John Dobkins Sr. (c 1685-1746) Wilderness Homesteader on Smith Creek in the Shenandoah Valley – 52 Ancsestors #377

We don’t know where John Dobkins was born, nor when he, or his ancestors, arrived in the colonies. We don’t know if he was born here, or overseas. If he was born in the old country, where was that? Was he married when he arrived, or did he marry here? We do know that his wife’s name was Mary, or at least, his wife when he died.

We aren’t even positive about the spelling of John’s surname. John wasn’t able to write, so others would have written his name as it sounded to them. There were Germans, Scots-Irish, Dutch and probably English settlers in the Shenandoah Valley, so they would have heard and written his name differently. It’s no wonder we find his surname recorded variously as Dobkin, Dobkins, Dobikin, Dobikins, Dobin, Dobins, Dobbin, Dobbins and more variations. Two generations later, my ancestor, Jacob Dobkins spelled it Dobkins, as did the descendants of his brothers, Reuben and Evan, at least most of the time.

I discovered a significant amount of information in an undated, uncopyrighted book that I think was written about 1978, The Dobkins Family in America, 1730-1978, by Cecil B. Smyth Jr. (1929-2014.) It was this book that showed me where to dig further. Cecil did an incredible amount of work on this family, including historical research on the ground and in the region. I communicated with Cecil before his death, and I think he’d be pleased that we’ve used his work as a foundation building block.

County Formation

Between 1720 and 1734, what would become Shenandoah County was a part of Spotsylvania County, Virginia. From 1734 to 1738, it was included in Orange County. In 1738, the area of Orange County west of the Blue Ridge Mountains was separated to become the new counties of Augusta to the south and Frederick to the north.

In 1753, the dividing line between Augusta and Frederick Counties was made to coincide with the Fairfax line. On March 24, 1772, a new county was formed from Frederick County which was to be known as Dunmore. In 1778, its name was changed to Shanando which eventually morphed to Shenandoah.

Early Settlement

In 1716, Sir Alexander Spotswood, the Royal Governor of Virginia, headed west with a small army along the Germanna Trail. Many in the exploratory party contracted German measles along the way, but Governor Spotswood and a few hearty souls continued on and crossed the Blue Ridge at Swift Run Gap.

The Governor forded the Shenandoah River and buried a bottle on the west bank. This bottle contained a note he had written which claimed all territory west of the mountains to “The River of the Spaniards,” now the Mississippi, in the name of and for King George I of England. After the French were driven out of the Ohio Territory, the claim lasted until the end of the American Revolution.

On June 17, 1730, John and Isaac Van Meter were issued “land orders” from Governor Gooch authorizing them to select 40,000 acres as a buffer zone against raids by the Indians and the French moving into the Ohio River Valley.

Van Meter, a trapper and Indian trader, held a 10,000-acre tract in the Shenandoah Valley which he had acquired from Lord Fairfax. A condition of this sale was that one hundred German families were to settle in the Valley. Van Meter sold this land to Jost Hite of eastern Pennsylvania in 1727. You can read more about the confusing details, here.

Hite proceeded to search for one hundred German families, and, in 1731, the group headed for the Valley.

Hite purchased the Van Meter’s rights for unpatented parcels within the 40,000 acres on August 5, 1731.

Hite personally migrated to the Shenandoah Valley in 1731. Local tradition holds that he brought 16 German and Scotch-Irish families in the initial settlement caravan. They lived near the Pack Horse Ford crossing over the Potomac River until completing their houses further south on Opequon Creek.

At the time, there were no roads crossing the Blue Ridge. Travelers on foot had passed through mountain gaps for 10,000 years, while colonial explorers using horses had been crossing the mountains since John Lederer in 1670. However, it took two decades after first permanent colonial settlers arrived in the Shenandoah Valley before the old trails were improved enough for wagons to make a reliable crossing over the mountains into the Piedmont.

In 1734, the Van Meters sold Hite the parcels they had previously patented, except for some parcels near Shepherdstown (then Maryland, now West Virginia) where John Van Meter had lived. Hite may have been John Van Meter’s cousin or nephew, a relationship that could have facilitated their dealings.

