Charles Hickerson (c1724 – 1790/1793) High Drama on the Frontier – 52 Ancestors #263

We first find Charles Hickerson in Surry County, North Carolina on January 11, 1771 when he witnesses a will by Lydia Stewart.

Charles isn’t on the 1771 tax list, but he is there by 1772. He was not a young man – about 48 years old with children of marriage age.

Where did Charles come from?

We don’t know, but there IS a long-standing theory that Charles and family came from Virginia. At the end of this article, I’ll share what DNA has revealed.

Where did that Virginia theory come from?

Happy Valley

In the book Happy Valley, written by Felix Hickerson (1882-1968) and published in 1940, Felix discussed his research, looking at multiple possible ancestral lines.

First, Felix documents the Rev. Francis Higginson (1587-1630) who arrived from Claybrooke, Leistershire, England and was the first minister in Salem, Massachusetts.

Felix states that the Higgison’s of New England are connected with the Higginsons and Hickersons of Virginia on pages 4 and 24 of The Higginsons in England and America.

He notes that:

The name Hickerson in Virginia was first spelled Higginson then Higgason, Higgerson and Hickerson, dating to 1645 or earlier when Capt. Robert Higginson, the Indian fighter, commanded at the Middle Plantation, a palisaded settlement in York County.

Robert Higginson was a son of Thomas and Anne Higginson of Berkeswell, Warwick England.

Robert had two brothers, Humphrey and Christopher, mentioned in James City family records.

Felix then says, “The Higgisons later settled in old Stafford County, VA as is shown by wills, deeds and inventories, among which is an inventory of the estate of Thomas Higgason who made a will that was probated in February 1743.

Felix goes on to state that after 1778, we find Charles Hickerson and his wife Mary Lytle on the Yadkin River along Mulberry Creek.

I found Charles slightly earlier, on the 1772 Surry County, NC tax list – a portion of which became Wilkes County in 1777.

Felix descended from Charles Hickerson through his son David, and his son Lytle (1793-1884). Felix lived on the family home place on the Yadkin River at Wilkesboro owned by Lytle called “Round About,” originally owned by Col. Benjamin Cleveland of Revolutionary War fame.

I spent time this past summer in the Allen County Public Library searching through all of the Hickerson/Higgason and related books and records from New England and elsewhere, to no further avail. Felix was a thorough researcher.

Where Did the Information About Stafford County, Virginia Come From?

Years ago, before DNA testing, when I was trying to figure out which of John Vannoy’s sons my ancestor Elijah Vannoy descended from, I asked people descended from all 4 candidate-sons to send me information about their wives. Sarah Hickerson was married to Daniel Vannoy.

In the Hickerson packet sent by my Good Samaritan cousin, we find a partial letter, as follows:

Nacogdoches, Texas
May the 20th, 1877

Dr. Hickison (sic)

Dear Sir,

I write you in regard to a business matter.

You will doubtless be surprised to hear from one of Elizabeth Hickison’s daughters. My mother was daughter of Charles Hickison of North Carolina. He was buried at the Mulberry Fields on the Yadkin River, Wilkes County, North Carolina. My grandmother’s maiden name was Mollie Little. She was from Scotland. Grandfather was from England. I write you the particulars so you will know who I am. My mother married a Stuart. I was 3 years old when we left that country. My age is 86 years. I have been a widow 34 years.

(remainder of letter is missing)

Comments by Felix Hickerson:

I think it is undoubtedly true that the Charles Hickison here referred to was the father of David Hickerson and the grandfather of Litle (Lytle) Hickerson.

Whether Hickerson was originally spelled “Hickison” is doubtful, as an old lady, aged 86, living so far away, could easily become careless about the spelling when perhaps others adopted the simplified spelling.

“Mulberry Fields” was the original site of the town of Wilkesboro. It was the central meeting place for a large neighborhood.

Mulberry Fields is shown on the map below.

Hickerson Mulberry Fields 1752.jpg

On this map from 1752, North is at the bottom, so Mulberry Fields is actually north of the Yakdin.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the name of the letter’s author was on the portion that is missing.

What other documents do we have?

Pioneers of Coffee County

Alice Daniel Pritchard states in this 1996 Coffee County book that:

Charles Hickerson, the progenitor of the lineage presented here, came from Virginia to settle in the New River Basin of North Carolina, about 1772. He and his son, David were on the 1774 tax list of Benjamin Cleveland. In 1778, that part of Surry became Wilkes County. Information from the unpublished manuscript of William Lenoir, lists Charles Hickerson with the names of Wilkes County Revolutionary War Soldiers. He served on a jury for the State of North Carolina Wilkes County court in 1779. In July 1784, Charles Hickerson was over age 60, as recorded in the Wilkes County Court Minutes when he was listed as being exempt from paying Poll Tax. On July 29, 1788, Charles Hickerson sold 150 acres of land on Mulberry Creek, Wilkes County to David Hickerson for 75 pounds, “Being survey Charles Hickerson lives on,” signed by Charles Hickerson and Mary Hickerson. In her nuncupative will, Dec. 5, 1793, probated February 1794, Mary Little Hickerson did not mention her husband, leaving the impression that he had preceded her in death. He was not on the 1800 Wilkes County, census.

Before this verbiage, Alice discussed the fact that Charles was rumored or suspected to have been from Fauquier or Stafford County, Virginia and that Stafford County was formed from Fauquier.

Charles Hickerson’s son, David Hickerson, moved to Tennessee before 1812 where one of his sons served in the War of 1812.

We don’t think of letters being written and travel occurring between those locations, about 350 miles across the mountain range, but both seemed to happen more than we might have expected. Thankfully, at least a few letters survived.

Coffee County Letters

When David Hickerson moved to Tennessee, his son, Little, also spelled Lytle Hickerson remained behind and lived the rest of his life in Wilkes County.

David Hickerson died in 1833, but his sons still communicated back and forth and apparently visited from time to time. These letters show what life was like in the 1830s.

Letter from John Hickerson to Major Little Hickerson

Coffee County, TN
January 25, 1836

Major L. Hickerson
Wilkesboro, NC

Dear Brother:

I have been looking for you in this county for some time but have been disappointed. Have concluded to write you a few lines to inform you of our misfortune in losing our daughter Sally. She was taken sick on Tuesday the 15th of December. Her child was born on Friday and she died on Sunday the 20th. The child is living. We have it here. I hope we can raise it.

I was in Nashville when Sally died and had been there for some time. No person known that never had the misfortune to lose a child how much it will grieve them to have one taken so suddenly. But when death comes we must submit. Sally’s mother didn’t get to see her until Friday evening after which she never spoke again.

I hope when you receive this letter if you are not coming to this county soon you will write and let me know when you expect to come and when Ely Petty is coming.

Our crops of corn and cotton are light in this county. My corn crop is up to the average. Before the frost I expected to make between 40 and 50 bales of cotton but only made 10. The early frost last fall almost put me in the notion to hunt a warmer climate. I will try it another season.

We have got our new county at last after a struggle of 6 or 7 years with the strongest kind of opposition. I have no doubt but the county seat will be at Stone Fort. On the first Monday in February next, the commissioners are to meet to select a place for the county seat. I had the appointing of the Commissioners. I among of them and can venture to say the Stone Fort will be the place. It will make the people’s land valuable in the neighborhood.

If you have a disposition like mine I hope you will never undertake anything without you are sure of success. Am sure I have spent $500 about the new county. Maybe I have made 200 or 300 enemies that used to be my friends. Ever since our election I have been out on the new county business. We lost our election by a few votes and rascality. In one instance the sheriff had to case the vote. The Hillsborough people when they beat us in the election made sure they would get their new county and have the county seat at Hillsborough. They bragged and boasted and said many things that they had better left unsaid. They said the Hickersons had lost their election and the new county was dead and buried. About that time I would have feely given $1000 if it would have insured our success. I got busy in a few days and went to see a number of people in the adjoining counties who were newly elected and in a good humor and ready to promise anything that was right and reasonable. I made the necessary arrangements with them and employed a surveyor and had our county run out and complied with every letter of the constitution. I have been at Nashville most of the time since the Legislature met, but we never got our new county bill past into a law until the 8th of January. The victory was – – much talked about as the battle of New Orleans.

When the new county bill was first introduced in the Senate the vote was nearly equally divided. By the time it came to the third reading there was but one vote against us. In the House, the majority vote was in our favor at the first reading, and only one opposing vote at the third reading.

I got acquainted with most of the members of both houses. Some of them I fear cannot be repaid for their kindness.

You can tell ___ Allen I met a son of William Allen in the legislature from ___ County. His name is Jared S. Allen. He was a good friend of mine.

Didn’t intend when I began this letter to make it so long drawn out. Will write again when the commissioners select the place for the county sea of Coffee County.

All our friends are well.

Yours with respect,
Jn. Hickerson.

Letter from John Hickerson to Major Litle Hickerson

Coffee County, Tennessee
April 29, 1837

Dear Brother,

I received your letter on the 26th of March a few days ago. Was truly glad to hear from you and family, and that all are in good health, plenty to eat, a fine son, etc. You mentioned writing a few days after the presidential election was over. The letter didn’t reach me. There are so many Van Buren postmasters in this State it is difficult for a letter to pass, or even a newspaper is the editor does not belong to the party. My paper, the Banner, that never used to fil don’t come now more than half the time. The editors tell me they never fail to send it, and I have no doubt for they are honest. I believe some of the Van Buren postmasters intend to make the people quit taking any paper that tells the truth. They like darkness better than the light because their deeds are evil.

Myself and family are all well and so are all our friends and neighbors I saw mother a few days ago. Her health was as good as could be expected of one of her age.

A great many commission merchants in Nashville and New Orleans have failed. Produce of every description has fallen very much since you were here. Cotton that opened last fall at 12 to 14 cents in Nashville is now worth only 6 to 7 cents. Plenty of negroes for sale in this county but no buyers. Corn and bacon are plentiful Corn is $2 per bushel on credit. Bacon is 10 cents but the Wagoners are buying it up fast and hauling it to Mississippi to sell for 25 cents per pound.

The town of Manchester is improving very fast. Three stores there now, all doing good business. We have had one circuit court since you were here. AT the next, two negroes will be tried for killing their mistresses.

I wish to be remembered to all my old friends. Best wishes to yourself and family.

Jn Hickerson

You mentioned in your last letter that Col. Waugh spoke of taking a long trip through the west this spring. Tell him to be sure and call on me without fail. Please write me real often and I will be sure to answer.

To Major Litle Hickerson
Wilkesboro, NC

Now that we’ve seen what life was like in the 1800s, let’s look at the earliest records pertaining to Charles. What can we discover about his life?

Was Charles a Patriot?

Charles Hickerson lived in Wilkes County during the Revolutionary War.

Charles is not listed on the DAR website as having served as a Patriot, meaning no one has yet joined based on his service but according to the DAR criteria, since he served as a juror in 1779, he would qualify.

He may have actively served as well.

William Lenoir, a soldier from Wilkes County kept a diary that incorporates details about his Revolutionary War service – which of course includes information about other Wilkes County men too.

The William Lenior Diary shows the following two pages:

Hickerson Lenoir list.jpg

The first page indicates that the men on this list were involved in an expedition against the Indians on May 31, 1776.

Leonard Miller, listed, either was then or would become Charles Hickerson’s son-in-law.

Hickerson Lenoir list 2.jpg

This page simply lists “soldiers” and included is Charles Hickerson, with his name scratched through, along with Andrew Vannoy, my ancestor’s son, who we know served.

Additional information is provided on page 258 in the Journal of Southern History.

Hickerson Journal Southern History.png

Lenoir’s diary in an article in the Journey of Southern History tells us that:

In the spring of 1776, the Cherokee Indians, inhabiting a large area in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, inspired by the efforts of John Stuart and Alexander Cameron, the British Indian agents, began a series of attacks upon the white settlers of the frontier. They further agreed to attack when the English fleet reached the port at Charleston – a plan that was thwarted. However, the militia determined to stop any further plans.

A North Carolina force of 2800 men in addition to 1500, 1150 from South Carolina and more from Georgia were placed under commanders that entered and destroyed the Indian towns along the Tugaloo River. These consisted of the Cherokee Lower Towns with 356 gun men, the Middle and Valley Towns with 878 men and the Overhill Towns with 757 men. Outlying towns had another 500 warriors, totaling about 2000 in all.

The Rutherford expedition passed along the Island Ford Road, a few miles south of Morganton, and moved on to Old Fort. The Wilkes County and Burke County forces joined with this group.

Rutherford’s instructions were direct, according to the State Records of North Carolina. He was to move into the Indian country and, “there act in such a manner as to you in your good sense and judgment may seem best so as effectually to put a stop to the future depredations of those merciless Savages.” Rutherford was an experienced Indian fighter and was trusted to know what to do.

On July 16, 1776, we find the following passage written by the North Carolina Council of Safety:

The Troops Brigadier Rutherford carries with him are as close Rifle Men as any on this continent and are hearty and determined in the present cause. We have every expectation from them. With pleasure we assure you that they are well armed and have plenty of ammunition in short they are well equipped.

William Lenoir recorded his experience in his diary.

August 1776 – After ranging sometime on the head of Reddeys River with 25 men Capt. Jos. Herndon was ordered to raise as many men as would be equal to the number of guns in his district and perade at the general place of rendezvous at Cub Creek.

Does this entry actually mean that there were only a total of 50 guns in the entire county? Surely not. On the 1787 tax list just a few years later, there were a total of 12 districts with 1003 total entries ranging between 45 and 120 entries per district with the average of 83. This makes far more sense.

The next day, on the 13th, the militia paraded.

On Wednesday the 14th I took 30 men out of our company and as Lt. of the same joined Capt. Ben Cleveland with 20 of his men.

On Saturday the 17th marched from the Mulberry Field meeting house to Moravian Creek 6 miles. On Monday the 18th to Bever Creek 10.

The men continued to march towards the Cherokee towns through August and into September when the fighting began on the 12th with the killing of 3 Indians and the scalping of one Indian squaw. On the 19th and 20th, they killed more Indians, took prisoners and began burning towns.

Lenoir notes several times how difficult the terrain was.

His account is painful to read, understanding that the settlers thought they were within their rights, and the Indians felt invaded, especially after having ceded a large amount of land in 1775, supposedly to buy peace and no further settler incursions. You can read about the Cherokee Wars here.

Indeed, the militia laid waste to the Cherokee towns, with amazingly minimal loss of life on either side – at least compared to what could have occurred. Thirty-six towns were completely destroyed, along with their stores and crops. The Indians faced the prospect of starvation. The Cherokee survived the winter using their knowledge of the land on which they lived, eating nuts and what they could hunt and gather. They signed peace treaties the following year. Those treaties, like the rest, didn’t last long. The westward land push continued.

Today, the path taken by the soldiers is known as Rutherford’s Trace.

Hickerson Rutherford's trace

By Learn North Carolina – Map by Mark A. Moore, Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives & History. Based on research by Charles Miller, Waynesville, North Carolina. From brochure Rutherford Expedition, 1776 produced by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. – http://www.learnnc.org/lp/media/maps/nc/rutherford-trace-450.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52491123

Lenoir closes by noting that he arrived back home on Monday, October 7, 1776. If Charles Hickerson was with these men, he returned home then as well, as did his son-in-law, Leonard Miller.

Did any of these men collect a Revolutionary War pension or land based on this service? Unfortunately, this campaign didn’t last long enough – from August 12th through October 7th. Not even 60 days. In various pension requests submitted after the Pension Act of 1832, it’s noted that the application was denied because the man did not serve a minimum of 90 days.

Leonard Miller’s Revolutionary War pension application confirms the dates and many of these events, although clearly not in as much detail as Lenoir, nor at the time they happened.

In 1776, Charles Hickerson would have been 52 years of age. I don’t know whether he would have been considered seasoned and wise, or “too old,” especially given the difficult terrain and physical demands of the march through the mountains.

No place is there any explanation about the men whose names are lined through.

However, I counted.

  • 58 total names
  • Of those, 2 are lined through and listed as providing a horse.
  • 2 have a note – “h found” and I’m wondering if that means not found.
  • 9 are lined out, in addition to the two who provided horses
  • That leaves a total of 45.

In Lenoir’s commentary, he states that there were 20 men from his company and 30 from Benjamin Cleveland’s which totals 50. He also mentions that there were about 25 men at Reddies River, but he doesn’t say if that 25 is part of the 50.

There’s no way to correlate between these numbers and list to arrive at the actual number of men who went on this expedition, or to know who they were.

I was hoping to find at least one of the men whose name was lined through applying for a pension or land, but I was not able to do so. They would have been more than 76 years old by 1832, assuming they were only 20 in 1776, and this campaign didn’t last long enough. However, I was hopeful that perhaps one of the men served later, perhaps during the Battle of King’s Mountain, in addition to the 1776 Expedition to the Cherokee – which would have told us that the men lined through did in fact serve.

What did I find?

  • Nathaniel Gordon is mentioned in Chapman Gordon’s wife’s pension application as being an officer, but Chapman served in 1779 and 1780.
  • John Sheppard enrolled in 1777.
  • In 1833, Timothy Holdaway did apply for a pension from Bent Creek, Jefferson County, Tennessee, stating he was one of the first settlers there 50 years earlier, just a few years after the War. He describes more of the march against the Cherokee in his application. His name is listed twice, once under “h found.” However, he’s not lined through.

Therefore, we don’t know if Charles Hickerson signed up and then didn’t actually go on the expedition, or what, exactly. We do know that Leonard Miller did march in the expedition, as proven by his 1832 pension application, but he was also charged, not once, but twice, with being a Tory.

One man’s pension application describes marching against Tories at the Moravian Town in Wilkes County, along with other places. Apparently, there was at least a small Tory population there. It was even smaller after the soldiers hung several Tories.

Early North Carolina Records

Aside from the Revolutionary War records, what can we discern about Charles in early records?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

Lydia Stewart’s Will

Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia Stewart on January 11, 1771. Lydia’s will provides us with Charles’ signature, or in this case, his mark.

This is the only remaining personal item of his own making on this earth, other than his DNA passed on to his descendants, of course.

Lydia Stewart will.jpg

In the name of God Amen I Lydia Stewart of Rowan County in North Carolina being weak in body but of perfect mind and memory thanks be given unto God do dispose of my worldly estate as followeth

Imprimus I will that out of my estate a title to be obtained for a certain tract of land on the southside of Yadkin River adjoining Benj ? and James Persons land and if such title can be obtained the same to be sold of the value thereof to eb equally divided unto my beloved sons David, Samuel, John and Isaiah Stewart.

Item I give and bequeath unto my granddaughter Lydia (the daughter of my son David) my bed and furniture thereunto belonging.

Item I give unto my son Samuel the bed and furniture usually called his bed.

Item I give unto my son Benjamin an iron pot now in his possession

Item I give unto my son Joseph’s daughter Lydia a good heifer or young cow

Item I bequeath unto my beloved sons David, Samuel, Isaiah and John Stewart all the rest of my estate to be equally divided amongst all their heirs I do nominate and appoint my said sons David Stewart and Samuel Stewart exec of this my last will and testament ratifying allowing if confirming this to be my last will and testament I do utterly dismiss all former wills by me made in testimony whereof I have set my hand and seal Jan. 11th, 1771

Signed sealed and published and pronounced in the presence of us

Christopher Stanton, jurat, his mark

Charles Hickerson his mark

Edw Hughes, jurat (signed)

Lydia’s will was probated in Surry County in November term 1772, proved by Edward Hughes and Christopher Stenton.

Lydia’s husband, Samuel died about 1770.

It’s interesting that Lydia’s property was on the Yadkin in 1771, suggesting that’s where or near where Charles lived as well. A few years later, we know that Charles lived just north of Wilkesboro, which is located on the Yadkin River in an area called Mulberry Fields at that time.

Even more interesting, we know that Charles Hickerson’s daughter, Mary, married a Stewart and one Samuel Stewart filed suit against Daniel Vannoy, husband of Charles Hickerson’s daughter, Sarah, in 1781.

Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel Hickerson, used the alias of Samuel Stewart.

(Thanks to cousin Carol for finding Lydia’s will.)

Surry County Tax Lists

Charles Hickerson is first found on the Surry County tax list in 1772, but is absent in 1771. However, based on Lydia’s will, we know he was already living there in January 1771.

Benjamin Cleveland’s 1774 tax list shows:

  • Francis Vannoy with Leonard Miller, in all 2
  • Charles Hickerson, David Hickerson, in all 2
  • Daniel Vannoy 1

The 1774 list is important because it shows an early affiliation between the Vannoy and Hickerson family. Leonard Miller either was at that time or became the son-in-law of Charles Hickerson by marrying daughter, Jane.

By the 1790 census, Leonard Miller had 8 family members and lived 19 houses from Daniel Vannoy who married Leonard Miller’s wife’s sister in 1789. Six living children suggest a marriage of at least 12 years, so married perhaps between 1774 and 1778 – right about the time of the 1776 Expedition. It appears since Leonard appears on the tax list with Francis Vannoy in 1774 that he was not yet married at that time.

Finding Charles Hickerson and his son, David, together on the tax list may suggest that David isn’t then married either.

1775 John Hudspeth list of taxes:

  • Charles Hickerson 1

The War

While military events aren’t reflected in the tax records, they were very much a part of the lives of these Appalachian families – for six long years during which time Wilkes County was formed from Surry in 1777. What residents didn’t fear from the Indians, they feared from the British and Tories, not to mention the fear of battle taking place and destroying their homes.

The first Cherokee Expedition occurred in 1776, and the famous Battle of King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780. The last battled listed, here, was another Cherokee Expedition that ended in October of 1782 following a total of 28 known battles in which Wilkes County men participated plus 4 earlier battles, here, when Wilkes was Surry County.

Perhaps the best known battle was the Battle of King’s Mountain, often credited with turning the war.

Hickerson King's Mountain.png

Colonel Cleveland commanded forces at the Battle of King’s Mountain too, along with many Wilkes County men. I do know that some men were older at that battle. Specifically, the Rev. George McNiel was 60 and went along as the chaplain, of sorts.

Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive list of the OverMountain Men who fought at King’s Mountain.

In the intervening years, Tories were despised and were hung from the Tory Oak in Wilkesboro in 1779, and from a tree at RoundAbout, the plantation of Col. Benjamin Cleveland.

Land!

On March 4, 1778, Charles Hickerson entered a claim for 320 acres on both sides Mulberry Creek including his own improvement. Entry 14

Hickerson 320 acres.jpg

This tells us that this is where Charles has been living. He couldn’t claim land until the Revolutionary War was over so that the United States government actually had land to give.

Just a few weeks later, on April 21, 1779, Leonard Miller entered 50 acres on Mulberry Creek joining Charles Hickerson’s lower corner. (Leonard Miller marked out, David Hickerson written in.) Entry no 977

This tells us that Charles’ son-in-law, then his son owned adjacent land.

September 24, 1779 – Granted Charles Hickerson 320 acres both sides Mulberry Creek, page 96

Oct 16, 1779 – William Fletcher entered 100 acres at the first big branch of Mulberry that runs into Mulberry Creek above Charles Hickerson’s called the Hay or Mead Branch below improvement that the Tolivors made (William Fletcher marked out and Aaron Mash written in). Entry 1247

Aha – there’s probably the Tolivor family whose daughter David Hickerson likely married!

I love stream names, because they provide us with intersection points.

Hickerson Hay Meadow.png

Intersection of Hay Meadow branch and Mulberry Creek. About 3 miles north of the Yadkin.

Beginning in 1779, we find Charles Hickerson in the court notes, often serving as a juror, probably as a result of becoming a land owner.

Sept term 1779 – State vs William Alexander indict T.A.B. 13 jury impaneled and sworn: including Nathaniel Vannoy, Daniel Vannoy, Charles Hickerson. Not guilty

Daniel Vannoy is Charles Hickerson’s son-in-law, or at least he would become his son-in-law on October 2nd.

Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson were probably married at the bride’s house – so in the cabin of Charles Hickerson. Except – we have to wonder why Charles Hickerson didn’t sign for his daughter’s marriage. Was he not in favor?

December 6, 1779 – Charles Hickerson is a juror

January 24, 1780 – Joseph Herndon entered 200 acres upper long branch Mulberry Creek above path leads from Mulberry Fields to Charles Hickerson’s. Entry 1555

You can see several landmarks mentioned on this first map of North Carolina, created by John Strother in 1808. Mulberry Fields is shown with the red arrow, with Charles Hickerson’s land nearby marked with the red box. If this branch isn’t Charles Hickerson’s then it’s the branch just below, at the rear of the red arrow. The point here is that the location of “Mulberry Fields” is to the left of his land, where Charles is described as being buried. This makes sense, since his land was considered to be in or at the Mulberry Fields.

Other landmarks mentioned in various documents are Mulberry Creek, Roaring River, Fishers Creek, Cub Creek which runs by the courthouse, Moravian Creek, and Beaver Creek – all of which we see below.

Hickerson Strother map.png

Using the actual survey portion of Charles Hickerson’s grant, plus a little math, we can determine a lot.

Hickerson survey.png

A pole is 16.2 feet, so the top to bottom measurement is 2,592 feet, or about half a mile. The left to right distance is 4,860 feet, or just under a mile, which is 5,280 feet.

Looking at Mulberry Creek on Google maps, we can see a section that looks almost exactly like this drawing.

Hickerson land map.png

Looking just north of this, in fact, we can see Hay Meadow Creek, referenced in another deed.

Hickerson map Hay Meadow.png

This is where Charles lived.

Hickerson land aerial.png

The path referenced is probably either Mulberry Creek Road or Mountain View Road.

Unbeknownst to me, I’ve driven this road, oblivious that it was literally through my ancestor’s land.

Let’s take a drive!

Taking a Drive

On the road just about where Charles’ land would begin, let’s drive north on Mountain View Road.

Hickerson road.png

Fields hang precariously on the sides of hills, placed wherever there’s a few feet available to cultivate.

Hickerson field.png

Charles’ cabin stood someplace along this route.

Hickerson barn.png

Above, driving through the hills before we descend a bit to cross Mulberry Creek, below.

Hickerson Mulberry Creek.png

Charles owned the land on both sides of the road and both sides of the creek. Mulberry Creek isn’t terribly wide.

Hickerson Mulberry bridge.png

Of course, no bridge existed in those days. Charles and his neighbors would have forded the creek with a wagon or his horse would just have walked across.

Hickerson Y.png

The Y where Mulberry Creek Road goes to the left and Mountain View Road to the right – both roads skirted a mountain or large hill.

We’ll go to the right, first.

Hickerson Mountain View Road.png

We immediately start climbing as we move away from the Creek.

Hickerson hill.png

It’s pretty much straight up on the left.

HIckerson field 2.png

Fields dot the landscape to the right.

Hickerson curve.png

As we drive further, it’s wooded on both sides, not farmable, then or now.

Hickerson wooded.png

We’ve reached the boundary of Charles’ land, so I’m “turning around” and going back to the intersection with Mulberry Creek Road.

Hickerson at Mulberry Creek Road.png

I’m turning right onto Mulberry Creek Road, with the bridge over Mulberry Creek on the curve, above.

Hickerson Mulberry Creek Road.png

The first thing I see is the S curve sign!

Oh NO! I can’t “Google” drive down that road. Apparently, it’s too curvy for the Google car.

Hickerson Mountain.png

Here’s what I’ve missed. For perspective, in the upper left-hand corner of the picture is the intersection of Hay Meadow Creek with Mulberry Creek.

Hickerson logging.png

Now, looking northeast to southwest, the roads skirt this mountain or hill that clearly can’t be cultivated. In the upper left-hand corner, we see the bridge over Mulberry Creek. It looks like this mountain is being logged now. That’s probably the only way to make this land productive – but it wasn’t when Charles Hickerson owned this land and its mountain. I wonder if this mountain or “hill” had a name.

Where did Charles Hickerson actually live on this land from 1772 until his death between 1790 and 1793, and his son David after that?

How did Charles earn a living? Did he clear and farm the lowlands, or did he perhaps build a mill on Mulberry Creek?

Where are Charles and wife Mary, buried?

FindAGrave shows several cemeteries in this area.

Recalling that Charles’ granddaughter said he was buried at Mulberry Fields, I‘d wager he’s buried on his own land, in a cemetery marked only by a wooden cross at the time, or fieldstones, lost now.

Hickerson cemeteries.png

The cemeteries with brown pins are family cemeteries. The brown question marks are “lost” cemeteries that families know exist, or existed, but not exactly where. The green cemeteries are church cemeteries, none of which existed at that time.

I’d wager that there’s a lost cemetery someplace on Charles Hickerson’s land. Both he and his wife, Mary, died in the 1790s and you know his children had children that died. They likely would have been buried in the family cemetery too.

Civil Matters

Thank goodness for court records that allow us a distant peek into life at the time Charles Hickerson lived.

Charles would have traveled to town, Mulberry Fields then, Wilkesboro now, to the courthouse where he would have remained until after the several-day court session was concluded. Not only did he have a civic responsibility, but court was the entertainment of the day.

Until Charles Hickerson owned land, he would not have qualified to be a juror.

September 1779 – Charles Hickerson, juror

December 1779 – Charles Hickerson, juror

March 1780 – Charles Hickerson, juror

May 5, 1780 – Alexander Holton entered 50 acres north side Mulberry Creek between John Robins and Hickersons (Alex Holton marked out, Gervis Smith written in), entry #1804

Apparently, Charles got a new neighbor.

1782 tax list: Charles Hickerson 320 ac, no slaves, 3 mules or horses and 4 cattle.

No slaves. I’m greatly relieved.

April 1784 – Charles and David Hickerson summoned to court as jurors next session.

July term 1784 – Ordered David and Joseph Hickerson, William Johnson, Thomas Robins, George Barker, Leonard Miller, John Robins Sr, Andrew Vannoy, John Nall, Phillip Johnson and George Wheatley, Lewis Piston, Francis Brown or any 12 of them be a jury to lay out and view a road from Thomas Robins to the main road near Robert Chandlows and that John Robins Sr. appointed overseer of the same

July 29, 1784 – The following person be exempt from paying a poll tax on account of their age and infirmities: Charles Hickerson

The list of exempt people included Charles. In 1784, Charles was either age 60, or infirm. If he was 60, that puts his birth in 1724, which seems about right.

April 25, 1785 – court at George Gordon’s – Charles Hickerson appointed juror to next court

July 27, 1787 – Andrew Vannoy, William Viax, Nathaniel Burdine, Owen Hall, Jesse Hall, John Hawkins, David Hickerson, John Chandler, Robert Chandler, Joseph Hickerson, Leonard Miller, James Brown, Walter Brown, Timothy Chandler, Henry Adams, John Townzer and Stephen Hargis jury to view and lay out road from Andrew Vannoy’s to Timothy Chandlers.

We know that Andrew Vannoy lived further north on Mulberry Creek, near the town of McGrady today, probably on Vannoy Road. This also tells us that Joseph Hickerson, Charles’ other son, lived nearby too.

July 29, 1788 – Between Charles Hickerson and David Hickerson 75 pounds 150 acres Mulberry Creek being survey Charles Hickerson now lives on. Witness Philip Goins, Nathaniel Gordon and Charles Gordon. Signed Charles X Hickerson and Mary X Hickerson, page 35

Charles patented 320 acres. This 150-acre conveyance leaves 170 acres unaccounted for. What happened to that?

July 30, 1789 – Deed from Charles Hickerson and Mary Hickerson to David Hickerson 150 acres on oath of Charles Gordon

To assure the legality of a land transfer, the seller also appeared in court to testify and generally, one of the witnessed gave oath that they witnessed the conveyance, meaning the money pass hands.

In the 1790 census, Charles Hickerson has 3 males over 16 and 1 female. David who lives next door has 1 male over 16, 4 males under 16, 3 females and 2 slaves.

This is interesting, because Charles Hickerson only has 2 sons, David and Joseph, who are both adults. Who are those 2 additional males?

By 1790, Charles’s son, Joseph is also serving on juries and David serves often.

The 1790 census is the last official sighting of Charles Hickerson.

Charles died sometime in the 40 months between the 1790 census which recorded the population as of August 2, 1790, and December of 1793 when his wife Mary published her nuncupative will.

Had Charles not been dead by that point, Mary would not have been able, legally, to will possessions such as furniture to her children. Had Charles been alive, the rug, linen, chest and bedstead would have belonged to him, not his wife. Until the husband’s death, his wife owned nothing personally.

Just the fact that Mary had a will at all is the confirmation we need that Charles had passed. Given that Charles had no will or probate, or if he did, it was somehow lost in the records, he likely sold his land before his death – including the 170 missing acres.

However, the deaths of Charles and Mary were the starting shot for a war between their children.

Had Charles been alive, he would likely have been devastated at this turn of events. In all likelihood, his steady hand and mere existence probably prevented this flareup and family feud since 1781 when we see our first hint of a disagreement when Samuel Steward aka Hickerson sued Charles’s son-in-law, Daniel Vannoy.

What happened?

Arson, Robbery, Slander and Drama

In reality, this drama began a few years before Charles’ death. Let’s take a look as this unfolds, like pages in a really good book.

Let’s start with a bombshell.

In April 1786, Braddock Harris was prosecuted in court for attempted rape and was carted through the town for an hour as a spectacle with a sign pinned to his forehead saying, “This is the effects of an intended rape.”

We don’t know who the female in question was – but we do know that sometime in 1786, Braddock married Charles Hickerson’s daughter, Rachel, and in 1787, she had their first child. It’s possible that the female was Rachel, and it’s also possible that the rape wasn’t simply attempted, or perhaps it wasn’t a rape at all.

There are no further records about this, and we simply don’t know. One thing is clear – everyone but everyone in the county would have known about Braddock’s humiliating punishment – and Rachel married him anyway.

But there’s more.

According to court records, on March 1, 1789, at 10 in the night, John Roberts robbed the house of Braddock Harris and burned it to the ground. In 1792, Braddock filed suit about this arson and in 1793, the suit was heard, with Roberts being found guilty.

However, the drama doesn’t end there either, because Jane Hickerson Miller, Rachel Hickerson Harris’s sister is accused of concealing goods from the robbery that preceded the fire. Yes, Jane, at some level, participated in the robbery and torching of her sister’s home.

It’s no wonder this family was at war.

July term 1791 – Deed from Braddock Harris to Henery Carter for 120 ac land proved in open court by oath of James Fletcher Esqr

Braddock sold his land in 1791 and the family moved to South Carolina not terribly long after Mary’s death in 1793. I’ve wondered if one of Rachel’s children died in that fire, but there’s no way to know.

Jane Hickerson Miller was the wife of Leonard Miller.

Leonard served in the Revolutionary War in 1776, 1779 and 1780.

We don’t know exactly when Leonard married Jane, but in 1788, Leonard and his wife were being sued for slander.

October 29, 1788 – Mourning Wilkey vs Leonard Miller and his wife case for words #7, jury called and finds for plaintiff and assess her damage to 50 shillings and costs

Mourning Wilkey was a widow by 1787 when she was listed on the tax list with 4 females and an underage male. She apparently wasn’t just going to stand by and take whatever Leonard and Jane were dishing out.

