814, of course.

Elizabeth also buried her son Andrew’s wife, Nancy Roe about 1820. Andrew didn’t seem to do well after that, at least for a couple of years.

Then, Elizabeth’s son Edward passed away in the fall of 1831, leaving a pregnant wife and small children.

Elizabeth’s daughter, Charity, died sometime after 1830 and before March of 1837 when William Griever remarried. My best bet would be that they lost all the children born in the 1830s, then finally Charity herself in 1835 or 1836.

Elizabeth’s son James McKee lost a child in 1837.

Jane McKee’s husband, Richard Jones, died, with his estate being sold on October 28, 1837. Jane was pregnant at the time and had a baby in 1838, but Jane herself was gone before May of 1839, and the baby too soon thereafter.

The estate of Rebecca McKee’s husband, William Jamison, was probated on November 27, 1837.

This string of very close family members who died must have devastated Elizabeth, and I can’t help but wonder if the entire group was infecting each other with Consumption. Given that Elizabeth’s estate was probated in February of 1838, she was likely already sick by the late fall of 1837 when her two sons-in-law died.

Of course, her daughter Margaret died within days of Elizabeth’s own death. That could have been the final straw. It’s unclear who died first, but it’s very clear that they died within days of each other based on their estate filing.

What Elizabeth didn’t know was that two of her daughters died not long after she did. Jane/Jenny Jones was apparently living when her husband died in late 1837, but gone before May of 1839.

Rebecca McKee Jamison died sometime between her mother’s estate sale in March of 1838 and her brother, Alexander’s death in May of 1839.

Alexander McKee wrote his will on May 20, 1839, and probably died shortly thereafter. It was probated on July 22, 1839.

Wow, I just need to stop and take a deep breath. I can’t even imagine so much illness and grief, so close together.


Elizabeth had a plethora of grandchildren, despite the fact that she buried children and that two of her adult children never married. The people bolded died before Elizabeth, except for Margaret, who died at almost exactly the same time. The last column indicated grandchildren that we know perished in Elizabeth’s lifetime.

Child Birth-Death Spouse Total Children Died Before Elizabeth
Sally c1789-1840/1847 Robert Larimer 14 3
James 1791-1855 Sally Roe 17 4
William c1792-1810/1811 never 0
Edward c1795-1831 Mary Hand 5 3
Andrew c1797-after 1847 Nancy Roe died c 1820, Rachel Fisher 6? ?
Mary 1799-1855 John Larimer 11 1
Ann c1800- died VA 1840/1850 Charles Speak 11 5
Charity 1801/1805-before 1837 William Griever 5 3
Jane/Jenny c1802/1803-1838/1839 Richard Jones estate Nov 1837 8 3
Elizabeth/Eliza Before Mar 1805-died Indiana aft 1870 Eleazer Rouse 10+? 3
Rebecca c1808-1838/1839 William Jamison estate Oct 1837 2 1
Margaret 1805/1809-1838 never 0
Male 1810-bef 1820 never 0
Alexander 1811/1812-1839 never 0

Elizabeth welcomed at least 84 grandchildren into the world, although the final arrivals were likely celebrated from the other side.

A few, those that were born in distant locations, she never got to meet and didn’t get to enjoy watching them grow and flourish.

Sadly, she buried 26 of those children, or about one each year, many as babies, except for the children of Ann who moved to Virginia when she married, and Eliza who moved to Indiana after burying some children in Virginia.

Thirty percent, or almost one in three children died, which means that they were actually luckier than some families, where half of their children perished. Of course, these are only the children we know about.

Elizabeth lived long enough for her grandchildren to begin to marry as well, a blessing not afforded to many in that time and place.

Elizabeth and Andrew were married for about 26 years. That’s a long marriage. When he slipped away, all of Elizabeth’s children were still at home except for Sally who married in 1810, and James who had been away at war. At least Andrew was able to welcome his first grandchild, or maybe even two, before he passed over.

Amazingly, Elizabeth did not remarry. She raised all of those 11 or 12 children remaining at home by herself. The youngest, Alexander, may not even have remembered his father. He seems to have been born in 1811 or 1812, so at best, vague, fuzzy memories.

Elizabeth functioned from that point on in the stead of a male farmer. She did what needed to be done – sewed crops and tended to livestock in addition to handling the traditional women’s chores. The reason most people remarried was because raising a family on the frontier was literally a full-time job for two able-bodied people. I wonder how she did it. Her older children must have helped a lot.

Elizabeth was apparently ill, or injured, twice, and recovered. Something happened in 1818 and 1822. She lived for another 24 years after Andrew’s death – nearly a quarter century. She was widowed almost as long as she was married.

For the duration of Elizabeth’s life, she never lived alone. Her last child “at home,” Alexander, died a little over a year after she did, in the spring of 1839.

Margaret, who died when Elizabeth did, would have been her mother’s companion, probably weaving and spinning and working together, side by side. Regardless of who died first, Elizabeth clearly knew that Margaret was very ill and unlikely to survive. She knew the signs of death well.

This door would have shut for the last time behind Elizabeth’s children living in her household when Alexander left on his final journey.

The McKee home descended to James, who died in 1855, the last of the McKee boys, and then passed to generations of his descendants. Stewards of the McKee homestead and Elizabeth’s incredible legacy of enduring strength.


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Join Me for DNA Day, Live

I’m excited to be presenting for an entire day of DNA on October 1st. You can join in too, because the Orange County Genealogical Society has graciously made this event open to the entire genealogy community via Zoom. You can sign up at this link.

Apparently, there’s some serendipity involved, because the Y, mitochondrial DNA, and X DNA sessions were specifically requested when I asked for RootsTech topic suggestions. You’re not going to have to wait nearly that long, because I’m covering all three at DNA Day.

These sessions will:

  • Educate about the topic at hand, meaning Y, mitochondrial DNA, and X DNA, and when to use each.
  • Discuss how to utilize the results from all three of these tests and types of DNA for genealogy, including the new FamilyTreeDNA Y DNA Discover tool. I’m providing step-by-step instructions.
  • Provide real-world analysis examples with case studies. These are always so much fun! I’ve actually made a couple of discoveries while preparing for these sessions.

The last session of the day, “DNA Tossed Salad,” ties everything together. I’ll discuss how I manage the results and the tools I use, particularly for autosomal tests, and what I “do” with matches.

Each session will have the opportunity for Q&A.

I’ve included information for every level, beginner through advanced. Here’s the registration link again. Hope to see you on October 1st!!!


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The Dead Speak: Unraveling and Understanding Patterns Found in Death Records

I know this topic might not sound like it’s related to genealogy, but it assuredly is, in more ways than one. In fact, it’s one way the dead can, collectively, speak to us.

This article is the result of a rabbit hole that I managed to reside in for a week or so. More of a rabbit tunnel, actually, an underground maze. I’m sharing this joy with you because there’s good stuff down there – even if I didn’t find my ancestor! This is relevant for your genealogy too.

I’ve separated this data from the actual information about my ancestors because I wanted to share this process with you. While my ancestors aren’t relevant to you (unless you’re a cousin, in which case, howdy), this process certainly is because you can replicate it.