Enroute west, they encountered Robert McKay and his group of Scotch-Irish settlers from the coast. They perfected a plan to pool land and money so that they could eventually obtain more land from Lord Fairfax. They purchased 70,000 more acres over the next two years and determined a plan for dividing it.

The Scotch-Irish were to settle the eastern half from Winchester to Luray, in essence the South Fork of the Shenandoah. Hite’s Germans would occupy the western portion from Winchester to beyond what is now Strasburg, the North Fork of the Shenandiah. Hite erected a house five miles south of Winchester along what was to become the “Valley Pike,” U.S. Route 11.

Two of his grandsons built much larger homes along Cedar Creek near Strasburg a half century later. His son-in-law, George Bowman, settled along the south side of Cedar Creek in what is now Shenandoah County in 1731 or 1732.

Another son-in-law, Paul Froman, settled along the creek eight or nine miles northwest of Bowman.

Other settlers were soon to follow. Benjamin Allen, Riley Moore and William White arrived from the Monocacy Valley in Maryland and settled in the area of what is now Mt. Jackson, just a few miles north of John Dobkins’ land.

Jacob Funk bought 2,030 acres between Fishers Hill and Strasburg, including part of the present town of Strasburg, from Henry Willis in 1735.

By 1738, many people had settled what would become Shenandoah County forty years later, in 1778.

The first Indians encountered by the settlers were friendly, and the two groups lived together peacefully for about 20 years. Apparently, the Native people didn’t object to the Pennsylvania settlers due to the treaty William Penn had struck with the Native Americans on the banks of the Delaware. It probably didn’t hurt that Van Meter traded with the Indians, earning their trust, and some backcountry settlers had purchased land directly from the Indians. According to Wine, in Life Along Holman’s Creek, the Native people objected violently to any migration of the “long Knives,” which would be the English for the most part, from east of the Blue Ridge.

Jost Hite and Robert McKay advertised to residents of the Philadelphia, PA area that settlements of the land west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Northern Neck of Virginia were available. John Dobkins Sr. and his wife, Mary were among the takers.

Cecil reports that “John was a Scotch-Irishman from Ulster, Northern Ireland. We do not know the year he emigrated or anything about his wife. They settled in what was Orange County, VA in 1731 or 1732.”

I surely wish that Cecil had documented his source for either his arrival date in the Shenandoah Valley or John Dobkins’ origin in Ulster. The name Dobbins is found in Dublin and Sligo in 1848-51 when Griffins Valuation of Ireland was conducted. It’s also spelled Dobbyn around County Armagh. However, there are several early Dobikins in England, so the jury is still out on this one.

The Shenandoah Valley region, nestled between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountain ranges was extremely rugged, remote and stunningly beautiful. It still is.

There were no courts opened in Frederick County before 1743 nor in Augusta before 1745. Records for Frederick and Augusta counties were recorded in Orange County until 1743.

Found in Pioneers of Old Frederick County, VA by Cecil O’Dell.

John Dobikin Sr. (b 1685 c) received a bond from Benjamin Borden on 24 September 1735 for “150 pounds Sterling to make patent in full and ample manner as the King gives me” on 150 acres, part of Benjamin Borden’s 3,300 acre tract. The 6 January 1735/36 Morgan Morgan/Peter Woolf census listed John Sr. as a settler on the McKay, Hite, Duff and Green 100,000 acre Colony of Virginia grant land.

This grant proves critically important.

In the Hite/Fairfax lawsuit, William White stated that he was present when Benjamin Bordon gave a bond guaranteeing a good title to the land on Smith Creek that has been purchased by John Dobbin on September 24, 1735. Borden had received 100,000 acres along the branches of the James River in the upper part of the Shenandoah Valley from the Governor’s council in May of 1735.

This is noteworthy, because Borden’s land was supposed to be south of the Beverly Grant, outside of the area claimed by Lord Fairfax. The fact that Borden is guaranteeing John a good title tells us that his land should be south of what would become known as the Fairfax line. We will see in a few minutes why this is an important piece of data.