On October 7, 1792, we discover in the Morgan District Superior court that both Joseph Hickerson and Samuel Hickerson are subpoenaed and required to attend the March 1793 court to testify for the state against John Roberts and his wife, and Jane Hickerson Miller, their sister and aunt, respectively, in the robbery and arson of the cabin of Braddock Harris and Rachel Hickerson Harris, his wife. They are both bound for 70 pounds, but released on their own recognizance for 20 pounds.

In March 1793, not only was John Roberts found guilty of burning Braddock Harris’s house down after robbing it, Jane Miller was convicted too.

State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court March Term 1793, Jurors for the state present that John Roberts late in the Morgan district labourer not having the fear of God but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil on the first day of March 1789 about the hour of 10 in the night of the same day with force and arms in the County aforesaid did a certain dwelling house of Braddock Harris there situate feloniously voluntarily and maliciously did burn and consume against the form of the statute in such case made and provide and against the peace and dignity of this state. Indt. Arson. Signed by the attorney general. Witness Joseph Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson, Rachal Harris.

While Roberts case was recorded in the Wilkes County and Morgan records, Jane’s was found in the Morgan district only.

March term 1793 – State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court of law – The jurors for the state upon their oath present that Jone Miller late of the County of Wilkes in the Morgan District labourer being a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation and a common buyer and receiver of stolen goods on the 10th day of March 1789 in the county aforesaid one feather bed of value of 15 pounds of the goods and chattels of one Braddock Harris by a certain ill disposed person to the jurors aforesaid as yet unknown then lately before feloniously stolen of the same ill disposed person unlawfully unjustly and for the sale of Wicked gain did receive and have (she the said Jone Miller) then and there well knowing the said bed to have been feloniously stolen to the great damage of the said Braddock Harris and against the peace and dignity of the state . J. Harwood Atto. Genl. State vs Jone Miller Ind. Misdemeanor, Braddock Harris, John Roberts (name marked through) prosr. And witness. Joseph Hickerson. Witness Rachell Harris. Sworn and sent.

(Hat tip to my friend, Aine Ni in Fort Wayne for finding the March term 1793 entry for Jane, for me.)

This suggests that Jane (Jone) Miller is not living in Wilkes County at that time.

This verdict is quite damning – making reference not only to this instance where Jane was involved with secreting the bed stolen from her sister, but states that she is “a common buyer and receiver of stolen goods.” For good measure, they also say that she’s “a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation.”

Wow – “evil name and fame.”

Just wow!

And a bed? A bed isn’t exactly small and can’t be easily hidden.

From the Wilkes County court notes.

April 1793 – David Hickerson, Joseph Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson on jury

April 1793 – David Hickerson vs John Roberts and wife, slander deft and enqu #8, jury impaneled and sworn, find defendant guilty in manner and form as charged in plaintiffs declaration and assess his damage to 50 pounds, 6 pence and costs. Plaintiff releases 48 pounds of his judgement.

Ordered R. Wood to show cause why David Hickerson should not pay witness in suit.

John Roberts is the man who burned down Braddock Harris’s house and David Hickerson was the bond for Jane Hickerson Miller, who was charged alongside of him. This suit occurred one month after the suit in which Roberts was found guilty. Samuel Hickerson and Joseph Hickerson in additional to Rachel Harris were witnesses.

This implies that David Hickerson sided with the man who burned his sister’s house, but also sued him for slander? Then forgave him?

I have no idea WHAT to think. Why aren’t there actual court notes? This is killing me.

Note the difference between the 50 shillings found for Mourning Wilkey and 50 pounds found for David Hickerson, both for slander. What was the difference between those two cases?

Fifty pounds was a HUGE fine for people in that place and time – enough to purchase a significant amount of land. However, David Hickerson then forgives John Roberts 48 pounds of the fine. Why would he do that when this is the man who torched his sister’s house after robbing it? Why wouldn’t he keep those funds and if nothing else, give them to his sister to help compensate her family?

How confounding!

Charles Hickerson was likely dead by this point, April 1793, but Mary was still living. I’d not be surprised if all of this turmoil hastened her death. Maybe hastened Charles’ passing too.

Mary died sometime between December 5, 1793 and February 1794 when her will was probated.

The fight over her few meager possessions started almost immediately in a family that was already over the brink.

In Mary’s will, Jane Miller and Mary Stewart were mentioned specifically, along with Mary Stewart’s son, Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart. The balance of possessions after what was left to those two daughters and David and Joseph Hickerson were to be divided among Mary’s daughters. The problem may have been that Mary didn’t name all of her daughters, and she left the contents of the chest to Mary Stewart. It’s possible that the contents of the chest were in dispute. Mary doesn’t say what was in the chest, and it would have been easy for contents to be changed. Even if they weren’t, suspicions in a family so terribly torn would be rampant.

And of course, what the court said about Jane Miller, “a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation.” That dynamic along Jane’s involvement with the robbery and burning of her sister’s house are certainly factors.

How many daughters did Mary Hickerson have? We’ve identified at least two that were previously unknown, Sarah and Rachel. There could be more, possibly an Elizabeth. If a daughter was deceased, does that mean her children would inherit? No matter, the will was in dispute and the family was embattled – complete with aliases.

May 7, 1794 – Samuel Steward alias Little Dr Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy, slander #3 jury impaneled, jury find for defendant.

May 7, 1794 – David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – same jury, Leonard Miller forfeit his appearance as witness in case.

May 7, 1794 – David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy slander #4, jury sworn, same as jury 3, finds for plaintiff and assess his damage to 40 pounds and 6 costs.

Not only were they fighting, publicly, they were taking their battles to court.

May 7, 1794 – Leonard Miller has forfeited according to an act of assembly for his nonappearance as witness in the suit of David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy he being lawfully subpoenaed.

Where was Leonard? Did he leave?

May 7, 1794 – Order by court that attorney McDowal show cause tomorrow 8th why new trial not be granted in the suit Samuel Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy.

May the 7th seems like a circus in the courtroom in Wilkes County. The entire family appears to have been present except for Leonard who didn’t show up, and the gallery was probably full of spectators too. This was juicy stuff that would fuel the grapevine for months, if not years.

August term 1794 – On motion of attorney McDowell on behalf of Daniel Vannoy complainant ordered that a sci facias issue to Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart alias Little and his bail to appear at next court to show cause why execution is not satisfied.

November 2, 1794 – On motion of attorney McDowell on behalf of Daniel Vannoy, complainant, a sci fa issued to Samuel Hickerson alias Steward Hickerson Litle.

Scire facias is a writ requiring a person to show why a judgment regarding a record or patent should not be enforced or annulled.

November 6, 1794 – State vs Daniel Vannoy, indicted assault and battery, fined 1 penny.

November 7, 1794 – State vs Samuel Hickerson indicted assault and battery #7, submitted to court and find 5 pounds and costs, fine remitted to 1 d by order of court.

November 7, 1794 – State vs William Curry, indicted assault and battery, jury called.

Ordered fine 5 pounds be remitted in State vs David Hickerson.

Ordered by the court that the fine of 5 pounds state vs David Hickerson be remitted to 1 d.

It sounds like November 6th and 7th were potentially another circus performance. You can almost hear the judge calling everyone up before the bench, telling them to stop fighting, go home and work out their differences. Kind of like colonial adult time-out chairs.

Nov term 1794 – Capt. Joseph Hickerson mentioned as collecting taxes in his district.

Apparently, Joseph Hickerson was trying, and succeeding, in staying out of the fray, although he was called to testify against John Roberts and his sister, Jane Miller. He’s apparently the only one that manage to escape the rest of the drama. Or at least kept it out of court.

We don’t really know how all of this actually ended up, other than both John Roberts and Jane Miller were convincted – in pretty damning terms.

We know for sure that Charles was alive in 1789 when this took place. He may or may not have been alive in 1792 when Braddock first filed the complaint, but Charles’ wife, Mary, was. He might still have been alive in 1793 when the orders were given for the 1794 court appearances, but neither he nor Mary were alive in 1794 when this played out.

This family was in terrible turmoil, even before Mary’s will. Her death and will was simply fuel on the flames.

We do know that Mary Stewart, Samuel Hickerson and Rachel Harris moved away. Leonard Miller winds up in South Carolina, then Georgia. Jane Miller appears to remarry in 1806, with David Hickerson signing her bond.

Daniel Vannoy bought land several miles away in 1779, so he would not have been nearby daily. He sold his slaves on November 8, 1794, the day after this court episode, and sold his land two months later in January 1795, disappearing altogether.

David Hickerson sells out and leaves by 1809 for Tennessee, although two of his sons remain in Wilkes County.

Of Charles’ children, only Joseph Hickerson and Sarah Hickerson Vannoy positively remained in Wilkes County – although Sarah somewhat disappears too.

I know in my heart that there is far more to this story – and I know just as well that I’ll never know what it is. Daniel’s disappearance is somehow connected and it’s impossible to tell how from the distance of more than 200 years.

Well, What Does the DNA Say?

While attempting to confirm the Stafford County, Virginia connection, I’ve probably proven the theory that Charles descends from the Stafford County Higgerson line false, thanks to Y DNA.

Whoo boy.

I was excited several years ago to find a cousin who was a Hickerson male descended through Charles’ son, David, born between 1750 and 1760 who died in 1833 in Coffee County, Tennessee. Our descendant took Y DNA and autosomal DNA tests. And, thankfully, his Y DNA matches another descendant of David through son Lytle who remained in Wilkes County.

The bad news is that our Hickerson Y DNA:

  • Does not match the Higgerson DNA line from Stafford County, VA.
  • Does not match the Thomas Higgison (1761-1834) line that descends from King William and Hanover County, VA and has multiple testers
  • Does not match the John Higgison (1654-1720) line from King William County, VA that has multiple testers
  • Does not match the Thomas Hickerson (1736-1812) line from Stafford County, which is the line that was suggested. Two of Thomas’s sons’ lines have tested, and possibly more, although not everyone has posted the information as to which son they descend through.

Charles Hickerson had one other son, Joseph, who, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t have any Y DNA testers. We need a Y DNA test from a Joseph Hickerson descendant.

It’s possible that the Y DNA of David Hickerson and Joseph Hickerson don’t both match the Y DNA of Charles Hickerson.

If David’s two descendants match Joseph Hickerson’s Y DNA descendant, then we know that Charles Hickerson was not descended from the above lines.

However, and here’s a BIG however, our Hickerson men do match 4 descendants of a James Henderson born in Hunterdon, New Jersey in 1709 and died on Nov. 21, 1782 with a distance of 6 mutations at 67 markers. That’s not exactly close, but given that many of the families from Hunterdon settled in Rowan County in the Jersey Settlement and moved to what became Wilkes County, it can’t be discounted either, at least not yet.

Autosomally, David Hickerson and Sarah Hickerson Vannoy descendants have matches to:

  • Descendants of Joseph Hickerson
  • Descendants of Samuel Hickerson (whose mother was Mary Hickerson who married a Stewart)
  • Other descendants of David Hickerson
  • Other descendants of Sarah Hickerson who married Daniel Vannoy
  • Descendants of Jane Hickerson who married Leonard Miller
  • Descendants of Rachel Hickerson who married Braddock Harris

If you are, or know of, a Hickerson male who has descended from Joseph Hickerson, I have a Y DNA testing scholarship for you. We need you.

Y DNA of Joseph’s descendant who carries the Hickerson surnames is critical information necessary to solve one more mystery of Charles Hickerson.

The story of the first half-century of Charles’s life still needs to be written! We can’t do that until we resolve the question surrounding Charles Y DNA, and in doing so, figure out who Charles DOES descend from.  Are you the key?

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Thank you so much.

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FamilyTreeDNA Thanksgiving Sale + New Comprehensive Health Report

FTDNA Thanksgiving.png

FamilyTreeDNA’s Thanksgiving Sale has begun. Almost everything is on sale. I don’t know about you, but I like to have all of my holiday planning and purchasing DONE before Thanksgiving. Some of the gifts I wanted for people this year are already sold out or backordered – but DNA testing is always available. The gift of history, and now of health too.

I wrote about the Big Y test and upgrades just a couple days ago, here, including the restructuring of the Big Y product resulting in a permanent $100 dollar reduction, in addition to sale prices.

FamilyTreeDNA has made a few product changes and introduced the new Tovana Health test.

I’ve included a special section of frequently asked questions (and answers) about tests and when upgrading does, and doesn’t, make sense.

Individual Tests

Let’s start with the sale prices for individual tests.

Test Sale Price Regular Price Savings
Family Finder (FF) $59 $79 $20
Y DNA 37 $99 $169 $70
Y DNA 111 *1 $199 $359 $160
Big Y-700 *2 $399 $649 $250
Mitochondrial Full Sequence *3 $139 $199 $60

*1 – You may notice that only the 37-marker and 111-marker tests are listed above. The 111-marker test was reduced to the 67-marker sale price, so, at least during the sale, the 67-marker test is not available. In other words, you get 111 markers for the price of 67.

*2 – The Big Y-700 test includes the Y 111 test plus another 589 STR markers (to equal or exceed 700 markers total) plus the SNP testing. You can read about the Big Y here.

*3 – The mitochondrial full sequence (FMS) aka mtFullSequence test is now the only mitochondrial DNA test available. I’m glad to see this change. The price of the mtFullSequence test has now dropped to the level of the less specific partial tests of yesteryear. Genealogists really need the granularity of the full test.

Bundles save even more – an additional $9 over purchasing the bundled items separately

Bundles

Test Sale Price Regular Price Savings
Family Finder + mtFullSequence $189 $278 $89
Family Finder + Y-37 $149 $248 $188
Family Finder + Y111 $249 $438 $189
Y-37 + mtFullSequence $229 $368 $139
Y-111 + mtFullSequence $329 $558 $229
Family Finder + Y-37 + mtFull $279 $447 $170
Family Finder + Y-111 + mtFull $379 $637 $258

When Does Upgrading Make Sense?

Y DNA Q&A

Q – If I have several Y DNA matches, will upgrading help?

A – If you need more specific or granular information to tease your line out of several matches – upgrading will help refine your matches and determine who is a closer match, assuming some of your matches have tested at a higher level.

Q – If I have tested at a lower level of STR markers and have no matches, will I have matches at a higher level?

A – Sometimes, but not usually. If your mutations just happen to fall in the lower panels, you may have matches on higher panels that allow for more mutations. If you do have matches on a higher test in this circumstance, the person may or may not have your surname. You can also join haplogroup and surname projects where thresholds are slightly lower for matching within projects.

If you don’t test, you’ll never know.

Q – If I have no matches on STR markers, meaning 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111, will upgrading to the Big Y be beneficial?

A – Possibly to probably – and here’s why, even if you don’t initially have matches:

  • The Big Y-700 provides multiple tools including matches at the SNP level, not just the STR level, so you are matched in two entirely different ways.
  • You may have same-surname matches at the SNP level that you do not have at the STR level which are further back in time, but still valuable and relevant to your family history.
  • You may have SNP matches that aren’t STR matches that are not your surname, but reflect your family history before the advent of surnames. These matches can tell you where your family came from before you can locate them in records. In fact, this is the ONLY way you can track your family before the advent of surnames.
  • Even if you don’t have matches, you’ll receive all of your SNP markers that allow you to view your results on the Block Tree, which is in essence a migration map back through time. You can read about the Block Tree here.
  • Your test contributes to building the phylotree – meaning the Y DNA tree of man – which benefits all genealogists. In just the first 10 months of 2019, 32,000 new SNPs have been placed on the tree, resulting in about 5,000 new individual branches. All because of Big Y-700
  • New people test every day and your DNA tests fish for you every minute of every day.

Mitochondrial DNA Q&A

If you’ve previously taken lower level mitochondrial HVR1 and HVR2 tests, now is the perfect time to upgrade.

Q – I have 5,000 <or fill in large number here> HVR1 level matches. Will upgrading reduce the number of matches to those that are more meaningful?

A – Absolutely! Your most genealogically relevant matches, meaning closest in time, are those that match you exactly at the full sequence level.

Q – I don’t know where my ancestor was from. Can a full sequence test help me?

A – Yes. You can use the Matches Map and see where the ancestors of your closest matches were from. That’s a huge hint. You can also utilize your haplogroup, which, in some instances, will point to a specific continent such as Africa, Europe, Asia or Native American and Jewish populations.

Q – If I have no matches at the HVR1 or HVR2 level? Will an upgrade help me?

A – Possibly. Both the HVR1 and HVR2 (now obsolete) tests only allowed for one mutation difference to be considered a match. The full sequence allows for many more differences. If you were unlucky and your mutations just happened to fall in the HVR1 or HVR2 levels, it would prevent a match which will occur at a higher level. Either way, you’ll receive information about your rare mutations – which may well explain why you don’t have matches (yet)! You’ll also receive a full haplogroup which will be useful, allowing you to use the mitochondrial haplotree to track back in time, which I wrote about here.

There are so many ways to obtain useful information. I wrote a step-by-step guide to using mitochondrial DNA, here.

Upgrade Options

Please note that if you are considering an upgrade, it maybe beneficial to upgrade to the maximum test available for either the Y or mitochondrial DNA, especially if you cannot obtain more of the sample. Of course, if it’s your own sample, you can always swab again, but others can’t.

Every time a vial is opened for testing, more DNA is used, until there is none left. Additionally, DNA degrades with time, depending on the quality of the original scraping and the amount of bacteria in the sample. Generally, the sample is viable for at least 5 years, but not always. Some older samples remain viable for many years. There’s no way to know in advance.

Test Sale Price Regular Price Savings
Y-12 to Y-37 $79 $109 $30
Y-12 to Y-67 $149 $199 $50
Y-12 to Y-111 $169 $359 $190
Y-25 to Y-37 $49 $59 $10
Y-25 to Y-67 $119 $159 $40
Y-25 to Y-111 $149 $269 $120
Y-37 to Y-67 $69 $109 $40
Y-37 to Y-111 $119 $228 $109
Y-67 to Y-111 $69 $99 $30
Y-12 to Big Y-700 $359 $629 $270
Y-25 to Big Y-700 $349 $599 $250
Y-37 to Big Y-700 $319 $569 $250
Y-67 to Big Y-700 $259 $499 $240
Y-111 to Big Y-700 $229 $499 $270
Big Y-500 to Big Y-700 $189 $249 $60
HVR1 to mtFullSequence $99 $159 $60
mtDNA Plus to mtFullSequence $99 $159 $60

Tovana – A New Limited Availability Exome Medical Report 

Recently, FamilyTreeDNA did a limited announcement about a medically supervised health exome health test for a subset of customers, specifically customers who:

  • Don’t live in Pennsylvania, New York, California or Maryland, due to state law restrictions.
  • Took the Family Finder test since October 2015 – meaning no transfers. The Family Finder test is used in conjunction with the exome chip to generate the customer report.

If you took the Family Finder test before October 2015, you are eligible but the rollout is being done in stages and your kit will be eligible in December.

This Tovana Genome Report is focused towards people who are health and wellness conscious. Meaning those who don’t want to die a premature death that might be preventable.

All genetic health tests focus on predispositions. You may or may not develop the condition, with a few notable exceptions, but forewarned is forearmed.

You might, however, be VERY interested in intervening, one way or another, BEFORE you develop potentially life-threatening conditions, or taking preventative actions to avoid developing those conditions. At the very least, you can be aware and monitor your health to catch them early, when they are treatable, manageable or potentially curable.

It only takes one, ONE, terrifying experience to convince you that health testing might make a difference.

Once you’re embroiled in that health nightmare, there is no going back in time to take a test and enact preventative measures.

My mother might still be with us had we known she was susceptible to blood clots. My sister had metastatic breast cancer.

Let me show you something from a Tovana report.

FTDNA Tovana.png

This portion of a page from an actual customer report shows this individual is positive for a mutation for a clotting disorder where clots are formed that can cause strokes, pulmonary embolisms and DVTs (deep vein thrombosis).

I’d give anything, any amount of money – to have had advance warning so we could have watched my mother more vigilantly and taken simple proactive measures that might have prevented her stroke and resulting death.

What would another 10 or 15 years with her have been worth?

We could have and would have discussed this with her doctors and asked about preventative measures, like taking aspirin or other measures as indicated by her health and other medications. (Please do not self-diagnose or medicate without discussing with your physician as drugs interact in ways patients may not be aware of.)

Compared to hospital (or funeral) bills, not to mention the sheer agony…the cost of this test at $799 is irrelevant. What better way to say, “I love you”?

I would pick up bottles by the side of the road, if I needed to, to be able to purchase this test for my Mom 15 years ago. Sadly, this type of testing wasn’t available then, but it is now.

Ignorance is not bliss.

I want to know if I or my children carry these predispositions so that we can take action.

The Tovana Test is Different

The Tovana test is different from and much more comprehensive than the tests offered by Ancestry, MyHeritage and 23andMe that utilize only your autosomal genealogy test.

To begin with, the Tovana test is run on an exome chip that tests over 50 million locations in addition to the 700,000+ locations tested in the Family Finder test.

The completed report that I viewed was 128 pages in length, with lots of graphics. This  explain explains autosomal dominant inheritance.

FTDNA Tovana autosomal dominant.png

The report is very user-friendly, including drawings, a risk-meter for polygenic conditions that involve more than a simple yes or no answer, explanations and recommendations for each condition reported.

FTDNA Tovana risk meter.png

And yes, in case you’re wondering, the report also includes the fun traits like ear wax and such that you can discuss if you’re bored beyond imagination at a cocktail party.

Each report is centered around and tailored to the family information you provide, such as known Jewish heritage, or known cases of cancer.

FTDNA Tovana Table of Contents.png

Comparisons

I’ve compiled a chart with some comparison details – although this test is in a class by itself where the other three tests compete directly with each other.

I’ve personally taken the other tests, except for the Ancestry upgrade. I also took an early exome test a few years ago, but THAT ONE CAME WITH NO REPORT OR EXPLANATIONS.

  23andme Ancestry Health Core MyHeritage Family Tree DNA Tovana Test
# DNA locations tested About 700,000 About 700,000 About 700,000 >50 million plus the 700,000 in the Family Finder test
# Results Provided to Customer 78 health + polygenic diabetes +34 traits such as freckles 84 88+ polygenic heart, diabetes, breast cancer 3000+ including many polygenic diseases including heart, diabetes & 35 genes associated with breast cancer
Physician Oversight No PWNHealth PWNHealth Tovana
Personal Clinical Analysis No No No Yes
Analysis, Interpretation by board certified geneticist No No No Yes
Genetic Counseling No Yes, limited Yes, limited $50 for 30-minute session
Updates Yes, episodic depending on test level, may not receive, sometimes have to purchase new test No, one time results only Yes, free for first year then with $99 per year subscription Not at this time, but under consideration
Cost – Initial Purchase $149 upgrade only after DNA test $199 new purchase -combined health plus ancestry $799 introductory price
Upgrade if Already Tested No $49 upgrade if have already tested $120 to upgrade if already tested, plus $99 year subscription after year 1 Not relevant
Requirements None This is an upgrade from an existing Ancestry test Must test with MyHeritage, not a transfer kit

Are You Eligible?

To see if you are one of the customers eligible to purchase the Tovane Genome Report, sign in, here, and then check your personal page under “Additional Features” to see if the Tovana Genome Report is available. If so, click for more information or to order.

FTDNA Tovana order.png

You’ve probably guessed what my family is receiving for Christmas😊. No one else is going to suffer from or die from something preventable if I can help it.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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 Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Big Y News and Stats + Sale

I must admit – this past January when FamilyTreeDNA announced the Big Y-700, an upgrade from the Big Y-500 product, I was skeptical. I wondered how much benefit testers would really see – but I was game to purchase a couple upgrades – and I did. Then, when the results came back, I purchased more!

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m no longer skeptical. I’m a believer.

The Big Y-700 has produced amazing results – and now FamilyTreeDNA has decoupled the price of the BAM file in addition to announcing substantial sale prices for their Thanksgiving Sale.

I’m going to discuss sale pricing for products other than the Big Y in a separate article because I’d like to focus on the progress that has been made on the phylogenetic tree (and in my own family history) as a result of the Big Y-700 this year.

Big Y Pricing Structure Change

FamilyTreeDNA recently anounced some product structure changes.

The Big Y-700 price has been permanently dropped by $100 by decoupling the BAM file download from the price of the test itself. This accomplishes multiple things:

  • The majority of testers don’t want or need the BAM file, so the price of the test has been dropped by $100 permanently in order to be able to price the Big Y-700 more attractively to encourage more testers. That’s good for all of us!!!
  • For people who ordered the Big Y-700 since November 1, 2019 (when the sale prices began) who do want the BAM file, they can purchase the BAM file separately through the “Add Ons and Upgrades” page, via the “Upgrades” tab for $100 after their test results are returned. There will also be a link on the Big Y-700 results page. The total net price for those testers is exactly the same, but it represents a $100 permanent price drop for everyone else.
  • This BAM file decoupling reduces the initial cost of the Big Y-700 test itself, and everyone still has the option of purchasing the BAM file later, which will make the Big Y-700 test more affordable. Additionally, it allows the tester who wants the BAM file to divide the purchase into two pieces, which will help as well.
  • The current sale price for the Big Y-700 for the tester who has taken NO PREVIOUS Y DNA testing is now just $399, formerly $649. That’s an amazing price drop, about 40%, in the 9 months since the Big Y-700 was introduced!
  • Upgrade pricing is available too, further down in this article.
  • If you order an upgrade from any earlier Big Y to the Big Y-700, you receive an upgraded BAM file because you already paid for the BAM file when you ordered your initial Big Y test.
  • The VCF file is still available for download at no additional cost with any Big Y test.
  • There is no change in the BAM file availability for current customers. Everyone who ordered before November 1, 2019 will be able to download their BAM file as always.

The above changes are permanent, except for the sale price.

2019 has been a Banner Year

I know how successful the Big Y-700 has been for kits and projects that I manage, but how successful has it been overall, in a scientific sense?

I asked FamilyTreeDNA for some stats about the number of SNPs discovered and the number of branches added to the Y phylotree.

Drum roll please…

Branches Added This Year Total Tree Branches Variants Added to Tree This Year Total Variants Added to Tree
2018 6,259 17,958 60,468 132.634
2019 4,394 22.352 32,193 164,827

The tests completed in 2019 are only representative for 10 months, through October, and not the entire year.

Haplotree Branches

Not every SNP discovered results in a new branch being added to the haplotree, but many do. This chart shows the number of actual branches added in 2018 and 2019 to date.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches.png

These stats, provided by FamilyTreeDNA, show the totals in the bottom row, which is a cumulative branch number total, not a monthly total. At the end of October 2019, the total number of individual branches were 22,352.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches small.png

This chart, above, shows some of the smaller haplogroups.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches large.png

This chart shows the larger haplogroups, including massive haplogroup R.

Haplotree Variants

The number of variants listed below is the number of SNPs that have been discovered, named and placed on the tree. You’ll notice that these numbers are a lot larger than the number of branches, above. That’s because roughly 168,000 of these are equivalent SNPs, meaning they don’t further branch the tree – at least not yet. These 168K variants are the candidates to be new branches as more people test and the tree can be further split.

Big Y 700 variants.png

These numbers also don’t include Private Variants, meaning SNPs that have not yet been named.

If you see Private Variants listed in your Big Y results, when enough people have tested positive for the same variant, and it makes sense, the variants will be given a SNP name and placed on the tree.

Big Y 700 variants small.png

The smaller haplogroups variants again, above, followed by the larger, below.

Big Y 700 variants large.png

Upgrades from the Big Y, or Big Y-500 to Big Y-700

Based on what I see in projects, roughly one third of the Big Y and Big Y-500 tests have upgraded to the Big Y-700.

For my Estes line, I wondered how much value the Big Y-700 upgrade would convey, if any, but I’m extremely glad I upgraded several kits. As a result of the Big Y-700, we’ve further divided the sons of Abraham, born in 1747. This granularity wasn’t accomplished by STR testing and wasn’t accomplished by the Big Y or Big Y-500 testing alone – although all of these together are building blocks. I’m ECSTATIC since it’s my own ancestral line that has the new lineage defining SNP.

Big Y 700 Estes.png

Every Estes man descended from Robert born in 1555 has R-BY482.

The sons of the immigrant, Abraham, through his father, Silvester, all have BY490, but the descendants of Silvester’s brother, Robert, do not.

Moses, son of Abraham has ZS3700, but the rest of Abraham’s sons don’t.

Then, someplace in the line of kit 831469, between Moses born in 1711 and the present-day tester, we find a new SNP, BY154784.

Big Y 700 Estes block tree.png

Looking at the block tree, we see the various SNPs that are entirely Estes, except for one gentleman who does not carry the Estes surname. I wrote about the Block Tree, here.

Without Big Y testing, none of these SNPs would have been found, meaning we could never have split these lines genealogically.

Every kit I’ve reviewed carries SNPs that the Big Y-700 has been able to discern that weren’t discovered previously.

Every. Single. One.

Now, even someone who hasn’t tested Y DNA before can get the whole enchilada – meaning 700+ STRs, testing for all previously discovered SNPs, and new branch defining SNPs, like my Estes men – for $399.

If a new Estes tester takes this test, without knowing anything about his genealogy, I can tell him a great deal about where to look for his lineage in the Estes tree.

Reduced Prices

FamilyTreeDNA has made purchasing the Big Y-700 outright, or upgrading, EXTREMELY attractive.

Test Price
Big Y-700 purchase with no previous Y DNA test

 

$399
Y-12 upgrade to Big Y-700 $359
Y-25 upgrade to Big Y-700 $349
Y-37 upgrade to Big Y-700 $319
Y-67 upgrade to Big Y-700 $259
Y-111 upgrade to Big Y-700 $229
Big Y or Big Y-500 upgrade to Big Y-700 $189

Note that the upgrades include all of the STR markers as yet untested. For example, the 12-marker to Big Y-700 includes all of the STRs between 25 and 111, in addition to the Big Y-700 itself. The Big Y-700 includes:

  • All of the already discovered SNPs, called Named Variants, extending your haplogroup all the way to the leaf at the end of your branch
  • Personal and previously undiscovered SNPs called Private Variants
  • All of the untested STR markers inclusive through 111 markers
  • A minimum of a total of 700 STR markers, including markers above 111 that are only available through Big Y-700 testing

With the refinements in the Big Y test over the past few years, and months, the Big Y is increasingly important to genealogy – equally or more so than traditional STR testing. In part, because SNPs are not prone to back mutations, and are therefore more stable than STR markers. Taken together, STRs and SNPs are extremely informative, helping to break down ancestral brick walls for people whose genealogy may not reach far back in time – and even those who do.

If you are a male and have not Y DNA tested, there’s never been a better opportunity. If you are a female, find a male on a brick wall line and sponsor a scholarship.

Click here to order or upgrade!

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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 Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Michael McDowell Jr. (c 1747 – c 1840): Slanting Misery – 52 Ancestors #260

In the first article about Michael McDowell, Michael McDowell Jr., (c1747-c1840), Revolutionary War Veteran, Spy, Miller and Apparently, Rabble Rouser – 52 Ancestors #258, I told the story of Michael’s early years.

When Michael McDowell was about 63 years old, when most people are looking forward to sitting around a cozy fireplace on chilly mornings, Michael set out on yet another great adventure, lumbering along in a wagon pulled by his three horses and slowly making his way across mountains to the next frontier.

Michael McDowell Wilkes to Slanting.png

On average, wagons traveled approximately 10 miles a day. This journey, crossing the Appalachian Mountains through a pass someplace would have taken about 3 weeks, presuming that no wagon axles broke or anything else unforeseen happened to slow their progress during their bumpy trek.

Sometime in late 1809 or early 1810. Michael McDowell and most of his family left Wilkes County, North Carolina and settled on the border between Lee County, Virginia and Claiborne County, Tennessee, along the Powell River. They probably made the journey in the fall, after harvest, but before snow, or in the spring before planting – although mud would have been worse during that time.

We know that Michael had arrived in Lee County by mid-May of 1810.

Michael McDowell Powell River map.png

The 1810 tax list of Lee County, Virginia, located just across the county and state line from where Michael McDowell eventually settled in Claiborne County, Tennessee shows the following men on a tax list taken on May 12th:

  • Michael McDowell 1 poll, 3 horses
  • John McDowell 1 poll, 1 horse
  • Edward McDowell 1 poll, 2 horses
  • Luke McDowell 1 poll, no horses

A “poll” means this man is paying for 1 male over the age of either 16 or 21, depending on the time and place. They are listed separately, which indicates that they live in separate households. None of these men owned slaves over age 12 on this list, nor is there any indication they ever owned slaves at all.

Another indication that Michael lived initially in Lee County is that in 1812 when his son-in-law, William Herrell (Harrell, Harold, Herald) purchased land, Herrell was identified as “of Lee County, Virginia” in the deed. It’s also possible that the state line was indeterminate at that time. A Supreme Court case filed in 1893 sought to clarify the Virginia/Tennessee state line, as there had been disputes since the original surveys of the border between these two states. The Herrell/McDowell lands were only about half a mile, or less, from that eventual border.

Pushing Further Into Kentucky

A hundred miles further northwest, Pulaski County Kentucky Marriage Records transcribed by the Pulaski County Historical Society document the following marriages:

  • April 18, 1811 – Edmon McDowell married Lucy Haynes, Thomas Haines bondsman, Thomas Hansford present
  • November 7, 1811 – William McDowell married Anna Herrin, Wesley Short present
  • December 8, 1811 – Luke McDowell married Francis Fields, Wesley Short present

I find no documentation in these marriage records that these were Michael’s sons, but the 1810 tax list in Lee county is at least suggestive that Edmon (Edward) and Luke are connected with Michael McDowell Jr. Wesley Short stands with both William and Luke, connecting them. A William McDowell is later found with Michael where he lived in Claiborne County. However, for the William in Claiborne to have been the William who married in Pulaski County in 1811, he would have had to have moved back to Claiborne County sometime after his marriage.

What was the draw in Pulaski County, Kentucky? They aren’t the only men from this region to settle there.

Thompson Settlement Baptist Church

Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War pension application in 1832 tells us that that he has a good relationship with the Baptist preacher, James Gullut (Gilbert), who he had known for 15 or 20 years which means they met roughly between 1812 and 1817. Now, we just need to find out which Baptist church James Gullut (Gilbert) was associated with.

At the Thompson Settlement Baptist Church, founded in 1800 and located across the Tennessee/Virginia border on Powell River in Lee County, Virginia we find records of James Gilbert being received by experience and baptized on April 23rd, 1815 by Reverend Andrew Baker.

“Received by experience” means that Gilbert was “saved” and subsequently baptized in this church, not transferred from another church. If he had transferred from another church, he would have been “received by letter.”

Michael McDowell Thompson Settlement.png

The Thompson Settlement church was located on Powell River, in Lee County, some 15 miles from where Michael McDowell lived on land aptly named “Slanting Misery.” And trust me, it is – I’ve been there.

