Elizabeth (born c 1711), Frontier Wife of John Dobkins Jr.: Warfare, Conflict and Uncertainty – 52 Ancestors #379

We know very little about Elizabeth Dobkins. Most of what we know is told through the lens of her husband, John Dobkins Jr. who was born around 1708 and died sometime after 1788.

We know that Elizabeth was Protestant, and having her children baptized was important to her. A baptism record is one of only two places where we find Elizabeth’s name.

Thank goodness for the baptism of Elizabeth’s child by the Lutheran minister, Reverend John Stoever, in the Shenandoah Valley.

  • John Dawbin (Shenandoah.) – Dawbin, Thomas, b. Nov. 8, 1736; bap. June 8, 1737. Teste: James Gill

John Dawbin and his wife Elizabeth also witnessed the following baptisms, children of James Guill:

  • John Dawbin testis, June 8, 1737, baptism of Thomas Guill, son of James.
  • Elizabeth Dawbin, testis, June 8, 1737, baptism of James Guill, son of James.

These baptisms tell us that Elizabeth’s son, Thomas, was born on November 8, 1736, one of the early European children born in the Shenandoah Valley to the 49 original settlers.

We don’t know if Thomas was her first child.

We do know that Elizabeth and her husband, John, were in the Shenandoah Valley on September 24, 1735, when Benjamin Borden issued her father-in-law, John Dobkins Sr. a bond stating that he would be able to obtain a patent on his land. The two families had already arrived together by that time.

Based on Thomas’s birth date, Elizabeth would have become pregnant for him in mid-February, 1736, during their first cold winter on the frontier.

It gets downright cold and snows in the Valley. Their tiny cabin would have only been heated by the fireplace, assuming they even had a cabin, with a door, and a fireplace, that first winter. They probably didn’t mind keeping each other warm.

When John and Elizabeth first arrived, this part of the Shenandoah Valley fell into Orange County, VA. The Shenandoah Valley was far from the county seat, more than 60 miles, across the Blue Ridge mountains, probably through Swift Run Gap. I find it hard to believe that anyone would be heading there for a marriage license.

More likely, people simply got married when the first minister of whatever denomination rode through. Stoever performed marriages when he baptized children. In one case, he married a couple and baptized their children at the same time. If there wasn’t a minister, there wasn’t a minister, and people are going to be people with or without an official blessing. Blessings can be deferred, life can’t. Life on the frontier was tenuous.

Given that we don’t find any marriage for John and Elizabeth Dobkins in Stoevers journal, the courthouse was days away across the mountains, almost as far away as they had come from Maryland, and Orange County marriage records don’t begin until 1757 – I’m going to make a leap of faith here and presume that Elizabeth married John before they arrived in the remote Shenandoah Valley.

If Elizabeth already had a child, that child would have been about 18 months old when she got pregnant for Thomas. That pushes the date of that child’s birth back to about August of 1734, which means Elizabeth would have gotten pregnant for that baby in about November of 1733.

Now, of course, this is assuming that no child was born and died during that period, which means the mother would get pregnant again a month or two after she stopped nursing the baby.

John Dobkins Jr., along with his father, John Dobkins Sr., migrated from Prince George’s County, Maryland between August 1734 and September of 1735 when we find the bond between Borden and John Dobkins.

Young men in the colonies didn’t set up housekeeping until they married, so the fact that in 1733, John Dobbins Jr. and Sr. were both listed on the Prince George’s County, MD tax list individually tells us that John Jr. was married by 1733.

Unfortunately, Prince George’s County marriage records don’t begin until 1777, so we aren’t going to find Elizabeth’s marriage record there, either. Complicating things even further, Prince George’s County seems to have been both a destination and a jumping-off place for more distant locations. Prince George’s was full of people from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Many, if not most, were immigrants, so the neighborhood would have been interesting with a plethora of languages being spoken.

We don’t know If John Dobkins Jr. and Elizabeth were married in Maryland, and if so, when and where.

What else do we know about Elizabeth?

She had two more children, Jean and John, who were baptized by the Presbyterian minister in 1741.

That makes at least 3 children by 1741.

Assuming that John Dobkins only had one wife, we know that Elizabeth had additional children – some that we know about, and some that we probably don’t.

There is also rumored to be a Moore connection.

The Moore Connection

The only other definitive record that we have of Elizabeth is when she signed as John Dobikin’s wife on a June 1753 deed where they sold their land on Holman’s Creek to Thomas Moore.

Family oral history, with no source, indicates that Elizabeth was Thomas Moore’s daughter, but there are two Thomas Moores. Elizabeth, born about 1711, is NOT the daughter of Thomas Moore, the son of Riley Moore who was born in the 1730s.

