Dorcas (also spelled Darcus) Johnson was born about 1750 and died about 1835. We know she died in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but the location of her birth has always been assumed to be Virginia.
You know there’s already trouble brewing when you read that assume word, right?
Dorcas, in the early genealogies, was reported to be the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, but always a skeptic, I had my doubts. I’m working through the various options to prove or disprove that connection. I wrote about my initial findings, here.
What we do know, positively, about Dorcas is that she married Jacob Dobkins in Dunmore County, Virginia, in 1775. There’s no date listed, but it is shown between the September and October marriages.
Dunmore County was renamed as Shenandoah a few years later, so all of the early Dunmore County records aren’t “missing,” they are Shenandoah County records.
Dorcas and Jacob migrated to eastern Tennesee, probably before Tennessee was even a state n the 1790s, settling in Jefferson County on the White Horn Branch of Bent Creek, Near Bull’s Gap. By 1800, they had moved once again to the fledgling Claiborne County when it was first formed. Dorcas Johnson and Jacob Dobkins spent the rest of their lives in Claiborne County, Tennessee.
The Johnson Books
Peter Johnson’s descendants wrote several early books in the 1900s about that family, specifically focused on the child they descended from. More recently, Eric E. Johnson wrote a book where he distilled the earlier books and added a great deal of original research compiled over decades. Eric has very graciously shared and I am ever so grateful for his generosity.
Not all early books report the same children for Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, so I’ve prepared a composite list of children, as follows:
- Richard (Derrick, Derrie) Johnson (1746-1818) married Dorcas Dungan in Pennsylvania and later, Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County, PA. Richard was born in Cumberland County, PA and died in Jefferson County, Ohio.
- Dorcas Johnson (c1748/1750 – c1831/1835) married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 in Dunmore/Shenandoah County. Dorcas is reported in one of the early Johnson books and was reported to have married Reuben Dobkins. She married Reuben’s brother, Jacob. Jacob’s other brother, Evan Dobkins, married one Margaret Johnson, earlier in 1775 in the same location where Dorcas married. However, Margaret Johnson is not listed in any of the Johnson books.
- James Johnson (1752-1826), was born in Pennsylvania and died in Lawrence County, Illinois after having lived in Indiana for some time. He married Elizabeth Lindsay in 1783.
- Solomon Johnson (1765-1843), apparently the youngest child was born near Greencastle, Cumberland (now Franklin) County, Pennsylvania and died in Forward Township, Allegheny County, PA. He inherited his father’s land and married the neighbor, Frances (Fanny) Warne in 1790. It was Solomon’s Bible records that provided Peter Johnson’s wife’s name as Mary Philips. It’s worth noting that Solomon named a daughter, Dorcas, and the Dorcas Johnson who married Jacob Dobkins named a son Solomon.
Two other sources report Peter’s wife’s first name as Polly which is a well-known nickname for Mary. The only source for Mary Polly Phillips’ surname is the Solomon Johnson Bible.
Four additional daughters are reported with much less specific information available.
- Mary Johnson – Nothing known.
- Polly Johnson – Nothing known, although it has been speculated that Mary and Polly were one person, and possibly Richard’s only child by his first wife that Peter Johnson and Mary/Polly Philips took to raise when Richard’s wife died. If this is the case, then Mary would have been born about 1768 and can therefore NOT be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins in 1775.
- Rebecca Johnson, possibly born about 1762. One book states that Rebecca married John Stephens or Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia but nothing more is known. This same source states that Stephens served with Richard Johnson in the Revolutionary War, although that could be militia duty. This line needs to be fleshed out and could prove critical. What happened to Rebecca Johnson?
- Rachel Johnson is reported to have married a John Dobkins and possibly moved to Knox County, Indiana, but nothing more is known. Jacob Dobkins’ brother, John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman. It’s possible that there’s an unknown brother, or Rachel is the Johnson daughter who married Reuben Dobkins. Dorcas was reported to have married Reuben, but she married Jacob.
In the various Johnson books, two Johnson daughters are reported to have married Dobkins men, and indeed, that’s exactly what happened, but the first names don’t match exactly
If indeed Dorcas Johnson is the full sibling of Mary, Polly, Rebecca or Rachel Johnson, they would carry the same mitochondrial DNA passed to them from their mother – which they in turn would have passed on.