Michael appears to have initially settled, at least temporarily, in Lee County, Virginia but that didn’t last for long, settling by 1812 in Claiborne County, Tennessee, just over the Lee/Claiborne line. He may not have moved very far, half a mile or so, or he may not have moved at all – believing that the area where he lived was actually in Lee County. The boundary was disputed and other settlers in Carter Valley in Hawkins County discovered they weren’t living in Virginia, after all. Maybe Michael did too.

Getting to the Thompson Settlement Church in Lee County from Michael McDowell’s land was no small feat, given that the wide Powell River probably had to be forded, at least once, if not twice, and there were mountains in the way. I’m not at all sure it wouldn’t have taken a day to get to church in a wagon – and you had to take the wagon in order to transport a family. In fact, probably the entire extended family. A day coming and a day going would make church a 3-day event – and that just wasn’t feasible every week for a farming family. Not to mention that trip in the winter would have been both miserable and perilous.

MIchael McDowell Thompson Settlement to Slant Misery.png

It’s no surprise that the Rob Camp Church was eventually formed about 3 miles away, just past the Clarkson’s, in the part of Claiborne County that became Hancock County, but not officially until 1844, after Michael McDowell’s presumed death.

McDowell Rob Camp Church

It’s likely that a group of church members had been meeting locally for a long time. In 1842, the church minutes stated that the members met at the home of Rob Parkey. Parkey Gap is in the ridge of mountains just south of Slanting Misery, so “church” might have been simply at a neighbors house.

If Michael hadn’t already died, his membership was never transferred to Rob Camp. He would have been 97 at that time.

Thompson Settlement Church

The Thompson Settlement Church records provide a few nuggets of information.

Events recorded reflect members being tried within the church and censured for activities like playing marbles, dancing and drinking, letting us peep into the rules and daily church life. We also gain insight into the lives of the membership, and the clergy.

On July 1, 1822, “Brother James Gilbert is licensed to use a public gift when he may think proper.” In essence, this means they are giving him the official nod to preach, whenever he is ready.

Then, on May 1st, 1823, “Brother James Gilbert is set apart for ordination, and Brother William Wells and Brother William Jones to be called as a Presbytery to ordain Brother Gilbert to the ministry.” Gilbert was ordained the following week.

In 1835 and 1836, James Gilbert is still with the church, so we know that in 1832 when he gave a deposition for Michael McDowell, he was indeed the minister. Based on the information provided in Gilbert’s autobiography, it sounds unlikely that he would have endorsed Michael if he were not a church member, because in that place and time, not being a church member equated to being an unrepentant sinner.

This tells us that Michael McDowell was a member of the Thompson Settlement Church – the first indication of any kind that he was a church member. James Gilbert was probably also Michael McDowell’s neighbor, because in 1845 when James Gilbert and others established the Rob Camp Church in what was then Hancock County, Michael McDowell’s neighboring families were among the first listed church members with James Gilbert among the parishioners. Rob Camp was an offshoot or sister church to Thompson Settlement and a lot closer.

A list of members who belong to the Thompson Settlement Church in Lee County, VA detailed members in the year 1835 and Mikel McDowell is noted, with no indication as to what happened to him. Nancy McDowell is listed as well, with “dismissed.” John McDowell’s wife, Nancy, died in 1841, per her gravestone. I guess death is one method of dismissal.

Another membership list dated Saturday, September 1, 1838, includes the name of Michael Macdowell, with a note beside the name, “dismissed.”  Is this someone other than the elderly Michael McDowell, or is dismissed recorded instead of deceased, perhaps? I don’t see deceased on the list for anyone, so I’d suggest that dismissed means “no longer a member.” Clearly, the disposition of these members was added later, not when the list was created. The fact that he was listed on this 1838 list means he was alive then.

We know that Michael was not in the census in 1840 under his own name, but he may have been living with family members.

Claiborne County, Tennessee

In Michael McDowell’s pension application in 1832, the good Reverend Gilbert states that he has known Michael for 15 or 20 years. This places Michael’s arrival in the area no later than 1812-1817, and perhaps earlier – but we knew that from the tax list.

Michael’s son, John, said in a deposition that a group of families migrated about 1810. That year is of course confirmed by the Lee County, Virginia, 1810 tax records.

Michael McDowell Wilkes to Claiborne.png

Three of Michael’s sons married in Pulaski Co., KY in 1811, although initially I wasn’t entirely convinced that these men were all Michael’s sons. We do find Edward signing that 1799 deed in Wilkes County as a witness for Michael McDowell Jr. and William is found later with Michael in Claiborne County. Y DNA adds evidence that indeed Edward and Luke were sons of Michael McDowell. To date, the only McDowell men matching this group above 12 markers are men who descend from those two sons of Michael.

Where was Michael McDowell in the 1810 census? The Claiborne County 1810 census is lost, as is the Lee County, VA Census. There is no McDowell in Pulaski County in the 1810 census.

In 1845, John McDowell, son of Michael McDowell, when giving a deposition on behalf of his sister, Mary McDowell, who married William Herrell, testifies that about 1810 a group of families moved to Claiborne County, and that both he and Mary McDowell Harrell were among those families. I’d wager that Michael McDowell was driving a wagon in that train, the back full of the family and a few of their belongings. They couldn’t have brought many things in a wagon that also had to transport the family. There were probably multiple wagons given that Michael and his sons had a total of 7 horses after arrival. Or maybe the sons rode horseback instead of in the wagons.

At least 4 of Michael’s younger children would have been riding. We know that Michael’s oldest son, Michael III, stayed in North Carolina, but the rest of his known children moved north with Michael. His daughter, Mary, was pregnant at the time with her first child.

I surely wonder what prompted Michael to uproot and leave, given that he was well-established in Wilkes County and had been for about a quarter century. Maybe with his children at marriage age, he knew if he didn’t relocate “now” he never would, because his children would be establishing their own homes and would be reticent to leave.

If Michael left Wilkes for Claiborne in 1810, he would have been 63 years old. Not a young man – older than I am today and I certainly would not want to undertake that journey, especially not under the conditions of that time and place in a wagon with no shocks or springs, over badly rutted roads, up and down mountains. Makes me ache to even think about that. Not to mention shudder when thinking about those cliffs and precipices. No thank you.

Michael would have had his youngest children riding behind the seat, in the wagon or walking alongside, perhaps encouraging a cow to keep up. In 1800, Michael had 4 children age 0-10, so they would be between 10 and 20 in 1810.

William Harrell’s first land purchase in Claiborne County was on October 10, 1812 and was witnessed by none other than his father-in-law, Michael McDowell.

May term 1813 – Oct. 10 1812 John Claypool and Eliza his wife of Claiborne and William Harrold of Lee Co Va. for the sum of $200 a tract of land lying in Claiborne on the N side of Powell River including a stripe of land on the opposite side of said river included in a tract of land conveyed to William Bails by James Allen bounded as follows: Beginning on the back line in a deep hollow at two hickories and at a dogwood, thence to a white oak marked AB (with the right side of the A the same as the back of the B) thence to the south line of said tract containing 100 acres more or less it being part of a tract of 440 acres conveyed to said William Bails by James Allen as above said conveyance bearing the date Jan. 20, 1809. Witnesses William Briance, Michael McDowel (his X mark), William Hardy. Registered Dec. 3, 1813.

Notice that Michael signed with an X, like he did every previous document. It appears that Michael was not able to read or write. That didn’t keep him from transacting business.

Land

In January of 1814, Michael was granted 15 acres plus 200 acres previously assigned to John Braham. Perhaps Michael had been living on John’s land ever since his arrival. Or maybe he settled on the land he eventually purchased, given that William Herrell’s land was right next door.

Michael McDowell 1814 land grant.png

The great thing about Michael’s land grant is that it tells us exactly where this land is located.

District 6, Powell River by 4 Mile Creek and it’s bluff adjoining Herrell’s line beginning on the north bank of Powell’s River above the mouth of 4 Mile Creek then up the rivers…to the east bank of 4 Mile Creek…

Michael also received another 25 acres in the same location.

Slanting misery panorama

During one on my visits, I took these photos which I’ve assembled as a panorama, taken from the top of “Slanting Misery,” Michael’s land, looking left to right from the Harrell land to the Clarkson grant. In the next 3 generations, these families would intermarry and become my ancestors.

On February 1, 1817, Michael McDowell witnessed a deed for the purchase of land by his son, John McDowell. Another witness was William McDowell. This is the first instance of William McDowell in any record, unless you count the 1811 marriage in Pulaski County, Kentucky.

Although the land that’s being surveyed below isn’t Michael’s, it’s the best overview of the area and property owners that I’ve ever found because the drawing includes all of the families along Powell River. Notice the survery is for a Parkey, the same family as where church was being held. The Parkey’s owned significant land along the Powell River, including south of the river.

parkey survey 2 cropParkey survey 3

A current map shows the following locations. Before GPS and Google Maps, this is how we found land and locations. It worked!

MIchael McDowell topo map.jpg

Additional information is recorded in the Claiborne County Court Notes from the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions 1819-1821:

Thursday Nov. 11, 1819, Page 31 – John McDowell appointed as a juror to the next session.

Wed. August 16 1820, Page 162 – Ordered by the court that Alexander Ritchie be appointed overseer of the new road leading from the 9 mile post at Doherty’s to the Powell Valley Road at John Hurt that is from the said 9 mile post to Powels River and have for hands the following bounds that is all Capt. Thoms McCarty’s company south of Wallen’s Ridge and the following named hands on the N side of said ridge – William Herrold, John McDowell, Joseph Baker, William Baker, William Medlock, William McDowell and Robert G. (or C.) Parks.

I suspect Parks was really Parkey.

In 1824 Michael McDowell granted a deed to John P. McDowell in Claiborne County, for “love”. A second transaction was the reverse. Did these men trade land?

In these records, we need to differentiate between John McDowell and John P. McDowell, who were different men.

John McDowell’s 1825 survey was located on the far northern end of “Slanting Misery.”

Michael McDowell John 1825 survey.jpg

William McDowell’s 1829 survey is shown below, adjacent William Herrell in the area that would be called Herrell’s bend of Powell River.

william herrell 2 survey

The 1830 census for Claiborne County shows:

Michael McDowell:

  • 1 male 80-90 (Michael 83)
  • 1 male 30-40 (unknown, born 1790-1800)
  • 1 female 70-80 (wife about 77)
  • 1 female 20-30 (unknown, possibly wife of male 30-40)

The unknown male could possibly be son William. Although William had land surveyed in 1829, he isn’t listed on the census.

Michael was living beside his son, John McDowell, age 40-50, so born between 1780-1790, with John’s 5 children.

They live less than a dozen houses from William Herald who married Michael’s daughter, Mary McDowell, in 1809 in Wilkes County.

Michael McDowell 1830 census Claiborne.png

Nathan McDowell is living in Claiborne County as well, but not close to Michael. He is age 30-40, so born between 1790-1800, as is John P. McDowell, age 30-40.

In 1832, we find another 50 acre survey for John and William McDowell, jointly.

Michael McDowell 1832 John and William

The John and William McDowell 1832 4 Mile Creek survey mentions Michael McDowell as a chain carrier. In 1832, Michael McDowell was 85 years old. He must have been a quite spry 85, or maybe this Michael was a grandson?

Michael McDowell 1832

John and William’s land was the north end of Slanting Misery, adjacent Michael McDowell’s land.

The map below shows the exact area as the survey above, including the location where the river is forded at McDowell Shoal with the red arrows. You can see the 2 tracks on the other side of the river, on Slanting Misery.

Michael McDowell ford of river.jpg.png

The land at the mouth of 4 Mile Creek is the land Michael sold to his granddaughter, Margaret Herrell and her first husband, Anson Martin. After Anson’s death, Margaret married Joseph Bolton and they became my great-grandparents. They probably lived right here.

Michael McDowell 4 Mile Creek mouth.png

River Road runs alongside Slanting Misery, across Powell River from Slanting Misery. Michael owned land on both sides of the river. The yellow arrow is the mouth of 4 Mile Creek, and the green arrows mark the two fords of the river today.

Michael McDowell 4 Mile Creek ford and barn.png

This view shows 4 Mile Creek, the fords and the barns on Michael’s land. Michael’s house stood near the barns and cemetery. McDowell Shoals is to the far right on River Road, above.

Michael McDowell McDowell Shoals.png

This high area along River Road, looking across the Powell River to Michael’s land is called McDowell Shoals. You can see the island in the middle of the river that used to support a swinging rope bridge.

On May 16, 1832, the surveyor surveyed 50 acres of land on both sides of 4 Mile Creek for Michael and the chainer was John McDowell.

Michael McDowell 1832 survey

Today, driving along River Road, we cross 4 Mile Creek just before it dumps into the Powell River. Michael owned this land.

Michael McDowell River Road 4 Mile Creek.png

By this time, Michael was 85 years old, and he’s still amassing land!

We know his age due to his application in court on May 17, 1832 for his Revolutionary War pension. It was no small endeavor to travel to the courthouse in Tazewell, either. That journey began with fording the Powell River, as map shows, which runs high in the spring, sometimes VERY high.

Michael McDowell to court.png

That trip to town probably required a couple days and equally as long to return. Michael and whoever went with him probably stayed in town during the week to attend court. The entire adventure to appear before court probably took a week or more. Not to mention that “court,“ which occurred quarterly, was the entertainment of the day. If you went to all of the trouble and effort of attending court, you were surely going to stay for the entire spectacle. Who wants to leave the movie at intermission? Court was the soap opera of 1800s Appalachia, with adult beverages flowing freely. Not to mention that Michael would have gotten to mingle with the other Revolutionary War veterans who were also applying for pensions. I can just see those old men telling stories and “swapping lies,” as my Dad would have said. Maybe over some whiskey at the tavern.

In 1833, a deed was granted from Michael McDowell to S. and W. (Nathan S. and William) McDowell “for love,” confirming a close relationship. I wish he had told us the exact nature of those relationships.

The Claiborne County 1833 tax lists shows Michael living beside William McDowell and William Herreld who lived 5 doors from John McDowell.

Michael McDowell 1833 tax list.png

John McDowell obtained a grant in 1834 on the Powell River, just below the mouth of 4 Mile Creek.

Michael McDowell 1834 JOhn grant

And another grant in 1836. This family was a land baron! It’s just that the land was rough and not very productive.

1836 land grant.jpg

I thought surely that Michael was finished obtaining land, but not according to the Tennessee land grant books found in the Middlesboro, KY library. In 1836, when Michael would have been 89, he was granted another 40 acres. I have to wonder if a lot of this land was “scrub” by this time, or others would have already patented the land had it been productive farmland.

Last First Year Acres District Book Page Grant County
McDowell Michael 1836 15 E dist 8 669 70038 Claiborne
McDowell Michael 1836 25 E dist 8 669 70039 Claiborne

The 1839 Claiborne County Tax list is in alphabetical order, not house order, and it tells us that Michael had 40 acres valued at $100, taxed at $5. There is another 60 acres listed as school and valued at $50 and taxes at 2.5. He has no poll, due to his advanced age, and under the tax column, it shows .05, which does not add up to the total of the previous columns, but then neither do the rest so I’m apparently misunderstanding something.

It appears that at least part of Michael’s land is missing, although that simply might mean that others were farming the land and paying the taxes. Some deeds could have been conveyed by hand and not recorded as well.

In his lifetime, Michael was granted a total of 330 acres. He conveyed land to John P. McDowell in 1824 for “love” and to Nathan and William McDowell in 1833, although the acreage is not stated.

Given that Michael obtained yet another two land grants in 1836 for 25 and 15 acres, and was taxed in 1839 for 40 acres, this appears to be the amount of land that Michael has left.

Anson Martin and Margaret Herrell

On June 20th, 1840 Michael McDowell along with William McDowell sold 2 acres of land to Anson Martin at the mouth of 4 Mile Creek for $50. Anson had married Margaret Herrell, Michael’s granddaughter, about 1828. I have to wonder why they only purchased 2 acres. That certainly wasn’t enough to farm. Would they have established a mill at the mouth of a creek?

At this time, Michael would have been 93 years old and it is presumed he died shortly thereafter since he is not listed individually on the 1840 census, and not listed on the Rob Camp Church membership in 1844. He is probably buried on his own land on Slanting Misery, close to the confluence of Four Mile Creek and the Powell River in what is now Hancock County, but like most of the early pioneers in this area, there is no marked gravestone to identify the exact location in the cemetery.

The Claiborne County 1840 census shows us that there are a John and William McDowell, both living near William Herral, with William McDowell having a female aged 80-90, possibly his mother.

Additionally, the Reverend Nathan McDowell who had moved further east in Claiborne County has a male living with him, age 80-90. Are these two elderly people Michael McDowell and his wife?  Perhaps they both needed help, and two children each took one parent.

Or, maybe, just maybe, there was something else going on.

A Scandal

Michael McDowell’s son-in-law, William Herrell served in the War of 1812 not long after the family settled in Claiborne County. William came home, while many of their neighbors, including James Claxton, their neighbor who lived in the next river bend to the west, did not.

After the war, William Herrell and Mary McDowell Herrell continued to live on the land adjacent Michael, as they would until Michael’s death. From the distance of almost 200 years, life seems routine based on what few records exist. Deeds and court records, mostly, with a few tax records sprinkled in for good measure.

It’s in those tax records that we find the first hint of the scandal that must surely have enveloped the family, if not the entire community and possibly further.

William Herrell is taxed in 1836 and 1839 on land and a slave worth more than half the value of his land.

In the 1900s, the whispered story that William Herrell had two wives lived on, even into the late 1900s. Told in hushed voices so that children wouldn’t overhear. Of course, that made the savvy children strain to listen harder – thankfully – because it was one of those nearly 90-year-old children that heard her grandmother tell that story – and told me around the year 2000. Her grandmother KNEW the family involved, but wouldn’t say who, other than “William Harrell had two wives,” and then just clucked her tongue.

Of course, there were two unrelated Herrell families in the region during that time, our William Herrell who lived in the far north part of the county, and another Herrell family who lived in the far southern part of Claiborne County, bordering on Grainger County, about 30 miles distant. There was also a William Herrell in the Claiborne/Grainger group, my friend’s ancestors, but this rumor didn’t seem to pertain to him as he never owned slaves, which confused my 90+ year old friend. According to my friend, those two families didn’t realize they weren’t related back in time and (at least she) presumed they were because their names were the same.

It wasn’t until I discovered that “my” William had two wives that this persistently repeated story made sense. It was quite by accident that I discovered which Herrell family was involved.

I don’t mean that William had one wife who died and he then married a second wife, but that he had two wives at the same time. Technically, if not legally, bigamy. Not only that, but one wife was white and one was black. In that time and place, THAT might have been the bigger cluckable offense. Which also explains, of course, why this it wasn’t legally bigamy. Not only was it illegal for a white person to marry a black person, there was more to this story.

And no, William Herrell was not Mormon, so his actions were not religiously directed. In fact, not surprisingly, we don’t find any evidence of William in any church records.

Apparently, the white Herrell family and black Herrell family in northern Claiborne, the part that eventually became Hancock County, “always knew” they were somehow related, even though exactly how had been long forgotten, at least according to oral history from some of the family. Others, however, knew more. In fact, their oral history included the fact that Cannon, the son of Harriett, William’s slave, wound up owning some of William’s land via inheritance.

One thing is for sure – Cannon Herrell and the rest of the Harrell family all lived together, apparently harmoniously, along the Powell River for generations – including today.

Harriett Herrell was William Herrell’s slave, but at some point, as the story goes, she became his second wife according to my friend. Eventually, my elderly friend told me that when she was young, in the early 1900s, her grandmother, great-aunts and others still discussed the scandal of the William Harrell with the white wife and the black wife. She said that topic never got old, and all “those old women did was gossip about people.” Obviously a very interesting and unusual story to hold thier attention for so long.

William reportedly built Harriett a house on one side of his property, his wife Mary McDowell Herrell’s house on the other side, and he would live with one until she got mad at him and kicked him out. Then he’d live with the other until she got mad and kicked him out, when he’s go back and live with the other wife again as the circular scenario continued to repeat.

There is one part of the original story that doesn’t add up. That tidbit is that Harriett “had a whole passel of kids,” which she did not according to available records, or her descendants. There are no stories of Cannon having siblings other than Mary’s children. Of course, we don’t know how many children Harriet bore that might have died, or, God forbid, might have been sold.

A second problematic part from the Cannon family oral history is that William Herrell left Cannon land, which it appears that William did not. We know this in part because at the time William Herrell died, in 1859, intestate, Cannon was still legally a slave and William could not have bequeathed him land. That does not mean that in 1872, Mary McDowell Herrell couldn’t have left or given Cannon land. The deeds burned, so we’ll never know for sure.

However, Cannon did eventually own some of William’s land, living adjacent Alexander Herrell, his half-brother, although Cannon purchased the land outright. That deed occurred after the first courthouse fire.

Mary McDowell Herrell, William’s wife and Cannon’s step-mother, raised Cannon with her children after Harriett’s death and could certainly have left Cannon money when she passed, sometime after 1872. William did claim Cannon as his child, according to all parties, and Cannon carried the Herrell surname. Cannon is listed on the census with the family in 1870. In 1850 and 1860, he is listed as mulatto – one of only two people in that broad region. Cannon’s parentage was clearly no secret to anyone.

Cannon lived with Mary and her adult daughters until after Mary died. According to the census, Cannon seemed to be doing financially fine on his own – better than his stepmother and sisters combined. Mary owned the property, but Cannon owned more personal property than the women. It probably took the efforts of everyone, working in tandem, to farm and earn enough to survive, given the location of their farm.

How did I find Cannon?

In the 1830 census, William Herrell (spelled (Harold) did not own a slave.

In the 1840 census, William Herrell owned one female slave, with a male slave under the age of 10. That child was Cannon Herrell who was born between 1827 and 1838, depending on the record you reference. Keep in mind that slaves were taxed according to thier age, and younger males were taxed as a lower rate than older males.

On the 1850 slave census, Cannon is shown as age 12 and Harriett is gone.

On the 1860 slave census, Cannon is owned my “Mary Herrel and 5 others,” clearly her children as a result of William’s death in 1859, where Cannon is listed as age 33. That would put his birth in 1827, the earliest date we find.

In 1870, Cannon is living with Mary and his age is given as 35, putting his birth in 1835. In 1880, he has married and gives his age as 45.

Cannon Herrell death 1916.jpg

Cannon’s death certificate in 1916 says he was illegitimate and doesn’t name a father which is not unusual under the circumstances, meaning a white man fathering a child with a black woman. It does list Cannon’s mother’s name as Harriett Herrell.

I considered that there was one other possibility, which is that William Herrell’s eldest son, Alexander, fathered Cannon with Harriett. Alexander, born on Christmas Day, 1820, would have been 16 or 17 when the child, Cannon, was conceived IF he was born in 1838. At this point, I think it’s more likely that Cannon was actually born earlier, possibly in 1830, given that the family actually had a full birth date which is recorded on Cannon’s death certificate. Other records indicate 1834, 1835 and 1837. Any date before 1838 would likely exclude Alexander.

In 1829, William Herrell’s white wife, Mary, bore her last child, Malinda. I would suggest that many tears were shed by both Harriett and Mary during those years. Both would have been trapped in a situation neither one wanted and neither could control. I suspect they spent a lot of time together.

Furthermore, if William empregnated Harriett once, it’s nearly certain that behavior didn’t cease. The behavior clearly wasn’t “common and accepted” because in 1850, Cannon was only one of two mulattoes listed in that region.

It was 1838 when Margaret Herrell Martin, William’s oldest child, and her husband, Anson Martin, requested to be dismissed from the Thompson Settlement Church. There was no “other church” to join at that time, in this region, which suggests they left the church for other reasons. I’d can’t help but wonder if it had something to do with the scandal which may have just been occurring and assuredly was hotly debated for a variety of reasons.

Slavery in Claiborne County was unusual, and slavery in this part of the county was almost unheard of, although in 1830, the Bales family who is listed adjacent William Herrell had one slave, and John Parrott, another two properties away owns a few slaves including a female slave of the age that could have been Harriett. By1850, Peter Parkey owned slaves too.

Just a few years later, these families would fight for the north during the Civil War.

In this part of Claiborne County, there was no flat land to be cultivated. Plantations were impossible. Slaves were few and far between, and when a landowner was found with slaves, it was generally one, or at most, two. Poverty was a common thread. No one had enough money for anything, let alone slaves – so William’s purchase of a slave between 1830-1836 is mystifying – especially having been to see his land and his family’s hardscrabble existence clinging to the river banks.

The portion of this article titled “Roberta and Mary’s Great Adventure” shows the Herrell property.

Given these circumstances, it’s not surprising that what occurred between William and Harriett was so scandalous, not to mention the strong primitive Baptist regional leaning. And poor Harriett, caught up in all of this. I can’t help but wonder if she died in childbirth, but there is absolutely no evidence of that.

Two years later, in 1840, Margaret and Anson bought the two acres from Michael McDowell. Were they trying to live someplace away from Margaret’s father’s land and the family drama? Granted, the land at the mouth of 4 Mile Creek wasn’t very far from her parents – but maybe far enough.

Did Margaret ask her grandfather to sell her two acres? Margaret’s parents were William Harrell and Mary McDowell, Michael McDowell’s daughter. Margaret’s brother was Alexander Herrell. Everyone lived in close proximity to one another.

Regardless of whether William Herrell or Alexander Herrell fathered a child with Harriett, Y DNA confirms that one of them did – and it was most likely William. I’d say almost certainly.

Regardless of which male fathered Cannon, William’s wife, Mary and her family may have been ostracized, especially at church, as a result. Harrell Bend and surrounding area was already quite remote and remains so today – it’s own microcosm.

Michael McDowell, Mary’s father, was certainly alive in the 1830s when Harriett gave birth to Cannon. I’m guessing, given that Michael never owned a slave and neither did any of his sons in Claiborne County, that Michael was not one bit pleased when William Herrell who was both his son-in-law and neighbor purchased a slave between 1830 and 1836, then (presumably) proceeded to cheat on Michael’s daughter with that slave.

This is the same Michael McDowell who beat Betty Wooton in Wilkes County in 1790 and was prosecuted more than once for trespass. Michael apparently had something of a temper, so I’m guessing it had abated somewhat by the 1830s – or he was just too old to do anything about the situation.

The slave, Harriett, probably had absolutely no say in any of this and was also a victim, in more ways than one. Slaves controlled absolutely nothing, including their own bodies. In 1838, William would have been about 50 years old and she was probably young.

To make matters even worse, the fact that Harriett was possibly purchased as a second wife compounded an already difficult situation. When Cannon was born, if William’s fidelity was ever previously in question, all doubt was removed. If Alexander was the father instead of William, which is not what the original oral history on either side of the family indicates, scandal would still have spun around the family, especially in the church.

Making matters even more sticky, Nathan S. McDowell, Michael McDowell’s son and Mary McDowell Herrell’s brother, was a Baptist preacher, described as having a “very crabbed disposition.” He had already purchased land in Claiborne County, but in 1837 he began serving as moderator of the Big Springs Baptist Church south of Tazewell, 18 miles distant.

This family was probably torn from stem to stern, although Nathan was reported to have refused to swear an oath of fidelity during the Civil War. Still, adultery is adultery and sin is sin, regardless. Not to mention the human emotions of Mary, Harriett and all the family members other than William who caused this mess.

Mary McDowell Herrell, about 50 in 1838, was probably EXTREMELY unhappy with her husband, to put it mildly. Betrayal is incredibly painful – especially if Mary suspected that William bought Harriett with that plan in mind and she could do absolutely nothing. Regardless of the circumstanced under which this occurred, William bore sole responsibility for being intimate with another woman – and “how” could have been even worse if the act was not consensual. For that matter, can a woman held in bondage to a man actually give free consent? I don’t think so.

Michael McDowell was elderly and probably also very angry with his son-in-law, William Herrell. He had obviously been close to William since at least 1810 and had spent the time since as neighbors on the Powell River.

Mary lost her husband’s fidelity in the 1830s (if not before) when William fathered Cannon, lost her father about 1840, her son-in-law (Anson) in about 1845, gained an orphan half-sibling of her children between 1840 and 1850 when Harriett died, as well as losing her husband, William, in 1859. Mary may not have grieved William’s death on a personal level, we don’t know. They had children and shared a lifetime together. They were economically tied and more work would have fallen on Mary and her children’s shoulders after his death. That 20 years or so of Mary’s life must have been living hell – and Michael couldn’t have helped but notice his daughter’s pain.

In the 1870 census, after William’s death and Cannon was freed, Cannon is still living with Mary McDowell Herrell and her adult daughters. That smaller family unit was reported to be very close. I hope so. They deserve that.

Nope, no family drama going on at Slanting Misery. Nada. Nothing to see here folks! Move right along. This has all the makings of a good soap opera. Downton Abbey’s got nothing on the McDowell/Herrell clan living on the Powell River.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that Michael McDowell who roughed up Betsy Wooten in 1790 didn’t personally put William Herrell into a grave for cheating on his daughter. Maybe Michael was simply too old (90 in 1837), or maybe that’s why Michael may have been living with Nathan in 1840. Maybe he tried. It appears that Isabel, Michael’s wife was living with William McDowell in 1840, unless that female is William’s mother-in-law.

Perhaps Michael got sent to live with the preacher son 18 miles away because the entire family felt everyone was safer with some distance between Michael and William Herrell. Or maybe the family simply hid Michael’s gun(s), much like we hid my mother’s car from her for her own (and others’) safety during her last few months.

I understand that William Herrell is buried in the Herrell Cemetery although there is no marker. I’m sure he would not have been welcome in the McDowell Cemetery if in fact Cannon was fathered by William Herrell. Mary’s brother, John, owned the McDowell Cemetery land when William Herrell died. I don’t know whether Mary is buried with William in the Herrell cemetery, or maybe she was buried in the McDowell cemetery, with the rest of her family. That decision rested with her children, and the decision may have been predicated upon whether Cannon was fathered by William (probably) or Alexander Herrell (probably not), along with whether or not William “repented” and if Mary forgave him.

Cannon’s family certainly believed he was fathered by William, and Cannon lived beside Alexander on the land he purchased, for the duration of both men’s lives.

It’s possible that this stress contributed to Michael McDowell’s demise – although he was clearly elderly.

Let’s visit the McDowell Cemetery on Michael’s land where he most assuredly rests.

Where is the McDowell Cemetery?

Michael McDowell’s descendants helped me find the old McDowell Cemetery on Slanting Misery, which was no easy task, I assure you. By looking at this tranquil land today, you’d never guess it’s storied history.

Let me begin with a letter from Mary Kay, married to (now deceased) Les McDowell, Michael’s descendant through son Luke.

This is Mary Kay. Michael McDowell is my husband Les’s ancestor.

Twice we have waded the Powell River to the Old McDowell Farm, in 1997 and 1999. The first time I photographed the gravestones there. The second time we took a large crowbar over there to turn over a big stone in hopes of seeing scratchings indicating that it was for Michael. Unfortunately, it was just a plain stone; no evidence of it ever having had anything on it. However, in “witching” the graves, there are definitely at least three other bodies there – two men and one woman. We think that Michael has to be one of the men, but I guess we’ll never know.

Grave “witching,” also called dowsing, a technique using a rod or stick often made of hickory is a very old technique used traditionally to avoid digging up existing graves when new burials were being dug, and more recently to locate old graves. It sounds ominous, but it wasn’t and isn’t. I grew up with this tradition which is also used to find underground water when wells are being dug.

Back to Mary Kay:

Mary Parkey, the historian for the Claiborne County Historical Society at that time, had the original deed to that land, in Michael McDowell’s name. I wanted to purchase the deed from her, but Mary wouldn’t sell it, but did provide a photocopy. The original was in the house fire that took Mary’s life a few years later, along with many other irreplaceable documents.

Mary Parkey, now deceased, was descended from both Margaret Herrell and Anson Martin, and Alexander Herrell.

Mary Kay sent a list of the names of the people buried in this cemetery surveyed in 1994. The name of the cemetery is Speer-McDowell and the location is given as the Bill Brooks Farm, formerly Edd Breeding. Locally, it was just called “The Old McDowell Farm” and as late as the 1990s, Joe Herrell still owned the adjacent farm at that time.

For nearly 200 years this land had remained in the same family.

  • Hettie Greer (w/o R. L. Greer) b. 06-25-1892; d. 12-26-1918 (her mother was Mollie Thompson and her father was James Speer)
  • E. Speer b. 11-29-1845, d. 01-13-1923 (James Edward Speer, son of John Roe Speer and Rachel Denton)
  • Mary E. (Mollie) Speer (wife of J. E. Speer) b. 03-11-1873, d. 06-27-1914
  • Hettie Edds, (w/o J. E. Speer) b. 11-19-1829, d. 02-05-1888
  • R. Speer b. 1820, d. 18–?
  • Caroline McDowell b. 01-16-1830, d. 10-04-1899 (daughter of John McDowell, no record of marriage)
  • Surena McDowell b. 3-11-1826, d. 11-07-1893 (daughter of John McDowell, no record of her ever marrying)
  • John McDowell, aged 94, d. 10-17-1817 (This year is incorrect, he died in 1877. Clearly the 7 was misinterpreted.)
  • Nancy McDowell, aged 47, d. 12-03-1841 (means she was born in 1794 and is probably John’s wife)

Reconstructing the Family from a Letter

A letter from Mary Opal Herrell in 1997, when she was 80, said that her grandpa Jim Speers first wife was a McDowell and that he is buried in the McDowell cemetery between his first wife and second wife.

The 1880 census shows James Speer, age 33, living with Matilda, age 41, with daughter Elnora, age 7. Caroline age 47 is married to R.M. Tipton who works on the farm, and Bird Campbell, a male age 15 is a servant, along with Surena McDowell age 51, listed as a sister-in-law.

In the 1900 census, James Speers states that he is born in November 1846, age 52, and is married to Mary, born in March 1873, age 27. They have been married for 9 years, have 2 living children, Hettie born in 1892 and Leonidas born in 1893.

The second wife appears to be Mary Opal’s grandmother. Mary Opal’s mother died when she was just a year old in the flu epidemic. She said that John McDowell sold the land to Jim Speers. Mary Opal said that her Aunt Nora, Jim’s daughter from his first wife never accepted Jim’s second wife. Nora was “raised by the McDowell women.” Mary Opal Herrell appears to be the daughter of Hettie Greer who died in 1918.

In the 1870 census, James Spear, age 22, is living with John McDowell, who is age 89 (so born in 1781) and James apparently married John’s daughter, Matilda, by 1872. The Hancock County courthouse burned, twice, so the deed between John McDowell and James Speer which would have been conveyed probably between 1872 and 1877 when John died went up in flames.

Fortunately, between the cemetery records, the census and Mary Opal’s old letters, we reassembled the family, at least somewhat.

Visiting the Cemetery

Let’s visit the cemetery!

The first group of photos were provided by Mary Kay and show Mary Kay’s husband with a local gentleman crossing the Powell River and their discovery of the cemetery on Slanting Misery.