So, why did I go down the rabbit hole?

Rabbit Hole Entrance

Three things made me really curious.

I was searching for the 1838/1839 estate of my female ancestor, Elizabeth McKee, when my cousin, Carol, discovered a court record where her estate administration was ordered. Of course, I know that administration means there was no executor. An administrator was court appointed to handle her affairs, meaning she had no will.

However, the really big surprise was that the entry directly above hers on the same day was another female, Margaret McKee. I had never heard of Margaret McKee, but she was clearly an adult who was housekeeping, because she had an estate (minus land).

That’s really strange. There was no other McKee family in this area, and trust me, I’m painfully familiar with this family. Yet, here she was. Right with Elizabeth, or I would never have noticed. Virginia’s indexed records, where they exist, are painfully incomplete.

Was this an unknown daughter? If so, what are the chances of them perishing at the same time? Not very good, right?


Secondly, Elizabeth had a son, William, mentioned in her husband, Andrew McKee’s will written in 1805. However, Andrew did not die until 1814, when his will was probated without being updated. There was one William McKee who lived in a different part of the same county, so savvy genealogists noticed that and connected the dots.

However, there were things that really bothered me about that connection. The more I dug, the more contradictory evidence I unearthed, including the fact that the William McKee living in the southern district of the county was of age and on the tax list by 1803, and the 1810 census shows Andrew McKee’s son, William, still at home. Also, Andrew and Elizabeth weren’t old enough to have a son born 1783ish, and Andrew wasn’t in the county until 1787. Oh, and William McKee was a VERY wealthy merchant with a quarter million dollar estate in 1833, who came from New York City (wife’s family) and also had a home in Lynchburg, VA. Andrew McKee, on the other hand, was a farmer who first appeared on the tax list without so much as a horse to his name, but hey, details.

In actuality, after that 1805 mention of William McKee in Andrew’s will, and his cameo appearance in the 1810 census where he was about 18, we never hear about William again. The only reasonable conclusion I can come to is that he died sometime after the 1810 census and probably before 1814 when he was conspicuously absent at his father’s estate sale. His older and younger brothers were both purchasing, but no William. He would have been about 22 by then.

If the William in the southern part of the county was Andrew’s son William, he would have been mentioned someplace, but he wasn’t. Stone cold silence. He would also have been the oldest son, an adult in 1805 when Andrew wrote his will, yet son James was named as the executor.

Nope, something’s not adding up.

But, what were the chances of a young, healthy, strapping teenage boy dying? William had survived that perilous childhood deathtrap. Most people back then died as children, or women in childbirth, or as old people, right?


But is this accurate? Do we know that, or assume that?

I had to know.

Elizabeth’s oldest son, James McKee, died in 1855, not long after the Washington County, Virginia death records had begun to be kept in 1853, and he was reported to have been buried in the McKee Cemetery. The external reference looked like that information came from his death record, but those death records aren’t transcribed. Crumb!

I went searching at FamilySearch in those death record books when I decided to compile some death data. Early on, there weren’t death certificates as we know them, only an index-type book of deaths with one line entry for each person.

I really, really need to know what people were dying of back in the day, and their ages at death. Are my suppositions correct, or not?

What could I learn about the life and times of my ancestors, and their children, from 1850s death records, more than 15 years after Elizabeth died?

It turns out – a lot!!


I compiled the first six years of death data in a spreadsheet, meaning cause and age, from Washington County, Virginia, from 1853 through 1858, for a total of 806 death records. (I told you I spent a week in this rabbit hole.)

Click on images to enlarge.

As you can see, there’s a goldmine of data here. But look what’s NOT here – place of burial. In case you are wondering, I never did find out where James McKee is buried.

First, some general comments and observations.

The first few years of death records did not include stillbirths. There appeared to be confusion about whether stillbirths, which were generally called “deadborn” were to be included. I also got the idea that babies who died immediately after birth may have been classified as stillborn, based on a situation where the mother died, and the baby’s death occurred the next day but was recorded as stillborn, with an age of “1 day.” Most of the time, the “age” for stillborn babies was left blank.

A majority of the stillborn babies had not been named which probably means names weren’t selected for any babies until after they were born. The exceptional situation is a stillborn child WITH a name. Some babies up to 15 days old that died had not been named. I’ve run across this before in the census records.

I wonder if that happened because the family was waiting to see if the child was a boy or girl, or if they were waiting to see if the baby lived, or if there was some superstition or custom about naming/not naming a child before it was born.

The oldest unnamed child was a child whose mother was enslaved and was 15 months old. I fully suspect that this child had a name, but the “owner,” noted as such, who reported the death, did not know the child’s name, so the child’s name was unknown, not unnamed.

As most genealogists know, middle names did not come into common use until in the 1800s, often mid/late 1800s in Appalachia, EXCEPT for middle names that were family names. If your ancestor born before 1800ish had a middle name, it was likely a woman’s birth surname – mother or maybe a grandmother. I noticed a couple of people in the death records with a middle initial, but very few.

I recognized a huge number of very familiar names of families also found in Claiborne and Hancock Counties in Tennessee, and Lee and Russell Counties in Virginia.

There were a total of 806 deaths or about 134 deaths per year, which was almost an exact number for each year. The 1850 census showed 14,612 residents, so .9%, or less than 1% of the population died each year. That’s quite low, because at that rate it would take more than 100 years for everyone to die if no one else was born. This causes me to suspect that these early death records weren’t complete. Scanning the deaths once again, I realized that there were almost no deaths reported during the winter months – December through February. The weather would have been bad, and people would not have been going to town on snowy, slick, and cold mountain roads riding horseback or in an open wagon. Additionally, you had to ford the river to get to Abingdon from the northern district, near Friendship, where my ancestors lived. Brrr.

Widener Valley, near Friendship – By RebelAt at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45097455

By spring, the earth was green again, and apparently, no one thought about reporting past deaths. Fields needed to be plowed, and the spring livestock babies were being born. Plus, the Holston River was still high, cold and swollen from snow melt-off and spring rains.

So perhaps these death numbers should just be uniformly multiplied by about 1.4. This really doesn’t affect our analysis unless the causes of death changed based on season, and I don’t think much changed based on what I’m seeing.

The 1850s was a relatively normal time. No known epidemics in this area, and there were no artificial outside stressors, like a war going on. Wars not only disrupt economies, but men die, and women carry the additional workload. Fewer children are born, and if the fighting takes place in that location, food supply and much else is disrupted, causing even more deaths. Not to mention the disease that’s rampant in areas associated with war.

During the 30 Years’ War in Germany in the 1600s, some entire areas were depopulated, and the “lucky” locations only lost half of their pre-war population numbers. This means that couples had less than the self-replacement number of 2 children per family that lived. If your ancestors had more than two surviving children, the population was growing.

Because the 1850 census listed individuals, it’s possible to reconstruct families using these death records if the deceased had been born by 1850.

These death records also include both enslaved and free people of color.

The cause of death was blank in 70 records.