This means that if we can locate someone descended from those daughters through all females to the current generation (which can be male), their mitochondrial DNA should match at the full sequence level.
In summary, we know very little about Mary Polly Philips herself. We don’t know who her parents were, nor if she had siblings. We also don’t really know how many children, specifically daughters, she had.
Where Did Mary Polly Philips Come From?
One of the books reports that Mary Polly Philip’s son, Richard, born in 1746, also known as Derrie, was born in Amsterdam. We know this cannot be true because Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were already living in Antrim Township of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania by 1742 when he obtained a land grant.
However, since Derrie is a Dutch nickname for Richard, the story that Dorcas was Dutch, or spoke Dutch, may have originated from this nickname. This does beg the question of how Richard obtained that nickname.
The Pennsylvania Dutch settled heavily in Cumberland County where the couple is first found, so it’s possible that Mary Polly may have spoken German. Regardless, one of the family histories states that she didn’t speak English when she married Peter Johnson which raises the question of how they communicated.
Of course, this is confounding given that many early genealogies suggest or state that they were either Scottish, Scots-Irish or Welsh. One history suggests that Peter settled at Wilmington, Delaware, then lived at Head of Elk, Maryland which are both Swedish settlements.
Peter Johnson was supposed to have a brother James and they were both supposed to be from Scotland, with noble peerage, nonetheless.
And another report had Peter sailing from Amsterdam where he had been born.
Clearly these can’t all be true.
Bottom line is this – we don’t know anything about where either Peter or his wife’s families originated. The first actual data we have is Peter’s 1742 land grant in Cumberland County, PA, an area settled by both the Germans and Scots-Irish.
We have a real mystery on our hands.
Not to mention that we still don’t know positively that the Dorcas reported in Peter Johnson’s line who married a Reuben Dobkins is the same person as “my” Dorcas who married Jacob Dobkins. However, given the autosomal matches, I’m quite comfortable at this point, between both documentary and genetic evidence, in confidently adding Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips as Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ parents.
Well, that is, unless someone or something proves me wrong.
One thing is abundantly clear, if Dorcas isn’t their daughter, she’s related to them in some fashion because many of Peter Johnson’s descendants and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants match and triangulate when comparing autosomal DNA.
Dorcas Johnson inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother, whoever that was, who inherited it from her mother, on up the line.
Mitochondrial DNA is never mixed with the DNA of the father, so it’s never divided or diluted. In other words, except for an occasional mutation, it’s passed intact from mothers to all of their children. However, only females pass it on.
In the current generation, males can take a mitochondrial DNA test so long as they descend through all females from the ancestor whose mitochondrial DNA is being sought. In other words, their mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree through all mothers.
I’ve been fortunate enough to find two direct descendants of Dorcas Johnson Dobkins through all female lines (different daughters) who were kind enough to take a mitochondrial DNA test.
Not only did they match each other, they also matched other people at the full sequence level.
What did we discover?
Dorcas’s descendants were determined to be haplogroup H2a1, a European haplogroup found dispersed widely across Europe.
This can put to rest any speculation about Native American heritage which often arises when a woman’s parents are unknown.
What Information Can Be Gleaned from the Haplogroup Alone?
Using the public mitochondrial DNA tree, we can see that H2a1 is found in 57 countries as identified by testers’ earliest known ancestor (EKA) entries.
This is one reason why it’s important to enter earliest ancestor information (under the gear when you mouse over your name in the upper right-hand corner, under Genealogy in Account Settings.)
But that’s not the only reason to enter as much information as possible. Everyone helps everyone else in genetic genealogy by providing complete information, or as complete as possible.
Dorcas’s descendants who took the mitochondrial DNA test have a total of 299 HVR1, HVR2 and Coding Region matches. Today, testers can only order the mtFull product which tests the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria. Years back, people could order a partial test that only tested part of the mitochondria, called the HVR1 (HVR=Hypervariable Region) or the combined HVR1 & HVR2 regions.