First, let’s look at an aerial view. The red arrow below marks the actual location where people drive or walk across the river when the water is low enough. It’s the only location accessible on both banks of the river.

MIchael McDowell ford and island.png

After Michael lived here, a swinging bridge was hung across the river someplace in the area of the green arrow. I believe the tiny white dot in the center of the river just above the green arrow is the old foundation of the bridge on an island. The bridge was washed away decades ago in one of the legendary floods.

The photo below shows the men wading the river, marked by the red arrow above, and the gate on the Slanting Misery side. When I waded the river, the water was higher.

Michael McDowell powell river.png

This next photo shows the group walking along Slanting Misery, roughly parallel with the river.

Michael McDowell shed.png

I had to visit the location twice. It couldn’t find the cemetery the first time, so Mary Kay sent instructions, which I’ve included below, although all of the buildings except the barn were gone when I visited.

The buildings are landmarks — if you didn’t see these you were not at the right place. You come to the shed first, and it will be on your left. Quite a ways further, the barn will be on your right. The cemetery isn’t far from the barn and will be on a hill on your left.

Michael McDowell barn.png

I never saw the barn the first time, and asked Mary Kay if she could provide additional instructions.

I’m wondering if you missed seeing it because you thought it was a more “structured” graveyard than just an area with stones. It is too bad that there wasn’t a fence around it, before the cows damaged the stones. The person who owns it has no connection with McDowells.

Mary Kay sent one photo of another landmark that I could use – assuming I could find the landmark.

The cistern and what looks like stones from a house foundation are “after” the shed, and I think, on the left on the way to the cemetery.

Michael McDowell well.png

I strongly suspect that the foundation is that of the original house which was probably nothing more than a log cabin. It looks very small, but that was common then.

Michael McDowell cemetery.png

Finally, the cemetery. It was overgrown in 1997 when she visited and in 2004 when I visited as well.

Michael McDowell cemetery 2.png

The current Google map shows Slanting Misery.

Michael McDowell Slanting Misery.png

The entire peninsula is between 2000 and 3000 feet long, and the Virginia/Tennessee border is about that far north of the northern tip of the Slanting Misery.

The next photo shows a closeup of the river ford and the barn.

Michael McDowell river ford.png

Last, I believe the area with the red arrow is the cemetery. It’s difficult to correlate from the air, and several years later.

MIchael McDowell cemetery location.png

Michael Gets the Last Laugh

Never in my life have I ever managed to go on a “normal” genealogy adventure. There is always some unexpected twist or turn of some sort, and this time was no different. Ancestors truly do have a sense of humor – I’m totally convinced.

My first visit attempting to locate the McDowell cemetery was extremely disappointing. It was the dregs of summer and the thermometer hit at least 100 degrees. We were miserable. Had I any idea of the difficulty involved, I would never have attempted this, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know.

After crossing the river, I walked up the two track for a short distance, then made the mistake of climbing UP Slanting Misery. I thought from that vantage point, I would surely see the cemetery – because I couldn’t see it, or a barn, or anything from where I was.

You can’t tell from the aerial, but the center of Slanting Misery is really quite high in comparison to the perimeter. The reason the river carved out a peninsula is because Slanting Misery is a granite mountain with a little topsoil – but very little.

After climbing UP Slanting Misery, I knew immediately why Michael had named it that. The question remains WHY he purchased this land.

We had been cautioned about the cows when we obtained permission to visit, which is why there is a fence on the 2-track road into Slanting Misery, after crossing the river. At least, I think that’s why the fence is there. Maybe the cows ford the river too.

Regardless, we closed the gate carefully so there would be no bovine escapees.

McDowell Powell river.jpg

My first glance of Slanting Misery gives no hint as to either slanting or misery. But across the Powell River lies both.

You can see the “driveway” on the other side of the river just beyond the tree branch, above. I was concerned about sinking in the mud and a rapid undertow. I can walk, and swim, so I didn’t want to risk driving and sinking.

This is literally the “front door” or “driveway” to this property. It’s the mountainous South – these kinds of things happen. The best or only way “in” is across the river. I was told there is an alternative, but it’s literally a half hour drive up and around and back down again – and it’s very difficult going. Better to ford the river.

Powell River McDowell shoals.jpg

Half-way across this river, looking upstream at McDowell Shoals, you can see what is left of an old island. The local people tell me that this was the location of an old swinging footbridge at one time. Apparently not everyone wanted to ford the river.

The words “swinging footbridge,” as in rope bridge, causes me to hyperventilate and sweat. I find that concept terrifying. The bridge washed out in a flood back in the 1970s, as I understand, but it had been there for years, as in decades, prior.

No one lives on this rather inaccessible land today – it’s used simply for grazing cattle.

The hill is high and the river over millennia has carved its way around the “bluff” made of granite. That’s the slanting part of Slanting Misery.

The misery part relates to the humans.

slanting misery hill

After climbing to the top of Slanting Misery, I naïvely thought I would be able to easily spot the cemetery. I mean, how difficult could this be?

The answer is – incredibly.

The photos below show a panorama of sorts, looking towards the Herrell lands to the left and then panning to the Clarkson land at the right.

Slanting misery pano 1

Slanting Misery pano 2

slanting misery pano 3

During the first visit, I didn’t know to look towards the barn for the cemetery, nor did I realize that the cemetery was entirely grown up in vegetation.

I left empty handed, knowing I was so close, yet so far away.

I can’t believe I actually did this twice, on two separate trips. In fact, I intentionally went back to try this a second time.

Second Time is “Charmed”

My second experience a year later was somewhat different. Not only did I have photos and more detailed instructions from Mary Kay, I also enlisted the assistance of a local gentleman with the historical society who is also my cousin, Boyd.

Boyd grew up in this area and knew it well. I was so grateful that he agreed to accompany me.

Once again, we crossed the river, except, this time I decided to simply drive my Jeep. The water was lower than before, about knee high and I didn’t see any reason NOT to drive the Jeep. After all, that’s what Jeeps are made for, right?

After arriving on the other side, I turned the Jeep around, pointing it back in the direction from which we had come. I parked in the river, because there wasn’t anyplace else. We got out of the Jeep, quite pleased with ourselves, waded a few feet to the shore, opened and closed the gate, and proceeded to walk towards the barn, up the 2 track, which I had been assured, was within easy sight of the cemetery. I knew I could find it this time, and I wasn’t leaving until I did!

Boyd had never been there before, but he was certainly game, and off we went, determined to succeed – chatting about history and ancestors.

This land is so breathtakingly beautiful.

Slanting Misery looking to Clarkson land

This is Slanting Misery, looking towards the Clarkson land.

On the way to the barn, I noticed what looked to be a historic trash pile and found a piece of metal, maybe from a tractor or piece of Oliver farm equipment.

Michael McDowell metal.jpg

I doubt this was Michael’s, but Michael lived here, near the well, near the cistern and near the barn. This was his domain for three decades.

The house had to be someplace very near this location. I think the stones beside the cistern from Mary’s photos were the house, but they were gone when I was there.

The green cedar tree on the far left, if you are approaching the barn, marks the cemetery.

McDowell Cemetery at left by barn.jpg

The cemetery is really not a on hill, it’s more of a knoll.

McDowell Cemetery tree.jpg

 You’d never know this is a cemetery if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

The condition was appalling, but it was sold outside of the family, AND, it’s very inaccessible. This photo was taken roughly 15 years ago, so the cemetery is probably in even worse condition today if it could even be located. The photos of the headstones below are a combination of Mary Kay’s photos and mine.

McDowell Cem Mary Speers.jpg

Mary Speers, wife of James.

McDowell Cem Mary Footstone.jpg

The footstone for Mary Speers.

McDowell Hettie Greer.jpg

The stone for Hettie Greer.

McDowell Cem John McDowell.jpg

John McDowell’s stone – barely legible.

Did you know that cows are really curious beasts?

Especially if they have come to associate humans with feeding time.

McDowell Cem Knoll.JPG

They noticed us in the cemetery and came to see what we were up to. Besides, in the cow’s world, it was THEIR cemetery and we were trespassing.

I grew up with cows and wasn’t the least bit worried.

Boyd, on the other hand, was getting increasingly nervous and said he thought we should begin walking back towards the Jeep.

I thought this was a bit odd because he was a farmer, but after all, he was the local person with experience. I was extremely reluctant to leave, because I wasn’t finished in the graveyard. Or at least I thought I wasn’t. I wanted to take a few more photos and I wanted to poke around and see if I could find a stone that might have been overgrown. Surely Michael was here someplace!

As it turned out, I really was finished.

Another cow approached Boyd, and Boyd started talking and backing. He shouted to me, “Come on, HURRY UP,” and he began to move quite quickly, then turned and ran. Then I began to run, because a cow had begun to chase us in a rather threatening way.

This cow had horns!!!

I realized that that was no cow, but was the bull, and he was protecting his harem from us.

At home, where I grew up – we borrowed a neighbor’s very happy bull. No one kept their own bull – and the neighbor’s bull was very happy because of that.

Worse yet, the bull was between Boyd and me, with Boyd in the lead and the bull following on his heels, which meant that when Boyd escaped, the bull would turn around, facing me and would be square between me and the fence.

Hopefully, Mr. Angry Bull just wanted to chase us off and meant us no harm. Hopefully! I really didn’t want to find out, AND you have to assume that any bull that is chasing you isn’t just wanting to say hello.

I had never been chased by a bull before…or since either for that matter. Not something I need to experience again in this lifetime – which I was just sure was destined to be ended momentarily.

It didn’t seem far from the river to the barn when we were walking IN and chatting, maybe a quarter to half a mile, but running back, being chased by a very large bovine, the distance to the gate seemed interminable. Worse yet, we had closed and latched the gate with a lock and chain.

I had absolutely no idea I could run that fast, or that far. Think of it as an impromptu stress test.

In 2005, I was looking at the half century mark and pole vaulting the gate wasn’t something I had in mind, but taking stock of my options, that suddenly seemed quite reasonable.

About 150-200 feet from the gate, Mr. Angry Bull veered off to the left into the brush – along what I now know is a second path. Boyd, somewhat older than me, but probably in much better shape, slowed down to a trot and I was extremely relieved. I had NO desire to turn around and go back. I did, however, desperately wish we had driven the Jeep inside the field instead of leaving it on the other side of the gate.

Boyd and I continued to trot and reached the gate. I, thankfully, was still holding my camera. The adrenaline still pumping, we sprinted over that gate and heaved a huge sigh of relief on the other side, seeing the Jeep waiting for us in the river near the edge, a few feet in front of the gate. We took a minute to catch our breath…until we realized Mr. Angry Bull was waiting for us, having taken a shortcut.

We were now trapped against the gate by the bull, with the bull between us and the Jeep, stamping his foot in the river, splashing the water.

I’m not sure if I actually audibly screamed, or if it was simply a silent scream of terror in my mind that happened.

I do know that the bull was MASSIVE and stomped angrily at us, having planted himself directly between us and the Jeep, expressing his disdain. I think he was drooling. His eyes might have been red and shooting flames too. Boyd and I began to play an insane game of ring-around-the-rosie with Mr. Angry Bull.

Swear to God on Michael McDowell’s grave – which I never found but am still sure is there.

Me, Boyd, my Jeep, the river and Mr. Angry Bull. Sounds like a country song. The only thing missing was a dog and a shotgun and we could have used the assistance of either or both at that moment.

The other problem is that once we reached the Jeep, we had to open the doors towards us, which means we had to step backward, with a bull in hot pursuit. Stepping backwards would have taken a second, or two, or three – but when you’re running away from a bull – seconds suddenly seem monumental.

In retrospect, I suspect that the bull was simply playing with us by this time. Irritated at the stupid humans. He clearly had chased people out of his field before, because he knew EXACTLY where the shortcut was located and how to gain the advantage at the gate.

The bull moved aside slightly, heading back for his shortcut. We dashed for the Jeep.

As we watched behind us for the bull to follow, charging again out of the overgrowth. The bull however, was already waiting for us, probably watching us watch for him – but he was watching us from BEHIND the gate already. If bulls can laugh, he unquestionably did. We surely looked as idiotic as I felt.

Make no mistake, that gate had absolutely NO EFFECT on that bull – he made that perfectly clear.

By the time Boyd and I finally got into the Jeep, I quickly turned on the ignition.

Thankfully, I had left the keys in the car, something I NEVER do. Thank Heavens, because there is no way on God’s green earth I was getting out and going back in that field to look for missing keys.

The adrenaline was rushing and I quickly threw the Jeep into drive and gunned the engine, heading across the river.

Too fast.

Yep, that river water sprayed right up into the engine compartment and drown out my engine. The Jeep lurched to a stop in a spray of water.

Dead!

Now, we’re sitting ducks in the middle of the river, and Mr. Angry Bull is going to have his way with us after all!!!!

McDowell stranded in the river.jpg

Not that I want to tell tales on my cousin Boyd, but let’s just say that we looked at each other and both said the same thing at the same time – something that is not repeatable in church and would assuredly have gotten us censured in the Thompson Settlement Church of our ancestors.

Lord have Mercy.

We braced for what we knew was coming.

I wondered if the glass in the Jeep would hold?

Would Mr. Angry Bull use those horns to break through the windows in the doors or bust out the windshield?

Would he come through?

How much of him?

His whole body or just his head and those terrible horns the size of a house?

Would it help to get in the back seat? Could we even climb over? I wasn’t getting out, that’s for sure.

For God’s sake, how can you defend yourself from a bull?

There is no training for this.

I’ve seen those ugly photos of matadors gored by bulls – although they certainly deserved that they got.

Us, on the other hand, we were only guilty in “bull court” of getting too close to the harem.

Does that infraction receive the death penalty?

We braced!

Then….

nothing

Absolutely nothing.

Silence.

Dare we look?

Boyd and I kind of sat in embarrassed, awkward silence for a minute. Realizing how ridiculous we surely looked – and grateful that the only witnesses to our folly were each other.

The bull, quite pleased with his prowess, I’m sure, turned his back on us and headed back into the pasture to brag to the girls how successfully he had protected them.

They were probably already telling him how wonderful he was, fanning him and feeding him the bull equivalent of grapes.

Mr. Now Very Pleased With Himself Bull wasn’t the least bit interested in us anymore. He’d had his fun.

Thankfully.

Pondering what to do next, given that cell phones certainly didn’t work there, I asked Boyd if we should get out and begin walking to his house.

The answer was an emphatic “No!,” followed by a much calmer, “you might want to try the engine again.”

It’s hard to think clearly when you’ve just come within inches of having your life ended by a bull.

Vroom!

I slowly, VERY SLOWLY, drove back across the Powell River, onto River Road along McDowell Shoals, pretending nothing embarrassing had happened at all, and away from Michael McDowell’s Slanting Misery forever.

Michael’s Children

Michael’s children remain a real conundrum. Let’s take a look at what we know and what we don’t.

A few we know with varying degrees of certainty, one is iffy, and then there are two that are unknown.

In order to compile as much as possible about his children and probable children, I utilized the various tax, census and other records available when creating this chart.

First appears Birth Year 1787 Wilkes 1790 Wilkes 1800 Wilkes 1810* 1820* 1830 1840
Michael Jr. himself Rev War 1777 1747 21-60 (40) >16 >45

Born before 1755

Lee Co tax 80-90 80-90

1750-1760 With Nathan

Isbel – wife Son born 1782, pos son 1778 1750-1755 female female >45

Born before 1755

70-80

1750-1760

80-90 1750-1760 with William Herrell
Michael III 1799 deed witness 1765-1778 <21 <16

Born after 1774

Gone? Wilkes Co. to 45, 4 kids
John (wife Nancy d 1841) 1810 in deposition 1782 <21 (age 5) <16

after 1774

Gone? Lee Co tax 40-50

1780-1790

50-59

1780-1790

Edward m Pulaski 1811 1799 deed witness, 1811 marriage 1774-1775 ? missing <16 after 1774 Gone? Lee Co tax Pulaski

>45 (<1775)

50-60

1770-1780

50-60 1780-1790
James* 1801 deed witness <1780 ? missing <16

Born after 1774

?
Mary 1809 Wilkes marriage to William Herrell 1785-1789 (m 1809) B After 1787 female 10-16 1784-1790 Clai-borne Clai-borne
Luke* m Pulaski 1811 1810 tax list 1792-1797 B after 1787   0-10 1790-1800 Lee Co tax
William* 1817 doc, or 1811 marriage 1795* B After 1787 Missing ? 30-40

1790-1800

40-50

1790-1800

Nathan S. 1833 deed from Michael to Nathan 1797* B after 1787 0-10

1790-1800

30-40

1790-1800

40-50

1790-1800

Female 1800 census 1790-1800 0-10 1790-1800
Female 1800 census 1790-1800 0-10

1790-1800

20-30

1800-1810

*Nathan is born in 1785 if oral history of him being 80 and refusing to take oath at Cumberland Gap is accurate. 1790-1800 if census is correct. Based on other records, I suspect the census is correct.

*William witnessed deeds in Claiborne from 1817 on. Born circa 1795 from census records. If this is the same William, he was married in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY.

*1810 Claiborne County, TN and Lee County, VA census lost

*1820 Claiborne County census lost

*Nathan McDowell, ‘precher” is found in Owsley Co., KY in the 1850 census, age 53, born in Tennessee and Easter McDowell, age 52 born in NC. This puts his birth in 1797.

*William born in 1795 is age 55 in 1850, born in NC wife Sally, age 50, is gone in 1860. Sally is not the wife of William McDowell married in 1811 in Pulaski Co., KY.

*Luke is found in DeKalb County, TN in both 1860 and 1870, placing his birth date in 1797.

*1833 Michael deeds land to Nathan and William, for “love”

*James witnessed a deed in 1801, but never appears in a record again.

The problem when trying to reconstruct Michael’s family is that two males appear to be missing from the 1787 census, along with conflicts in the 1800 census as well.

Were the records wrong? Were his sons living elsewhere? Or were these men not all Michael’s sons?

Let’s see what evidence we have for each child or potential child.

Michael McDowell III

Michael’s oldest son was probably his namesake, Michael.

Michael McDowell III, likely son of Michael McDowell Jr. is first found in Wilkes County signing as a witness for Michael McDowell, his father in 1799. In 1802, Michael McDowell III is noted as Michael McDowell Jr. when appointed as a constable with Michael McDowell Sr. providing his security. As late as the 1810 census, Michael III is present in the county with 4 children, but disappears from the records before the 1820 census.

James McDowell

If James is Michael McDowell’s child, he only appears in one 1801 record. I classify this as very weak evidence, but it remains a possibility. He may have died. James is not a name that repeats in Michael’s family.

Edward McDowell

There is genetic confirmation that Edward McDowell who was born probably after 1774 and before 1778 was the son of Michael McDowell Jr. Edward signed the 1799 deed for Michael Jr. along with Michael III. Edward serves as a juror in May of 1804 in Wilkes County,

Edward was noted on the 1810 Lee County Tax list beside Michael McDowell Jr. and Michael’s son, John. The next year, Edward married Lucy Harris in Pulaski County, KY where he is listed through the 1840 census. According to these documents, Edward was apparently born sometime between 1774 and 1781.

Edward’s children are:

  • Martin McDowell
  • Mariah McDowell b c 1812 Married Stephen Hail and then Moses Roberts
  • Sarah McDowell b c 1814 married Archibald Haynes
  • Michael McDowell b c 1816
  • Eliza McDowell b c 1818
  • Montgomery McDowell b c 1820
  • Son b c 1822
  • Thomas McDowell b c 1824 married Seleta McDowell (said to be his first cousin, the daughter of Luke McDowell,) then 2nd Vernettie Fisher
  • Franklin McDowell b c 1826
  • Son b c 1828
  • Son b c 1831
  • Son b c 1833

Edward is reported to be the brother of Luke McDowell and Edward’s son reportedly married his first cousin, Luke’s daughter.

Edward died in January 1858 in Pulaski County, KY.

Luke is confirmed to be Michael McDowell’s son via Y and autosomal DNA testing.

Edward’s descendant matches Luke’s on Y DNA and other known descendants on autosomal.

John McDowell

April 30, 1783 – October 7, 1877, according to his tombstone.

In the 1850 census, John’s birth state is shown as Tennessee, which we know cannot be correct. Tennessee wasn’t a state until 1796, to begin with, and we know that Michael McDowell Jr. was living in Virginia in 1783. John’s 1860 census shows his birth location as Virginia, 1870 shows that he was born in North Carolina.

Roll the dice, take your pick!

John McDowell filed an affidavit in 1872 stating that he was 90 years old and had been acquainted with both William Herrell and Mary McDowell before their marriage, stating that he was at their wedding in 1809 in Wilkes County.

John McDowell further states in his affidavit that he left Wilkes about 1810 and that Mary and William were married about a year before that. We have every reason to believe that William Herrell and Mary relocated about that same time (probably in the same wagon train) to Lee County or the Powell River area of what was then Claiborne County.

This puts John’s birth in approximately 1782. The census later shows his birth as 1781. His gravestone when it was still legible reportedly said he died October 7, 1877, age 94 years, 5 months, 7 days, which means his birth calculates to April 30, 1783.

John’s wife is reported to be Nancy, surname unknown, which is confirmed by the headstone in the McDowell cemetery.

In 1830, John is shown on the census beside a Henry McDowell. I wonder if this is another son of John.

In the 1850 census, John is shown with the following family members:

  • Hill McDowell (probably Hillary, male, age 25)
  • Surrena McDowell – 22
  • Matilda McDowell– 21
  • Caroline McDowell – 20
  • John McDowell– 18

John, age 18 in 1850 was born February 12, 1833 and died on February 17, 1895 in Lee County, Virginia. He married Susannah Jones and they had 7 children, including three males, below:

  • T. Clinton “Clint” McDowell who married Gertrude Smith in Kentucky in 1900.
  • James Hillary McDowell born 1861, married Nelly Flanary and died in 1959.
  • John Ervin McDowell born 1871, married Alpha Jesse and died in 1951.

James Hillary McDowell had 4 sons, Willie born 1892, Hubert born 1987, Walter born 1904 and Paul born 1911.

John Ervin McDowell had 8 sons, Fred born 1905, Rylie Columbus born 1906, James Elmer born 1908, Robert Lee born 1909, Marvin Richard born 1911, George Ervin born 1914, Albert Jesse born 1918 and Lawrence William born 1924.

The 1994 Hancock County family book includes an article by Lyle McDowell and reports that John McDowell’s daughters, Surena and Caroline never married and are buried on the farm with John and his wife, Nancy.

From Lyle McDowell, John McDowell’s children other than Hill, Serena, Matilda, Caroline and John include:

  • William Franklin McDowell who moved to Owsley County, KY about 1840, along with his brother Irvin. Lyle indicates that William Franklin is his great-grandfather.
  • Irvin McDowell (July 7, 1825-Octoer 9, 1882) Hamilton Cemetery, Hamilton County, TN

Lyle also reports that John’s son, John, born 1833 moved to Lee County, VA, which is accurate.

John P. McDowell

John McDowell born in 1783 is not the same man as John P. McDowell who sells land in 1838 on Strait Creek in Claiborne County. That land in the deed is noted as where John P. McDowell lives. That deed is witnesses by a Capps male, suggesting a relationship with Nathan McDowell and his wife, Esther Capps.

In 1824, Michael McDowell deeds land to John P. McDowell “for love.” It appears that John P. is not Michael’s son, because Michael already has a son John, so this is probably Michael’s grandson. Furthermore, on the 1836 and 1839 Claiborne County tax lists, both John and John P. McDowell are listed, and they do not live close to each other. John lived adjacent Michael, but John P. does not.

John P. McDowell was born about 1799 in TN (according to the census) and died in Buchanan Co., MO, after the 1870 census but before 1880. He married Rebecca Capps in 1821 in Grainger County, TN, the neighboring county south of Claiborne. He had sons:

  • William McDowell born in 1825
  • John Pryor McDowell born in 1831
  • Jacob Y. McDowell born in 1836
  • David McDowell born in 1844

Given that the older John McDowell was the son of Michael McDowell Jr., this John P. McDowell was probably being raised by the McDowell family because he was closely related, probably Michael’s grandson.

John P. McDowell was clearly associated with Nathan S. McDowell but could not have been Nathan’s child given that they were only about 5 years different in age. My guess would be that John P. McDowell is the son of Michael’s son, Michael McDowell III who disappears from the records in North Carolina after 1810 but before 1820. Or, John P. could be the son of James McDowell who disappears in Wilkes County after 1801 – meaning that Nathan was John P. McDowell’s uncle. Given that Nathan had no children, he would be a good candidate to raise an orphan nephew. This is purely speculation but they had to be connected somehow.

What is certain is that Michael McDowell would not have deeded John P. McDowell land “for love” if he weren’t somehow closely related.

A Y DNA test on a male McDowell descendant of John P. McDowell would be quite interesting in that it would (hopefully) match one of the McDowell lines. I would love to compare the Y DNA of a John P. McDowell descendant to a male McDowell descended from John McDowell who died in 1877 in Hancock County or other McDowell males that have tested.

John’s Photo – But Which John?

Lyle McDowell provided the following photo, but as you can see, the 2 John McDowell’s are likely conflated, meaning John born in 1783 and John P. McDowell born in 1799. Many of the genealogy trees on Ancestry have done this as well.

1994 book John P. McDowell photo.jpg

I don’t know if this is the John P. McDowell who died in Missouri before 1880, or the John McDowell in Claiborne/Hancock County born in 1783 and who died in 1877. Given that this man’s hair is black, and the camera wasn’t even in use until after the Civil War, I question the providence of the photo. I’m suspecting that it came from the Hancock County McDowell line, given that’s the focus of Lyle’s research and that Lyle simply added the middle P. in error, not realizing that there were actually two separate men.

I wonder if this might be the older John’s son, meaning John McDowell born in 1833. If that John born in 1833’s photo was taken when he was ago 50 or 60, in 1883 or 1893, the black hair would be more readily acceptable than a photo taken of John McDowell born in 1783 who would have been about 87 in 1870, the first practical time for this photo to have been taken, and this John in the photo has entirely black hair. That’s hard to believe at about age 87. It’s also possible that the photo had been “restored” but his eyebrows don’t appear to have been modified.

Regardless, it’s probably the closest we will ever get to seeing Michael McDowell Jr. through the face of another McDowell male. If this is John born in 1833, he is Michael McDowell’s grandson.

Did Michael McDowell Jr. resemble this John? I’d wager that he did, at least somewhat.

Mary McDowell

Mary McDowell was born about 1787 and married William Herrel in 1809 in Wilkes County. You can read her story here.

William McDowell

William is presumed to be a son of Michael because William is found consistently with Michael in the Claiborne County records beginning in 1817. Of course, there is also a William marrying in 1811 in Pulaski County. If William was actually born in 1795, per the 1850 census, then the 1811 William marrying in Kentucky can’t be this William because he would have only been 14 at the time. However, if William was actually born in 1790 instead of 1795, then he could have been the male in Pulaski County in 1811.

Some William McDowell is married in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY to Anna Herrin. (Luke and Edmon are also married in Pulaski that same year.) We find nothing more about William in Pulaski County, but a William McDowell does appear back in Claiborne County TN about 1817. Of course, the William born in 1795 also comes of age that year, so what happened to the William who married in Pulaski County in 1811 is uncertain, as is his identity.

In 1828, William McDowell deeds his land grant in Herrell bend to William Herrell.

Michael McDowell deeds land to William and Nathan in 1833 “for love,” so there is little question that William is his son or at least very close kin.

One of the last documents signed by Michael McDowell is jointly signed with William conveying land to Anson Martin on June 20, 1840. We don’t know who William’s wife is, but in the 1840 census, he has a female of age 80-90 living with him. Chances are good that that female is either his mother-in-law or Isabel, Michael McDowell’s wife.

In 1850, William McDowell is noted as age 55, being born in NC and had no children living in the household. His wife is Sally, age 50, so not Anna, the name of the wife in 1811 in Pulaski County, TN. It does not appear that William had any children.

Luke McDowell

Luke was born about 1792 in North Carolina and died in 1879 in DeKalb County, TN. He is listed on the 1810 tax list of Lee County Virginia with Edward, Michael and John McDowell.

In 1811 in Pulaski County, Luke married Francis Field.

In 1850 in Dekalb County, Luke is noted as a blacksmith and age 58, placing his birth date as 1792 in North Carolina. In 1860, he is age 68 and also shows his place of birth as North Carolina.

Luke’s children are:

  • Curtis McDowell born February 1810 died 1882, married Margaret Jadwin
  • William Field McDowell born September 1811 died 1861 in Illinois, married Mary Gott and then Deborah Test
  • Cynthia McDowell born 1812 died 1890, married Joseph Cantrell
  • Kitty McDowell born circa 1814 died 1840-1850, married Thomas Rigsby
  • Son born circa 1816
  • Son born circa 1818 married Margaret
  • Seleta McDowell born circa 1825, married Thomas McDowell (son of Edward) circa 1848

Luke’s descendant through son William Field McDowell, son John Benjamin McDowell, son Luke Bradley McDowell, son John William McDowell and 2 more generations has confirmed Luke as the son of Michael using both Y and autosomal DNA.

Luke’s Y DNA matches that of Edward.

Luke and Edward’s descendants autosomal DNA matches that of Michael’s descendants in Claiborne County through John McDowell and Mary McDowell Herrell.

Nathan McDowell

Michael’s presumed son Nathan S. McDowell was born about 1797, according to the 1860 census.

Nathan married Esther Capps (born 01-19-1798 died 03-02-1892) of Grainger County, TN. She was the sister of John Capps. They are not known to have any children.

In 1833, Michael McDowell deeds Nathan land, along with William McDowell, “for love.”

Nathan was a school teacher and minister of the Baptist denomination. A sketch of his life appears in the book “Old Time Tazewell” by Mary E. Hansard.

In Mary Hansard’s book, she states that Nathan was reported to have refused to take an oath of allegiance to the North, at Cumberland Gap, during the Civil War. He was taken to a northern prison where he died shortly, about the age of 80. His wife was apparently very proud of his bravery and how he died. However, that doesn’t exactly correlate with the census research, given that he was already living in Kentucky prior to the Civil War and wouldn’t have been 80 until 1879, long after the Civil War was over. I don’t find him in the 1860 census.

Minutes of Davis Creek Church in Speedwell in Powell Valley 1797-1907

  • Nathan S. McDowell made application for letter of dismissal for Sister Hannah (no date)
  • 1840 received elder Nathan S. McDowell by letter

Prior to that, beginning in 1837, Nathan was the moderator at the Big Springs Baptist Church, south of Tazewell, shown today below at the intersection of Lone Mountain Road and Riddle Lane.

Big Springs Primitive Baptist Church

In the 1850 census, Nathan is living in Owsley County, KY, noted as a “precher” born in Tennessee, age 53, and his wife is Esther, born in NC.

It’s possible that Nathan was not Michael McDowell’s son, but his grandson. Nathan is closely associated with John P. McDowell who we know is not Michael’s son. These two men are about 5 years different in age. If Michael’s oldest son was Michael III, born in 1778 or earlier, Nathan born in 1797 could have been his son along with John P. McDowell.

Michael III disappears from Wilkes County after the 1810 census where he has 4 children, including 2 males under 10. The under 10 designation doesn’t fit exactly, but is a possibility.

Nathan S. McDowell and John P. McDowell are the only two McDowell men who are clearly connected with Michael who live in Claiborne County, but distantly. Both married Capps women. It’s possible that Nathan, who was childless, raised his nephew.

Children Summary

In summary, Michael’s confirmed or most probable children are:

  • Michael McDowell born between 1774-1778, either dead or gone from Wilkes County by 1820 (confident, but not confirmed)
  • Edward McDowell born circa 1774-1780 (confirmed)
  • John McDowell born 1782 or 1783 (confirmed)
  • Mary McDowell born 1787 (confirmed)
  • Luke McDowell born circa 1792 (confirmed)
  • William born circa 1795 (confident, but not genetically confirmed)
  • Nathan S. McDowell b 1797 (probably son, related in some way)
  • Daughter born between 1790-1800 (no further information)
  • Daughter born between 1790-1800 (no further information)

Possible children are:

  • James born before 1780 (unlikely)

The Unidentified Children

There are of course, two unknown daughters in the 1800 census. It’s possible that neither reached adulthood.

What Does DNA Say?

In 2004, Lewis McDowell, a now-deceased descendant of Edward McDowell who settled in Pulaski County, KY tested his Y DNA. Lewis was a long-time genealogist, then 93 years old, pictured here with his lovely wife the day he contributed his DNA, and welcomed the opportunity to participate.

Michael McDowell - Lewis.jpg

Lewis’s genealogy reflects that he descends from Edward, the son of Michael McDowell Jr. Amazingly, there were only two generations between Lewis and Edward McDowell who married Lucy Haines in 1811 in Pulaski County, Kentucky.

I wanted to compare Lewis’s Y DNA results with other McDowell male descendants of Michael through other sons.

Since Lewis McDowell’s death, he has since accrued Y DNA matches with three other McDowell males, all confirmed descendants of Luke McDowell.

Autosomally, many descendants of Michael McDowell Jr. who died circa 1840 in Claiborne County match each other, including Lewis, descendants of Luke, John and Mary McDowell Herrell, confirming their genetic connection.

Perhaps the best thing we can do for MIchael now is to find and confirm his children. I’m still looking for the children of his eldest son, Michael III, son William and potential son James, if in fact, James had children and was Michael’s son. We know that son Nathan didn’t have children, so we can’t confirm him genetically. There are no known children for William, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

If you descend from any McDowell that is or might be connected, please check your autosomal matches, especially at Family Tree DNA where several known family members have tested. If you are a McDowell male, please take the Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA.

I’d love to hear from you!

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In Search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – History Channel Documentary

I hope you’ll join me this Friday, October 18, 2019 at 10 PM for “In Search of the Lost Colony,” a documentary on the History Channel. Here’s the schedule.

Lost Colony History Channel

If you can’t see the episode on Friday, past “In Search Of” episodes are available for viewing and The Lost Colony episode will be available here too after airing. You can watch it on your computer after it airs if you don’t have access to The History Channel.

If you’d like more background, you can read my article, The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Did They Survive? – National Geographic, Archaeology, Historical Records and DNA.

A Little History

In 2007, I became involved in the search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a group of settlers who sailed to what is now Roanoke Island, NC in 1587 with the intention of establishing an English Colony.

Luck was not in their favor. Many elements were against them. The supply ship with their food was wrecked on the shoals during one of the notorious hurricanes that plague the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Adding even more drama, the captain of the lead ship in the voyage was supposed to transport the colonists on to the Chesapeake, but refused to do so, in essence, stranding them. Did I mention that the notorious captain just happened to be a pirate, rescued from the gallows by a man who was scheming for the colony to fail?

You might be guessing by now that there are layers upon layers of drama – and you’d be right.

The transport ships themselves were headed back to England after depositing the colonists and agreed to carry only one person from the colony with them. The colonists elected their “governor,” John White as their representative to return to England and request resupply. Somehow, somehow, the colonists, White’s daughter among them, would try to survive half a year, until about Easter 1588, when crossing the Atlantic would once again be safe. At that time in history, winter crossings were not undertaken.