I did not round ages up or down to the year. Many months/days weren’t given. If the person was under a year old, I recorded the months or days.

If you were alive then, what do you think was your most likely cause of death during these years?

Most Likely Cause of Death

  1. Dysentery – 131 or 16% of the people died of dysentery. Two really unlucky people had dysentery with flux.
  2. Flux – 120 or 15% of the people died of flux, also known as “bloody flux.”
  3. Fever – 107 or 13% of the people died of fever. Of course, fever could be anything from the flu to sepsis from an infected cut. If you had a fever and died, that’s what you died of, even though the fever was a symptom. It could also have been Scarlet Fever or Typhoid Fever, and “fever” was probably a catchall for all of the above.
  4. Consumption – 85 or 10% of the people died of what is now known as Tuberculosis.

There’s really no graceful way to say this, but let’s just say that Flux seemed to be another name for Dysentery, which causes me to wonder why both terms were used. After reading up on the subject (we genealogists do such morbid things,) it appears that Flux always involves blood, and Dysentery may not. If you aren’t queasy, you can read about it, here.

I’ve left those two categories separate, because they may have been caused by different organisms, or the criteria might have been different at that time, but it’s safe to say that about one-third of the people died a miserable death from those two.

Know what the good news is? In the US, people didn’t have to deal with the Plague, aka Black Plague, as European populations did.

Ok, so what else were people dying of?

Cause of Death Breakdown

This chart shows causes of death in alphabetical order, including the youngest and oldest ages of people who died of this ailment. Some were clearly afflictions of the young, and some of older people. For example, cough and croup clearly claimed the young, while consumption was by and large constrained to the older population – probably because incubation time was significant and victims generally didn’t die immediately.

Cause of Death Total Youngest Oldest
A fall 1 65 65
Accident 4 5 60
Affect of breast 1 79 79
Apoplexy 3 57 70
Blank (nothing written) 71 Blank (often newborns) 90
Bleeding of lungs 1 32 32
Brain fever 1 42 42
Bronchitis 1 71 71
Burn 1 Blank Blank
By taking arsenic 1 50 50
Cancer 2 69 79
Cholera morbus 1 1 1
Cold 1 82 82
Congestive chills 1 17 17
Consumption 85 3, but by far much more likely to be an adult disease 75
Cough (I’d bet this is croup) 8 3 months 4
Croup 17 2 months 9
Deadborn/stillborn 22 Blank 1 day
Diarrhea 2 7 78
Dyspepsia 2 25 53
Dropsey 14 5, next youngest is 22, by far an older person’s disease 80
Drowned 2 3 13
Dysentery 131 1 day (doubtful), 3 months 71
Encephalitis 1 68 68
Fall of tree 1 29 29
Fever 107 1 day 83
Fits (epilepsy) 2 1 1
Flux 120 18 days 99
Found dead 1 34 34
Gravel (gall stones) 2 76 90
Hemialgia 1 27 27
Hemorrhage of lungs 2 27 74
Hives 2 3 months 7 months
Inflammation 11 1 month 29
Inflammation of bowels 2 Blank but said “poor house” 34
Inflammation of brain 11 1 66
Inflammation of lungs 7 1 72
Injuries received from machine 1 66 66
Killed 3 1 day 45
Killed by horse 1 17 17
Liver complaint 3 18 months 63
Locked in? 1 13 13
Neuralgia 1 12 12
Old age 21 7 (this has to be wrong), second is 65 90
Palalasis, maybe paralysis 1 19 19
Paloog? of heart 1 56 56
Palsy 5 18 days 96
Patacha? 1 37 37
Pleurisy 1 21 21
Pneumonia 8 2 46
Poisoned 1 2 2
Rheumatism 1 67 67
Rufotine? 1 73 73
Scarlet Fever 27 11 months 17
Scrofula 7 3 33
Shot herself 1 21 21
Shot himself 1 51 51
Sore throat 1 3 months 3 months
Spanns? 1 14 days 14 days
Spinal affliction 1 2 2
Stabbed 1 62 62
Tetanus 1 79 79
Thrown from horse 1 18 18
Typhoid Fever 20 10 months 80
Unknown 38 1 day 95
Wheel? 1 28 28
White swelling 1 75 75
Whooping cough 4 1 2

Cause of Death in Highest Category Order

Here we have the same information sorted by the highest category total. Dysentery led the pack, affecting the very young and the very old as well, as did Flux. In fact, the 99-year-old woman was the oldest death recorded during that 6 years. It’s pretty amazing that she managed to avoid all other deaths her entire life, before antibiotics and modern medicine, and even in the end, it wasn’t her heart that gave out.

Cause of Death Total Youngest Oldest
Dysentery 131 1 day (doubtful), 3 months 71
Flux 120 18 days 99
Fever 107 1 day 83
Consumption 85 3, but by far much more likely to be an adult disease 75
Blank (nothing written) 71 Blank (often newborns) 90
Unknown 38 1 day 95
Scarlet Fever 27 11 months 17
Deadborn/stillborn 22 Blank 1 day
Old age 21 7 (this has to be wrong), second oldest is 65 90
Typhoid Fever 20 10 months 80
Croup 17 2 months 9
Dropsey 14 5, next youngest is 22, by far an older person’s disease 80
Inflammation 11 1 month 29
Inflammation of brain 11 1 66
Cough (I’d bet this is croup) 8 3 months 4
Pneumonia 8 2 46
Inflammation of lungs 7 1 72
Scrofula 7 3 33
Palsy 5 18 days 96
Accident 4 5 60
Whooping cough 4 1 2
Apoplexy 3 57 70
Killed 3 1 day 45
Liver complaint 3 18 months 63
Cancer 2 69 79
Diarrhea 2 7 78
Dyspepsia 2 25 53
Drowned 2 3 13
Fits (epilepsy) 2 1 1
Gravel (gall stones) 2 76 90
Hemorrhage of lungs 2 27 74
Hives 2 3 months 7 months
Inflammation of bowels 2 Blank but said “poor house” 34
A fall 1 65 65
Affect of breast 1 79 79
Bleeding of lungs 1 32 32
Brain fever 1 42 42
Bronchitis 1 71 71
Burn 1 Blank Blank
By taking arsenic 1 50 50
Cholera morbus 1 1 1
Cold 1 82 82
Congestive chills 1 17 17
Encephalitis 1 68 68
Fall of tree 1 29 29
Found dead 1 34 34
Hemialgia 1 27 27
Injuries received from machine 1 66 66
Killed by horse 1 17 17
Locked in? 1 13 13
Neuralgia 1 12 12
Palalasis, maybe paralysis 1 19 19
Paloog? of heart 1 56 56
Patacha? 1 37 37
Pleurisy 1 21 21
Poisoned 1 2 2
Rheumatism 1 67 67
Rufotine? 1 73 73
Shot herself 1 21 21
Shot himself 1 51 51
Sore throat 1 3 months 3 months
Spanns? 1 14 days 14 days
Spinal affliction 1 2 2
Stabbed 1 62 62
Tetanus 1 79 79
Thrown from horse 1 18 18
Wheel? 1 28 28
White swelling 1 75 75

What Am I Most Likely to Die Of?