It’s very unlikely that she is the daughter of the Thomas Moore who arrived with Riley Moore and appears to be the uncle of the Thomas Moore to whom they sold their land. Sorting the two Thomas Moores’ land transactions is quite difficult.

Thomas Moore, brother or half-brother of Riley Moore, was born sometime between 1707 and 1720, depending on which type of calculation you use, and died in 1790. He did have a daughter named Elizabeth. However, if she was married, he didn’t state her married name.

The problem is that Elizabeth Moore is born about the same time as both Thomas Moore and Riley Moore, so she is more likely to be their sister than their daughter. However, their father, William Moore, is not shown with a daughter, Elizabeth, so this jury is still out. We’ve eliminated several possibilities, but we still have no idea who Elizabeth actually was.

There are many common first names in the Moore, Allen and Dobkins families – including Reuben, Jacob, Thomas, and John. Both the Moore and Allen families accompanied the two John Dobkins’s and their families from Prince George’s County, MD. Both Riley Moore and Thomas Moore named sons Reuben, probably in honor of Reuben Allen, the father of Mary Allen who married the older Thomas Moore. That doesn’t explain why Riley named a child Reuben, though.

Elizabeth and John Dobkins named one of their sons Reuben too, as did their son Jacob. Reuben is clearly clue, a family name of some sort, but how and why?

These families seem to be somehow intertwined before arriving in the Shenandoah Valley – and became moreso in the next several generations.

Life on Holman Creek

Most of Elizabeth’s children were born here, in this log cabin in the tiny 3 or 4 house hamlet known as Moore’s Store today.

We know they were living here before 1746 when the men surveying the Fairfax line camped in their field and pastured their horses in their meadow.

Elizabeth would have carried water from Holman Creek, behind the cabin, obscured by the underbrush behind the house today. The road, such as it is, would have been a horse path along the creek, and nothing more.

It looks like the original cabin was only half this size and the second story was added later. Imagine trying to cook in your one or two pots, in the fireplace, with more than half a dozen children running around.

If John and Elizabeth had a bed, it would probably have been one bed, or two at most. The cabin had one room, so very limited space. Their trip from Maryland was made on foot and by horseback, because the trail wouldn’t be widened for numerous years to accommodate wagons. Furniture would have been built from the trees being cleared after arrival.

Only metal items like pots, and maybe seeds for planting, would have been brought along.

The Holman family and Thomas Moore, along with John Dobkins Jr., settled along Holman Creek, beginning at the mouth of the Shenandoah River in about 1735. This location is about 5 miles upstream, probably in a somewhat isolated settlement.

The stone mill across the road wouldn’t have existed at that time, at least not as a mill. In fact, this might have been the stone structure originally built by John Dobkins to protect his family and function as a frontier fort, later being expanded with a second story, and being retrofitted as a mill.

We know the early “forts” were made of stone and were often just one home in which the neighbors congregated in times of danger on the frontier.

Regardless of which house they lived in, both were quite small, and both were located on their property.

John and Elizabeth sold this land on Holman Creek to Thomas Moore in 1753 when they moved about 15 miles north to Stony Creek, which is probably where the assumption that Elizabeth is Thomas Moore’s daughter arose.

They may have lived to regret that move.

Elizabeth’s Children

I assembled Elizabeth’s children, estimating their birth years based on the few clues we have.

Name Estimated Birth Records Marriage Comments
Thomas Dobkins Nov. 8, 1736 Chainer In 1753 Baptized by Lutheran John Stoever, nothing after 1753
Jean Dobkins Estimate 1738 March 6, 1741 baptism Baptized at Presbyterian Rockish, nothing more
John Dobkins Estimate 1740 March 6, 1741 baptism Maybe married Rachel Johnson, dau of Peter Baptized at Presbyterian Rockish
Jacob Dobkins 1751 Birth year in his Rev War pension app, family of 8 in 1783, 1784 Shenandoah Tax list March 11, 1775 to Dorcas Johnson, dau of Peter Johnson On 1775 militia list, Wash Co. (NC) by 1785 with Evan and Reuben in Wash. Co., NC
Evan Dobkins Estimate 1752 1778 Constable, on Rockingham tax list in 1782, 83 and in Shenandoah 1784 Jan. 30, 1775 to Margaret Johnson, dau of Peter On 1775 militia list, by 1785 in Washington Co., NC
Reuben Dobkins Estimate 1754 1782 tax list – in 1783 has 4 family members, 1784 in Shenandoah, 1788 Martin’s Campaign Elizabeth Holman – married about 1777 On the 1775 militia list, In Jacob Holman’s will in 1784, in 1786 voted in Wash. Co., NC (TN)
Rebecca Estimate 1756 Married Patrick Shield(s) Feb. 21, 1783 Marriage bond signed by John Dobkins

Elizabeth probably had more than seven children, given that she would have been of child-bearing age for approximately 22 years. That equates to 14 or 15 children, assuming none died at birth and there was an average of 18 months between children. Just looking at the spread of those dates, we have about 6 missing children.