However, the Spanish Armada and the war between England and Spain interfered with the resupply plan. It wasn’t until 1590 that John White was able to return, on yet another pirate ship, to attempt to resupply or rescue the colonists.

A Big Mystery

He found…nothing.

The colonists were gone – disappeared – but they left White a one-word message – Croatoan – carved into a post at their fort and “Cro” carved into a tree.

Croatoan tree

Dawn Taylor (left) and Anne Poole beside a reproduction of the carving White discovered upon his 1590 return to Roanoke Island.

Croatoan was the name of the friendly Indians who lived on Hatteras Island, just south of Roanoke Island.

Another hurricane arose, preventing White from visiting Hatteras, but their ships had sailed within sight of Hatteras on their way to Roanoke.

Were the colonists gone?

Had they survived?

Did they perish?

Or move on?

Inland perhaps?

What do we know?

What is yet to be discovered?

The Documentary

Along with others involved in the search, I filmed a segment for the History Channel in June. My portion was recorded at the Family Tree DNA lab in Houston, Texas. As you might guess, my portion involves DNA testing.

Lost Colony, Dr Connie Bormans and Roberta Estes

Here’s a sneak peek, Dr. Connie Bormans, Lab Director, at left, with me in the dark lab coat, at right, during the filming. You’ll enjoy a lovely tour of the genetics lab while walking a test through the process, assuming that portion is included in the documentary.

This is the first production of this type that I’ve been involved with. I’ve declined several other invitations because of concerns about sensationalism.

I’ve enjoyed programs on the History Channel before and hoped that they would be less inclined to fall into that trap.

The DNA Projects

Regardless, the DNA part of this story is mine to tell, and I wasn’t about to forego that opportunity.

I founded the Lost Colony DNA projects in 2007.

The Lost Colony Y DNA Project for males who carry the Lost Colony surnames AND whose families are found in early eastern North Carolina OR among the Native people is here, and the Lost Colony Family Project for those interested but aren’t male who carry the colonist surnames is here.

How Does Filming Work?

I’ve always wondered how this works, so I’m sharing with you.

It’s interesting to note that people in the episodes don’t know what the other people said or who else is involved.

In my case, I did happen to know about two other people, Anne Poole, Director of the Lost Colony Research Group and Andy Gabriel-Powell. The three of us along with Dawn Taylor and others have worked on solving the mystery together for a dozen years now, focused on archaeological excavations in various locations on the Outer Banks along with historical records in the US, England, Spain and Portugal.

Lost colony dna

Anne and I sifting during one of the digs.

Andy, the former mayor of historic Bideford, England, home of Richard Grenville, authored the book Richard Grenville and the Lost Colony of Roanoke which you can view, here.

I know the production crew interviewed other people as well, but I’ll find out who they are and what everyone says right along with you.

It might not surprise you to learn that numerous people have been involved in the search for the Lost Colony over the ensuing 432 years – and not all of them ethical. Like anything else high-profile, the Lost Colony has attracted its share of bad actors along with some fantastic researchers.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what or whom to believe, so Anne, Andy and I, along with our colleagues working alongside us, committed to document and source all information independently. Our goal was and is to excavate the truth, regardless of where that truth leads.

In 2007, Anne and I founded the loosely organized, all-volunteer, Lost Colony Research Group to facilitate various types of research and coordinate archaeological excavations.

The LCRG sponsored half a dozen digs and committed to making our finds public, allowing future researchers access to our research, artifacts and DNA results when technology has improved and perhaps more is known or can be discovered. It’s the only responsible approach.

People interviewed during the filming are not actors and are not paid, nor are they afforded the opportunity to review and approve any footage or anything in the segment before it’s aired.

Other than clarifying a couple of questions after the filming and being informed of the date and time when the episode will air, we had no communications with the production crew or staff after filming.

None of us knows what the segment contains or how it will be portrayed. We don’t actually even know if we are IN the segment, just that we were filmed. The segment at the lab with Dr. Bormans took about a day and a half of filming, plus several days of preparation, as did Andy’s and Anne’s portions, respectively. Most of what is filmed winds up on the cutting room floor. That’s the nature of the beast.

I have my fingers crossed that the resulting program is scientifically sound as well as entertaining. The Lost Colony is, after all, one of America’s oldest mysteries.

One thing is for sure – I’ll be watching. I hope you do too.

If you have ancestors in the US or in the British Isles – you or your family might just have that critical piece of information needed to solve the mystery!

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Michael McDowell Jr. (c1747 – c1840), Revolutionary War Veteran, Spy, Miller and Apparently, Rabble Rouser, 52 Ancestors #258

I’m struck by how much Michael McDowell’s life reads like a book with distinct chapters. One closes and as the wagon pulls away from the old homestead and another opens.

Michael did that at least twice in his adult life.

I first found Michael McDowell in present day Hancock County, Tennessee and worked my way backward in time, which was anything but easy.

For starters, Hancock County records burned, twice. At the time Michael lived, it was Claiborne County, whose records are incomplete. The place where he lived also bordered Lee County, Virginia and the border between Virginia and Tennessee was disputed for the entirety of Michael’s lifetime. And not to mention various census years that I need that are missing.

For decades, I’ve felt like the great genealogy gods have a perverse and somewhat perverted sense of humor. “Oh, you’ve overcome that road block, well, try this one! Hahahahah.”

In reassembling Michael’s life and that of his parents and children, I’ve had to connect many dots. Some snapped right in, like puzzle pieces nestling together like Russian tea dolls, but a few…not so much. The further back in time we go, the more scarce and difficult the pieces. It’s doesn’t help any that his father’s name was Michael McDowell too, as was his son.

Our Michael McDowell Jr. was born about 1747, possibly in Lunenburg or Albemarle County. His father’s trail goes cold in 1755 in Bedford County where Michael Jr. entered the Revolutionary War in 1777.

The name of Michael’s mother is unknown. She could have been from anyplace between Maryland and Lunenburg County, Virginia. If she was the same age as Michael’s father, she would have been born about 1720, or about 27 when MIchael Jr. was born. It’s likely that someplace, Michael Jr. has siblings.

Revolutionary War Pension Application

One of our most valuable pieces of information about Michael McDowell is his application for a Revolutionary War pension found in Claiborne County, Tennessee. Two versions exist, one somewhat more detailed than the other.

Michael McDowell, Page 31 section 28, Michael McDowell S 1690 Virginia Service:

This day personally appeared before Samuel Powell, Judge of the Circuit Court of Law and this equity in Claiborne Co., TN. Michael McDowell, age 85, in order to obtain benefit of an act of Congress, passed June 7, 1832. He made this application 1832. States he entered the service in Bedford Co., VA 1777 or 1778. He was drafted to perform 3 months tour of duty and he belonged to Company of Capt. Arthur which was attached to the regiment of Col. James Calloway. He then marched to the lead mines in the western part of Virginia and built a fort, and also under Capt. Wm. Leftridge at the same Fort. And after his term expired, returned home to his residence in Bedford Co., VA, and again volunteered under Capt. Arther, and marched against the Indians, and again after returning home joined with some neighbors and friends with the citizens of the country calling themselves spies, to protect women and children from the skelping knife of the savage. He went to see his Capt. Arther who now lives in Kentucky and he is so parallized and so polsed? so that he can not speak, so as to be understood.

John Hunt a citizen of Claiborne County, Tennessee, certify that I am well acquainted with Michael McDowell, and it is reputed and believed in the neighbourhood where he lives that he was a Revolutionary War Soldier.

Affidavit of James Gilbert, one of the clergyman of the Baptist Church, state I am well acquainted with Michael McDowell.

John Hunt, High Sheriff of said county, makes the same statement.

This affidavit gives us a lot of information about Michael, including that he and his friends called themselves spies.

His age is given, which puts his birth about 1747.

We know that in 1777, Michael was 30 years old and living in Bedford County, Virginia. He was married by that time, with his son Edward born in 1773 and his son Michael (the third) being born before 1774.

Information from “TN Pension Roll of 1835” copied by William Navey:

Michael McDowell – Claiborne Co., TN – Private VA Line, $30 annual allowance – $90 amount received, Sept. 20, 1833 pension started – age 87 in 1835

State of Tennessee, Claiborne County This day personally appeared before Samuel Powell, Judge of the Circuit Court of law and equity in the state of Tennessee the same being a Court of Record, Michael McDowell age 85 years who being first duly sworn according to law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of an Act of Congress passed June 7, 1832. States that he entered the services of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein states that he resided in the County of Bedford in the State of Virginia and some time in the year of 1777 or in the year of 1778 he was drafted to perform a three month tour of duty in the services his county and that he belonged to company commanded by Capt. Arthur which said company was attached to the regiment commanded by Col. James Calaway then marched to the lead mines in the western part of Virginia and we then built a fort and we were there stationed until my time of service has expired and then it was that Col. Calaway called upon us to volunteer our services in the cause of our country for the time of three months which this applicant did do in good faith and he states most positively that he did serve his country under the command of Capt. William Selfridge at the same fort and after his time of service had again expired this applicant returned home to his residence in the State of Virginia in Bedford County and some time after this applicant returned home he again volunteered himself under Capt. Arthur and he then marched against the Indians who were committing many defamations on the inhabitants of Virginia and the applicant states that he served in the campaign as long as his services was required by the commanding officer, but the precise time he does not recollect and then being discharged from service he returned to his residence in the County of Bedford. And this applicant begs leave further to represent to the department that some time after he had returned home from the last above mentioned campaign that he united himself with some of his neighbors and friends together with a vow to protect the women and children from the scalping knife of the savage and often performing a great deal of hard labour in the service of our country and after the spring of the year had set in and the savages had left the frontier we again returned home the applicant states that he believes taking the whole of his service together that he served in the cause of his country for the term of nine months although it may be more or it may be less. Said applicant also states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his services. He a few days ago went to see his Capt. (to wit) Capt. Arthur who now lives in the State of Kentucky and that he found that the said Arthur is paralyzed and so palsied that he cannot speak so as to be understood which now fully appears no reference to a document, herewith presented and signed by one of the Justices of the Peace in said state. Hereby relinquish his every claim to a pension or annuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pensions roll of any agency of any state whatsoever. Sworn to in open court Dec. 1832

If this was sworn in December 1832, chances are very likely that Michael had already had his birthday for the year. His year of birth subtracts to 1748 in this document.

In a publication listing Tennessee veterans of the Revolutionary War, Michael is listed as having been born in 1745. The source of this information is not given.

I obtained Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War Pension file from the National Archives.

Michael McDowell Rev War1.jpg

The actual pension act was found in Michael’s pension papework.

Michael McDowell Rev War 2.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 3.jpg

I originally though that Michael signed this document himself, but after looking more closely, he didn’t.

Michael McDowell Rev War 4.jpg

The “X, his mark” is present. Of course, we don’t know from this document alone whether Michael was simply too elderly and too feeble to write, or if he never could. Other documents will tell that story.

Michael McDowell Rev War 5.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 6.jpg

MIchael McDowell Rev War 7.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 8.jpg

$90 was a lot of money in 1832 – enough to purchase a farm or at least land to clear for a farm.

Michael McDowell Rev War 9.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 10.jpg

From these documents, we can put together roughly the following timeline:

When What Where
1777 or 1778 3 month tour Lead mines with Arthur and Callaway
Additional 3 months at lead mines Callaway requested, served under Leftridge
Home after the second three month tour Bedford County
Some time later Volunteered again to march against Indians With Arthur
Returned home Bedford County
Some time later Spied on Indians – returned home after spring when Indians departed

Michael states that he served 90 days in total, more or less. Given the dates above, his time spying on the Indians would have had to have been in either late 1777 or late 1778. If he was drafted in 1777, most of that year would have been consumed with the 6 months contiguous duty at the lead mines.

Michael McDowell Rev War 11.png

This final document is interesting in that it lists Michael as an invalid. It’s possible, at 85 years of age, that his invalid status is simply a result of his age, meaning he can no longer farm, and had nothing to do with his service or an injury. He did not apply in 1818 at which time destitute soldiers could apply.

These documents reveal more too. Michael left Bedford County and marched to the western part of Virginia. At this time, Tennessee and Kentucky didn’t exist, so Virginia just trailed off into nothing – with no western border as shown in the Fry and Jefferson map from 1775, below.

Michael McDowell 1775 Fry map.jpg

Revolutionary War Service

In the book, Virginia militia in the Revolutionary War: McAllister’s data we find several references to lead mines as well as the officer’s surnames noted in Michael McDowell’s pension application.

This book reveals: Capt. Benjamin Arthur R. Sept. 29, 1781 from Bedford County. James Callaway Co. Lt, S, Dec. 8, 1778. We then find Lt. Col. William Leftwich, S. Feb. 28, 1780. I’m not quite sure what that means, but it does confirm that they served.

Bedford County: 1776. Capt. Wm. Leftridge against Tories and Indians at Lead Mines, 47, 157.

This suggests that there might have been an encounter.

1780 – Capt. Robt. Adams’ Company guarding Lead Mines, 153.

Greenbrier County 1780: Capt. Thomas Wright raises a Company to go against the Indians at Detroit. But it was marched to Lead Mines on Holston, and then to Logan’s Station in Kentucky.

Jarvis Fields, in his pension application tells us that he served from Bedford County as well and he was called to duty in 1779 by Col. Calloway for guard duty at New London, in Bedford County, “the British prisoners taken at the Cowpens being confined there and at Lynchburg.”

Henry Cartmill who served from Botetourt tells us this about the possible location of the lead mines:

At another time he ranged the mountains between Fincastle and Sweet Springs in search of Indians. Himself and many others assembled at the lead mines in Wythe to meet Col. Fergerson who was said to be advancing from the Carolinas with a large force of Tories. After going as far as Stone House in Botetourt, they were stopped by Col. Skillern, commanding the Botetourt militia, until more men could be collected. News reaching them that the Tories were dispersed, they returned home.

Colonel Ferguson was killed at the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780.

William King states that he was enlisted in Bedford County in 1778 and for two months, he guarded the lead mines in Wythe County. Other men refer to the lead mines in Wythe County, as well.

William Murphy is very detailed in his pension application:

About Aug. 1, 1776, from Bedford under Capt. William Leftridge, Lt. Calloway, Ensign Joseph Bond. Guarded Chiswold lead mines till relieved by other troops. In April, 1777, was substitute three months for Lewis Dusee (?), who was drafted from Thomas Jones’ Company in Henry. Served under Capt. Peter Herston, Lt. William Ferguson, Ensign Edward Tatum in Col. Christie’s regiment. Marched 200 miles to Long Island in the Holston to stand guard during a treaty with the Cherokees.

Volunteered in April 1780, to serve three months against the Cherokees. Went as sergeant under Capt. Jno. Clark and Lt. John Bond, Gen. John Sevier being in general command. Marched to the headwaters of the Tennessee and killed a number of Indians, with the loss of Capt. Davis and Lt. Bond killed, and Jasper Terry wounded.

In February 1782, volunteered three months under Capt. John Clark, and Lt. John Murphy, of Washington County, N. C. (now Tenn.), Col. J. Brown commanding the regiment, and marched across Nolachucky and French Broad in pursuit of the Indians who had attacked Sherrill’s Station on the frontier, losing one of their number in the attack. We overtook a band, supposed to number 60 to 100, and killed, as was said, thirteen of them. In August 1782, drafted against the Indians again and hired George Doggett as substitute, but Gen. Sevier insisted that I go. Served under him in company of Capt. Thomas Wood and Lt. Vathan Breed, all the officers being of Greene Co. (Tenn.) We destroyed several Cherokee towns, killed a number of Indians, and took some prisoners. John Watts, a half-breed gave up a white woman named Jennie Ivey, who was taken from Roane’s Creek a year before.

The reference to Chiswold’s lead mines gives is a critical clue.

Michael McDowell lead mines.jpg

This waymark exists today at the intersection of interstate 77 and Route 52, but the actual mines were about 10 miles further south in the Austinville Community on a bluff on the south bank of New River. Known variously as the mines on Cripple Creek, the Austinville mines, or the Wytheville mines, they were discovered in 1756 by Colonel John Chiswell.

The original Fort Chiswell was built during the French and Indian War where the current village of Fort Chiswell stands, but was paved over when the intersection of I77 and I81 was constructed in the 1970s.

Given that Michael McDowell said that they built a fort, it’s probable that they built a fort at the actual mines to protect the lead, an extremely valuable commodity to both the militiamen and the Tories who were attempting to capture the mines.

The website, Diggings, below, shows the mine with the green balloon and the deposits in red. The information on the site states that production at the Austinville East Lead Zinc Mines began in 1753 and concluded in 1981.

Michael McDowell Austinville.png

This would be where Michael McDowell camped and built the fort.

MIchael McDowell mine.png

Today, the two routes from Bedford County to the lead mines, both through gaps in the mountains, would be either 110 miles or 125 miles.

Michael McDowell mine map.png

A Google satellite view of the vicinity shows extensive mining efforts at Chiswell Hole.

Michael McDowell Chiswell Hole.png

If the location of the original lead mines is accurately positioned by the green locator of the Diggings map, the original mine location would be where the white roofed building, below, is located today.

Michael McDowell mine location.png

Unfortunately, none of these roads are “drivable” today utilizing Google street view. Maybe in a few years.

Indians, Spies and Scalpings

In both application versions, Michael mentions being an Indian spy, banding together to protect people and that the Indians subsequently left the frontier. What can we discover about when and where this might have occurred?

Michael says he “marched against the Indians, and again after returning home joined with some neighbors and friends with the citizens of the country calling themselves spies, to protect women and children from the skelping knife of the savage.” He also mentions that he and his fellow spy citizens returned home in the spring, meaning they tracked Indians in the cold of winter.

We know that this was after Michael marched to the lead mines, which was probably about April 1777, based on the information unearthed about the mines and other men who served there, and after Michael served with Col. Leftridge and then marched with Captain Arthur against the Indians. After all that is when he “joined with some neighbors and friends.”

In Michael was at the lead mines in April of 1777, then he went home in about October of 1777.

We know that this was probably related to the peace treaty signed with the Cherokee Indians in July 1777 ceding the Watauga lands or in July of 1781 when they ceded more land, both events taking place at the Long Island of the Holston. Another treaty during this time was the Treaty of Fort Pitt signed in November of 1778 with the Delaware. It’s difficult to know which event might have resulted in the Indians leaving the frontier as he mentioned, an event that allowed him to finally return home for the last time – although it’s most likely prior to 1781.

Two articles shed light on this time period and events that clearly impacted Michael McDowell.

The first is found in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1915), pp. 113-123, article by David I. Bushnell, Jr.

In the first of a series of articles titled, “The Virginia Frontier in History – 1778”, David Bushnell tells us that in 1774, Cornstalk, Chief of the Shawnee entered into a peaceful agreement with Lord Dunmore and subsequently became friendly with the English.

However, in November 1777, at Fort Randolph which was located at Point Pleasant (now West Virginia,) Cornstalk along with his son were brutally murdered. Ironically, Cornstalk had come to warn the settlers and his killing was in revenge for the murder of a settler by an Indian.

During the winter months that followed, the settlers realized what grave danger they had brought upon themselves by killing Chief Cornstalk and prepared for the now-expected attack by the Indians. In January 1778, Col. William Preston sent a letter from Montgomery County, Virginia, begging then-governor Patrick Henry of Virginia for assistance, expecting the Shawnee to descend upon the settlers at any time.

A widespread attack was expected, “upon all Frontier Inhabitants from Pittsburg to the lower Settlements of Clinch and the Kentucky.”

Col. Preston writes:

“I acknowledge, Sir, that this detestable murder was committed by backwoods men who ought to have behaved in a manner very different; and I am sorry to inform your Excellency that upwards of 100 persons in the County alone have yet refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the State, many of whom are disarmed and the remainder soon will, who cannot claim, nor are they entitled to Protection while they continue Obstinate.”

“The inhabitants in this and the neighboring counties, especially those most exposed to danger are in the greatest consternation. Several thousand good subjects ought not to suffer for the indiscretion and obstinacy of a few. Being generally in low circumstances, they are not able to remove and support their families in the interior parts of the state, and by continuing at their homes, without the assistance of government, or the immediate interposition of Providence, they and their helpless families must fall a sacrifice to savage fury and revenge.”

“Should this (assistance) be omitted or delayed, I am fully convinced from long experience that this county or a great part of it will be depopulated before May next and the enemy, like blood-hounds, will pursue until they overtake their prey, even to the south side of the Blue Ridge, as they did not many years ago.”

Preston goes on to ask for provisions, stating that the lack of salt prevented people from laying up the quantity of pork that they would have otherwise done. He says they will be out of provisions in two months. Normally pigs butchered in the fall would last until at least the following summer when crops could be harvested.

Preston also asks for Indian corn to be purchased and says there is none in his or neighboring counties. Furthermore, “the want of lead is a most discouraging circumstance. They offer any price but they cannot purchase it.”

Guns don’t work without bullets and lack of lead for their muskets made the settlers little more than sitting ducks.

According to the response recorded in the “Journal for Council for 1778” in the Virginia State Archives, Greenbrier County also submitted a request and on February 19th, the Council agreed to the following:

  • One pound of lead for each militia man
  • To direct trusty scouts to range towards the enemy’s country
  • To advise proper stockades for receiving the helpless inhabitants, wherever the savages have in in their power to penetrate
  • To direct the County Lieutenants of Botetourt and Montgomery to consult together on the expediency of establishing a post near the mouth of Elk River for keeping up the correspondence between GreenBrier and Fort Randolph
  • To do so in the matter they judge best to reinforce the garrison at Fort Randolph with 50 men from the militia of Botetourt
  • That earnest and close pursuit of the foremost scalping parties be made in order to discourage others
  • To apprehend and deliver up the people concerned in that murder

On March 27, 1778 they recommended ordering 50 men from Rockbridge County, Virginia to Fort Randolph and 50 men each from Botetourt and Greenbrier County to “post at” Kelley and authorized 1000 pounds for “commissary.”

The order to “direct trusty scouts to range towards the enemy” stems from the following document passed by the General Assembly on May 5, 1777 as found in Henning (Vol IX, p294-295):

“The lieutenant or next commanding officer of the several counties on the western frontier, with the like permission, shall appoint any number of proper persons, not exceeding 10, in any one county to act as scouts for discovering the approach of the Indians…who on such discovery shall immediately give notice thereof to such militia officer.”

The scouts were instructed not to fire on the Indians, except in self-defense, but only to report locations to the militia officers. Their job was to find the Indians and spy upon them. Their instructions were to not lose time, to stay constantly “on foot” and after they “have fully ranged the part of the country which it was supposed would take 2 or 3 weeks,” they should report back. They were to take their own provisions, but they would be paid for them. I wonder if that ever happened.

However, now we know where the term that Michael used, “spies,” originated in this context.

Interestingly enough, on the back of a paper were listed locations, probably made by a scout, showing the locations visited. The author believes the numbers represent the number of miles:

  • From Culbersons bottom to the big Crab Orchard – 60 (Crab Orchard is in Kentucky)
  • From there to Maiden Spring – 15
  • From thence to Elk Garden – 17
  • To the Glade Hollow – 13

Underneath that is a total line and then 105.

  • To Cowins fort – 10
  • Moores fort – 5
  • BlackMores – 2
  • To Mockinson Gap – 18
  • To ye Great Eatons (?) – 8
  • To Capt Donelsons line – 8

Another total line and 174.

Fort Blackmore was located in what is now Scott County, VA, as is Moccasin Gap.

According to Familypedia.wikia, this 1774 copy of the Smith map with red circles indicates the locations of forts as shown on Daniel Smith’s original map, now in the Draper collection, item 4NN62. The red line became the Kentucky Trace.

1774 Smith map.png

This area includes part of the present Virginia counties of Tazewell, Russell and Scott from the Clinch River to the Holston.

Col. Preston apparently became more fearful and requested additional protection in May of 1778, the following being noted:

“The Board being informed of Col. Preston’s expored situation on the frontier and that is was apprehended (should be obliged to remove) most of the back inhabitants would quit their settlements, they do advise the governor to empower Col. Preston to keep a sergeant and 12 men stationed at his house as Draper’s Meadow to enable him to continue at his habitation and to encourage others to do so.”

In a second article in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct., 1915), pp. 337-351 by David I. Bushnell, Jr. we find additional information.

A report detailed the importance of maintaining 4 forts, one of which is Fort Henry in Ohio County and one at Fort Randolph, which is on the Ohio at the mouth of the Kanawha river, the scene of the treacherous murder of Chief Cornstalk in November 1777. That act was the touchstone of the rebellion that caused the Indians to attack the settlers on the frontier. Fort Randolph was stated to be “200 miles distant from the settlements” and 150 men were requested for that location.

Michael McDowell Fort Randolph.png

Indeed, Fort Randolph is about 266 miles from Bedford County, VA.

Michael McDowell Bedford to Fort Randolph.png

Also requested for the various forts was 1500 gallons of whiskey. That’s a LOT of whiskey!

The two documents presented…enable us to picture the frontier posts as they were during the summer of 1778. Small groups of militia, at widely separated spots in the vast primeval forests. Nearby were the clearings and log cabins of the settlers. Supplies were scarce and consequently difficult to obtain and of a high price: a condition which resulted in more than one expedition being either postponed or abandoned. Scouts were ever on the alert for the approach of the warriors from beyond the Ohio; the accepted boundary between the white settlements and the Indian Country later to become the Territory Northwest of the Ohio.

That same year a census of the tribes was prepared by William Wilson at the request of the War Office as reported in the Virginia Historical Magazine:

1778 tribal census.png

1778 tribal census 2.png

The tribes were widely separated and the number of hostile warriors was given as 330, certainly a very conservative figure; but nevertheless, they were sufficiently numerous to spread terror over many hundreds of miles of the frontier.

In the endeavor to gain peace for the Virginia frontier, and the friendship of the Indians beyond the Ohio, Congress planned a treaty to be held at Fort Pitt, July 23, 1778, to be attended by commissioners of the government and representative of the different tribes. This was destined to be the first treaty between the United States and an Indian Nation, and was signed September 17th.

Michael’s Revolutionary War papers take us back to Bedford County, Virginia where he lived after being dismissed the final time from his Revolutionary War service – and presumably once the region became relatively safe again after November of 1778.

What we don’t know is which spring Michael was referring to, 1778, which is unlikely, given the above information, or perhaps the spring of 1779.

Bedford County, Virginia

Michael McDowell Bedford County

Bedford County is mountainous and rough. I visited Bedford County, years ago, and Bedford isn’t much different from surrounding counties. In essence, Bedford is part of the Appalachian range which extends for thousands of miles as an expansive sea of craggy rocks interspersed with tiny patches of green that farmers have been trying to cultivate since before the Revolutionary War. It’s also breathtakingly beautiful with incredible vistas.

Bedford County hosts a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a beautiful WWII era road that runs along the summits of the mountains offering stunning vistas, in particular the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County, shown below – visible for a hundred miles in any direction on a good day.

Michael McDowell Peaks of Otter.jpg

This might have been particularly relevant for Michael McDowell’s father, Michael Sr., who we know lived in Halifax County, Virginia in 1752. This means that if Michael Jr. was born in 1747, he might have been born in present day Halifax County which was Lunenburg County at that time. Interestingly, you can see the Peaks of Otter from Halifax County, below, at a location called “Top of the World.”

Perhaps Michael saw these mountains and felt irresistibly drawn towards them – an area that was then the risky, unsettled frontier.

Peaks of Otter

The photo above was taken from Halifax County, looking 50 miles distant to the Peaks. Did Michael live here, or see this on his way back and forth to the tobacco warehouses in Danville, in Pittsylvania County? As a young boy, did he dream of adventure there? One day that dream would come true.

Michael McDowell Peaks of Otter valley.png

Looking across the roof of the Peaks of Otter Lodge today, from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Many of the men who settled in Bedford County were Scots-Irish, and before that, they were Scottish families, so trying to farm fields filled with rocks was nothing new to them. Perhaps it even reminded them somewhat of home, or the homeland of their fathers and grandfathers anyway.

After finding Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War record, of course I began digging in Bedford County for more information.

Ironically, some of the information I found in Bedford County in June of 2005 referred me back to Claiborne County, Tennessee.

At the Bedford Co. Historical Society, I found a McDowell family file and it held a contact from California from 1989 and 1990 who descends from our Michael McDowell

The researcher mentioned that in Mary Hansard’s book, Old Time Tazewell, Michael’s son Nathan S. McDowell is mentioned as being of Irish descent, which the researcher interpreted to mean that Michael was born in Ireland. As it turns out, Michael Jr. wasn’t, but his grandfather, Murtough McDowell, was.

Blackwater River

On September 24, 1783, Michael purchased 75 acres on the North side of Blackwater River in Bedford County from James Stevens. and on March 22, 1784 the purchase was confirmed in court. Witnesses to the sale were Richard Richards, Skinner Devaul(?) and Ambrose Rains.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River Bedford.jpg

It’s important to note that this does not say Michael McDowell Sr. or Jr., which it surely would have stated if there were two Michael McDowell’s living in the same county at the same time.

On the 1782 Bedford County tax list, we find only one Michael McDowell, listed with 1 free male above 21 years, no slaves, 4 horses, 11 cattle with 1 white tithable, himself.

Unfortunately, the tax list is semi-alpha, which means it’s not in household order, so we can’t look at the list to identify his neighbors. There are no other McDowell residents listed.

In 1783, we find Michael with 1 poll tax, 1 male over 21, 2 horses and 4 cows. Most people had both more horses and more cows that Michael.

By 1784, Michael is gone from the tax list but he doesn’t sell that land until 1793 as a resident of Wilkes County, NC.

It appears that the area of Bedford County where Blackwater River was located became Franklin County.

The Blackwater River runs for about 20 miles as the crow flies, west of the area called Callaway, to the left of the pin below, and the county line at far right where it opens into what is now Smith Mountain Lake, formed by the Roanoke River.

Michael McDowell Callaway.png

Given that Michael served under Colonel James Calloway, which means that Michael probably served with his local muster group, my strong suspicion is that Michael lived near James Calloway. Given that Callaway is located on Blackwater River, Michael probably lived in this region too.

Indeed, this is probably where he grew up because his father apparently applied for a land grant in 1754 on the Black Water River – although beyond the initial application we never find any additional informatoin about Michael Sr.’s 400 acres. He could well have forfeited the grant for any number of reasons.

The north and south branches of Blackwater are born near Calloway and flow eastward to the Roanoke.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River 2.png

Today, this area is a mosaic of farmland, but at that time, it was probably still forested, and men like Michael would fell trees to make room for fields.

Michael McDowell Blackwater satellite.png

Someplace, Michael’s land was probably here in this crazy-quilt mosaic of farmland and forest.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River Callaway Road

Today, Callaway Road where it crosses the Blackwater River. This would have been a ford when Michael lived here.

The Arthur family lived nearby too, with several deeds showing land near Goose Creek, in Bedford County, 4 or 5 miles east of the Roanoke River where Blackwater River empties.

This was Michael’s stomping ground growing up. It’s probably where he married his wife.

We know that Michael McDowell Sr. was on the Bedford County tax list in 1755, and given that our Michael was born in 1747 or 1748, the 1755 Michael had to have been Michael Sr., not Junior.

Or stated another way, it couldn’t have been Michael Jr. and there is a small possibility that the 1755 Michael was not Michael Jr’s father. Given that he was the only McDowell living in Bedford County by the same name, there’s a good chance that the 1755 Michael is indeed Michael Sr., the father of Michael Jr.

I checked all Bedford County deeds 1761-1771, wills 1759-1810 and court orders 1754-1761 – no Michael McDowells. He certainly kept a low profile.

There are also records in Bedford County for one Ephriam McDowell, no known relationship and these two male lines carry completely different Y DNA.

Michael McDowell bought land in Bedford County in 1783, but in 1784 he is not listed on the Bedford County tax list and a Michael McDowell is listed with 1 white poll in adjacent Botetourt County. Is this the same man? If so, was he trying out different locations? Why did he leave just after purchasing land?

If this isn’t the same Michael McDowell, what happened to that second Michael McDowell in Botetourt County? Where did he come from and where did he go? The only other McDowell in Botetourt in 1784 was George. However, there was a Michael in Botetourt, earlier, in 1774 who was found to be delinquent on his taxes.

If this was our Michael in Botetourt, he clearly didn’t stay and it was a very short chapter in a very long book. Our Michael is also not the Michael McDowell who served out of Pennsylvania in 1776-1777 in the Revolutionary War.

Where is our Michael?

Pat Bezet and Mary Kay McDowell

A few years after visiting Bedford County, I found Pat Bezet on an old Rootsweb board along with Mary Kay McDowell, the wife of Les who Kay believed to be a Michael McDowell Jr. descendant through Michael’s son, Luke. These women had done a massive amount of research on Michael and family, and I would spend the next several years following in their footsteps, trying to add additional tidbits. They were both very generous about sharing their work. However, it was interesting that even though we were all plowing the same fields, so to speak, that we all found things that had either been overlooked by the other parties or found different records altogether. Six eyes are obviously better than any two. By reviewing available records again, I’ve recently found things that all three of us missed previously.

Mary Kay McDowell systematically sifted through nearly all of the published Virginia sources available in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The results of our research and trips are intermingled in this article, with many thanks to both ladies.

Albemarle County, Virginia

It’s likely that Michael McDowell Jr. was born in 1747 or 1748 in Lunenburg County, Virginia or possibly in Albemarle County. Michael’s father, Michael Sr. was found in both locations.

Keep in mind that Halifax County where we positively identify Michael McDowell Sr. in 1752 was Lunenburg before that.

We find a similar name in Albemarle County, VA in the 1745 road records, dated June 27th in which Andrew Wallace was appointed surveyor of the highway from D.S. to Mitchams River and both Merlock (also transcribed as Mirlock) McDowell and Micha McDowell were ordered, along with other men to clear the road. Albemarle county as was formed from Goochland in 1744, although deed, court and will records did not begin in Albemarle until 1748. Albemarle road records are lost beginning in 1748. Research into Albemarle records from 1748-1753 produced nothing, nor did research into Goochland deed and will records from 1731-1749.

The name Merlock sounds very close to Murtough, Michael’s father’s name, raising the question of whether Michael was Merlock’s brother. It’s also worth noting that in Maryland, Murtough’s name was also spelled Murto, with the surname as Mackdowell and Mackdaniel. Names were spelled as the person hearing them understood them and spelling wasn’t standardized at the time.

If Michael was in Albemarle County, he was familiar with the Three Notch’d Road which is the road the crew where he was assigned was instructed to clear and open in 1745. Men were assigned to crews along the road where they lived.

The Virginia Department of Transportation document titled, “The Route of the Three Notch’d Road: A Preliminary Report” written in 1976 shows the “1740 House,” an old tavern near the site of the D.S. Tree, near present day Ivy Virginia. Today the building, also known as the “D. S. Tavern” is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The original 3 Notched Road was begun about 1742 and the route was marked the entire length between Richmond, VA and the Appalachian Mountains in Augusta County, VA – including running directly through Albemarle County and is currrently US 250. US 250 was rerouted in some places, but is basicaly the same road in Albemarle County.