At any age, what is your most likely cause of death before the age of modern medicine in Washington County, VA? It’s worth noting that these causes of death are probably very similar across most of the US during this time, except perhaps for eastern seaboard cities with heavy concentrations of people.

Using the chart below, find the age by year you’re searching for in the age column. I recorded the death ages by month and week for babies less than a year old, but in this chart, I’ve combined them into the category of “less than one year.”

The cause of death column is just that. I’ve bolded the most common cause of death for that age group. In some cases, more than one is bolded because blank and unknown aren’t causes of death. In other instances, there are multiple causes of death that are tied.

The third column is the number of deaths for that age by cause of death

The fourth column is the total number of deaths, in red, for that age.

So, age 0 is Deadborn, or Stillborn, which I’ve combined into one category. There were 31 deaths from that cause (remember, the early years did not record stillbirths), and the total deaths for age 0 is 31.

In the age category of <1 year, 22 deaths were blank and had no cause of death, and 17 were unknown, which would mean that it wasn’t recorded or “the baby just died.” Things like SIDS and babies with congenital heart defects would all be in the sudden death category which would have been unknown then. The highest actual cause of death is Dysentery with 12. The total for the age of less than one year is 88.

So let me give you an idea of how to use this chart. Let’s say your ancestor died at about 70 years of age. You have no further information.

What kinds of diseases were causes of death for a 70-year-old?

Scan down to age 70. You will see that several things might have caused that person’s death, in about equal probability. However, if I tell you that her daughter who was about 28 and lived with her, died at about the same time, that might shift your analysis to favoring communicable diseases found in both the categories for age 38 and for age 70. You might have guessed I’m referring to Margaret and Elizabeth McKee.

Fever and dysentery were killing 28-year-old people. Fever is also listed for age 70, as is Consumption. If one had Consumption, and contracted either a fever or dysentery, that combination would certainly be lethal. Here’s what I do know from Elizabeth’s estate settlement – a “girl” was paid to care for her “in her final illness” which did not seem to be quick, based on the amount that the caregiver was paid. So we know Elizabeth did not die quickly and was ill for some time. I’m leaning towards consumption here, maybe complicated by something else that Margaret also had. Or, maybe they both had consumption.

What about William, assuming he died between about 18 and 22? Dysentery, Flux or Consumption. It’s possible that he died of the same thing as Andrew in the spring of 1814. Andrew would have been about 50. Few people died at 50, but since he failed to update his will, he may have died quickly or been too ill to update the will. Dysentery is a prime candidate for both.