Clearly, based on that testimony, John Dobkins was physically in this location at that time.

Peter Wolf’s deposition in the lawsuit taken 6th March 1754 and witnessed by Isaac Parkins, Ger’m Keys and Thomas——–(?).

Peter Wolf being first sworn…Deposeth as followeth, That he is now in the fifty fourth year of his age that he came into this Colony from the Jerseys some time in the year 1733, and that he settled upon a tract of Land which was supposed to belong to Joist Hite and as this Deponent believe the same was in Dispute That sometime in the year of our Lord 1736 this Deponent was sent for by the Lord Fairfax who was then as Samuel Timmands’s to Pilot him up to Joist Hite’s which accordingly he did.

There are also a couple of references to Peter Wolf’s list that he took known as “the number of Settlements upon the Grant granted to Robert McCay Jost Hyte and their Partners in the forks of Shannando and the several Branches thereof.”

This is the 100,000-acre grant given to Jost Hite and his Quaker partner Robert McKay. They needed to seat 100 families to fulfill their obligation under that conditional grant to seat 1 family per 1000 acres.

They list the 49 names, as follows:

    • Robert McCay Senr.
    • John Funk
    • Henry Johnston
    • Thomas Parmer
    • John Denton
    • Jonah Denton
    • Henry Falkenburg
    • Edward Wormwood
    • Andrew Falkenburg
    • Jacob Falkenburg
    • David Carlock
    • Benjamin Allen
    • Reiley More
    • John Lewis
    • William White
    • John Dobikin Senr.
    • James Gill
    • Andrew Bird (Burd in 1770)
    • John Nichols
    • William Bridges
    • Charles Smith
    • Daniel Holeman
    • Charles Robinson
    • William Linviel
    • John Gorden
    • John Wood
    • John Cannaday
    • Robert McCay Jr.
    • Joseph Whites
    • William Oldham
    • William Barke
    • William Anns (?)
    • Barnel Hegin
    • Samuel White
    • Joshua Jobe
    • George Robinson
    • James Sickles
    • William Barnett
    • James Leeth
    • John Calbreth
    • John Edmondson
    • Isaac Howell (Houser in 1770)
    • John Read
    • Joseph Tindell
    • Michael Brook
    • Joseph Read
    • David Keath
    • William Goodwin
    • George Leeth

Whereas the said Robert McCay, Jost Hyte and their Partners have requested of us George Hobson and Morgan Morgan two of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace at Opeckon in the County of Orange to view the Settlements within their said Grant and that Mr. George Hobson went part of the Way with me in order to view the same the weather proving bad he returned and there being no other Magistrate over the Ridge Mr. Jost Hight appointed Peter Wolfe in his room to go with me to view the said Settlements within the said Grant.

I the said Morgan Morgan do hereby certify that the said Peter Wolfe and myself have viewed and that we seen the above Settlement being in number forty-nine and that the same are now improving by the above named persons within the said Grant Given under my hand this 26 day of January A:Dom: 1735/6.

Morgan Morgan

This is followed by Peter Wolf, on January 26th, 1735/36, stating that he “had in fact viewed the settlements in the Fork of Shannando and the several Branches thereof and that he did see forty-nine Settlements in number and that the same were now improving by the Persons named in the list.”

The names in red, above, are shown on map 15, shown below, representing the original settlers. The blue names are found in 1770 and shown on map 15A. However, referencing other records, including grants, deeds, court and other records, and baptisms, we find many families who are clearly active in the community but not listed among the original grants along Smith Creek.

The fact that John Dobikin is noted as Senr., and his son by the same name is not listed tells us that they are homesteading together, as one family.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that, at least at first glance, these earliest settlers don’t appear to have Scots-Irish names.

In 1737, William Mayo surveyed this region and noted “Many families of forreign protestants are settled hereabout, under grants from his Majesty’s Governor.”

Where is Smith Creek?