If indeed this is our Michael’s father in the 1745 road record, this 1740 House which stood and functioned as an ordinary at the time was probably intimately familiar to him, both inside and out.

Michael McDowell Three Notched Road.png

The D. S. Tree is reported to be in the final segment of a the “Three Notched Road” between Secretary’s Ford on the Rivanna River, (near the old woolen mill adjacent to I-64 on the east side of Charlottesville) to the D. S. Tree in Michael Wood’s road, the road east from Wood’s Gap to Ivy.

MIchael McDowell 1740 tavern.png

Today, this private home is at the intersection of Dick Woods Road and 250.

Early deeds refer to Stockton’s branch of Mitchum River, and also Stockton’s ford.

Michael McDowell Woods Gap.png

An aerial view shows the mountainous area between Ivy and the top of the mountain range.

Michael McDowell Woods Gap aerial.png

According to Edgar Wood’s History of Albemarle county, Virginia, the D. S. Tree had the initials of David Stockdon, an early patentee of land nearby, carved into it. That tree no longer exists.

Here’s a section of what was called the “Three Notch’d Road” also known as the Mountain or Mountain Ridge Road, now US 250, which today intersects with the Ridge Parkway.

Below, Mountain Ridge Road, another name for the Three Notch’d Road.

Michael McDowell Mountain Ridge Road.png

Today, on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Jarman Gap.

MIchael McDowell Jarman Gap

The Appalachian Trail runs alongside Skyline Drive, which is the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’ve hiked much of this area. You can see Wood’s Gap Road in this aerial.

Michael McDowell Appalachian Trail.png

Below, the road descending to Lickinghole Creek.

Michael-McDowell-Lickinghole-Creek.png

Here’s the view on Three Notched Road crossing Lickinghole Creek today.

Michael McDowell Lickinghole

Three notched road ascending the Blue Ridge below.

Michael McDowell Three Notch ascending Blue Ridge.png

Jarman(s) Gap Road today just before it begins ascending the mountains. Wood’s Gap is now Jarman or Jarmans Gap.

Michael McDowell Jarman Gap Road.png

Google Street View does not drive on roads with no center line. The trip from Jarman’s Gap Road alongside Lickinghole Creek, above, to Jarman Gap which is one of two gaps crossing the mountain range is maybe 5 twisty-turny miles on road 611 – complete with switchbacks.

Michael McDowell road ascending mountain.png

And of course, a 3 notched tree. The original D.S. tree stood east from Wood’s (now Jarman’s) Gap to Ivy, probably on the same property where the 1740 D.S. Tavern stood.

Michael McDowell three Notched tree.png

Ivy to Jarman Gap. Today you must use the Park Entrance, but not so then when they took the more direct route up the side of the mountain, marked with red arrows.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Jarman Gap.png

Michael Sr. worked here, opening the roads still in use today, but looking very different. The area where he was assigned was from the D.S. Tree to Mitchums River, which is Mechums River today – a distance of about 3 miles.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Mechums River

That means he would have lived someplace along this route probably on a spring branch of a creek where fresh water was available. This is likely where Michael McDowell Jr. was born.

I’m not convinced that the blue 250 portion is the original road, but Google didn’t drive down 738 which looks like it might have been the original road.

However, there is a portion where 738 and 250 join, and that was likely the original portion, as is the portion where Dick Wood’s Road and 250 intersect.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Michums River aerial

In fact, when I enlarged the photo, I could clearly see 3 Notch’d Trace, the portion that exists today, and the portion which no longer exists. You can see Mechums River at left and where it is crossed by 250. At right, with the arrows is the old section of 3 Notch’d Road.

MIchael McDowell 3 Notched Trace

Michael McDowell Sr. labored to maintain the road so that horses and wagons could ford Mechums River, below, today where 250 crosses. This could have been Stockton’s ford referenced in the various early Albemarle deeds.

Michael McDowell Ivy Road at Meachums River

At the intersection of Ivy Road and 3 Notch’d Trace, a remaining segment of the original road, we can see the Appalachian Mountains in the distance.

MIchael McDowell Ivy Road at 3 Notchd Trace.png

Those mountains would beckon to Michael Sr., whispering, “Come,” and he did, but first he took a detour.

Lunenburg County, Virginia

Lunenburg County, where we find Michael next, was formed in 1745 from Brunswick County. The 1748 tax map for Lunenburg is the first tax list available, so we don’t have any way of knowing whether or not Michael Jr., born about 1747 was born in Lunenburg or perhaps Albemarle. It’s also possible, although unlikely that the Michael in Albemarle wasn’t Michael Jr.’s father, and that he was still in Maryland before arriving in Halifax County.

Pat included the Lunenburg County 1748 tax list where Michal McDanel was shown with 1 tithe in the district taken in June by Mathew Talbot from Bleu Store to Little Roanoke. The Roanoke is now called the Staunton which forms the northern and much of the eastern border of Halifax County.

Michael McDowell Lunenburg 1746 tax map

Sunlight on the Southside by Landon Bell provides the Lunenburg tax lists, where extant. We find the McDowell family mentioned in the intro portion as being from Lunenburg Co., VA before they went to NC.

In 1749, we find Michael McDowell in William Caldwell’s district, which bordered Halifax on the north on the Staunton River. In 1752 Halifax was formed from Lunenburg, where Michael McDowell. had 1 white tithe, meaning white male over 16, and no negroes.

In 1749, the Lunenburg road orders included a Michael McDaniel, who may have actually been Michael McDowell.

In 1750 we find Michael McDowell in Nicholas Hale’s district with one tithe and neighbors that included Jacob and John Pybon.

In 1751, Michael is missing from the list and in 1752, Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg. We already know that Michael McDowell Sr. is in Halifax in 1752 where he signed a power of attorney to sell his father’s land in Maryland.

The Lunenburg Order books 1746-1755 reflect the following:

June 1753, Michael McDuel vs Jacob Pyborn – Pyborn not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

Trouble with the neighbors, it seems.

May Court 1754, John Thompson vs Michael McDuel – defendant not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

This tells us that Michael McDowell Sr. left between June of 1753 and May of 1754, and it might give us some idea of why. Trouble was brewing perhaps.

Given that Michael lived in Halifax in 1752 and is found in neighboring Lunenburg in 1753 – it appears that he might have moved often, perhaps back and forth across the county border, or maybe he lived near the Staunton River.

Michael Jr. would have been 5 or 6 years old in 1752 or 1753, so likely remembers moving frequently and probably remembered Halifax County.

Bedford County was created in 1753 from Lunenburg County, but as it turns out, Michael didn’t live initially in what would become Bedford County. He was in Halifax, at least for a short time before moving on to Bedford.

Halifax and Bedford 

Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg in 1752, and that’s where we find Michael McDowell in that same year, selling his father’s land in Maryland. Thank goodness for this link, because without it, we would never have been able to connect Murtough McDowell in Baltimore County, Maryland with Michael McDowell in Virginia.

Details are provided in the article about Michael McDowell Sr., but suffice it to say that Michael Jr. would have been about 5 years old when his father was selling his grandfather’s land. Michael Jr. probably never got to meet his grandparents. Maybe he heard stories about his grandparents’ lives back in Ireland. His father may have been born there. Michael Sr. was born around 1720 and his father was in Maryland by 1722.

An important aspect of the documentation of Michael Jr.’s life is that Michael McDowell Sr.’s signature was never recorded as being signed with an X. Michael Jr., on the other hand, never signed his name without using the X.

In 1754, we find a mysterious entry in Marion Dodson Chiarito’s book, “Entry Record Book 1737-1770” which covers land in the present counties of Halifax, Pittsylvania, henry, Franklin and Patrick, she says the following:

This book contains land entries in the western portion of the original Brunswick County, namely Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry, Franklin and Patrick. The area concerned was south of the Roanoke-Staunton River, west of Tewahomony Creek, now Aaron’s Creek which divides Mecklenburg and Halifax cuonties, and extending to the Blue Ridge Mountains. These counties were formed from Lumemburg which was separated from Brunswick in 1746.

Marion continues:

It must be pointed out that an entry for land was but a statement of intention. Ownership of land resulted from satisfying the requirements for settlement the land and improving it. For this reason, many entries were voided.

On page 161 of Marion’s book, on page 203 of the original entry taker book residing in current day Pittsylvania County, we find an entry for a man who might be Michael McDowell:

Michael McDuell 400 on a Branch of Black Water River beginning at a white oak with 4 chops in it in the fork of said branch then up both forks and down the branch.

If this was Michael McDowell Sr., I’ve failed to find a deed of sale at any time, and he is next found in Bedford County, formed in 1754, which indeed did have a Blackwater Creek that extended from today’s man-made Smith Mountain Lake southwest to beyond Callaway, where Michael McDowell Jr. appears to have lived.

By 1755, Michael Sr. was found on the Bedford county tax list indicating that Michael Jr. lived in Bedford County from about the time he was 8 years old.

The next piece of Michael Jr.’s life is his Revolutionary War pension application where he states that he served from Bedford County in 1777 or 1778 and returned there to his home when discharged. Michael McDowell Jr. would have been 30 years old in 1777 and based on the ages of his oldest children, had been married about 5 years by then.  If still living, his father, Michael Sr., would have been at least 57 years old.

We have no idea when Michael Sr. passed away, but Michael Jr. bought land in Bedford County in 1783 with no indication that there were two Michael McDowell’s living there in either 1782 or 1783, nor were there any other McDowell taxpayers.

Was Michael alone? There aren’t any other McDowell males, but his mother could well have been living. He could have had sisters who married and lived nearby. His wife, Isabel, surely had family in Bedford County.

Those details will probably never be revealed, but if Michael had no family there, that might have been part of what encouraged him to move again – although it’s quite strange that he left just a few months after purchasing property – and without selling it.

There are missing pieces of his story.

On to Wilkes County, North Carolina

What? Another move?

Wilkes County, NC?  This man did not let any moss grow under his feet. Just saying.

So far, we have Michael McDowell Sr. in Baltimore County as a son of Murtough. Probably in Albemarle in 1745, in Lunenburg County between 1748-1750, selling land in Baltimore in 1752 from Halifax County and then on the Bedford County tax list in 1755.

MIchael McDowell Sr life.png

This is the migration journey of Michael McDowell Sr.

Michael Jr. was born someplace (probably in Virginia) in 1747 and served in the Revolutionary War in 1777 and 1778 from Bedford County. It wasn’t until 1783 that there is a record of Michael purchasing land, then leaving by the next year without selling his land. He was possibly living in Botetourt County, adjacent to Bedford – at least some Michael McDowell was found on the tax list there.

Michael McDowell Bedford Botetourt.jpg

Sometime after that, Michael Jr. moved to Wilkes County, North Carolina, although we do have a 2 or 3-year gap in Michael’s life. Where was he?

Michael McDowell Ivy to Halls Mills.png

Michael would add the area near Halls Mills on Sparta Road in Wilkes County, today, to his lifelong journey.

On February 4, 1786 there is a Wilkes County deed from John Hall Sr. to Michael McDowell for 161 acres including “the plantation where Michael McDowell now lives. Witnessed by William Abshire, James Gambill and Andrew Vannoy.”

This tells us that Michael was already living in Wilkes County.

The connection with the Vannoy family would continue for generations – into Tennessee  where their descendants 5 generations later, my grandparents, would marry.

Another 1786 reference to Michael McDowell was found in a November 24th deed between Owen and Robert Hall for “156 acres on Andrew Vannoy’s line, Mickel McDowell’s corner and the line between Hall and Mikel McDowell.”  Jacob McGrady witnessed this deed. Given that Michael was Andrew’s neighbor, that also explains why Andrew witnessed his purchase.

Michael McDowell first appears in Wilkes Co in 1786 on the tax lists (he is absent earlier) with 1 poll and 160 acres and in 1787 with 162 acres and 1 poll. Therefore, we know that 1786 is probably when Michael moved to Wilkes County.

The 1787 “census” of North Carolina shows us that Michael had in his household:

  • 1 white male age 21-60
  • 2 white males under 21 or above 60
  • 1 white female
  • no blacks

Michael Jr.’s sons, Edward, born in 1773 and Michael (the third) born before 1774 account for these two “under 21” males. Michael III and Edward first appeared in court records witnessing a deed in 1799.

James McDowell, not a confirmed child of Michael, was born about 1779 based on his age when he signed as a witness to a deed in 1801.

Michael Jr.’s son John was born in 1782 or 1783 based on a deposition as well as his gravestone, so we know for sure he was under 21 in 1787. He’s missing from this record.

This discrepancy for a long time caused me to question whether all of Michael’s sons were in fact his sons. DNA has partly answered that question, but not entirely.

Early Court Records

In 1787, in Volume 2 of the Wilkes County Court Minutes (January 25, 1785 – November. 1, 1788) Michael is mentioned on July 25th in the State vs Michael McDowell – indictment for trespass.

Trespass at that time often meant something different than the current meaning, although since the state is bringing charges and not a neighbor in a civil suit, perhaps not. In some cases, trespass means that one man charged another with farming part of his land, encroaching over the property line. In this case, since the state brought the charges, it sounds more like the trespass infraction we are more familiar with today.

Michael is found not guilty by a jury.

On the very next page in the minute book, and the very next day at court, Michael is listed on a jury.

Also on the same day; Michael McDowell versus George Lewis on appeal. A jury is sworn and this case is found for Michael, with his damanges assessed to 3 pounds, 7 pence and costs.

However, on he is again charged with trespass and the same jury is ordered to hear Michael’s case as is hearing the case of Owen Hall and John Hall Senior and wife, “case for words,” which is found for the plaintiff.

The State then moved Michael’s case to the civil docket and finds him guilty of trespass, as charged.  Apparently, Michael’s case has something to do with the Hall family dispute. Recall that the Halls were his neighbors. This also makes me wonder if Michael’s wife, Isbael, was a Hall. If so, and if she was the mother of Michael Jr., that means that the Hall family would have been in Bedford County in 1773 when Michael’s first son, Edward, was born. There are Hall families in Bedford in this timeframe, but of course, that doesn’t mean that they are the same Hall families, or connected in any way.

A year later, in July of 1788, Michael is again listed on a jury and on the tax list in both 1788 and 1789 with 160 acres and 1 poll, meaning only one male over the age of 16. Being listed as a juror indicates that he was a citizen in good standing, but that would change in 1790.

Michael’s record up until now contains multiple services as a juror, and also an involved trespass charge.

However, sometime much more serious happened in 1790.

Criminal Charges

Criminal Action Papers Wilkes County, NC – July Court session – 1790:

State vs Michael McDowell, William Abshers and Owan Hall, labourers, who on July 20, 1790 did beat, wound and ill treat Betty Wooten.

Three men – beating a woman. That’s unconscionable by any standard of measure. Once again, this involves the Hall family.

The Abshire family lived on the south side of Mulberry Creek.

In 1787, Michael would have been 40 and 43 in 1790. No hothead kid, that’s for sure. This charge is much more serious than trespass.

Ok, who was Betty Wooten?

Betty Wooten

In the 1790 census, the only Wooten in Wilkes County was one Elizabeth, probably called Betty for short, who had no adult men in her household, 1 male under 16, and 5 females. According to the July 29, 1788 administration bond, she was the widow of Lewis Wooten. If her children were all born at 2 year intervals before her husband’s death, and she was his age and married at age 20, Betty would have been about 35 in 1790 when she was beaten.

Betty Wooten lived near the Sebastians, three houses from Jacob McGrady, who lived three houses from Owen Hall, who lived beside Michael McDowell who lived two houses from Andrew Vannoy.

Owen Hall was Michael McDowell’s neighbor and in the 1790 census, he was married with 2 males over 16, 3 under 16 and 4 females. If he had children every 2 years and married at age 25, he would have been about 40 years old.

William Absher was born about 1769 and died in 1842 in Wilkes County, so he would have been 21. The 1790 census reflects that he is married with a child, living beside Frank Vannoy, Andrew Vannoy’s brother.

Honestly, what possessed those men? There is certainly far more to the story. How I would have loved to have been a mouse in that house. All of those houses. What happened in that lawsuit? This had to be perceived as very serious for the state to bring a criminal action. And what exactly does “ill treat” mean? Is it code for something else?

Michael McDowell didn’t serve on a jury for the next 3 years.

Michael Jr.’s son, Michael III

Michael McDowell Jr. had a son, Michael, who we’ll call Michael III (the third). It’s possible that Michael III was the person in trouble in 1790, but not terribly likely – he would probably have been under 20. In 1789, Michael Sr. only pays for 1 poll tax, meaning that his sons were not yet 16. That suggests that Michael III was not born before 1783 although it’s possible that Michael was born as early as 1778. Michael III doesn’t otherwise appear in the records until 1799, signing a document as a witness for his father which would suggest he’s 21 at this time, or born 1778 or earlier. Still, in 1790, Michael III would have been 12 if he were born in 1778, so he’s not likely the preson who beat Betty.

Note here that the Michael who signed the deed signed with an X, but Michael the witness, presumably Michael III, signed his name.

This is an important generational differentiation, because Michael Sr. in Virginia apparently could write, Michael Jr. could not, but Michael III could.

The 1790s in Wilkes County

In the 1790 census, we find Michael McDowell living in Wilkes County among and near people who would also move to Claiborne County, Tennessee just a few years later, specifically the Baker, Herrell and Vannoy families.

Michael McDowell 1790 census Wilkes.png

In 1790, Michael had the following members in his family:

  • Males under 16: 4 (John 1782/3, Michael c1778, Edward 1774 and possibly James c1780)
  • Males over 16: 1 – Michael himself
  • Females: 2, one of which would be his wife and the second would be daughter, Mary born c1787

This tells us that Michael had 3 additional children between 1787 and 1790, 2 sons and a daughter or the 1787 tax list was incomplete – the more likely scenario.

If Michael was born in 1747/1748, he would probably have married at about 25, so roughly 1770-1775. He would have been having children from about 1771 or 1772 to roughly 1793 or perhaps somewhat later, depending on the age of his wife of course.

Therefore, the 1790 census should show all of his children, with the exception of any child born after 1790. It’s very unlikely that any of his children had already left home.

In 1790, Michael had 5 children, assuming that one of the females was his wife.

In 1790, Michael is shown on the tax list with 156.5 acres and 1 poll. Why does he have 156.5 acres this year and from 160-162 acres previously?

In 1791, the Wilkes County tax records are not complete and he is not shown through 1794, so they may be only partial as well.

On July 31, 1792, page 35, the court notes record an order for Michael McDowell to “have leave to rebuild and continue the mill formerly the property of said McDowell.”  Now indeed, this is a curious order. Did the mill wash away? Did it burn by some chance? What happened that he needed to rebuild the mill? So tantalizing and frustrating at the same time! This is the only indication we have of Michael’s occupation other than the lawsuit of 1790 lists the three man as laborers.

Maybe the 1790 Michael was Michael’s son, but I would have expected the suit to say that if it were. The fact that no Sr. or Jr. designation exists suggests that the younger Michael was not of age, so no designation was yet needed.

This court entry also tells us of a major catastrophe in Michael’s life. Given his run-ins with the law, I have to wonder if there wasn’t some form of “neighborhood justice” going on here. Of course, that could also be my overactive imagination, but beating a woman is a pretty severe offense and would garner long-standing animosity from her family.

Mix that with a little alcohol and that’s the perfect recipe for retribution.

From a 1793 deed, we discover Michael’s wife’s name when Michael sold his land in Bedford County. Did Michael sell his property in 1793 to pay the bills while the mill was being rebuilt, to pay for the rebuilding of the mill or to help replace income he would have lost while the mill was out of order? There was no insurance in those days.

It was Pat Bezet that discovered Michael’s wife’s name, Isbell.

I found a sale of property or deed for Michael and Isbell McDowell. Isbell is listed as his wife in Wilkes Co., N.C. The property they are selling is in Franklin County, VA. The timeframe for the sale was 1793. If you look at the forming of the counties, Franklin was formed from Bedford and Henry County in 1785.

On February 16, 1793, Michael McDowell and his wife, Isbell, from Wilkes County, NC sold their 75 acres of land on Blackwater River, which was at that time located in Franklin County, VA after it had been divided from Bedford.

Michael McDowell Blackwater 1793 sale.jpg

Michael and Isbell both signed three times, all three times via a mark. Witnesses included John Abshire, Robert Hall, Jacob McGrady, Edward Abshire and another John Abshire who appears to be different from the first one, differentiated by his ability to sign his name. Jacob McGrady was the local minister.

There’s clearly a connection of some sort with the Abshire family, given that the 1790 record of the assault on Betty Wooten included Owen Hall along with William Abshear as defendants.

This deed confirms that the Michael McDowell from Bedford County is one and the same as the Michael McDowell in Wilkes County. What we don’t know is the reason this land wasn’t sold before Michael moved to Wilkes County. Obviously Michael didn’t need money from the Virginia land to purchase his land in Wilkes.

For some time, I thought that maybe the Michael McDowell in Bedford County was Michael McDowell Sr. If that was the case, then Michael Jr. would only have sold this land after Michael Sr. died. The problem is that the purchase deed in 1783 doesn’t say anything about Michael Sr. or Jr., indicating that there weren’t 2 men in the county by the same name. The 1782 and 1783 tax lists only show one Michael McDowell and we know our Michael was married and having children before this time, having served in the Revolutionary War in 1777 and 1778. He was a married adult and certainly wasn’t living with his father.

While we can’t prove definitively, I suspect that Michael Sr. died in Bedford/Franklin County, VA years before, sometime after 1755 and before 1782, and we can safely say that the land on Blackwater River always belonged to Michael Jr. If Michael Jr. had sold this land as part of an estate, he would have had to share with heirs, and he clearly sold this entire tract himself.

Unfortunately, Michael Sr. simply disappeared after 1755 in Bedford County, apprently never owning land before or after he sold his father’s Maryland land in 1752 out of Halifax County.

In November 1793 in Wilkes County, once again Michael served on a Jury, as he did in May of 1794 and 1795.

In 1793 and 1794, an attorney, Joseph McDowell is recorded in Wilkes County, but he dies in 1802 with no connection to Michael.

In 1795 and 1796, Michael McDowell in Capt. McGrady’s district is shown with 1 poll tax and 160 acres on the tax list adjacent John Abshire and near the preacher Jacob McGrady. Other neighbors include the Vannoys, members of the Shepherd family and others who would intermarry and move to Claiborne County, Tennessee at the same time as Michael McDowell.

At some point, Claiborne County, the next frontier, probably became the topic of local chatter – at the mill, at church, wherever people gathered.

In November of 1796, Michael served again as a jury member.

The 1797 tax list shows Michel with 1 poll and no acres. What happened to his land?

There is no tax list for 1798.

In 1799, Michael McDowell sold land to the preacher, Jacob McGrady. The deed is in very poor shape, but you can make out the words “Mulberry Creek” and Robert Hall’s line. I could not find the acreage listed, so we don’t know if this is all of Michael’s land, or just part.

Michael McDowell 1799 deed to McGrady (2).jpg

The deed is signed by Michael using his mark and then witnessed by a Michael McDowel who can sign, an Edward McDowel who cannot sign and a Robert Hall who cannot.

My guess would be that the reason that Michael had no property tax in 1797 and 1798 is that he had rented the land to Jacob McGrady, who eventually bought the land, but was paying the taxes on the land as part of their rent or lease agreement.

We are left with the question of how, without land, Michael made a living? In 1797, Michael would have been 50 years old.

The same year as his land sale, in 1799, Michael McDowell, in Capt. Gradie’s district (6) is shown with 200 acres and 1 poll. Where did this land come from? Michael’s original land purchase was 161 acres.

On May 3, 1799, the State versus Michael McDowell for tresspass, again. The jury found Michael not guilty, as charged, and order that George Lewis pay the costs. He also served on a jury the same day in lieu of another juror. I’m wondering if it’s because Michael is present in the courtroom and can serve when another juror didn’t show up.

The same day, Michael also files Michael McDowell vs George Lewis: Appeal. The jury is sworn and finds for Michael, his damages 3 pounds 7 pence and costs.

In August of 1799, Michael again serves as a juror.

The 1800 tax list for district 6 is missing but we do have the census that provides us with at least some information.

1800-1810

The 1800 census holds some surprises. For example, it looks like Michael has daughters we don’t know about.

Michael McDowell 1800 census Wilkes.png

1800 Wilkes County NC census, Morgan District – Michael McDowell

  • 1 male over 45 (Michael 53)
  • 2 males 0-10 (Nathan, Luke, William?)
  • 1 female over 45 (wife)
  • 1 female 10-16 (Mary)
  • 2 females 0-10 (unknown daughters)

Based on the 1800 census, Michael’s older sons have already left the nest, but where are they? Perhaps they are workers on someone else’s farm, or they are living someplace with in-laws if they have newly married.

Dec. 12, 1801 – a Wilkes County deed conveyance between Humphrey Cockerham and Abel Sparks on the east fork of Swan Creek is witnessed by a James McDowell, possibly son of Michael McDowell. Who was James McDowell? We don’t see this name again, nor is there “room” on Michael McDowell’s 1787 tax list for another male who would have been of age in 1801, but there is on the 1790 census. James could have been just passing through.

On May 8, 1802, Milley Carter, administrator of the estate of Henry Carter who on May 3, 1799 had a land entry for 40 acres, sued Michael McDowell and David Hickerson. Found for the plaintiff regarding “a piece of land supposed to be the property of Michael McDowel joining Benjamin Sebastian’s land.” Ordered by the court for the sheriff to sell the land. For some reason, Jeffery Johnson, Constable, was mentioned.

On August 4, 1804, suit was filed by Elisha Reynolds versus Allen Robinett and Michael McDowell for debt. Jury finds no payments nor setoffs and awards fir the plaintiff with damages. Of course, we don’t know if this is Michael or his son. Michael does serve on a jury the same day, so I suspect this is the elder Michael.

I get the distinct impression that we may be missing some land transactions.

In Book F-1, a November 12, 1805 deed for that same 156 acres conveyed in 1786 refers to the line of Andrew Vannoy and Michael McDowell again.

A hint about the area where Michael McDowell lived in Wilkes Comes from his neighbor’s land grant. John Herrold’s son, William Herrold/Herrell, would marry Michael’s daughter Mary in 1809.

Land grant entry number 1246 and grant number 2421 for 200 acres for John Herrold states that the land is on the Chinquepon Branch of the Hay Meadow Creek on the waters of Mulberry beginning near the head of the said branch and that it is against Michael McDowell’s line. The survey was entered November 16, 1801 and was actually recorded in Feb 1802. Chainers were John Roads and Michael McDowall.

There is a drawing of the survey but it simply looks like a square and there are no watercourses noted. The name is spelled variously Herrild, Herrald, Herrold. John paid “4 pounds” for this survey in 1804. I find it interesting that they are still using the old English money measures and not dollars.

Finding Michael’s Land

During a visit in 2004, 200 years later, now-deceased cousin George McNiel helped me located John Harrold’s land on Harrold Mountain.

Harrold mountain

Having found John’s land, of course, we’ve also in essence found Michael’s land, or at least the neighborhood, because their land abutted.

Michael McDowell Waddell Drive.png

Harrold Mountain is where Waddell Drive is located today, with the Harrold cemetery on the land originally owned by John Harrold.

harrold-mountain-across-from-zion.jpg

John Harrold’s land abutted Michael McDowell’s, and his son married Michael’s daughter.

Haymeadow Creek, mentioned in John Harrold’s grant, is to the far left, with Harrold Mountain Road crossing it. John’s land was probably larger than the area shown.

Michael McDowell Harrold land.png

The Zion Baptist Church is a very old “primitive Baptist church” where many Harrold family members are buried. It’s likely the church where Michael attended as well, and where Jacob McGrady preached. The remnants of the original log cabin church were located in the woods behind the current church, years ago, according to old-timers in the neighborhood.

Zion Baptist Church

We know beyond a doubt that Michael’s land was on a watercourse, probably Mulberry Creek. His neighbors the Sebastians, as well as John Harrold had land on Mulberry Creek. Andrew Vannoy owned land adjacent Michael, and he lived north of Mulberry Creek.

The court records tell us that Michael had a mill. On the map below, John Herrald’s land and Haymeadow Creek is to the right. Sebastian Road in in yellow. Mulberry Creek is at left with the red arrows. Note the Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church.

Michael McDowell Mulberry and Haywater.png

The Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church is shown with the red arrow, below, so this area is likely Michael McDowell’s, with John Herrald’s land to the right, probably out of view. Michael’s land was probably larger than this view.

Michael McDowell Mulberry Primitive.png

The Mulberry Church wasn’t formed until 1848, but it serves as a good landmark for Mulberry Creek.

Sparta Road runs through a valley that is pretty heavily treed on the right side, so it’s difficult to find a view of the area where Michael would have lived. This would have been the road Michael traveled to access his land, of course, not paved and likely only wide enough for a wagon.

Michael McDowell Mulberry Creek.png

Here we can see Mulberry Creek running alongside the road.

Michael McDowell mountains.png

The Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church would be hidden behind the clump of trees at left, with the mountains in the distance, in the center, probably belonging to Michael.

It would have been difficult to eek a living out of this land. No wonder Michael had a mill someplace on Mulberry Creek. Halls Mills could be the location. On the map below, we can see the locations where the various families lived. Halls Mills is on Mulberry between John Herrald’s land, Vannoy Road and McGrady where Jacob McGrady lived, so it’s a good candidate and we know Michael lived adjacent the Hall family.

Michael McDowell neighbor lands.png

Vannoy Road actually arched further to the north shown by the red arrows.

This is really rough terrain. I was warned NOT to drive Vannoy Road around the mountain between Buckwheat Road and Sparta Road, near McGrady, even in a Jeep.

Michael McDowell Vannoy Road.png

It’s a dirt 2 track with no room for 2 cars and no place to turn around. I was told by the locals that it’s in essence a game of chicken and someone gets to back up. They even avoid this road.

The 1805 tax list shows Mich. McDowell with 1 poll and 233 acres in Capt. Rouseau’s district adjacent a John Findley and beside James Patten *Store. The asterisk is unexplained on the list. Based on later information, this entry appears to be Michael McDowell III.

The same year, another Michael McDowell with 200 acres and no poll is shown in Captain Kilby’s district, listed beside Jacob McGrady and Andrew Vannoy. Edward Dancy is next door, then we find John McDowell with 1 poll and no acres. This second Michael McDowell in Capt. Kilby’s district would be the elder man, Michael Jr., now age 58 and probably with either an old age or an invalid exemption which is why he had no poll tax. There has to be some benefit to all of those aches and pains of old age.

John McDowell is Michael’s son. We know this because on November 5, 1800 in the court notes, we find that Michael McDowell Junior is appointed constable, with William Abshare and Michael McDowell Senior for his securities.

Given that we know there were two Michael McDowells in Wilkes County, an older and a younger, and given that both signed a deed in different capacities in 1799, the Michael involved in these transactions might be either man. However additional information shows us that an 1813 transaction could not have been the elder Michael McDowell Jr., because he was in Claiborne County, TN by that time. Anything involving Michael McDowell from 1810 or later in Wilkes County was not Michael McDowell Jr., because he was gone by then.

Michael McDowell III appears to have lived only in Wilkesboro, not on the mountain where he was raised.

1810 and Beyond in Wilkes County

The Wilkes Co. census in 1810 shows the younger Michael McDowell on page 848 and Jacob McGrady (the preacher who married William Herrell and Mary McDowell in 1809) on 868. In other words, Michael McDowell III does not live near where his father lived.

No older Michael McDowell is present. In 1800 Jacob McGrady is on page 55, Michael is on page 54 and John Herrell Sr. and Jr. are on page 46. They are the only Herrell’s in Wilkes Co. It is spelled Harral. William Herrell/Harrold/Herrald who married Mary McDowell is also missing.

In 1810, Michael McDowell (III) is listed in Wilkesboro itself, not the area on Harrold Mountain where Michael Jr. lived. Michael III is age “to 45” with 4 young children and owning 10 slaves. This is not Michael Jr., but his son who would have been age 30-35, estimating that he had been married 9 or 10 years to have 4 children.

Where is our Michael McDowell? There is no other census listing in the entire US for a Michael McDowell. Keep in mind that the Tennessee and Virginia 1810 census schedules were destroyed.

In the book “The Land of Wilkes” by Johnson Hayes, written in 1962, Hayes mentions in Chapter 10, page 91, under “County officers from the beginning to 1960, among others, Michael McDowell in 1810. This surely must be Michael III, because Michael Jr. has probably already departed for Claiborne County and Michael III has established himself in Wilkesboro.

March 27, 1810 Deed Book G-H – Robert Keeton to Michael McDowell, negro woman named Betty and her child named Sandy

August 27, 1811 – Between James N. Fenely and Michal McDowell…negro man named Charles, age 35. Witness John Finley. Signed James N. Fonely, page 211

These slave transactions hurt my heart. I wonder if a difference in conviction caused Michael McDowell Jr. to leave Wilkes County, apparently with the rest of his sons, daughter and son-in-law, while Michael McDowell III remained behind, purchasing slaves. Their lives clearly followed divergent paths.

Dec. 15, 1811 – Deed Book G-H, NC Grant 1817 John Herrald 200 acres Chinquepin Branch of Haymeadow Creek, the waters of Mulberry, Michael McDowell’s line

December 14, 1811 – NC Grant 2847 William Sebastian, 200 acres waters of Mulberry Creek the south side of Wheatley’s Mountain, near the head of Miny Branch…McDowel’s line

This land would have been surveyed prior to this time, so the references to McDowell’s line would have been historical in nature.

Wheatley family deeds indicate that they owned land near the Reddies River, between the river and the top of the range to the north.

Michael McDowell Wheatley Mountain.png

On this map, we see Sparta road with the red arrow, Mulberry Creek with the purple arrow, Gambill Creek with green and the Reddies River with tan. Sebastian Road is just to the south as is Harrold Mountain.

Based on the various deeds and descriptions, Wheatley Mountain appears to be this piece of heavily forested land.

Michael McDowell Wilkes neighborhood.png

This aerial map of the entire neighborhood takes into consideration everything we know from the various deeds. Vannoy Road is in yellow at left. Michael’s neighbor was Andrew Vannoy.

Vannoy Road intersects with Sparta Road near McGrady and Jacob McGrady bought Michael’s land when he sold.

The Wheatley family owned land between Roaring River and the top of the mountain.  The mustard arrows at right track the West Fork of the Roaring River, with Gambill Creek shown in Green. The Gambills were Michael’s neighbors.

Harrold Mountain, towards the bottom, owned by John Harrold, adjoined Michael’s land on the waters of Mulberry Creek. Mulberry Creek, purple, tracks Sparta Road, red, all the way through the valley.

The grey arrow points to Sebastian Road near Harrold Mountain.

In 1810, we begin to see activity by the younger Michael McDowell, the next generation.