Age Cause of death # Deaths Total by Age Year
0 Deadborn 31 31
<1 Blank 22 88
<1 Unknown 17
<1 Dysentery 12
<1 Flux 9
<1 Fever 8
<1 Croup 6
<1 Inflammation 3
<1 Cough 2
<1 Hives 2
<1 Killed 1
<1 Liver complaint 1
<1 Palsy 1
<1 Scarlet Fever 1
<1 Sore throat 1
<1 Spanns? 1
<1 Typhoid Fever 1
1 Flux 13 57
1 Dysentery 12
1 Fever 7
1 Scarlet Fever 6
1 Unknown 6
1 Cough 4
1 Whooping Cough 3
1 Fits 2
1 Blank 1
1 Cholera Morbus 1
1 Inflammation of brain 1
1 inflammation of lungs 1
2 Flux 11 46
2 Fever 8
2 Dysentery 7
2 Scarlet Fever 5
2 Blank 3
2 Croup 3
2 Inflammation 2
2 Unknown 2
2 Inflammation of head 1
2 Pneumonia 1
2 Poisoned 1
2 Spinal Affliction 1
2 Whooping Cough 1
3 Dysentery 13 40
3 Fever 7
3 Flux 7
3 Cough 3
3 Typhoid Fever 3
3 Scarlet Fever 2
3 Consumption 1
3 Drowned 1
3 Inflammation of lungs 1
3 Scrofula 1
3 Unknown 1
4 Flux 9 32
4 Dysentery 6
4 Fever 6
4 Scarlet fever 4
4 Inflammation 2
4 Inflammation of brain 2
4 Blank 1
4 Cough 1
4 Unknown 1
5 Dysentery 7 24
5 Flux 5
5 Fever 3
5 Accident 1
5 Dropsy 1
5 Dysentery with flux 1
5 Inflammation 1
5 Liver complaint 1
5 Pneumonia 1
5 Scarlet fever 1
5 Scrofula 1
5 Unknown 1
6 Flux 11 29
6 Dysentery 6
6 Fever 3
6 Blank 2
6 Scarlet Fever 2
6 Consumption 1
6 Croup 1
6 Pneumonia 1
6 Scrofula 1
6 Unknown 1
7 Dysentery 12 24
7 Flux 8
7 Fever 2
7 Diarrhea 1
7 Old age 1
8 Dysentery 4 18
8 Flux 4
8 Scarlet Fever 4
8 Fever 3
8 Consumption 1
8 Inflammation of brain 1
8 Unknown 1
9 Dysentery 6 17
9 Fever 2
9 Flux 2
9 Consumption 1
9 Croup 1
9 inflammation 1
9 inflammation of lungs 1
9 Killed 1
9 Typhoid Fever 1
9 Unknown 1
10 Dysentery 5 7
10 Fever 2
11 Dysentery 2 9
11 Flux 2
11 Blank 1
11 Consumption 1
11 Fever 1
11 Inflammation of brain 1
11 Typhoid Fever 1
12 Dysentery 3 12
12 Flux 3
12 Accident 1
12 Blank 1
12 Consumption 1
12 Fever 1
12 Neuralgia 1
12 Scarlet Fever 1
13 Dysentery 2 8
13 Flux 2
13 Drowned 1
13 Fever 1
13 Locked In? 1
13 Unknown 1
14 Dysentery 2 4
14 Flux 1
14 Typhoid Fever 1
15 Blank 1 5
15 Consumption 1
15 Dysentery 1
15 Inflammation of lungs 1
15 Scrofula 1
16 Consumption 2 7
16 Dysentery 2
16 Fever 1
16 Flux 1
16 Inflammation of brain 1
17 Consumption 2 10
17 Blank 1
17 Congestive chills 1
17 Dysentery 1
17 Fever 1
17 Killed by horse 1
17 Scarlet fever 1
17 Scrofula 1
17 Typhoid Fever 1
18 Consumption 2 7
18 Flux 2
18 Fever 1
18 Thrown from horse 1
18 Typhoid Fever 1
19 Dysentery 4 7
19 Consumption 1
19 Flux 1
19 Paralysis 1
20 Fever 3 9
20 Consumption 2
20 Flux 2
20 Dysentery 1
20 Typhoid Fever 1
21 Consumption 4 12
21 Dysentery 4
21 Fever 2
21 Pleurisy 1
21 Shot herself 1
22 Flux 3 9
22 Consumption 2
22 Blank 1
22 Dropsy 1
22 Fever 1
22 Inflammation of brain 1
23 Consumption 3 11
23 Blank 2
23 Dysentery 2
23 Fever 2
23 Flux 1
23 Scrofula 1
24 Blank 1 4
24 Fever 1
24 Flux 1
24 Typhoid Fever 1
25 Consumption 2 8
25 Fever 2
25 Blank 1
25 Dyspepsia? 1
25 Flux 1
25 Unknown 1
26 Fever 2 5
26 Blank 1
26 Consumption 1
26 Dysentery 1
27 Flux 1 4
27 Hemialgia 1
27 Hemorrhage lungs 1
27 Inflammation 1
28 Fever 3 7
28 Dysentery 1
28 Inflammation of brain 1
28 Unknown 1
28 Wheel? 1
29 Typhoid Fever 2 6
29 Blank 1
29 Consumption 1
29 Fall of tree 1
29 inflammation 1
30 Fever 3 6
30 Blank 1
30 Consumption 1
30 Flux 1
31 Consumption 4 4
32 Bleeding of lungs 1 5
32 Consumption 1
32 Fever 1
32 Flux 1
32 Unknown 1
33 Consumption 3 6
33 Fever 1
33 Flux 1
33 Scrofula 1
34 Dysentery 1 6
34 Fever 1
34 Found dead 1
34 Inflammation of bowels 1
34 Pneumonia 1
34 Typhoid Fever 1
35 Consumption 3 6
35 Dropsy 1
35 Fever 1
35 Pneumonia 1
36 Blank 2 5
36 Consumption 1
36 Dysentery 1
36 Fever 1
37 Patacha 1 2
37 Pneumonia 1
38 Consumption 2 4
38 Fever 1
38 Flux 1
39 Typhoid Fever 1 1
40 Fever 2 7
40 Consumption 1
40 Dysentery 1
40 Flux 1
40 Pneumonia 1
40 Typhoid Fever 1
41 Blank 2 2
42 Brain fever 1 1
43 Consumption 1 4
43 Dysentery 1
43 Inflammation of brain 1
43 Unknown 1
44 Consumption 2 2
45 Dropsy 1 4
45 Dysentery 1
45 Fever 1
45 Killed 1
46 Consumption 1 3
46 Dysentery 1
46 Pneumonia 1
47 Flux 2 4
47 Consumption 1
47 Dysentery 1
48 Consumption 1
48 Fever 1 2
49 Blank 1 3
49 Consumption 1
49 Flux 1
50 Dysentery 2 5
50 By taking arsenic 1
50 Consumption 1
50 Inflammation of lungs 1
51 Consumption 2 3
51 Shot himself 1
52 Consumption 3 3
53 Dyspepsia? 1 2
53 Fever 1
54 Blank 1 4 
54 Consumption 1  
54 Dysentery 1  
54 Fever 1
55 Fever 2 4
55 Consumption 1
55 Dropsy 1
56 Consumption 5 7
56 Flux 1
56 Paloog? of heart 1
57 Apoplexy 1 2
57 Consumption 1
58 Dysentery 1 1
59 Accident 1  3
59 Fever 1  
59 Typhoid Fever 1
60 Fever 2 6
60 Accident 1
60 Apoplexy suppose 1
60 Blank 1
60 Palsy 1
61 Consumption 3 3
62 Dysentery 1 3
62 Inflammation of brain 1
62 Stabbed 1
63 Blank 1  3
63 Flux 1  
63 Liver complaint 1
64 Blank 1  4
64 Consumption 1  
64 Dropsy 1  
64 Typhoid Fever 1
65 Blank 3 12
65 Consumption 3
65 Dysentery 2
65 ? a fall 1
65 Dropsy 1
65 Old age 1
65 Unknown 1
66 Consumption 1 5
66 Dropsy 1
66 Dysentery 1
66 Inflammation of brain 1
66 Injuries received from machine 1
67 Rheumatism 1 1
68 Dysentery 1 3
68 Encephalitis 1
68 Flux 1
69 Cancer 1  2
69 Consumption 1
70 Dropsy 2 7
70 Apoplexy 1
70 Blank 1
70 Consumption 1
70 Fever 1
70 Old age 1
71 Bronchitis 1  4
71 Consumption 1  
71 Dysentery 1  
71 Old age 1
72 Old age 2 6
72 Blank 1
72 Dropsy 1
72 Inflammation of lungs 1
72 Typhoid Fever 1
73 Consumption 1  4
73 Fever 1  
73 Old age 1  
73 rufotine? 1
74 Blank 2 8
74 Consumption 2
74 Flux 1
74 Hemorrhage lungs 1
74 Old age 1
74 Unknown 1
75 Consumption 1 6
75 Dropsy 1
75 Fever 1
75 Flux 1
75 Old age 1
75 White swelling 1
76 Blank 1 5
76 Diarrhea 1
76 Dropsy 1
76 Gravel 1
76 Old age 1
77 Flux 1 1
78 Old age 1 1
79 Flux 2 5
79 Affection of breast 1
79 Cancer 1
79 Tetanus 1
80 Dropsy 1  4
80 Fever 1  
80 Old age 1  
80 Typhoid Fever 1
81 Fever 2 4
81 Old age 1
81 Palsy 1
82 Cold 1 3
82 Fever 1
82 Old age 1
83 Fever 1 1
84 Flux 1  2
84 Old age 1
85 Palsy 1 1
87 Old age 2  4
87 Blank 1
87 Flux 1
88 Old age 3 3
90 Blank 1  3
90 Gravel 1  
90 Old age 1
95 Unknown 1 1
96 Palsy 1 1
99 Flux 1 1
blank Consumption 4 12
blank Fever 3
blank Blank 1
blank Burn 1
blank Inflammation of lungs 1
blank Fever 1
blank Inflammation of bowels 1

Children’s Deaths Under a Year

For those interested, children’s deaths under a year are detailed in the chart below by age.

Age Cause of Death # Deaths
0 Deadborn 30
0 Unknown 1
1 day Blank 4
1 day Unknown 3
1 day Deadborn 2
1 day Dysentery 1
1 day Fever 1
1 day Killed 1
2 days Blank 3
5 days Blank 2
5 days Fever 1
8 days Unknown 1
10 days Unknown 2
10 days Blank 1
12 days Unknown 1
13 days Blank 3
14 days Unknown 2
14 days Spanns? 1
18 days Flux 2
18 days Palsy 1
18 days Liver complaint 1
21 days Fever 1
1 mos Inflammation 1
1 mos Blank 3
1 mos Flux 1
1 mos Unknown 1
2 mos Croup 1
2 mos Fever 1
2 mos Unknown 1
3 mos Unknown 2
3 mos Blank 1
3 mos Cough 1
3 mos Croup 1
3 mos Dysentery with flux 1
3 mos Fever 1
3 mos Flux 1
3 mos Hives 1
3 mos Sore throat 1
4 mos Blank 2
4 mos Unknown 2
4 mos Dysentery 1
4 mos Inflammation 1
5 mos Blank 1
5 mos Croup 1
5 mos Dysentery 1
5 mos Fever 1
5 mos Flux 1
6 mos Dysentery 4
6 mos Cough 1
6 mos Croup 1
6 mos Fever 1
6 mos Flux 1
7 mos Croup 2
7 mos Blank 1
7 mos Dysentery 1
7 mos Hives 1
7 mos Inflammation 1
8 mos Flux 2
8 mos Dysentery 1
10 mos Dysentery 2
10 mos Typhoid Fever 1
11 mos Blank 1
11 mos Fever 1
11 mos Flux 1
11 mos Scarlet Fever 1

What Age Category is the Most Likely to Die?