You can select to view matches at the full sequence level, or people you match at the HVR1 or HVR2 level which will include people who did not take the higher mtFull test.
While some people are inclined to ignore their HVR1 and HVR2 results, I don’t because I’m always on the hunt for someone with a common ancestor or other useful information who did NOT test at the full sequence level.
You just never know where you’re going to find that critical match so don’t neglect any potential place to find leads.
To begin, I’m focusing on the full sequence matches that have a genetic distance of 0. GD0 simply means those testers match exactly with no mutations difference.
My cousin has 9 exact matches.
Matilda Holt is Dorcas’s granddaughter.
I viewed the trees for the closest matches and added some additional info.
I viewed the trees, worked several back in time, and found a few other testers who also descend from Dorcas.
One match remains a tantalizing mystery.
Bobby’s line hits a dead-end in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but I cannot connect the dots in Dorcas’s line.
Evan Dobkins, Jacob’s brother who married Margaret Johnson lived in Washington County, VA until the 1790s, but reportedly died in Claiborne County about 1835. Bobby’s EKA could be a grandchild of Dorcas that is previously unknown. She could also be the granddaughter of Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. I traced his line back to a woman born in 1824 and noted as Catherine Brooks in her marriage to Thomas Brooks in 1847. The Brooks family were close neighbors and did intermarry with the Dobkins family.
I emailed my cousin’s other matches; Karen, Catherine, Leotta, and Betty, and heard back from only one with no information.
With no earliest known ancestor, no tree, and no reply, I’m stuck on these matches, at least for now.
Let’s take a look at the GD1 matches, meaning those with one mutation difference and see what we can find there.
My cousin has 36 GD1 matches, meaning one mutation difference. Might they be useful?
Hmmm, well, here’s something interesting. With one exception, these earliest known ancestors certainly are not English, Welsh or Scots-Irish. They also aren’t German or Dutch.
I attempted to build a tree for Sarah Anna Wilson who was born in 1823 and died in 1858, but without additional information, I quickly ran into too much ambiguity.
Maybe there’s better information in the rest of the GD1 matches’ earliest known ancestors.
These people all look to be…Scandinavian?
Let’s take a look at the Matches Map.
On the matches map, only a few of the 36 GD1 matches filled in the location of their earliest known ancestor. This can be done on either the matches map, or when you complete the earliest known ancestor information.
Exact matches are red, and GD1, 1 step matches, are orange.
All 10 of the GD1 matches that have completed their locations are found in Scandinavia, one in Denmark and Sweden, respectively, with the rest concentrated in Finland.
In fact, the largest cluster anyplace is found in Finland, with a second pronounced cluster along the eastern side of Sweden.
Generally speaking, the green 3-step matches would be “older” or more distant than the yellow 2-step matches that would be older than the orange one-step matches which would be older than the red exact matches.
What Does This Mean?
I’d surely like more data. Scandinavian testers are wonderful about entering their EKA information, as compared to many US testers, but I’d still like to see more. Some show ancestors but no location, and some show nothing evident.
I’m going to dig.
Where Can I Find More Info?
For each person, I’m going to utilize several resources, as follows:
- Trees on FamilyTreeDNA (please, let there be trees)
- Earliest known ancestor (EKA)
- Ancestry/MyHeritage/FamilySearch to extend trees or location locations for listed ancestors
- Email address on tester’s profile card
- Google their name, ancestor or email
- Social media
- Surnames/locations on their FamilyTreeDNA profile card
- WikiTree/Geni and other publicly available resources
Even just the email address of a tester can provide me with a country. In this case, Finland. If the tester lives in Finland today, there’s a good chance that their ancestor was from Finland too.
Sometimes the Ancestral Surnames provide locations as well.
Create A New Map
Using Google My Maps, a free tool, I created a new map with only the GD1 matches and the location information that I unearthed.
I found at least general (country level) locations for a total of 30 of 36 GD1 matches. Ten are the locations provided by the testers on the Matches Map, but I found an additional 26. All of the locations, with one exception, were found in either Finland or Sweden. One was found in Denmark.
Some locations were the same for multiple testers, but they did not have the same ancestors.