Feb 12, 1812 – Between Michael McDowell and Joseph Baker..$400…negro boy named Seaser, age 9. Witness James Waugh and R. Carson. Signed Michael McDowell, page 377

In both 1810 and 1813 a Michael McDowell purchases more land in Wilkes, including a one-acre lot in the town of Wilkesboro in 1813 (which was established in 1799). We don’t have records of the disposition of this land, but we know it can’t be Michael McDowell Jr., because he is in Lee County, Virginia in 1810.

Moving On to the Next Frontier

Yes, Michael McDowell Jr. moved once again, this time to the next outpost in the westward migration journey – Claiborne County, Tennessee on the Virginia border with Lee County.

MIchael McDowell Ivy to Slanting Misery map.png

Michael’s no spring chicken, and he’s starting over at age 63 in a place that can only be termed inhospitable.

Another chapter closes, and a new one opens. What lies ahead?

A place aptly named Slanting Misery.

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Lineage Societies: Requirements and DNA

I’ve been hesitant to rock this boat, hoping this ship would right itself, but I’ve decided that this vessel needs to be swayed a bit with the hope of providing encouragement and perhaps positive motivation for change.

Based on my ancestors, I qualify to join multiple lineage societies, including both the DAR and the Mayflower Society.

I checked the qualifications for both, and did not apply to the DAR, but did inquire about membership to the Mayflower Association for several reasons:

  • 2020 is the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony, meaning there should be lots going on next year.
  • I descend from Pilgrims; William Brewster, Patience Brewster, William’s wife Mary Brewster, Stephen Hopkins and Gyles Hopkins.
  • I felt that my expertise might be beneficial to the organization, in multiple ways, especially given the upcoming opportunities to recruit new members in 2020.

The first thing I ran into was a brick wall, not an ancestral brick wall, but an organizational one.

Birth Certificates

Lineage societies require your birth certificate.

Birth certificates are the most personal document you will ever have. Birth certificates are utilized for passports and are the premier document, meaning the most highly prized, for identity theft. Once compromised, you can never obtain a different birth certificate. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and have reissued.

Furthermore, you don’t actually need a birth certificate if you have tested the appropriate parent – and I have.

In fact, here’s my predicted relationship to my deceased mother at Family Tree DNA.

Lineage me mother.png

My mother is deceased, so her identity can no longer be compromized. I don’t have any problem providing her birth and death certificates in addition to an obituary that states that I’m her daughter – plus the genetic evidence of course. In fact, I could join the Mayflower DNA Project, and as administrators, they could see that relationship for themselves.

Furthermore, birth certificates are sometimes wrong – very wrong.

When Birth Certificates are Wrong

Birth certificates are wrong or misleading in the following circumstances:

  • People who are adopted and don’t know it
  • People who are adopted and know who their relevant biological parent is but have no access to a birth certificate showing their biological parents
  • People whose parent is not who they believe it is

In some circumstances, the child’s birth certificate isn’t incorrect, but the lineage may be incorrect when people’s ancestors beyond their parents are not the recorded individuals. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded NPE, non-paternal event or not parent expected. You can read more about that here.

Aside from the issues above, there’s the issue of security when storing the birth certificate and privacy associated with the parents named on the birth certificate, especially if they are living.

Security and Privacy

Let’s take the issue of privacy first. Let’s say, for example, that an applicant’s parents weren’t married. The relevant parent is the applicant’s mother, not the father, so the identity of the father (or lack thereof) is irrelevant for lineage society membership.

The father’s privacy is compromised, along with the fact that the society now knows that the applicant’s parents weren’t married at the time the applicant was born. That’s entirely irrelevant to the application, and an invasion of the privacy of all 3 people involved.

Requiring applicants to submit a birth certificate, especially when genetic forms of identification are now readily available, forces the applicant to disclose information not relevant to joining a lineage society.

Frankly, anything beyond confirming an applicant’s connection to the relevant parent is none of anyone’s business.

Second, the applicant has absolutely no idea who is going to have access to their birth certificate in the future, once submitted, where it will be stored and security precautions taken, if any.

When inquiring about birth certificates at the Mayflower Society, I was told then are kept in locked cabinets but would probably be scanned soon.

While I’m sure this was supposed to make me feel better, it struck terror into my heart.

Often, organizations are slow to adopt technology as a whole, and when they do, they often aren’t aware of and don’t utilize safety and security precautions. Organizations owe it to their membership to stay current with security requirements and maintain up-do-date security measures. So, while I was already concerned enough about who has access to the filing cabinet key, I’m terrified about savvy hackers taking blatant advantage of an ill-secured or unsecured computer.

The sad part is that today, this is really a moot point because with DNA, many times we don’t need birth certificates for proof – and the only reason to continue doing what has always been done is ignorance, inertia and resistance to change.

Adoptees

Because birth certificates without genetic evidence are considered as the only accepted proof of a relationship to the applicant’s parents, this means that many adoptees have joined believing they are a linear descendant of the ancestor in question. Legally, they are.

Each organization needs to consider whether they want to honor linear paper descent as membership criteria or whether they are looking for linear biological descent. Or perhaps both.

Today, some adoptees who discover their biological parents would be eligible if they had not been adopted – but they are not eligible for membership because they don’t have a birth certificate with the biological parent’s name as their parent.

This creates an awkward situation, at best.

People who should be able to join, can’t, because of the birth certificate issue. And some people who are not biological descendants can join with no problem.

Is this the intention?

This is not small consideration. According to the University of Oregon, 5 million living people in the US are adopted, with 2-4% of all families having adopted, and 2.5% of children under the age of 18 being adoptees.

Y DNA

The DAR requires direct linear descent from a Revolutionary War Veteran. Like with the Mayflower Society, I won’t provide my birth certificate, so I’m not eligible to join.

The DAR has for many years accepted Y DNA at 37 markers as a portion of proof. According to this document, one close relative of the application must match the Y DNA of a descendant of an already “proven” patriot exactly at 37 markers.

This protocol is flawed in multiple ways.

Let’s say we have 2 men who descend from a common patrilineal ancestor, but we’re not sure which ancestor.

Today the Y DNA of these men matches at some level. STR mutations do not occur on a schedule and the reality of when/how often mutations occur varies widely. It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that in the roughly 9 generations, using a 25-year generation, since that patriot was born, that a marker mutation occurred. That would disqualify the applicant from using DNA evidence.

Conversely, if I’m a male Estes applicant and I want to apply to the DAR based on my descent from George Estes, my Y DNA may match the descendants of George at some level whether or not I’m descended from George or George’s brother, father or uncle. Y DNA really can only disprove a direct paternal relationship, not prove it.

In other words, there’s no or little analysis involved, simply a rule that doesn’t make sense.

Lineage chart

Click to enlarge

Let’s take a look at this example.

George Estes is the patriot, born in 1761. George had 3 brothers, Josiah, Bartlett and Winston.

George’s father, Moses II, had two brothers, John and William, who also had sons.

I’ve shown only one son’s line for both John and William, and I’ve named each man’s descendants the same name as his – for clarity.

John R. Estes, descendant of George was our original tester, and therefore, every other person who applies and submits Y DNA MUST match John R. Estes exactly at 37 markers.

George’s other descendant, George, comes along, but he does not match John R. exactly, having had one mutation someplace in the line between the patriot and George the tester’s birth. Therefore, George the tester’s Y DNA cannot be used – even though he is a descendant of George the patriot.

Based on my experience, it’s more likely that they won’t match at 37 markers, after 8 or 9 generations, than they will. That’s certainly the case in the Estes surname project.

In reality, in colonial families, everyone named their sons after their father, grandfather and often, brothers – so the names in all of these generations are likely to be the same, meaning John, William, George and Moses would likely be sprinkled in each generation of every line – causing confusion when attempting to genealogically connect back to the right Estes ancestor.

We see in our example chart, that by chance, William actually does match John R. exactly at 37 markers, even though George doesn’t. Therefore, if William was trying to use DNA to prove descent from George, even though that’s inaccurate, the Y DNA evidence would be allowed. So would Winston, descendant of George’s brother.

The only three that were accurate, based on the full 37 match rule is John, who does not descend from George, Josiah who was adopted and Bartlett who does descend from the same Estes line, but has too many mutations at that level to be considered a match to John R. Estes at all.

In other words, the only real descendant of the patriot is excluded, where 2 men not descended from the patriot would be included if they thought they descended from George.

Furthermore, one can be descended from George through a daughter and still qualify for DAR membership. If I believed, due to the Estes surname and other evidence, like a mention of a grandchild by name in George’s estate, that I descended from George’s son, but I actually descend through George’s daughter who was not married and gave her child the Estes surname – I would still technically qualify to join but the non-matching Y DNA would disqualify me today.

Another issue is if the original tester had been adopted or descended from a non-Estes male, every future tester would be compared to the wrong Y DNA and while the incorrect Y DNA would continue to be the reference sample for the patriot – even after it could be proven that was inaccurate due to multiple matching tests from multiple sons of George.

Rules without thoughtful analysis simply don’t work well. We know a whole lot more today than when these rules were put in place.

Parental Autosomal DNA is Definitive

Parental autosomal DNA is definitive unless you are dealing with an identical twin.

In addition to the actual match itself, you can see that parents and children match on the entire length of every chromosome.

Lineage parent child chromosome browser.png

Here’s my Mom’s chromosome browser match with me. There is no question that we are parent and child. Furthermore, looking at DNAPainter’s shared cM project tool, we can see that there is no other relationship that has the same match level as a parent/child relationship. My match with my mother is 3384 cM.

Lineage DNAPainter.png

Could someone go to a great deal of trouble to change a siblings name to their name or change their child’s name to their parent’s name to “fake” the identities of the people involved? Yes, they could if they had proper access to all accounts.

However, I can do exactly the same thing with a paper birth certificate, even with a seal.

My DNA test matching my mother, in conjunction with my mother’s birth and death certificates, in addition to her obituary identifying me as a child is about the most definitive evidence you could ever produce – far, far, more reliable than a birth certificate which would state that my mother is my mother even if I’m adopted.

This scenario works for adoptees as well in multiple scenarios, such as full siblings who clearly share both parents. In this case, if the non-adopted sibling is a lineage society member, then based on a DNA match at the full sibling level, the adopted individual should qualify for membership too. This isn’t the only example, just the first one that came to mind.

Thoughtful analysis and understanding of DNA is required.

Distant DNA is Not Black and White

While a parent-child autosomal relationship is evident, other autosomal relationships require analysis by someone experienced with that type of evaluation.

Furthermore, Y DNA can be deceptive as well, because the extent of what Y DNA can tell you is that two men descend from a common ancestor, not which common ancestor, nor how long ago, with very few exceptions. The exception would be when the actual Revolutionary War veteran experienced a SNP mutation that his sons have, but his brothers don’t.

However, no lineage societies that I know of utilize Y DNA SNP or even autosomal DNA evidence – even at the most basic level of parent/child.

With increasingly advanced testing, analysis versus line-in-the-sand rules needs to be implemented.

If lineage societies are going to utilize DNA testing, they need to stay current with technology and utilize best practices of genetic evidence.

Lineage Society Suggestions

Lineage societies need to re-evaluate their goals with applicants’ privacy and security in mind, in addition to how they can utilize genetic and other evidence to replace the existing birth certificate requirement – both in terms of traditional applicants like myself, as well as adoptees.

I have the following suggestions to be implemented as steps in a comprehensive solution:

  • Decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both. Paper trail only, meaning no additional evidence would be considered, would allow membership by children adopted into descendant families, but not children adopted out of descendant families. If genetic descendants are accepted, this allows children adopted out of descendant families to join once the relationship is discovered. If both types of membership are embraced, that avoids the issue of how to handle people who have already joined and subsequently discover they or their ancestors are/were adopted.
  • Determine the course of action when a line discovers that their Y DNA does not match that of the ancestor in question, especially given that the person could still potentially be a linear descendant through a female who gave the child her (the patriot’s) surname.
  • Obsolete the requirement for birth certificates at all when possible. If a DNA test proving a relationship can be substituted in lieu of a birth certificate, accept that as the preferred form of evidence.
  • Obsolete the requirement to physically submit any applicant’s birth certificate. Two individuals viewing a certificate with the relevant parent’s information exposed, and the non-relevant parent obscured, should suffice when no other avenue can be utilized. This eliminates the storage and privacy issues and requirements.
  • Implement a system that records the fact that current members and applicants have submitted a paper birth certificate that includes the parent of interest, then shred the existing birth certificates for anyone living. Without proof of death, this is presumed to be anyone under 100 years of age.
  • Allow additional proofs like parents’ obituaries instead of children’s birth certificates. This can easily be verified using publicly available sources such as Newspapers.com., etc.
  • Utilize Y DNA primarily to eliminate a line, and only when the descendants don’t match at 111 markers or are a completely different base haplogroup, such as haplogroup C versus R. Evaluate Y DNA matches along with other evidence, specifically looking for a mutation trail, if appropriate.
  • Remove the out-of-date requirement for future descendants to be required to match the Y DNA of an already “paper proven” ancestor. Paper can easily be wrong.
  • Revamp the DNA policies and procedures to incorporate qualified analysis. Provide guidelines instead of rules.
  • Retain a competent genetic genealogist to analyze applications that include DNA evidence, understanding that a CG, certified genealogist, certificate has no bearing on or evidence of the competence of that individual in DNA analysis. There is no genetic genealogy certification and many people who consult in the autosomal space are not experienced in the Y and mitochondrial DNA arenas.

The Alternate Future

Many older genealogical organizations are struggling for life. For the Mayflower Society, 2020 is a banner year. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity by not hobbling themselves with out-of-date requirements that are unnecessarily risky to applicants.

Younger people won’t join otherwise. Out of date and unreasonably burdensome membership requirements will cause membership to shrink over time until the organization shrivels and dies, going the way of the dinosaurs.

I would like to join multiple lineage organizations, but that won’t happen until the organizations update their policies to utilize widely and inexpensively available technology, along with associated best practices.

If you’d like to see these suggested changes implemented, and especially if you would be willing to help, make your voices heard to lineage societies, especially if you are already a member.

These organizations play an important role in the preservation of the records and information of our ancestors. I hope they choose to adapt.

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Charles Campbell (c1750-c1825): Unique Y DNA Chips Away at Parental Brick Wall – 52 Ancestors #256

I’ve been struggling for years, decades actually, to identify the father of Charles Campbell of Hawkins County, Tennessee. We’re finally making progress by combining family oral history with traditional records research, Y DNA, and the process of elimination – thanks to a combination of people.

I think you’ll find the twists and turns in this journey interesting. It sure has been enlightening!

Thank Goodness for my Campbell Cousin!

Recently, my Campbell cousin agreed to take a Y DNA test.

He descends from my John Campbell through son William Newton Campbell whose line migrated to Texas. William died in 1908 in Davidson, Oklahoma.

Charles Campbell testers.png

Sadly, both earlier testers from the Charles Campbell line have passed away, so their Y DNA tests can’t be upgraded. My Campbell cousin represented by kit 905207 has been the critical link in what I think might just be a chink in the long-standing brick wall of Charles Campbell.

And if it isn’t THE chink, it’s still chipping away at that wall.

Who Were Charles Campbell’s Parents?

Charles Campbell was in Hawkins County in 1788, in what would become Tennessee in 1796. He may have been in Sullivan County as early as 1783.

The people who settled in this part of eastern Tennessee, and specifically in the neighborhood along Dodson Creek where Charles Campbell owned land and lived most of his life arrived in what is known as the Rockingham migration.

In fact, this 1784 tax list from Rockingham County, VA shows several people who were Charles Campbell’s direct neighbors in Hawkins County, including Michael Roark whose property abutted Charles’. In addition, the Grigsbee (Grigsby) family is found nearby as well as the Kite family whose property is just down the road beside the Louderbacks.

Charles Campbell 1784 Rockingham.png

However, looking on the 1782 tax list for Rockingham County doesn’t show Charles Campbell who was having children as early as 1770, so was assuredly an adult on personal property tax lists, someplace, by 1782, assuming he wasn’t in a wagon on his way to the next frontier.

Note that Lexington, Virginia, now in Rockbridge County, but then in Augusta County, is on the same migration path down the Shenandoah Valley – the only reasonable path from Rockingham County to the area on Dodson Creek just south of Rogersville, Tennessee.

Charles Campbell Rockingham to Rogersville.png

It’s 72 miles from Rockingham to Lexington. You have to go through Rockbridge County, on the main road at that time, to get to east Tennessee from Rockingham County.

We know, from deeds, that Gilbert Campbell lived on the main road, a location at the ferry where travelers would stop to rest, and talk, and discuss the new frontier where land was available for the asking.

This is most likely the path that Charles Campbell traveled in the 1780s. But where did he come from, and who were his parents? Is there any way to make that discovery?

Y DNA Matching

Our Campbell tester matches both of the earlier two descendants of Charles Campbell, as expected, but there’s another person that this group matches as well.

At 111 markers, my cousin matches a descendant of Gilbert Campbell who wrote his will in 1750 and died in 1751 in Rockbridge County, VA.

Charles Campbell match.png

Looking at the Campbell DNA Project, the Campbell men are part of the HUGE group 30, compromised of many, many Campbell descendants. However, look at who kit 81436, a descendant of Charles through son George, matches most closely.

Charles Campbell Gilbert match

Click to enlarge

Yep, Gilbert again.

The Campbell Article

All I can say is that I’m extremely grateful for the Campbell DNA Project at Family Tree DNA, because without this project, and project administrator Kevin Campbell, this brick wall wouldn’t even be threatened.

Kevin along with James A. Campbell wrote an article that was published in the Journal of the Clan Campbell Society (North America) Vol. 43, No. 2, Spring 2016.

To set the stage, two groups of Campbell families settled in Augusta County, VA in the late 1730s as land became available in the Borden tract. Both groups had as their progenitor a man named Duncan Campbell, born in Scotland. No confusion there, right?

One Duncan moved to Ulster County, Ireland and died. His descendants immigrated into Pennsylvania in 1726, then on into Augusta County about 1738, according to the article’s endnotes.

This is the group, shown along the South River where the green arrows point, that our Campbell line matches most closely.

The Tinkling Spring Church, the first formed in the area is shown as well. For many years, the minister baptized children in homes because either a church building didn’t yet exist or was too distant. He baptized Gilbert’s son, Charles, in 1741.

Charles Campbell north and south.png

The second Campbell group, shown in red, settled along the North River in present-day Rockingham County, about 15 miles north of Staunton, then Orange County where we find a description of a deed in 1745. This family’s oral history relates that their ancestor, also Duncan Campbell, never left Scotland before immigrating to the colonies.

The red line is unquestionably not our line.

Gilbert Campbell’s land was located in present day Lexington, further south yet.

In the article, Kevin describes how he determined that the Campbell families of Southwest Virginia, specifically Augusta County, are actually two separate Duncan Campbell lines of Campbell men. This doesn’t mean they are unrelated historically, but it does mean their common ancestor is many generations in the past.

Thankfully, the 2 lines have developed enough mutations over time that patterns exist in both lines that set them apart from each other.

Let me review the relevant portions of the article that are pertinent both geographically and historically, as well as genetically.

This excerpt is indeed exactly how I feel about my Charles Campbell.

“Just looking at land transactions involving Charles Campbell from 1740-1770 in Augusta County and lands just south of Augusta County was disheartening. How many Charles were there? How did they relate? One needed a genealogical chart just to map Charles Campbell.

Who was, or were, Charles Campbell of Augusta County?”

The researcher who said that was Catherine Bushman who reported that there were two Charles Campbells in Augusta County in the 1740s on to past mid-century. One Charles Campbell was found on the North River who held land with Hugh Campbell at Mount Crawford. A second Charles was found on the South Shenandoah River who had multiple, sizeable land holdings. These men lived 20 miles apart.

But neither of these men can be our Charles, because our Charles died about 1825, so he would not have been alive and owning land by 1740.

But still, we have two adult males named Charles who might be the parents or relatives of my Charles. Unfortunately, neither of them appear to live in the green group.

The DNA of the North and South Augusta Campbells

Kevin compared the DNA of several males who are proven to descend from the North and South Augusta County Campbell lines.

On all 10 differentiating markers that form the signatures of the North and South groups, our Charles Campbell men match the South Campbell group, meaning that our Charles Campbell group is more closely related to Duncan Campbell whose descendants lived along the South River – the descendants of “White David” Campbell and his brother Patrick Campbell.

“White David” and Patrick were the sons of John Campbell and Grissel “Grace” Hay, who was reportedly the son of Duncan Campbell and Mary McCoy.

To the best of our knowledge, neither of these families had a Gilbert. Who was Gilbert?

Gilbert Campbell

The descendants of Gilbert Campbell have another defining group of markers that are only found among this group.

Charles Campbell Gilbert markers.png

While all of the testers have tested at marker CDY, only three have tested at markers DYS710 and DYS510. The other two yellow men are deceased, of course, but it’s very likely they would match kit 905207 given their proven line of descent.

The only close Campbell line matches who carry these markers are our three men and the descendant of Gilbert plus an unidentified William born in 1750 in Virginia and died in Alabama. The closest is Gilbert and he’s in the right place at the right time.

So, where did Gilbert Campbell live and what do we know about him?

I reached out to Kevin Campbell again, and he provided what he could. There isn’t much known, but combining what he provided with what I found elsewhere, there is at least something.

Gilbert lived in the right place at the right time, in what is now Lexington, Virginia, located in Rockbridge County.

Gilbert Has a Son, Charles

Perhaps the single most exciting piece of evidence discovered about Gilbert Campbell, in combination with his location, is that he had a son named Charles.

In the book Tinkling Spring, Headwater of Freedom, A Study of the Church and her People 1732-1952 by Howard McKnight Wilson, published in 1954, we discover the following:

Page 73 – The location of this road is shown at strategic points on the original map of Maryland and Virginia made by Colonel Joshua Fry…and Colonel Peter Jefferson…in the year 1751. Leaving Philadelphia, the road went through the present location at Lancaster, PA turned southwest and crossed the Potomac at Williamsferry (now Williamsport, Maryland) and continues south by the present site of Winchester, VA. It kept to the east in the Shenandoah Valley, then down Mill Creek and across North River of the James at Gilbert Campbell’s Ford, and on toward Roanoke, turning southward just west of Tinker’s Creek on the outskirts of the present city of Roanoke.

Page 74 – Orange County, VA court order dated May 23, 1745, the Augusta County people were authorized to make the first improvements upon this road, where it fell within the bounds of the new county. Report of the commissioners is as follows: …Inhabitants between the mountains above Thompson’s Ford and Tinkling Spring do clear the same and the said road continue from Tinkling Spring to Beverley Manor line and that Patrick Campbell, John Buchanan and William Henderson be overseers and that all the inhabitants above Tinkling Spring and Beverley Manor line do clear the same and that the said road continue from Beverley Manor line to Gilbert Campbell’s Ford on the north branch of the James River and…that the road continue from Gilbert Campbell’s Ford to a ford a the Cherry Tree Bottom on the James River…and that a distinct order be given to every gang to clear the same and that it be cleared as it is already blazed and laid off with two notches and a cross…dated April 8, 1745.

Page 471 – Record of Baptisms by Reverend John Craig. Charles Campbell, son of Gilbert Campbell, October 15, 1741, at the house of Gilbert Campbell on the North Branch of the James River.

Woohoooo – look at that!!!

What other records exist for Gilbert and his wife?

In the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia by Lyman Chalkey, Volume 1, page 27, we discover what was surely the high drama soap-opera of the day. Everyone who could possibly attend court would have, and those who couldn’t surely waited anxiously for the sound of hoofbeats upon the road – the first person to return so they could hear what had happened.

Charles Campbell Gilbert 1747.pngCharles Campbell Gilbert 1747 2.png

Of course this begs the question of the identify of Mary Ann Campbell, and was she related to Prudence in some fashion? Unfortunately, Mary Ann is still anonymous, but we do have information on the immediate family members of Gilbert, and she’s not a daughter.

Gilbert Campbell’s Family

The family group sheet provided for Gilbert Campbell by the Clan Campbell Society provides the name of the wife and children of Gilbert. Gilbert’s wife was named Prudence and is reported with a surname spelled both Osran and Puran (Chalkey pages 19 and 22), in Augusta County Court records and elsewhere as Osmun and Ozran. Prudence died before March 16, 1768. The society lists their marriage as having occurred in Pennsylvania, but the source is not mentioned, with information as follows:

Gilbert died before February of 1750 (old date, 1751 new date.)

  • Son James born about 1734 in Ireland, married Elizabeth.
  • Daughter Elizabeth born about 1736 in Ireland, married a Woods.
  • Daughter Prudence born about 1738 in Ireland, married a Hays.
  • Daughter Sarah born about 1740 in Virginia.
  • Son George born October 21, 1740 and died on February 7, 1814, both in Augusta County. Married in 1765 to Agness McClure 1746-1797.
  • Daughter Lettis born in 1743 in Albemarle County married John Woods. (Note that if George was born in Augusta County in 1740, it’s unlikely that Lettis was born in Albemarle.)
  • Charles Campbell born in 1741.

If their date for the birth of Gilbert’s son, James, is accurate, he cannot be the father of our Charles who was born before 1750, based on the dates of the births of his sons. How the society estimated the date of James’ birth is unknown.

Land

In 1742, Gilbert purchased 389 acres of land in the Borden Tract (Forks of the James River, now in Rockbridge County,) from Benjamin Borden for 11 pounds, 13 shillings, and 4 pence. The Crossing of the North Fork of the James (now Murray) River was known as Campbell’s Ferry. Roughly a decade after building his home, Gilbert died. According to Chalkey, persons owning land adjacent to Gilbert’s were John Moore (Chalkley, v3, p263), John Allison (ibid, p. 267-8), Robert Moore (ibit, p. 272) and Joseph Walker (after Gilbert’s death) (ibid, p. 340).

This is interesting because Jane Allison married Robert Campbell, the son of John Campbell and Grissel Hay, in Rockbridge County. Robert wound up in northern Hawkins County, Tennessee and his son James was long believed to be the father of brothers George and John Campbell. I chased this James, and his children for years, and there’s not even a shred of a hint of evidence that he was the father of George and John.

However, there could have been some morsel of truth in that they could have been related.

Gilbert’s Will

The abstract of Gilbert Campbell’s will is found in Lyman Chalkley’s Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia, Vol. 3, p.19., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989.

The original is found in Augusta Co. Court, Will Book No. 1, p. 294. The abstract reads as follows, along with additional information:

Page 294: 29th August, 1750. Gilbert Campbell’s will, of Forks of James River, plantationer

  • Wife, Prudence Campbell, alias Osran
  • Son, George (infant)
  • Son Charles (infant)
  • Daughter, Elizabeth Woods, alias Campbell
  • Son, James
  • Daughter, Prudence Hays
  • Daughter, Sarah Campbell
  • Daughter, Lattice Campbell

Executors, James Trimble, Thomas Stuart and Andrew Hays.

Teste: James Thompson, Robert Allison, Alex. McMullen.

Proved, 26 February, 1750 (current 1751), by Thompson and Allison, and probate granted to Andrew Hays.”

Page 308. — 27th February, 1750-51. Andrew Hays’ bond as executor of Gilbert Campbell, with sureties Charles Hays, James Walker.” (Chalkley, v. 3, p. 20).

Page 372. — 23 May 1751. Gilbert Campbell’s appraisement, by Alex. McMullan, Robert Allison, James Thompson, Andrew Hays. (Chalkley, v. 3, p. 22).

Page 373. — 23rd May 1751. Appraisment of goods left by Gilbert Campbell to his wife, Prudence Campbell, alias Puran. (Chalkley, p. 22)

Will Book No. 2. Page 243. — 17th May 1758. George Campbell’s bond (with Robert McElheny, Robt. Moore) as guardian to Lettice Campbell, orphan of Gilbert Campbell.” (Chalkley, v. 3, page 48.)

Chalkley’s Abstracts, Vol 3, p. 102: Will Book No. 4 includes the following statement: “Page 82. . . 16 March 1768. Prudence Campbell’s proven account. . . “

It’s worth noting that James is not mentioned as an infant, meaning he was born before in 1729 or earlier, so the society’s estimate of 1734 is off by several years, unless they have used age 16 as the definition of “not an infant.”

It’s interesting that no guardians were appointed for George or Charles, or those documents haven’t been preserved/discovered/reported.

While Chalkey provides the extract of Gilbert’s will, in an old Rootsweb list posting, Gilbert’s full will is provided by Tim Campbell.

1750 Page 294: 29th August, 1750. Gilbert Campbell’s will, of Forks of James River, plantationer–Wife, Prudence Osran Campbell, alias Osran; son, George Campbell (infant); son, Charles Campbell (infant); daughter, Elizabeth Campbell Woods, alias Campbell; son, James Campbell; daughter, Prudence Campbell Hays; daughter, Sarah Campbell; daughter, Lattice Campbell. Executors, James Trimble, Thomas Stuart and Andrew Hays. Teste: James Thompson, Robert Allison, Alex. McMuIlen. Proved, 26th February, 1751, by Thompson and Allison, and probate granted to Andrew Hays. Augusta County Will Book 1

A copy of this document in is Tim Campbells’ files. Gilbert Campbell left his plantation to wife Prudence until son George came of age, at which time she was to have half, then when son Charles came of age, she was to have just the house and adjacent field, i.e., the 2 boys were to receive parts of the plantation as they came of age. George was to receive the half “next to the river” and Charles was to receive the other half. Children Elizabeth, James and Prudence were to receive one crown apiece. Charles and George were to pay the other 2 siblings, Sarah and Lattice, 2 pounds each and 20 pounds was to be set aside for their well being out of the plantation.

Land Location

Rockbridge County VA Deed book A page 7, April 7, 1778 – Joseph Walker sells to William Graham 291 acres (then in Botetourt, now Rockbridge County), bounded on north by James River, corner Gilbert Campbell’s and John Moore’s.

The part of Rockbridge where Lexington is located appears to have fall into Botetourt County for about a year.

Using Borden’s land grant map located here, along with an index located here, I have been able to locate Gilbert’s land in what is now Lexington, Virginia adjacent a James Campbell who was possibly/probably Gilbert’s brother. One of James’ tracts adjoined Gilberts and another was close by.

Charles Campbell Rockbridge map.png

On the detailed plat maps, here, that can’t be reproduced, tracts 198 and 184 are adjacent, while 172 is a bit more distant on the bend of the river. By searching for the names of Gilbert’s neighbors listed in deeds, you can see that the Moore, Allison and Campbell families all lived adjacent one-another.

Charles Campbell Gilbert google map.png

Looking at Google maps, it’s easy to overlay the approximation of Gilbert’s land, along with that of James. The James who obtained the 434 acres of land in 1756 could have been Gilbert’s son by either age estimation, but he could also have been a brother, other relative, or unrelated. The James obtaining the 175 acres of land adjacent Gilbert’s land in 1768 could have been brother or son, but is likely related.

Charles Campbell Lexington.png

A Campbell researcher descended from Gilbert’s son George tells us the following:

In my visit to the Rockbridge Co Historical Society last year I learned that the town of Lexington is on Gilbert’s plantation of 389 acres. Washington and Lee Univ. sits on top of the hill where Gilbert’s home was located. Gilbert’s ferry was where the waterfall is crossing the now Maury River (renamed from North River.) Has anyone found the marriage for Gilbert and Prudence??? I found in a book at their public library that Gilbert was quite active in the Presbyterian Church. Does anyone know where in Rockbridge he is buried?

Here’s a closer view of that area.

Charles Campbell Gilbert closeup.png

A very, very interesting aspect of this land is that the trail may not go cold with the death of Gilbert. When Gilbert died in 1751, his will dictated that his land descend to his two sons, George and Charles when they came of age.

Additional Charles Campbell Information.

Charles, the son of Gilbert would have come of age in 1762.

Our Charles had sons John and George in about 1770 and 1772, but it’s not known how many other children he might have had, or his wife’s name.

Aside from the names of his sons, the location of his land and neighbors in Hawkins County, the only other firm piece of information that we have about Charles Campbell is that he died sometime before May 31, 1825 when a survey for neighbor Michael Roark mentions the heirs of Charles Campbell. A court record entry says that a deed of sale was to be recorded by Charles’ heirs, but it was never recorded in the deed book, and his heirs names are never given in any Hawkins County record. Nor did he have a will. So frustrating.

In Rockbridge County, formed in 1777 from parts of Augusta and Botetourt County, we find the following records:

  • 1764 John Campbell committed for abusing Henry Filbrick and disrupting the court. Charles Campbell committed for abusing the court.
  • 1764 Charles Campbell qualified as ensign.
  • Vol. 1 March 19, 1765 – John Moore to Charles Campbell, 230 acres in Borden’s track, corner John Houston’s land, Wit William Mann, Archibald Reaugh, Samuel Downey, Delivered to C. Campbell’s executors March 23, 1827.

Note the date in 1827 when this was actually delivered to Charles’ executors.

When I saw this note indicating that Charles Campbell had died by 1827, I became very excited. Is this the same Charles Campbell who had died in Tennessee? Did he still own land, absentee, in Rockbridge County?

John Moore’s land abutted Gilbert Campbell’s. There could be two different John Moores, but this is likely Charles the son of Gilbert.

1765 Page 46.-14th August, 1765. George Campbell, Agness Campbell, his wife, and Prudence Campbell (widow of Gilbert Campbell), his mother, to Andrew McClure, £130,194 acres in Forks of James and in the fork of Wood’s Creek and North Branch of James; corner Joseph Walker. Teste: Jno. McCampbell, Charles Campbell. Delivered: grantee, September 1770. Deed book 12

This 194 acres is probably George’s part of his father’s estate. Note that Charles signs and a John McCampbell does as well, or McCampbell is actually Campbell. Andrew and William McCampbell had grants north of James Campbell who lives on the bend of the river, west of Gilbert.

Of Gilbert’s 389 acre plantation, this leaves 195 acres remaining, plus Prudence Campbell’s house and field.

1766 – Charles Campbell (Borden’s land) appointed appraiser.

Page 137 – May 20, 1766 – Charles Campbell (Borden’s land) appointed Constable.

Page 138 – Charles Campbell – certificate for hemp.

Vol 2 Page 403 – 1767 Charles Campbell listed on Borden land, also noted as a constable.

In 1768, James Campbell also obtained a certificate for hemp. He is also appointed constable.

We know that Gilbert’s son Charles’ brother was James.

Vol 3 Page 484 – May 24, 1769 John Sproul and Margaret to Alexander Wilson, 250 acres in Borden’s tract, corner Andrew Steel and William Alexander, corner Robert Telford, Robert Lowry. Wit Charles Campbell, Thomas Alexander, Robert Wardlaw

April 27, 1769 Thomas Vance and Jenat to John Campbell. 148 acres on the North Branch of James, corner Mr. Thomas Vance, Wit James Cowan, John Alison, Charles Campbell, John Shields Jr.

Given the mention of John Alison and Charles Campbell, this appears to be near Gilbert’s land. The Allisons lived adjacent Gilbert and also directly across the river. There’s a John Campbell involved. He’s not the son of Gilbert – could be be the son of James?