Smith Creek runs for about 20 miles, as the crow flies, in the Shenandoah Valley along what is now Interstate 81 near New Market.

If you pan out, you can see the migration path directly down the valley from Pennsylvania, through the Hagerstown area, on down the valley to the newly minted Borden grant for settlement. On the early maps, this is called the “Waggon Road to Philadelphia.”

I found John’s land on Smith Creek, but what happened to it remains a mystery.

The land patented to his son, John, in 1750, which we had all assumed to be his father’s original patent land was found 8 or 10 miles away, on Holman Creek, not Smith Creek.

It was not this same land, but I spent a lot of time trying to make those pieces fit together. They don’t.

However, Holman Creek dumps into the Shenandoah River not terribly far from the intersection with Smith Creek.

The intersection between Holman Creek and the Shenandoah River is shown at left, and between Smith Creek and the Shenandoah at the right arrow.

The original grant owners were mapped in the book, Pioneers of Old Frederick County by Cecil O’Dell, and included in Cecil Smyth’s book, but John Dobkins is missing.

The Holman family was granted land at the intersection of Holman Creek and the Shenandoah River, and still owned that land in 1770. On those two property owner lists, no individual owned 150 acres, the amount granted to John Dobkins. But the entire grant of 3,300 acres is short exactly 150 acres when adding the total of the known property owners.

However, by studying the property owners, one can learn more about the neighborhood, and I found important clues.

The above drawing shows most of the earliest land grants and shows clearly where the grants lay along Smith Creek. Note the Fairfax line that divides Frederick County from Augusta County.

Map 15A shows the same parcels with their 1770 owners.

By 1770, John Dobkins Sr. had been buried for almost a quarter century, and his 150 acres is still missing.

John Dobkin Sr. became ill in 1743, sick enough to write his will on November 3, 1743, appointing wife Mary and son John Jr. as executors. This confirms that John Jr. was of age at that time.

In the name of god amen the 3rd day of Nov 1743, I John Dobikin of Orang County in the Colony of Virginia, farmer, being ? sick and weak in body but of a perfect mins and memory thanks be given unto god thereof caulling unto mind the mortality of my body and knowing that it is ? for all men once to dye do make and ordain this my last will and testament that is to say principally and first of all I give and recommend my soul into the hands of God that gave it and for my body I recommend it to the earth to be buried in a Christian like and decent manner at the discression of my executor not doubting but at the general Resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty Power of God and as touching such World by ? with it hath pleased God to bless me in this life I give my wife and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.

Imprimis it is my will and I do so order that in the first place all my just debts and funeral charges be paid and satisfied.

Item I give and bequeth unto Mary my Dearly Beloved Wife all my goods and chattles, tenements and lands and at her decase to dispose of as the shall think proper leaving her and my son John Dobkins executors of this my last will and testament and I do herby utterly disalow revok and disanul and ? all former tesament wills….

John signed his will with a somewhat fancy mark, not just an X. This suggests to me that he could not write. If he were simply too sick to sign, he would just have made an X, I would think.

Witnesses were William Jeames (James), William Galenbe and Samuel Brown (his mark.)

This will is unusual because he left his land to his wife. This means she would either have:

  • Sold or transferred the land
  • Had a will
  • Had an estate if she died without a will
  • Or remarried when the land would have become the property of her husband

There’s no evidence of any of those four things, but one of them had to have happened. His land didn’t just vaporize..

John Dobkins Sr.’s will was probated on May 12, 1746 in Augusta County where John Dobkins Jr. and Mary were appointed as executors.

Ten days later, on May 22, 1746, John Dobkin, Benjamin Allen and Tunis Hood are bound as sureties for Mary Dobkin and her son, John Dobkins, as executors of John’s estate.

On June 12, 1746, the estate inventory of John Dobkins Senior was filed and had been appraised by William White, William Carrell and William James. I absolutely love estate inventories, because they describe EXACTLY what was in the house, and barn, and I mean everything, Right down to hammers and dung forks. These inventories convey the story of how these people lived – both by what is present and what is absent.