As a person living back in the 1800s, at what age would you have been the most likely to die?

Eliminating records that don’t include ages, we can look at the age category in which people are most likely to take that last ride to the churchyard on the back of the wagon.

I fully expect that if the stillbirths had been recorded during the first part of this comparison, stillbirths would outnumber the rest. So, if you managed to survive birth, then your next big challenge would be to survive the next nine years of your life, as illustrated by the number of deaths for those years, in chronological order.

Age # of Deaths
<1 88
1 57
2 46
3 40
4 32
Deadborn 31
6 29
5 24
7 24
8 18
9 17
12 12
21 12
23 11
17 10
11 9
20 9
22 9
13 8
25 8
74 8
10 7
16 7
18 7
19 7
28 7
40 7
56 7
70 7
29 6
30 6
33 6
34 6
35 6
60 6
72 6
75 6
15 5
23 5
32 5
36 5
50 5
76 5
79 5
14 4
24 4
27 4
31 4
38 4
43 4
45 4
47 4
54 4
55 4
71 4
73 4
80 4
81 4
87 4
46 3
49 3
51 3
52 3
59 3
82 3
88 3
90 3
37 2
41 2
44 2
48 2
53 2
57 2
84 2
39 1
42 1
58 1
77 1
78 1
83 1
85 1
95 1
96 1
99 1

This data somewhat dispells the idea that most women died in childbirth, although at the ages that a first child would be born, early 20s, deaths are fairly high. Death during or as a direct result of childbirth clearly did happen, but often the mother was recorded as having died of fever. It’s hard to know which came first, the fever or the childbirth. We see evidence of these deaths in the census, and when we find men remarrying, but I don’t think childbirth-related death happened as often as I previously thought.

Unfortunately, “childbirth” was not listed as a cause of death. In later years, after this analysis, I did see a few listed as “childbed fever” which was a form of sepsis. So yes, the mother clearly had a fever, but she would not have had the fever had she not given birth.

Based on these records, we can’t tell how many women actually died in or as a result of childbirth.

How Many People Were Old?

Of course, not all “old” people died during those six years, but several did.

Men could often stop paying tithes and some taxes above the age of 50, although that varied significantly by location and time period.

Certainly, people of age 60 and over were considered “old.” Look how much they had managed to survive! Not to mention their bodies probably ached from decades of backbreaking work plus injuries that may or may not have healed correctly. The youngest person with an “old age” cause of death was 65. We don’t consider that old today.

Still, 65 can be retirement age, so I guess “old” is a matter of perception and circumstances.

It’s interesting to look at each red age category, by year, above 60.

Of course, there are fewer and fewer deaths as age increases significantly because there are fewer and fewer people left to die in that category. Remember that these numbers encompass everyone who died during a 6-year period. Only 9 people in their 90s died in 6 years, or one every eight months, on average.

It hurts my heart that the poor 99-year-old lady didn’t just get to pass away in her sleep or rocking chair, but instead died a miserable death of Flux.

Twenty-two people died in their 80s, or about one person every four months or so.

Forty-eight people died in their 70s, or 8 per year, or about one every six weeks.

There were 42 people needing funeral services in their 60s, so slightly fewer than in their 70s.

By the time people in their 90s were passing away, there probably weren’t many people that old left in the county, but there were clearly lots of people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s that were living.

What About Families?

I will never forget my first foray into a cemetery by myself when I was about 10 years old. We were visiting my brother who lived in a tiny crossroads farm town in Indiana that extended maybe two blocks in each direction. I was bored with adult talk and was allowed to take a walk. I found a cemetery not too far away, along the Eel River by an old covered bridge, and strolled through the cemetery, just looking around.

I recall noticing that one stone was different – tall, older, and slender – with small engraving on all four sides instead of on the front like the others. I read the inscriptions from the late 1800s and discovered that children with the same last name, clearly siblings, were buried on all four sides and had died within a few days of each other. I was stunned and immediately, even at 10, thought about how horrible it must have been for those parents. I wondered what on earth had happened to those children. I hadn’t even heard of Dystnetery and Flux, words all-too-familiar to our ancestors.

Over time, as genealogists working with census data, we’ve come to accept that children died – but 4, together, a few days apart? My 10-year-old brain thought that maybe their house burned, but that would have meant that they all died at once, so I dismissed that idea.

I’m still struggling with the idea that Elizabeth, who would have been about 70, and Margaret, who would have been about 28, actually died at or very near the same time. What are the chances of that happening? How often did this actually occur in families? That just seems too unusual to be happenstance. Elizabeth and Margaret weren’t vulnerable young children.

Elizabeth was older, 70ish, so her death isn’t surprising, but a 28-year-old woman who was not married, so no childbirth involved, who probably lived in the same house with her mother just happened to have her estate probated the same day as her mother?

Ok, so how common was this? I don’t want to connect non-existent dots, like the other William McKee, but on the other hand, I don’t want to ignore or dismiss the obvious either.

I went back and took another look at these death records, scanning for common surnames on the same page. To be clear, this means I likely missed several.

But, I also found several, and what I found chilled me to the bone.

These children are all siblings, from the same family, unless otherwise noted. Each group died in the same year.