That means that someplace, probably in the family cemetery on their farm, or maybe buried beside his parents, there are six little crosses, plus one for Thomas who died sometime after the age of 17.

Elizabeth’s son, John, may have married Rachel Johnson, according to Johnson family recollections, or, John too may have perished, one way or another. Half of the children born in this era didn’t live to adulthood. The frontier was a dangerous, treacherous place to live.

Massacre at Stoney Creek

Elizabeth’s son, Thomas, died after they moved up the road to Stony Creek. Why would they leave a perfectly good farm and begin all over again, just a few miles away?

We know that there were Indian attacks and massacres along Stony Creek, and we know Thomas was assisting a surveyor along this Creek, on land adjoining his father’s in 1753.

I still wonder if Thomas was one of the fatalities of the French and Indian War when warfare broke out in an attempt to push the settlers off of Indian land. Thomas was nearly a grown man. While women and younger children were often captured and adopted into Indian families, men were not. At that age, Thomas would have been killed if he was caught outside and unprotected.

Calculating Elizabeth’s Birth

Rebecca Dobkins married Patrick Shield(s) in February of 1783, with John Dobkins signing for her.

If Rebecca Dobkins married when she was 21, her birth year would have been in 1761 or 1762. She could have been born earlier, but probably not later.

We know that Elizabeth was married by 1732. Let’s assume that she was age 20 or 21 on her wedding day, so born about 1711.

If she was born in 1711, her last child would have been born no later than 1756 when she would have been 45. Given that, Rebecca would have been born no later than 1756, not in 1761.

In 1756, the Dobkins family was living in this small cabin along Stoney Creek.

Life Along Stoney Creek

This cabin too was stone, indicating a fortified structure.

The settlers really needed the protection. The Indian raids associated with the French and Indian War began soon after they moved.

On September 17, 1757, a band of Shawnee Indians descended on the settlers living on Cedar Creek and Stoney Creek. Historians report that 34 people were killed or captured, but we have no names. Thomas would have been 21.

Elizabeth would have faced the depredations with a house full of stair-step children, including a baby. John, as part of the militia may or may not have been home. I’d bet Elizabeth, as a frontier wife, could wield a gun and shoot with the best of them.

We don’t know when Elizabeth died, only that it was after 1753 when she signed the deed, and probably after 1756 when Rebecca would have been born.

And she probably eventually died right here, in this house, hopefully peacefully, quietly, warm, and near the fireplace – not in one of the Indian raids.

Wild Child

Every mother has a wild child, and Jacob Dobkins appears to have been the one Elizabeth would have worried about – especially if she had lost Thomas as a result of those Indian raids. They would have lost neighbors and other family members, too.

Warfare and death were a reality on the frontier, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the mothers who lost their children and other family members.

And who knows, Thomas’s death and the raids upon the settlers might have been what spurred three of her sons, Jacob, Reuben, and Evan to serve in the militia in 1775.

Jacob, however, might have been her wild child, with a lust deep in his soul for the unknown. Or, maybe revenge for his brother’s death.

Jacob Dobkins apparently struck out on his own early, then enlisted to serve in the Revolutionary War.

In 1773, Fincastle County, VA included the land west to the Mississippi that would become Kentucky. Jacob had apparently been living there because he is listed as “not found” on the delinquent tax list.

A young man, and not burdened by marriage, he had already moved on.

In 1774, Jacob fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War.

The Battle of Point Pleasant pitted the Virginia Militia out of Augusta County against the Shawnee and Mingo warriors at Point Pleasant, VA, along the Ohio River.

Did Elizabeth know? How she must have worried. She clearly knew Jacob was marching off to engage the Indians – into unknown danger, through wilderness unfamiliar to the Augusta men, but quite familiar to the Indians. That just sounds like a recipe for disaster.

You can read about that day, here, but thankfully, Elizabeth would only have known about this deadly battle after it happened, and after Jacob returned.