  • Four milch cows
  • Two year-old heifers
  • One three-year-old steer
  • One three-year-old bull
  • Three two-year-old steers
  • Three yearling calves
  • One bay horse five-years-old
  • One bay mare and colt three-years-old
  • One sorrell mare and colt seven-years-old
  • One black mare four-years-old
  • One dunn horse fifteen-years-old
  • Twelve sheep
  • Two sows and ten piggs two barrows and a boar and three shoats
  • A plough and clevis
  • A cart and cart saddle
  • One feather bed and pair of sheets a pair of blankets and a rug
  • Two spinning wheals one small and the other bigg
  • A great Bible
  • A chest and trunk
  • A sithe and two sickles
  • A dung fork
  • A brand iron
  • Old iron
  • 2 axes
  • Old iron
  • A hammer and pinchers
  • A broad ax
  • Two augers and a drawing knife
  • One iron pot and a iron racing
  • Two iron potts
  • One iron hatchall
  • Three pewter dishes
  • A parcel of old brass
  • One brass candlestick
  • A bed a pair of sheets and blanket and covlet
  • A grindstone with an iron hasel
  • A side saddle
  • A suit of wearing cloaths
  • One gray horse two-years-old
  • One gunn

The total estate was valued at 72 pounds, 13 shillings, no pence, and had been appraised on March 18, 1746. I sure wish we knew who purchased items at his estate sale, or maybe there wasn’t a sale given that he had left everything to Mary.

I realize looking at this list that the 15-year-old horse would have been their pack animal over the mountains, lo those many years ago. That horse had been through the entire trip with the family. They depended upon one another. I wonder if the horse realized John had died, and pulled a wagon with his casket to the burying ground.

What I wouldn’t give to see that Great Bible. Clearly, his son John would have eventually taken possession of the Bible, but what happened to it after that? Hopefully someone penned John’s birth and death dates, as well as those of his children. Maybe his parents and wife’s name too, if we only knew where it was today.

John styled himself as a farmer, but many farmers had a secondary skill in addition to farming. We see evidence of that by finding carpenter tools, blacksmith tools, or similar craftsman items in their estate sale. John apparently truly was a farmer, because he owned 14 cattle of various sorts, 6 horses, 12 sheep, and 16 pigs of various ages. Interestingly, the side saddle would have been Mary’s, so where is his saddle?

The rug would have been a woven bed rug, not a floor rug.

That “snug as a bug in a rug” saying – yep – that was referring to a bedbug and a bed rug. That featherbed and bed rug was the most valuable item inside the house. Four times as valuable as John’s only gun, as hard as that is to believe on the frontier.

I can just see Mary insisting on having a feather bed. She probably plucked hundreds of chickens and geese before they went into the pot, saving the feathers. That was probably their only creature comfort, given that they only had one candlestick and three pewter plates, but no table or chairs. Yes, that feather bed was valuable indeed!

John had assuredly passed the half-century mark, and probably three-score, yet, other than the clothes he was buried in, he had one “suit of wearing clothes.” I surely would like to know if that has a meaning beyond the individual words. Is this a specific type of clothing, or a specific cultural saying? Since it was referenced as a suit, was it a jacket, breeches and waistcoat? If so, why would he have hauled that overland, on horseback, to the frontier? His dunn horse surely already had enough to carry.

John’s Land

Since John Dobkins’ will was probated in Augusta County, not Frederick County, this tells us that he was living in the area of the map below the county dividing line between Augusta County and Frederick County. The fact that Bordon provided his grant confirms the same.

Based on the map of the grants provided in the book, and the county dividing line, I attempted to reconstruct that area, today.

This area on Google maps is located just east of US11, known at Valley Pike, near the intersection with Greatview Lane. You can tell by the shape of the river. Note that Smith Creek to Thornton Gap Road on that original map is now 211.

John assuredly lived close to the existing grants. He wouldn’t have wanted to be by himself. That wasn’t safe. As it was, it looks like he might have been one of the furthest south homesteads, bordering on the untouched wilderness.