  • Two children, aged 6 and 3, died on May 19 and 24 of fever.
  • Two children died on the same day in August of fever.
  • A couple, both aged 34, died on October 9 and November 1.
  • Three children aged 5, 7, and 6 months died on October 25, November 10, and 13 of dysentery.
  • Two children aged 11 months, and 3 years died on September 8 and October 8 of fever.
  • Two children aged 5 and 2 died of Scarlet Fever, both on August 5th.
  • Three children aged 8, 6, and 3 died of fever on November 2, 6, and 12.
  • A mother and 3 children died of fever and scarlet fever on June 1 (2 children), June 2, and 4 (the mother). OMG that poor woman. They were all reported by the children’s father. That poor man. I’m amazed he could function to do anything at all.
  • Two children died of cough, aged 6 months and 1 year, 11 months. This poor mother lost both of her babies.
  • Two children died of cough on May 15 and 29, ages 1 and 4.
  • Mother and child, age 43 and age 8. She died of inflammation of the brain and the child died of Scarlet Fever. The mother died on April 12 and the child on June 5th. One of this family’s enslaved children, age 6, also died of Scarlet Fever on June 2.
  • Three family members, aged 65, 10 months, and 7 years died of Dysentery on September 24, 25, and October 18. A man lost his two children, then his mother, and reported all 3. I’d wager his mother was caring for his children while they were ill.
  • A mother and daughter, aged 56 and 17, died on June 18 and 21 of Consumption. The son/brother was the informant of both deaths, which causes me to wonder if the father was already deceased.
  • A daughter died in April and her mother in October of Consumption. The husband/father was the informant. I can’t help but wonder if he later died of the same thing too.
  • Two children, aged 7 and 9, died of Dysentery in September and October in Glade Springs, not far from my ancestors.
  • Two more children died of dysentery at the same time in Rush Creek, ages 10 and 12. Dysentery is caused by contact with fecal matter, but can also be spread by poor hygiene, like not washing hands. Of course, people didn’t know that.
  • The Widener family experienced heart-wrenching losses beginning in July when 3 Widener children ages 7, 9, and 12 died of Dysentery. Six more Widener children from a different set of parents, ages 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 died on September 9, 14, 25, and October 1 in Widener Valley. Then a mother and two more children in the same extended family aged 5, 8, and 45 died on September 27, October 4, and 14 (the mother). There were a couple other Widener family members who died too, all of Dysentery, and were clearly related, but I could not place them with the others. That’s 14 people in total who perished within 4 months or so.
  • Four children, 12, 17, 19, and 21, died of Dysentery. They lived on the Middle Fork of the Holston, very close to my ancestors. One died on August 17 and three on the 18th. Good Heavens – three on the same say. Those poor parents. I bet the entire family was gravely ill.
  • Three children aged 7 months, 3, and 7 died of Dysentery on August 21, 26, and September 15.
  • 4 family members, ages 65, 66, 25, and 40, died. The son reported his parents, then his wife, then he died of Dysentery too.
  • Three children, aged 17, 15, and 2 months died of Scrofula on August 28, September (date not given), and November 25th. The mother reported all 3.
  • John Larimer’s 2 children, Hetty and Sarah, aged 6 and 3, died August 6 and 12, 1854, both of Dysentery. The parents were John and Sarah Larimer, and he reported the deaths of both. These are probably my ancestor, Elizabeth Mckee’s great-grandchildren.
  • Two children aged 3 and 6 died of Dysentery on August 21 and September 13.
  • Three children aged 7, 9, and 11 died of Dysentery on September 20, October 13, and 27.
  • Two children aged 7 and 9 died on August 7 and 12 of Dysentery.
  • Two children aged 4 and 8 died of the Flux in August and October
  • Two children aged 24 and 14 died of the Flux on August 24 and 27 and were reported by their mother.
  • Three children aged 2, 4, and 18 died of Flux in September, reported by their mother. Was the father ill himself, or perhaps already deceased?
  • A man lost his mother, brother, child, and wife, ages 81, 60, and 35. The older people had Flux (August – October), the wife had fever, and the child was stillborn in July.
  • Children ages 7 and 13 died of fever in June and December.
  • A mother died of hemorrhage of the lungs on July 12, and her 12-day-old child died 3 days later with no cause of death listed.
  • A baby was stillborn in March, and their older child, age 3, died of Flux in October.
  • A person lost their mother, age 56, then their 2-year-old child to Flux on May 21 and 24. I bet they were buried side by side.
  • A couple lost 2 children, age 4 and the other age not stated, both on October 19, of Consumption. This makes me wonder if the cause of death was actually something else, but that mattered little to the grieving parents.
  • Three children, ages 1, 4, and 8 were lost to Flux in June, July and September.
  • Two children aged 1 and 5 died of Flux on June 3 and 20.
  • Many Fleenor extended family members died of Flux, beginning with one man and three children, aged 1, 3, and 6. Then his mother or grandmother died, age 79. An enslaved person owned by the family, age 33 and her child, age 3 died too. Another Fleenor man along with 6 children aged 2, 3, 7, 9, and 11, plus one that was stillborn. Also, the family matriarch, age 89 plus an additional enslaved person, age 4, beginning with the enslaved child in March. Most of the rest were in June through August of 1858. It sounds like the entire plantation had Flux, resulting in 16 deaths, and that’s assuming I found them all. Married daughters would not have had the Fleenor surname.
  • Two children died, one 18-month-old died in August of liver complaint, whatever that was, and one was stillborn in October.
  • Two of Robert Larimore’s children, ages 3 and 8, died of Scarlet Fever in March and December of 1858. They were possibly my ancestor Elizabeth McKee’s great-grandchildren.
  • A 35-year-old woman died, and her child was stillborn. She died of Consumption on October 24, and the baby died on 25th, although I don’t know how the baby was stillborn the day after she died. I can’t imagine being pregnant while fighting for one’s breath with Tuberculosis.
  • Two children aged 12 and 8 died of Scarlet Fever on March 8 and 15.

I don’t know anyone personally, before Covid, other than a car accident, that lost multiple family members at the same time.

Wow, so much grief. I think I just need to sit a minute.

Bonus – Relationships, Occupations, and Locations

There’s more too. The informant is listed and their relationship to the deceased. This can help sort out other relationships as well.

Birthplaces aren’t just useful for the people listed but can show significant migration paths for the residents of this county and community.

Unfortunately, some years simply had the place of birth listed as Washington County with ditto marks for everyone, which clearly is not accurate, so those years simply have to be ignored, unfortunately. However, if you don’t look at what’s “normal” for other years, you won’t realize that the year you are viewing is not accurate.

The most informative places of birth are the locations for the oldest people because they reach back the furthest in time. If you can reconstruct their family, and find your ancestor somehow tied to theirs, that may provide a HUGE clue for you. One of the most difficult tasks for genealogists is figuring out where someone came from.

Tax, estate, land, and court records are wonderful for constructing and fleshing out lists of people found with your ancestors. People often moved and migrated in groups – not only for safety during the journey but to have resources and help once arriving. Plus, people talked about “amazing opportunities” in the places they gathered – at church, on farms, and in town.

Birth Places found:

  • Albemarle VA
  • Botetourt, VA (2)
  • Ashe Co., NC
  • Bartley Co, PA
  • Bedford Co., NC
  • Buckingham Co., VA
  • Craven Co., NC (2)
  • Greene Co, Illinois
  • Hagerstown, PA
  • Lee Co., VA – a student of Emory and Henry College (who knew there was a college in this county in the 1850s)
  • Massachusetts
  • Nashville, TN
  • NC (3)
  • Orange Co., NC
  • Pulaski Co., KY (2) student of Emory and Henry College
  • Scotland
  • Sevier Co., NC
  • Smyth Co., VA (7)
  • Stokes Co., NC (2)
  • Surry Co., NC
  • Wilkes Co., NC
  • Wythe Co., VA

The death location can be very specific, blank, just the county name, or even something unexpected like “poor house.” I was surprised to see some death locations in other counties. I wonder if the death was simply recorded, or if the body was brought back for burial.