Jacob returned home and married in Dunmore County in 1775. So did his brother, Evan. Maybe Elizabeth heaved a sigh of relief – thinking Jacob would settle down to farming – but that sigh was premature. Adventure was infused in Jacob’s blood, seared into his being.

All three of Elizabeth’s sons, Jacob, Evan, and Reuben appear on the 1775 militia list. The Shenandoah Valley was bracing for what would evolve into the Revolutionary War.

Elizabeth’s grandchildren began arriving in late 1775 or 1776. Maybe THAT would keep her sons close to home.

Nope.

The War Cometh

In May of 1779, Jacob enlisted and served for two incredibly dangerous years. The Battle of Point Pleasant was only boot camp. Jacob pushed even further into the wilderness, was at what would become Harrodsburg, KY, built Fort Harrod, marched across Kentucky, then against the Shawnee in Ohio, and joined with George Rogers Clark in the Piqua Campaign. By now, he was a seasoned soldier at 28 years old.

Clearly, Jacob was getting more than a taste of life beyond civilization. Jacob, of course, had helped his father establish their home on the frontier as well, so he had lots of backwoods survival experience.

Some John Dobkins claimed land on the frontier in what became Kentucky, not too far from where Jacob was serving, so maybe John and Elizabeth were considering setting out once again.

Jacob fought at the brutal Battle of Pickaway where the soldiers faced more than 450 braves on their own territory in a battle that lasted three and a half hours. Jacob reported that he did not receive any wounds, but there were several bullet holes through his clothes.

Of course, these close calls are the fodder of legends, but only for the survivors who live to tell those tales. And of course, they are every mother’s worst fear. Jacob came just that close, over, and over, and over again.

Jacob returned home to Shenandoah County after the war, in May of 1781, having walked more than 450 miles. He’s still in Shenandoah County in 1782 and 1783 showing as a head of household, with a family of 8, meaning they had 6 children by that time, or someone else was living them. Jacob never owned property, so I’d wager he built a cabin on his father’s land. His parents were getting up there in age anyway, in their 70s, and probably welcomed the help.

Elizabeth’s daughter, Rebecca married in 1783 to Patrick Shields and left immediately for Kentucky where they are found in 1784.

Apparently, Jacob had the itch too, and by 1785, he was testing the waters in Washington County, NC in the area of the fledging State of Franklin near Jonesboro, TN. In 1785, no one knew for sure if they lived in NC or Franklin, but everyone had an opinion.

By 1788, the conflict within and surrounding the State of Franklin escalated into a war with the Cherokee, and Elizabeth’s son, Reuben set off with General Martin to settle that score in a Campaign against the Cherokee.

If Elizabeth was still living, and still in Shenandoah or Frederick County, VA, she may not have known about this. She would, however, have known her sons and daughter were living on the dangerous frontier, with her grandchildren.

In November 5th, 1787, there’s a court record indicating that John Dobkins had joined his sons on the frontier. If Elizabeth was still living, she would have been there to see Reuben march off to war, following another massacre, not knowing if she would ever see him again. Men return from war changed people – but Elizabeth probably already knew that – in spades.

John and Elizabeth’s Land on Stoney Creek

What happened to John Dobkins’ land on Stoney Creek has always been a mystery, but recently, in the land patent book, I discovered a 1788 land patent transfer where John Dobekin assigned his land patented in 1755 to Joseph Pugh. Since it wasn’t a sale, I’m unclear whether Elizabeth would have needed to sign.

However, as the wife of the patentee in 1753, she signed when they sold the land on Holman’s Creek.

  • June 23, 1753 – John Dobikin, grantor, Elizabeth Dobikin, grantor’s wife, from Fairfax August 7, 1750, 400 acres on Holman’s Creek.

Therefore, one might, and I stress *might*, interpret the lack of her signature or any mention of her to mean that Elizabeth had died by 1788. She would have been roughly 77 years old, and my guess is that after she died, John decided to accompany his sons rather than stay in Frederick County, Virginia, alone.

Or, perhaps they were both still living and neither of them wanted to stay in a location with no help after all of their children had set out for the next untamed frontier.

Elizabeth might have wondered, “What got into those boys anyway?” Oh, wait…that’s how we brought them up and the example we set, raising them on the frontier and all. Never mind.

If Elizabeth joined them in body on this next journey, not just spirit, she would have accompanied John and her sons as they bumped and bounced 300 miles down the rough old wagon road to join other adventurous souls in the land that would one day become Washington County, Tennessee. Of course, that would be after they suffered through the failing of the State of Franklin.