I’ve reconstructed this portion of the grant using the river and the approximate edges of the grants.

There is one grant that is not labeled. Y and Z are labeled. Z extends on both side of Smith Creek, apparently. Y is on the east side of Smith Creek but the parcel on the western side of Smith Creek, opposite Y, is not labeled.

Unfortunately, Craney Island Road, crossing this land is only one lane, and the Google vehicle does not drive down one lane roads, so we can’t view it more closely.

Still, we can look across the field, knowing that Smith Creek is just over yonder, below those mountains. I believe we’re looking across John Dobkins land here.

These plats are not shown on the original survey map with names, so it’s likely that one of these belonged to John Dobkins. Probably the one with the question marks since none of the accounted-for plots are 150 acres.

Plats Y and Z, along with the unlabeled plat to the west of Y are shown within the red arrows.

It’s very likely that John Dobkins Sr., with help from John Dobkins Jr. cleared these fields, built a log cabin, and set about farming.

When Was John Born?

The fact that John Sr.’s son, John Jr., had a child born in 1736 tells us he was married by at least 1735. Given the marriage age for men of about 25, John Jr. had to have been born about 1710 or maybe even earlier

That pushes John Sr.’s birth back to at least 1685, or perhaps earlier.

If John Sr. was born in 1685, he died at age 61. If Mary was the same age, they would have been having children from about 1705ish to 1727-1730ish. Of course, John Jr. could have been their youngest child, not their oldest, which means they would have been 20 years older, dying at 81. I find it doubtful, though, that a man of 71 would have homesteaded in the wilderness. It’s remarkable enough that a man of 50 or 51 did.

I can’t imagine doing something like that, knowing that one was literally starting over with absolutely nothing. He would have been manually felling trees to clear land and cutting logs to build what was necessarily a small cabin. Without wagons, how did they keep the wildlife at bay while they built their cabins?

Loose Threads

This also causes me to wonder if John and Mary had other children. They must have. If they had additional living children, why were they not mentioned in John’s will? There are no other Dobkins families in evidence, other than John Jr.

There is a James Dobbins in 1751 and 1753 in Augusta County, but he shows no connection to our Dobkins family and eventually moves to South Carolina.

Griffith Dobbins is a Quaker man, and I found no connection with him either, other than naming a child Thomas. In 1813, that Thomas obtained land from a former neighbor family of John Dobkins Jr., more than a half-century after John Sr. died, and a quarter-century after the last of our Dobkins family had loaded up the wagons and departed for the next frontier. Given that John Dobkins Jr. had a son, Thomas who is unaccounted for after 1753, that 1813 Thomas Dobbins sent me on a wild goose chase. Thanks so much to my cousin who found the actual deed record, allowing me to track him down, and putting me out of my misery:)

By all appearances, John Dobkins Sr. and Mary led incredibly difficult, challenging lives, fraught with danger daily, and filled with heartache if only one of their children lived to adulthood. Perhaps they were simply grateful that one child had survived – John’s namesake, John Jr.

I sure wish we knew more about their story.

Actually, I just made a new discovery, and we do, although this too creates more questions than answers…

Stay tuned.


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9 thoughts on “John Dobkins Sr. (c 1685-1746) Wilderness Homesteader on Smith Creek in the Shenandoah Valley – 52 Ancsestors #377

  1. Hi Roberta,

    Regarding building a home in the wilderness at an advanced age:
    My 2nd great grandfather, Calvin Brewster, left his home in Ohio at age 75 to travel by ox-cart to California in 1862. They arrived in Sacramento 6 months later, and he died 7 years after that, in Sonoma County, when he was 82. I was astonished, because 75 seemed so old, but that is what happened! I know that my grandfather’s journey was a century later, and I agree that 81 seems to old to do what John Dobkins did, but that’s not to say it was impossible!


  2. What a blessing having a cousin like Roberta! The work that she does on my Dobkins and Campbell ancestors is amazing.

    • I think I looked at that, but I can look again. Early tax was paid to the proprietor. It wasn’t until after the Revolution that tax was paid to the county or state.

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