Enslaved People

For researchers searching for enslaved people, death records began in the early 1850s, more than a decade before the Civil War, and provide context for where your ancestor was found and with whom. Their death location is often the name or location of a plantation, and even if not, the owner’s name can be tracked through land and tax records. Even if your ancestors died in earlier generations, or after the Civil War, finding that thread to pull is invaluable. Tracking the enslaving family back to where they came from likely informs you of where your ancestors probably came from too, given that wealthy families often brought enslaved people along with them to the frontier.

I suspect that not all deaths of enslaved people were recorded.

Correlating death records with tax records reaching back in time can be very enlightening. Free people of color are recorded on tax records as well. Lucky for us, The tax collector wasn’t going to miss any revenue!

Medical Treatment

What was medical treatment like prior to the 1900s?

Most people treated themselves, or a local midwife also dispensed accumulated knowledge of herbs and remedies that addressed the symptoms of the patient.

There were doctors in Washington County, but clearly, without knowledge of modern medicine, and without many tools, there often wasn’t a lot they could do. Bleeding as a treatment was falling out of favor but continued at some level until the late 1800s, and often made a bad situation worse. In situations where the body was severely weakened and dehydrated, like with Dysentery and Flux, the loss of blood would just be one more thing for a beleaguered body to fight.

Doctors couldn’t even help themselves. A doctor, age 33, died of fever and so did the doctor that was 81. A third physician, age 29, died of inflammation. I just want to scream, across the years, stop bleeding people and ANTIBIOTICS!!!! Of course, antibiotics didn’t come into play until the 1900s, so doctors simply did the best they could.

What Did I Learn?

I never did find what I was seeking, the location where James McKee or his sister who both died in 1855, were buried.

However, I discovered a HUGE trove of information about what was happening in Washington County, VA, which can probably be extrapolated for that region and perhaps further afield. Regardless, it gives you a pattern to follow for your ancestors where they lived.

I have a much better appreciation for how frightened mothers and couples must have been for their young children. Fear must have clutched everyone’s heart if someone had intestinal issues, or coughed. Reminds me of how we’ve all felt about Covid over the past couple of years. Close contact, such as church and funerals, probably spread their diseases the same way Covid is spread today. Covid also gave us a much better, and unfortunate, appreciation for mass and unexpected deaths. So many families have lost multiple members.

The only testament we often have today about deaths during that timeframe is a “space” of 3 or 4 years between children who actually made it to a census. The larger the space, the more children that died. Most of them never had tombstones that survived, just sad wooden crosses nailed together. The parents, and grandparents, if they were living, knew where they were buried. No one else would care, and a generation later, no one knew they had ever existed unless a person who was then old thought to mention their sister or brother who had died decades before.

I also suspect that while no one ever got used to children perishing, that at some level, couples expected some children to die. It was part of the natural life cycle – as painful as that was. Even royalty who had the best care available at the time referred to “an heir and a spare.”

Religion played a large part in their lives and these pioneers would have derived comfort from their religious beliefs and the pastor’s words at the funerals.

In many cases, the mother was either pregnant again, or they were busy doing chores that could not wait for grief to abate. Animals had to be fed, milked, and slaughtered – or no one else would eat either. Fields had to be plowed, and cotton, flax, and wool had to be spun. Grain had to be ground. Food had to be cooked every day. Time to grieve was a luxury no one could afford.

When I was young, I remember the older women whose birth probably reach back into the early 1900s making seemingly insensitive comments when a child was stillborn, died, or a miscarriage occurred. “Just try again” was what they said. That’s probably EXACTLY what had been said to them under the same circumstances. Now, I view that more as a defense mechanism and “legacy advice,” probably passed down for generations, than simply being hard-hearted.

Sadly, it seems that almost every family experienced multiple deaths of their children, and many people married at least twice, if not three times. Not because of divorce, but due to death. Now we know their causes of death.

Funerals were probably as common as the Sunday sermon. If 134 people died in a year (plus the ones that weren’t recorded,) that’s at least 2.5 deaths a week. I know there were two Presbyterian Churches during this timeframe, plus probably a Baptist and Methodist church. It would be safe to say that each preacher probably performed at least one funeral each week.

Everyone knew how to build a coffin. In fact, maybe a few were built ahead and stored in someone’s barn – especially child-sized, as sad as that was.

Years later, in Claiborne County, family history reveals that the community experienced what was reported as a smallpox outbreak. Many people died. Two of Ruthy Dodson Estes’s adult daughters in their 40s died two days apart in April of 1888, plus both of one daughter’s children. Ruthy’s husband had gone to Texas, permanently, so her son, Lazarus Estes, built his sisters’ coffins, dug their graves, and buried them, just like he had for his own two daughters four years earlier.

There weren’t enough people available to build coffins or dig graves in the community. No one wanted to handle the dead bodies, not only because of contagion, but because so many people were sick themselves. As awful as that time period was, there is little history remaining of that smallpox outbreak today, and we wouldn’t have known about it at all had the story not been repeated by Lazarus to his son, who told his son, Uncle George, who was born in the 19-teens, who repeated it to me in the 1980s.

I wonder if the Fleenor and Widener families, both of whom experienced a devastating number of deaths in Washington County, carry any oral history of that mass-death event? I suspect that people were discouraged from dwelling on the “past” and were encouraged to focus on the here-and-now. After all, nothing could be done about that, and one really did have to get on with life.

Viewing death records through the lens of local history is quite enlightening too. Where would these people have been buried? Was there a family cemetery on their land or did their religious denomination have a church graveyard?  Can you figure out who attended what denomination of church? If so, what is the relevant church history? Where did the family live? Dysentery was related to contaminated water. Did the family have a spring with their own headwater, or were they sharing a water source? Did they have a well that got contaminated?

Of course, these answers won’t be available in death records, but land and tax records may help to resolve these questions and illuminate the information forthcoming about the county and neighborhood where your ancestors lived – and even whose funerals they attended. Just discovering the name of the local preacher may help, because sometimes people settled with their minister when he was called to an area.

We often think of death records as the end of the line, but they have so much more to offer and can lead the way to the information you need!


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Vote for Roberta’s RootsTech 2023 Session Topic

RootsTech has graciously allowed me some latitude in selecting my session topic for 2023, so I’m asking what you’d like to see.

RootsTech 2023 will be both virtual AND in-person in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 2-4. You can click here to sign up for updates. The virtual portion will be free again this year, (thank you FamilySearch) so everyone will be able to attend.

I’m currently aiming for in-person. Fingers crossed. I’m already getting excited, and it’s still literally almost exactly six months away! I feel like I haven’t seen anyone in FOREVER!

I don’t have all the details yet, but I know for sure that I’m speaking, one way or another.

Since all of you will be able to attend virtually, I thought I’d ask for topic suggestions.

Is there a topic you’ve particularly enjoyed and found useful, or, conversely, a topic where you would like more information?

How about a topic you think would be broadly useful to a large number of people?

Or maybe a “how to” session about something?

Here are a couple of guidelines.

  • The topic shouldn’t be too general or too specific.
  • I have to be able to cover all of the material in roughly 40-45 minutes.
  • The topic needs to be relevant to a broad audience.

Suggestions for catchy titles are gladly accepted too! 😊

Please make your suggestions in the comments. Thanks so much!


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research