While I’m still missing 6 GD1 match locations, with one exception noted previously, the names of the matches look Scandinavian as well.
This message is loud and clear.
Dorcas’s ancestors were Scandinavian before they came to the US. There’s no question. And likely from Finland.
So, maybe Dorcas really didn’t speak English.
But if she didn’t speak English, how did she communicate with her Scottish or Scots-Irish or maybe Dutch husband? The language of love only suffices under specific circumstances😊
And how did they get to Pennsylvania?
Didn’t one of the family histories suggest that Peter Johnson was from Wilmington, Delaware and then from Head of Elk, now Elkton, Maryland?
Weren’t those both Swedish settlements?
Head of Elk, Maryland
Sure enough, Head of Elk, Maryland was settled by Swedish mariners and fishermen from Fort Casimir, Delaware, now New Castle, in 1694 – just 15 miles or so upriver.
Here, moving right to left, we see Fort Casmir, Delaware, then Elkton, Maryland, followed by the location on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania where Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips settled in 1742.
One of those early Johnson books says that Peter Johnson spent some time in Frederick County, Virginia which would be near Winchester, Virginia, halfway between 1742 and 1775 on the map. However, many modern researchers discount that and presume that Virginia was mistaken for Maryland. The 1742 land bordered on and extended into Frederick County, Maryland.
However, since Dorcas Johnson married Jacob Dobkins whose father lived on Holman Creek in Dunmore County in 1775, and Rachel Johnson was supposed to have married a John Dobkins, and, Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, Peter Johnson HAD to have spent at least some time in that location in 1775 if these were his daughters. Those girls were certainly not traveling alone during the Revolutionary War.
By 1780, Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were in Allegheny County, by Pittsburg where they spent the rest of their lives.
Their daughters had moved on to East Tennessee with their Dobkins husbands, assuming that indeed, Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips.
I’m always hesitant to draw conclusions.
However, I would suggest the following:
- I would expect Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a Swedish settlement that also happened to include people from Finland and Denmark.
- It would be unlikely for Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a heavily Scots-Irish and German area such as Cumberland County, PA and Frederick County, MD.
- We have several triangulated matches between my cousin, Greg, who descends from one of Peter Johnson’s sons and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants through multiple children.
- I match several people autosomally who descend from Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips through their other children.
- Mary Polly Phillips doesn’t sound very Scandinavian. Was her name anglicized?
How Can We Firm This Up?
The best way to verify that Dorcas Johnson descends from Mary Polly Phillips is to test another person who descends through all females to the current generation through a different daughter. If they are sisters, both descending from Mary Polly Phillips, their descendants’ mitochondrial DNA will match very closely if not exactly.
The only other potential daughters are:
- Rachel who is reported to have married a Dobkins male, possibly John, and maybe moved to Knox County, Indiana.
- Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, but she isn’t reported as a daughter of Mary Polly Phillips.
- Rebecca who may have married John Stephens and might have moved to West Virginia.
That’s a whole lot of maybe.
Finding Rebecca and a mitochondrial DNA descendant would be a huge step in the right direction. The only record I can find that might be Rebecca is in December of 1821 when John Stephens’ will is probated in Boone County, KY with wife, Rachel, daughters Salley, Catharine, Rebecca, Mary, and Rachel who is encouraged to never go back to live with John Smith. Wonderful, a Smith – every genealogists nightmare.
If you descend from this couple, PLEASE get in touch with me!
It doesn’t look like this avenue is very promising, so let’s think outside the box and get creative.
Peter Johnson’s Y DNA
Given that Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were married, they assuredly had to be able to talk, so either she spoke English, or he spoke her Native tongue.
One of the stories about Peter’s family is that he was either Swedish or Dutch, and that his family was from the New Sweden settlement in America.
If this is accurate, then Peter Johnson would have Scandinavian Y and mitochondrial DNA. Since men don’t pass their mitochondrial DNA on to their offspring, that route is not available to us, but what about his Y DNA?
Is there a Y DNA test through a Johnson male descendant of Peter Johnson, and if so, what information does it convey?
Can we use the Y DNA test of a descendant of Peter Johnson to help confirm that Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Mary Polly Philips? How would that work?
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