I can’t help but wonder if the lure of establishing a new state was part of the attraction – plus plenty of land to be homesteaded of course. The Dobkins boys were settling smack dab in the middle of yet another war, this time between John Sevier and John Tipson. The Seviers were their neighbors back in Shenandoah Valley, and from the lawsuits filed, my guess would be that their alliances fell with John Tipton. It’s difficult to tell. Let’s just say it was very “messy” from 1784 through 1788, when Franklin imploded. The Battle of the State of Franklin would be fought in February of 1788.

If Elizabeth wasn’t dead by then, she might have wished she was. That had to be a miserable journey if you were nearing 80, followed by more warfare, conflict, and uncertainty. That seems to be a repeating theme in her life.

Elizabeth homesteaded on either two or three treacherous frontiers; colonial Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley, and, possibly, the State of Franklin.

She lived either during or through three or four wars in which her husband and/or sons were involved; The French and Indian War, Lore Dunmore’s War, the Revolutionary War, and the State of Franklin. That’s assuming the family didn’t get caught up in Cresap’s border war back in Maryland. Living in a war zone stretched across more than three decades of her life, beginning not long after they arrived in the Shenandoah Valley. I can’t help but wonder if Elizabeth ever regretted leaving Maryland.

DNA

Can DNA help answer the question of who Elizabeth’s parents were?

The answer is, “possibly.”

It would be very helpful if we could obtain the mitochondrial DNA of Elizabeth. She received her mitochondrial DNA from her mother, and passed it to all of her children, but only her daughters passed it on.

The challenge is that her daughter Jean appears to have perished before reaching adulthood, which only leaves Rebecca, assuming Rebecca is Elizabeth’s daughter. I really dislike that “assume” word.

I can find one Patrick Shields who received land grants in Jefferson County, Kentucky in March of 1784 and Fayette County in June 1784. His wife apparently died, and he remarried in 1792 in Lincoln County, Kentucky to Mary Ann Worthington.

Patrick died in 1797 in Henry County, leaving his wife, but no mention of children in his will.

If he and Rebecca were married for 9 years before he remarried, they likely had 3 or 4 children. Unfortunately, we don’t know who they were, if any survived, and if any were female. To obtain Elizabeth’s mitochondrial DNA through Rebecca, it would have to be transmitted female to female in every generation to current, where the present generation can be a male.

Clearly, this isn’t going to happen.

Autosomal

Can autosomal DNA help?

The answer is “potentially,” but the problem is that Elizabeth is 8 generations back in time for me. That’s beyond the reach of either ThruLines at Ancestry, or Theories of Family Relativity at MyHeritage. I would love to see these tools extended back another couple of generations, but I doubt that will happen at all, and certainly not anytime soon.

I need to do one (or more) of three things:

  • Search my DNA matches by ancestor, not just surname. I want to search for people who I DNA match and have Riley Moore, a Thomas Moore, or Reuben Allen in their tree as a direct ancestor.
  • Identify segments descending from the Dobkins line, then search by segment to find other testers with whom I triangulate on those segments. At that point, I need to look for Moore and Allen families in the trees of people who match my “Dobkins” segments.
  • Search for commonalities in the trees of the people I match on those segments attributed to my Dobkins line, even if the common people in their trees aren’t in my tree. That may be the only way I’ll ever figure out who Elizabeth’s parents were.

Unfortunately, I can’t do those things at any of the vendors.

I can triangulate my segments and download my matches at 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage, but I can’t search by ancestor, nor automatically look for common people in multiple trees.

23andMe does not provide or support trees, so there’s no possibility for an ancestor search there.

GEDmatch, a third-party tool, allows me to triangulate and do segment searches, but GEDmatch users seldom upload trees, and there is no direct tree comparison tool. However, GEDmatch does provide AutoKinship, licensed from Genetic Affairs.

Genetic Affairs

I touched bases with EJ Blom at Genetic Affairs and he said he’s considering working on a tool similar to what I’ve described for his customers who use FamilyTreeDNA.

It won’t work at 23andMe because they have no customer trees, and his AutoCluster tool is already built in at MyHeritage, so he can’t use his external tools there. Ancestry served him a lovely cease-and-desist letter some time back, so Ancestry customers can’t utilize his tools there either, which is truly unfortunate.

However, this potential new tool would be wonderful news for FamilyTreeDNA customers, and maybe, just maybe, it will encourage more people to upload their results (and trees) there as well.

So, I have my fingers crossed for a “common ancestor” tool soon for matches at FamilyTreeDNA, hopefully accompanied by segment reporting. That would make a wonderful Christmas present, don’t you think, Santa EJ! 😊

I’m desperate to find Elizabeth’s parents – and knock down a few other brick walls too.

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