Page 485 – June 15, 1769 Charles Campbell and Margret to Joseph Walker, 199 acres on Woods Creek in Fork of James River, corner Arthur McClure, Joseph Walker’s line, Robert Moore’s line, Wit James Hall, Joseph Walker, Delivered Joseph Walker June 1783

This has to be Charles, the son of Gilbert. The acreage equals exactly that of his share of Gilbert’s land and the neighbors are the same. Joseph Walker was a neighbor of Gilbert Campbell. This is also the timeframe when a Charles Campbell shows up purchasing land in East Tennessee. Did he sell out to move on? The land was sold in 1769, but never “delivered” until 1783.

Between 1768 and 1771, a chancery suite was in process involving Charles Campbell (trustee) for work to be done at the New Providence Meeting House that involved Wardlaw, Houston, Moore, Walker – all familiar names. This church was founded in 1746 on land purchased by the Kennedy family. John Brown, married to Mary Moore, the “Captive of Abbs Valley,” was the pastor for 42 years, resigning in 1794. This church was about 15 miles north of Lexington.

There is a 1773 suit where John is a son of Charles Campbell, so this Charles cannot be ours because his son John was not born until between 1772 and 1775.

Page 196 – Feb. 17, 1778 – Justice in the new Rockbridge County, Charles Campbell. This is likely Gilbert’s son.

1791 – Rockbridge County, VA Deed Book B, p. 340. 11 October 1791, 270 acres from    Robert Harvey and Martha his wife, heirs-at-law to Benjamin Borden dec’d of Botetourt County, VA to Charles Campbell between said Campbell’s plantation and John McCray’s land, Robert Wardlaw’s line. Signed: Robt. Harvey, Martha Harvey, Teste: William Buchanan, William Wardlaw, Wm. Wardlaw, Alexr. Sproul, Jas. Campbell, Delivered Anniel Rodgers per order of Saml. L. Campbell, one of the exors of sd. Chas. Campbell dec’d 26 March 1827.

This deed has a very similar date as the John Moore to Charles Campbell deed in 1765 that was delivered to Charles’ heirs in 1827. This deed goes further though and references Campbell’s plantation. It doesn’t say anything about Charles heirs being in Tennessee, and if this is our Charles, we know for sure that John and George were living in Claiborne County by then, and Charles Campbell was deceased by sometime in 1825 in Hawkins County. Of course, this land could have been owned absentee for all those years by Charles of Hawkins County.

The following deposition was found in the Rockingham County Circuit Court book, page 122:

Mary Greenlee deposes, 10th November, 1806, she and her husband settled in Borden’s Grant in 1737. Her son John was born 4th October, 1738. She, her husband, her father (Emphraim McDowell, then very aged), and her brother, John McDowell, were on their way to Beverley Manor; camped on Linvel’s Creek (the spring before her brother James had raised a crop on South River in Beverley Manor, above Turk’s, near Wood Gap); there Benj. Borden came to their camp and they conducted him to his grant which he had never seen, for which Borden proposed giving 1,000 acres. They went on to the house of John Lewis, near Staunton, who was a relative of Ephraim McDowell. Relates the Milhollin story. They were the first party of white settlers in Borden’s Grant. In two years there were more than 100 settlers. Borden resided with a Mrs. Hunter, whose daughter afterwards married one Guin, to whom he gave the land whereon they lived. Her brother John was killed about Christmas before her son Samuel (first of the name) was born (he was born April, 174xxx). Benj. Borden, Jr., came into the grant in bad plight and seemed to be not much respected by John McDowell’s wife, whom Benj. afterwards married. Jno. Hart had removed to Beverley Manor some time before deponent moved to Borden’s. Joseph Borden had lived with his brother Benj.; went to school, had the smallpox about time of Benj’s. death. When he was about 18 or 19 he left the grant, very much disliked, and dissatisfied with the treatment of his brother’s wife. Beaty was the first surveyor she knew in Borden’s grant. Borden had been in Williamsburg, and there in a frolic Gov. Gooch’s son-in-law, Needler, has given him his interest in the grant. Borden’s executor, Hardin, offered to her brother James all the unsold land for a bottle of wine to anyone who would pay the quit rents, but James refused it because he feared it would run him into jail. This was shortly after Margaret Borden married Jno. Bowyer. John Moore settled in the grant at an early day, where Charles CAMPBELL now lives. Andrew Moore settled where his grandson William now lives. These were also early settlers, viz: Wm. McCandless, Wm. Sawyers, Rob. Campbell, Saml. Wood, John Mathews, Richd. Woods, John Hays and his son Charles Hays, Saml. Walker, John McCraskey. Alexr. Miller was the first blacksmith in the settlement. One Thomas Taylor married Elizabeth Paxton. Taylor was killed by the falling of a tree shortly after the marriage. Miller removed and his land has been in possession of Telford. Deponent’s daughter Mary was born May, 1745. McMullen was also an early settler; he was a school teacher and had a daughter married. John Hays’s was the first mill in the grant. Quit rents were not exacted for 2 years at the instance of Anderson, a preacher.

Wow, talk about a goldmine of historical information!

Given that in 1806 Charles Campbell seems to be still living near where his father lived, by John Moore, this seems to preclude Gilbert from being the father of our Charles Campbell.

However, our Charles could be the son of the early James Campbell, if James was the brother of Gilbert. It’s also possible that our Charles is a grandson of Gilbert through his son, James, who was apparently of age by 1750 when Gilbert wrote his will.

Rockbridge County Tax Lists

Rockbridge County Tax lists are available in some format from 1778 to 1810, so let’s see if we can find a pattern there.

Tax List Name Additional Info Comment
1778 Charles Campbell 2 tithes
Charles Campbell (possible second entry, according to a different source)
George Campbell 2
1782 A (alpha list) Charles Campbell Esq 1 tithe, 2 slaves, Fanny, Dennis, 9 horses, 30 cattle Alexander, John, Henry, Joseph Sr and Jr. Campbell also Crockets
George Campbell 1 tithe 7 horses 12 cattle
George Campbell 1 tithe 6 horses 17 cattle
1783 George 1-0-0-6-14 Tithes, slaves>16, slaves <16, horses cattle,
George 1-0-0-7-9 Joseph, Joseph, John, Alex with note Dougal, Duncan, Henry Campbell
Charles 1-1-1-7-28 Slaves Jenny, Dinnis
1784 George 1-0-0-6-14 Joseph, Hugh, David,
George 1-0-0-6-11
Charles 1-1-1-9-29 Slaves Fanny, Dennis. Other Campbells incl Alexander, Duncan, Henry
1785 George 0-0-0-5-10 John, Joseph, (both no tithes), Joseph, Hugh, Andrew, Duncan, Alex, David, Robert Campbell
George 1-0-0-3-4
Charles 1-1-1-9-28
1786 Charles 1-1-1-11-26 Slaves Fanny and Dennis, other Campbells include Joseph, John (no tithe), Andrew, Henry, Samuel,
1787A George 0-0-0-3-6 Duncan, Henry, Samuel, Robert (no tithes), Alex no white tithes
Charles 1-2-0-11-30
1787B George 0-0-0-3-18 David, John, Joseph, Joseph, Andrew, Hugh
1788 A George 1-0-0-2 Robert, Duncan, Alex, Henry, Samuel,
Charles Campbell, Esq 2-2-0-10
1788B George 0-0-0-4 Andrew, John, Joseph, David, Hugh
1789A George 1-0-0-2 David, Duncan, Alex, Henry, Samuel
Charles 2-2-0-11
1789B George 0-0-0-3 Hugh, John Jr., Andrew, Robert
1790A George 1-0-0-2 Samuel, Henry, Henry Jr, Duncan, Alex, David,
Capt. Charles Campbell 2-2-0-10
George 1-0-0-2
1790B George 1-0-0-4 Alex, Hugh, John, John, Robert
1791A George 1-0-0-2 David, David, Duncan, Henry, Samuel, Alex
George 1-0-0-2
Capt. Charles 3-2-0-10
1791B George 1-0-0-5 John, John, John

I skipped ahead to 1800 and Charles is still on the tax list. He’s easy to recognize because he seems to be wealthier and has more livestock, not to mention slaves.

Given his presence in Rockbridge County, clearly Gilbert isn’t the father of our Charles. But the name Charles clearly runs in Gilbert’s line too.

What About James Campbell?

It’s worth noting that there is no James Campbell on these early tax lists, at all, so the James who owned land in 1756 and 1768 either died or moved on. Could this James be the father of our Charles?

Depending on his age, it’s certainly possible.

The son of Gilbert named James is probably accounted for by an 1804 deed from James Campbell who lives in Kentucky in the suit John McCleland of Rockbridge County vs James Campbell involving the Hays family.

On the muster list of the year 1742 – on Capt. McDowell’s list – Gilbert Camble and James Camble are listed together, so this James was clearly of age then, meaning he could have been the father of Charles Campbell who would have been born in 1750 or earlier.

I need to work on James, in particular land sales, to see if I can figure out what happened to him.

The James Story

The oral history of James Campbell being the father of John and George Campbell took root years ago with an earlier researcher.

Several years ago, Mary Price sent me information titled “Campbell – Dobkins Connections” which she compiled in the 1960s and 1970s before her mother’s death. Unfortunately, Mary was elderly at the time and only sent me the first few pages, although she meant to send the rest and thought she had. I’m hopeful maybe she sent the entire document to another researcher who will be kind enough to share.

Unfortunately, some of the books in Claiborne County (TN) Clerk’s office that Mary accessed were missing by the time I began researching a generation later, and I fear that much of what she found may have gone with her to the grave.

Mary descended from the same John Campbell that I do. All 3 of John’s sons, Jacob, George Washington and William Newton went to Texas.

  • Jacob Campbell was born in 1801 in Claiborne County, TN, had 5 sons and died in Collin County, Texas in 1879/1880.
  • George Washington Campbell was born in 1813 in Claiborne County, died sometime after 1880 and had at one son, John C., born in 1845. In 1860, he’s in Collin County, TX, along with Mary Price’s relatives, in 1870 in Denton County and in 1880, in Cooke County.
  • William Newton Campbell was born in 1817 in Claiborne County and died in 1908 in Davidson, Tillman County, Oklahoma. In 1870, 1880 and 1900, he lived in Denton County, Texas, He had 5 sons, all born in Tennessee and all died in or near either Tilman County, Oklahoma or Ringgold in Montague County, Texas.

Our Documented Campbell Line, According to Mary

Mary Price starts with John Campbell:

John Campbell was probably born in Shenandoah Co., Va. in the 1770s. In the 1950s a descendant of John Campbell interviewed some of his uncles in Texas who were in their eighties as to the name of John’s father. They all said his name was James Campbell as they were told by their grandparents.

That means the uncles would have been born in the 1870s and were probably second-generation Texans.

There is a James on the 1783 tax list for Shenandoah Co., Va. It is not known if he ever moved to Tennessee. Perhaps he did, to Jefferson Co., Tn., however, we have no proof. We researchers have found that there were new numerous Campbell families – all using the same first names – in almost every county searched.

We have been unable to find a will or an estate settlement for this James Campbell.

Claiborne Co., Tn. was formed in 1801 from parts of Grainger and Hawkins Co. We find our John Campbell serving on the jury in 1803. In 1802 our John purchased land in Claiborne Co., Tn. from Alexander Outlaw. Outlaw lived in Jefferson Co., Tn. and was married to a Campbell lady. This Alexander Outlaw also had dealings with our Jacob Dobkins in Jefferson Co., and also with our Dodsons in Jefferson Co., Tn.

Mary’s family was from Tom, Oklahoma, east of that area, but her grandfather, Lazarus Dobkins Dodson, according to Mary, settled in Texas in the 1880s or 1890s near the Campbell relatives. He married in Denton County in 1899 and died in Cass County in 1964.

Charles Campbell Texas.png

Given the proximity, I’d wager that the Campbell men Mary mentions were the ones in Collin County. Given the people involved, they were at least 3, if not 4 generations removed from John Campbell, and of course, they had never lived in Claiborne County. Their grandparents or great-grandparents moved to Texas.

George and John Campbell’s father appears strongly to be Charles Campbell, not a James. There is no James that fits. But Charles, who lives in the neighbor county, on Dodson Creek, down the road from the Dobkins family, sells land to his sons, John and George, who jointly dispose of that land just before arriving in Claiborne County. In Claiborne, they are both married to Dobkins sisters and live very close to Jacob Dobkins, their father-in-law. Furthermore, I match 45 Dobkins descendants who descend through other children of Jacob Dobkins.

It’s not surprising, several generations removed, that Mary’s relatives remembered the name of John’s father incorrectly, but John’s grandfather may indeed have been James.

It’s worth nothing that the name Gilbert never appears in the children of John or George.

John Campbell has children:

  • Jacob (his wife’s father’s name)
  • Elizabeth (his wife’s sister’s name)
  • Elmira
  • Jane
  • Martha
  • Rutha
  • George Washington (George is his brother’s name)
  • William Newton

George Campbell has children:

  • Dorcas (his wife’s mother’s name)
  • Peggy
  • Jenny (his wife’s sister’s name)
  • Charles (his father’s name)
  • James
  • John (his brother’s name)
  • Elizabeth (his wife’s name)

Back to Mary’s Story

The Campbell family, from which our John Campbell descended were originally from Inverary, Argylishire, connected with the famous Campbell clans of the Highlands of Scotland, and emigrated to Ireland near the close of the reign of Queen Elizabeth in about the year 1600. The Northern portion of Ireland received, in that period, large accessions of Scotch Protestants, who proved to be valuable and useful citizens. Here the Campbells continued to live for several generations until at length, the emigrant and progenitor of our Campbell Clan to America, old John Campbell arrived in 1726 in Donegal, Lancaster, Pennsylvania with 10 or 12 children.

Some of his children had already married and had children of their own. It did not take long for them to start making records. Old John Campbell’s son, Patrick who was born in about 1690 was serving as a constable by 1729.

About 1730, old John Campbell along with 3 of his sons, Patrick among them, removed from Pennsylvania to what was then a part of Orange Co., which later became Augusta Co., in the rich Shenandoah Valley of Va.

This Patrick Campbell became the ancestor of the famous General William Campbell and William brother-in-law and first cousin, Arthur Campbell. These two men were prominent men in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee during the time of our Campbell’s there.

Arthur Campbell (1743-1811) lived just over the Claiborne County, TN border in Middlesboro, KY, with his son James transacting business in Claiborne County. I chased this line for years and it’s not ours.

Our line of Campbell (John) was no doubt close kin to them, but so many John Campbells, that I cannot tie him in or document him for sure.  But I do not have any doubt that this is the clan we descend from.

The Campbell family that eventually migrated to Claiborne County Tennessee is first documented with Dugal Campbell in 1490 in Inverary, Argylershire, Scotland and is the Campbell clan. His son Duncan b 1529 had son Patrick b 1550 who had Hugh b 1580 who had Andrew b 1615 who had son Duncan b 1645 who married Mary McCoy in 1672. Duncan and Mary immigrated to America with their children and grandchildren.

Their oldest son, John was born in Drumboden, near Londonderry, Ireland and married Grissel Hay, but died on the boat to America in 1725. However, they already had children, Robert b 1718 in County Down Ireland, died Dec. 24, 1810 in Carters Valley, Hawkins Valley, Tn, Archibald, Colin, William and Catharine. Some researchers show additional children.

Robert Campbell married Letitia Crockett b 1720/30 d abt 1758 in Prince Edward Co, Va. They had James Campbell b 1745/49 died before May 31 1792 in Carters Valley, Hawkins Co, Tn., Alexander b 1747, Elizabeth b 1751, Catharine b 1753, Anna b 1755, Jane b 1757, Martha b 1757, and Robert b 1761.

James and Letitia Allison, a niece of his father’s second wife Jane Allison, had John Campbell b 1772/75 d Sep 22, 1838, Elizabeth and George b 1770. James was killed by the fall of the limb of a tree while at work stocking a plow at his home in Carter’s Valley, 19 miles from Rogersville, Tn. The widow married William Pallett, settling in Warren Co.

Mary states the informatoin about John Campbell who died in 1838, meaning our John, being the son of James Campbell and Letitia Allison as fact, but it was then and is still unproven. She had found a James Campbell and assigned John to him.

I chased the Robert Campbell family too, relentlessly, for more than a decade – researching on site, finding Robert’s land and several cemeteries but not any sons of the James who died there in Carter Valley in 1792. There’s NO evidence that he’s the father of John. Nothing in the court records for orphans at his death. Nothing at all.

Robert Campbell Carter Valley.jpg

The land in Carter Valley is beautiful, and I was sad that I couldn’t find any evidence since Mary had seemed so sure. It was a beautiful wild goose chase:)

Robert Campbell Carter Valley Cemetery.jpg

It is interesting to note though that Robert Campbell settled for some time in Rockbridge County, married an Allison, and is found on tax lists before moving on to Hawkins County. He probably knew Gilbert and may have been related.

However, there is absolutely no connection found between Robert’s son, James, or his widow and her second husband, to Claiborne County or any John or George Campbell. Believe me, I tried.

Given the name of Allison, and the affiliation of Gilbert Campbell with Allisons and Crockets in Rockbridge County, I’m not entirely convinced the Prince Edward County Campbell’s were terribly far removed from the Rockbridge County Campbells. They may have know they were related and may have been relatively closely related, aunt/uncle, first cousins, even undocumented siblings perhaps.

The name of James Campbell may still be important in our search, because Gilbert Campbell’s brother appears to be James, or at least a James is associated with Gilbert in some way, aside from being his son. A William Campbell lives close by too.

Y DNA would not be able to differentiate between brothers and autosomal DNA is too many generations removed. If we knew the names of James Campbell’s wife, meaning the James who was the probable brother of Gilbert, we might be able to use autosomal DNA to determine a connection with her family.

However, without additional actual documentary evidence, such as information about James, his wife or even a definitive surname for Prudence, we’re mired in the mud.

According to Governor David Campbell

The grandson of “White David” Campbell, to differentiate him from his cousin “Black David” due to his fair coloring, not as a racist designation, became governor of Virginia and thankfully recorded a great deal, in his own handwriting, which has been preserved today at Duke University.

Ken Norfleet, perhaps the preeminent Campbell researcher, quotes David as follows after providing an introduction:

THE ANCESTORS OF JOHN CAMPBELL

I have no documentary evidence which substantiates the existance of any of the early generations of Campbells prior to John Campbell (d. 1741), husband of Grace Hay. Hence, mention of these early Campbells should be carefully qualified. The early generations of Campbells shown in this genealogical report are those cited by Governor David Campbell in a note I found among his papers (see below).

NOTE OF GOVERNOR DAVID CAMPBELL OF VA

Governor David Campbell (1779-1859) of VA was a meticulous researcher and it is mainly due to his work that the story of John Campbell and Grace Hay (parents of White David) and their descendants has survived. Governor Campbell’s papers and other documents are part of the Campbell Papers Collection (about 8,000 documents) located at Duke University, Durham NC. A microfilm copy of the Campbell Papers is located at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. In 1996, while reviewing this microfilm copy, I found the following note, in Governor David Campbell’s handwriting, on microfilm reel number 1 (my comments are in brackets):

“Genealogy – The Campbell Family

“The farthest back the Campbell family can be traced is to Duncan Campbell of Inverary, Scotland, the place where the old Duke of Argyle and most of the Scotch [sic] Campbells lived. It was in the latter part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign that Duncan Campbell moved from Inverary to Ireland. Not long afterwards, in the reign of James First, when he had come to the throne, forfeitures were declared at Ulster in 1612, and Duncan Campbell bought a lease of the forfeited land from one of the English officers. One of his sons, Patrick, bought out the lease and estate in remainder, whereby he acquired the [land in] fee simple. How many other sons Duncan may have had is not known.

“Patrick had a son Hugh, and he a son Andrew. The generations from Andrew to our great-grandfather John [husband of Grace Hay] are not stated. It should be to Duncan, father of John Campbell, [who] emigrated to America with his family in the year 1726 and settled in the Sweet Ara river where Lancaster now stands in Pennsylvania. He [meaning John Campbell, husband of Grace Hay] had six sons, Patrick, John, William, James, Robert and David. Three – to wit – John, William and James were never married. John died in in England having gone there with Lord Boyne and became [his] steward.”

LETTER OF GOVERNOR DAVID CAMPBELL TO LYMAN DRAPER

Governor David Campbell (1779-1859), in a letter to Lyman Draper, dated 12 Dec 1840, had this to say concerning the origin of his branch (White David’s) of the Campbell Clan in America (my comments are in brackets):

” … The Campbell family from which I am descended were originally from Inverary in the Highlands of Scotland – came to Ireland in the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth & thence to America. John Campbell [husband of Grace Hay] my great grandfather and the great grandfather of Gen’l William Campbell of the Revolution came from Ireland with a family of ten or twelve children, leaving behind him only one son, and settled near Lancaster in Pennsylvania in the year 1726. His eldest son Patrick was the grandfather of Gen’l William Campbell. His youngest son David [White David] was the father of Col Arthur Campbell and my grandfather. So that Gen’l Campbell and myself were second cousins. The family remained in Pennsylvania but a few years and then removed to the frontiers of Virginia, in that part which afterwards formed the county of Augusta. Here they lived many years. John Campbell (my father) the eldest son of David and Col Arthur Campbell the second son were born, raised and educated in this county. Gen’l William Campbell was also born, raised and educated here. …” [see Draper Manuscripts, Kings Mountain Papers, 10DD6, pages 1 and 2.]

From my own research, I can place these Campbells in Beverley Manor by 1738 – in that year Patrick Campbell acquired 1546 acres of land in the Manor. John Campbell (husband of Grace Hay) died in about 1741 as his estate was appraised/inventoried in that year. In summary, based on my own research among the records of Orange and Augusta Counties VA, Governor David Campbell’s story of the origins of his family in America appear to be entirely reasonable.

E-MAIL MESSAGE OF DIARMID CAMPBELL RE ANCESTORS OF JOHN CAMPBELL

Date:01 January 1998

” …although a number of people have attempted research in Ireland absolutely no further information has appeared about the ancestry of Duncan Campbell who married Mary McCoy.

“Pilcher states quite clearly at one point in her book that her information on those earlier (likely fictitious generations going back to Inverary) were taken by her from an elderly relation who thought she remembered that information. Pilcher had not intended to publish her book and it might have been better had she not, since the misinformation has misled so many and God knows how many family histories have now been published giving her bogus material as their source. Her later material appears to be more sound, although since she often gives no sources or references (as to where material was found), it means that anyone of the descents of those whom she outlines has to re-do the research.

“I have also thought that there might be some connection between the Drumaboden and the 18th century Virginia Campbells. But none has as yet appeared. Two professional research efforts in Ireland have so far been conducted, one just completed and the other in the ’80s.These were conducted by getting a group of descendants to put up some funds each and were coordinated through the Genealogists of the Clan Campbell Society of the time. While both were helpful in clarifying where no information could be found (so making easier any future research efforts), neither produced any clarification on the ancestry of either family going back from Ireland to Scotland.

“If you want the results of the second research effort you could write to the Society Genealogist, Dr.Ruby G. Campbell PhD, 3310 Fairway Drive, Baton Rouge LA 70809 USA, and ask her to let you know what to send her for the photocopying and mailing costs. But the information is not, I seem to remember, directly concerned with Drumaboden. …

” … There are in fact three sets of Northern Irish Campbells who may or may not be connected: Drumaboden, Duncan and his cousin Dugald Campbell, and the 18th century Virginia Campbells descended from one John Campbell who came over to Pennsylvania at a fairly advanced age in the 1720s or 30s.”

What Does This Mean, Exactly?

You may be wondering right about now what all of this means, to me. You might be wondering why I just didn’t stop when I discovered that Gilbert’s son, Charles never left Rockbridge County.

Clearly, my Charles in Hawkins County can’t be Gilbert’s son – so why didn’t I just throw in the towel and call it a day?

Negative evidence isn’t all bad, even though it’s disappointing when we were hoping for something more.

Let me just say that I’m really grateful that I did the extra research NOW, not in Rockbridge County in 3 weeks, because that’s where I was headed.

To be quite clear, it’s still possible that my Campbell line descends from James, Gilbert’s probable brother or possibly Gilbert’s son, James – although that’s much less likely, given his age. I need to find deed records for the earlire James selling his land to determine what happened to him, and if he can potentially be the father of my Charles.

However, even if we don’t know the identity of Charles Campbell’s father, YET, we know one heck of a lot more now than we did before this exercise, such as:

1 – We know that we don’t match the North River Campbells, and I can disregard those lines.

2 – We know that we DO match the following South River line in some way:

  • Duncan Campbell and Mary Ramsey
  • John Campbell (the immigrant) and unknown wife
  • John Campbell (1645) and Mary McCoy
  • John Campbell (1674) and Grace/Grizel Hay, immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1726. They had 6 sons. John died in England and James in Ireland, leaving Robert and William who never married, along with Patrick and “White David.”

3 – We know that we match Gilbert’s Y DNA more closely than any other lineage,  represented by descendants of the South River group in Augusta County through John and Grace’s sons David and Patrick Campbell.

4 – We have discovered a unique Y DNA “signature” in our line that will assuredly help us unravel future matches – and may lead to another match that is even more revealing.

5 – We have identified a James Campbell to follow. Given the close geographic proximity of James to Gilbert, as well as the “rumor” of James in our line, in addition to the fact that George named a son James – the James who owned land adjacent to and near Gilbert may in fact still be a good candidate. In fact, right now, he’s our best candidate!

I’d love to discover more about that James Campbell and locate a Y DNA descendant to test.

Seeking James Campbell

Do you descend from a James Campbell found in Orange, Augusta or Rockbridge County, Virginia in the 1740s through 1770s? Did he own land on the James River sometimes after 1756 and before 1782?

We know by 1782 that James wasn’t living in Rockbridge County, because he’s absent from the tax lists.

Do you know the name of the wife of the James Campbell who was associated with Gilbert Campbell?

Do you descend from Gilbert Campbell and his wife, Prudence?

If you descend from the Augusta, Rockingham or Rockbridge County Campbells or from the Lancaster County, PA lineage, have you DNA tested?

I’d love to hear from you.

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Disclosure

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 Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Superpower: Your Aunts’ and Uncles’ DNA is Your DNA Too – Maximize Those Matches!

Recently a reader, Ian, dropped me a note suggesting that perhaps not everyone understands the 2-fer value of close family members who DNA test.

That’s “two for the price of one.”

Even just one family member like an aunt or uncle, or a great-aunt or great-uncle is a goldmine.

Here’s why.

sibling matching.png

In the chart above, you, in green, obtained 50% of your DNA from each parent. Each of your parents gave you have of thier autosomal DNA.

Your parent shares approximately 50% of their DNA with their full sibling who is your aunt (or uncle,) shown in yellow.

Full siblings each receive half of their parents’ DNA, just not the same exact half. That’s why you need to test your own siblings if your parents aren’t BOTH available for testing.

You share about 25% of your DNA with any aunt or uncle, shown in yellow. Your 25% shared DNA came from your grandparents.

The Important Part

But here’s the really important part:

  • ALL of the DNA that your aunt or uncle carries is your ancestors’ DNA too – even though you only match your aunt/uncle on 25% of their DNA.
  • ALL OF THEIR DNA IS AS RELEVANT TO YOU AS YOUR OWN!
  • The other 75% of the DNA that they have, and you don’t, was inherited from your grandparents. There’s no place else for your full aunt or uncle to receive DNA.

You can utilize the DNA of a full aunt or uncle JUST LIKE YOU UTILIZE YOUR OWN MATCHES.

The 2-Fer

Here’s the 2-fer.

  1. Anyone you match in common with your aunt or uncle is identified to those grandparents or their ancestors. That’s about 25%.
  2. Anyone that your aunt or uncle matches in common with another family member that you don’t match but where you can identify the common ancestor provides you with information you can’t discover from your own DNA.

Their Matches are “Your Matches” Too – ALL OF THEM

Yes, all of them – even the people you don’t match yourself – because ALL of your aunts or uncles ancestors are your ancestors too.

Think about it this way, if you and your aunt both have 4000 matches (as an example) and you share 25% of those – you’ll be able to assign 1000 people to that parent’s side of your tree through common matches with your aunt.

However, your aunt will have another 3000 matches that you don’t share with her. All 3000 of those matches are equally as relevant to you as your own matches.

This is true even if your parent has tested, because your aunt or uncle inherited DNA from your grandparents that your parent didn’t inherit.

So instead of identifying just 1000 of your matches in common, you get the bonus of an additional 3000 of your aunt’s matches that you don’t have, so 4000 total matches of your own plus all 4000 of hers – 3000 of which are different from yours! That’s a total of 7000 unique matches for you to work with, not just your own 4000!

Your Matches 4000
Aunt’s Matches 4000
Common Matches -1000
Total Unique Matches 7000

Moving Back Another Generation

If you’re lucky enough to have a great-aunt or great-uncle, shown in peach, the same situation applies.

You’ll share about 12.5% of your DNA with them, so you’ll only share about 500 of your 4000 matches, BUT, all 4000 of their matches are in essence your matches too because your great-aunt or great-uncle carries only the DNA of your great-grandparents, giving you 7500 unique matches to work with, using our example numbers.

Every aunt or uncle (or great-aunt or great-uncle) will provide you with some matches that other family members don’t have.

Whatever analysis techniques you use for your own DNA – do exactly the same for them – and test them at or transfer their DNA file to every vendor (with their permission of course) – while you can. Here’s an article about DNA testing and transfer strategies to help you understand available options.

Genetic Gold

Their DNA is every bit as valuable as your own – and probably more so because it represents part of your grandparents and/or great-grandparents DNA that your own parents and/or grandparents didn’t inherit. Without aunts and uncles, that DNA may be lost to you forever.

If your parents or grandparents have multiple living siblings  – test all of them. If they have half-siblings, test them too, although only part of half siblings’ matches will be relevant to you, so you can’t treat them exactly the same as full sibling matches.

While you’re testing, be sure to test their Y and mitochondrial DNA lines at Family Tree DNA, the only company to offer this type of testing, if their Y and mitochondrial DNA is different than your own. If you don’t understand about the different kinds of DNA that can be tested, why you’d want to and inheritance paths, here’s a short article that explains.

You can always test yourself, but once other people have passed away, valuable, irreplaceable genetic information goes with them.

Any DNA information that you can recover from earlier generations is genetic gold.

Who do you have to test?

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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 Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Family Tree DNA Dashboard Gets a New Skin

I signed into an account at FamilyTreeDNA and a surprise was waiting for me. FamilyTreeDNA molted and the dashboard on everyone’s personal page has a new look and feel.

New dashboard

Click to enlarge

The various tests along with results are at the right, and other information including updates, projects and badges are on the left.

New dashboard 2

Click to enlarge

Additional features, tests, tools and family trees are at the bottom.

New dashboard 3

Click to enlarge

Unfortunately, the tree is now at the very bottom – out of sight which means it will be more out of mind than it already is. We need more people to participate in trees, not fewer☹

But there are lots of improvements. Let’s step through each new feature and take a look.

Tutorial

At the very top of the page, under the gear setting at far right, you’ll see several options.

New dashboard tutorial.png

The first option is “View Tutorial” and that’s where I suggest that you start. The quick tutorial shows you how to rearrange your dashboard and how to add Quick Links – two new features.

Rearranging the Furniture

New dashboard rearrange.png

By clicking on “Rearrange Dashboard” you can move the test blocks around.

New dashboard move

Click to enlarge

When you click on “Rearrange,” the boxes appear with dotted lines around them and all you have to do is click on one and pull it where you want, then click to place and release it.

When finished, click on “Exit Rearrange.” This is easy and you can’t hurt anything, so experiment.

Previous Version

Don’t like the new dashboard at all, click on “View Previous Version,” but please don’t do that yet, because I think you’re going to like what comes next.

New dashboard previous.png

Quick Links

New dashboard quick links.png

At upper left, you can add up to 5 Quick Links, one at a time. These would be the functions you access the most.

New dashboard add quick links.png

Let’s see, what do I do most? That’s easy, Family Finder matches, then linking people in my family tree, then Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA matches, then the Big Y Block Tree.

New dashboard quick links 5

Click to enlarge

Now all I have to do is click on one of these links.

Format Changes

Now, all tools are shown full size on the product tabs. Previously, Advanced Matching, the Matrix and the Data Download were located in small print beneath the feature tabs. They’ve been moved up with the rest where they are much more visible and easy to notice.

New dashboard format

Click to enlarge

The Learning Center is shown as well.

Upgrades

Another feature I like is that it’s easy to see at a glance what level of each test you’ve taken. In the upper right corner of each product where there are different levels, the tests you’ve taken are darkened. In the example above, the tester has taken all of the Y DNA tests. If he had not, the Big Y, for example, would be light gray, as illustrated below, and all he would have to do to order an upgrade is to click on the gray Big Y box.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that says “Upgrade” and I’m concerned that clicked on the greyed out box is not intuitive.

One thing you can’t tell is whether or not you’ve taken the original Big Y, the Big Y-500 or the Big Y-700. Perhaps this change will be made soon, because people are upgrading from the Big Y and the Big Y-500 to the Big Y-700. There’s so much more to learn and the Big Y-700 results have branched many trees.

New dashboard upgrade.png

Tests you haven’t taken aren’t obvious unless you actually click on the shopping cart icon. While you can see tests that offer upgrades, such as the Y DNA, if the person hasn’t taken the Family Finder, it’s not obvious anyplace that this test is available for purchase.

I don’ t know about you, but I really WANT people to upgrade to Family Finder if they’ve taken Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA tests, or to Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA if they’ve taken the Family Finder test. I hope Family Tree DNA adds a visible upgrade button that lists available tests for each tester.

Partner Applications

If you click on Partner Applications, you’ll see Geni. Some people mistakenly think that if you connect with Geni, that somehow feeds your tree at Family Tree DNA. To be very clear, IT DOES NOT. You can connect to Geni, but you still need to either build a tree or upload a Gedcom file to Family Tree DNA.

New dashboard partner apps.png

Public Haplotrees

At the bottom of everyone’s pages, you’ll find Public Haplotrees.

New dashboard public haplotrees.png

Clicking on this link takes you to the wonderful Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA haplotrees, complete with country flags and reports.

New dashboard Y haplotree.png

I wrote about how to use the public Y tree here and the public mitochondrial tree here.

MyFamilyTree

You can access your own tree either at the top of the page, or now at the bottom.

New dashboard myTree.png

New dashboard myTree 2

Click to enlarge

I would like to see the tree icon moved to the top where everyone sees it, since trees are integral and important to all three kinds of DNA tests. Everyone needs trees.

Badges

The haplogroup designations, along with any other badges, are much more visible now, shown on the left-hand side of the page.

New dashboard badges.png

Furthermore, the badge says whether or not the testing has been sufficient to confirm the haplogroup, or if it is predicted.

Projects

Just above badges, we find myProjects. I love that the projects are now displayed in such a prominent place. I hope that people will think to join projects, or look to see what’s available now that it’s in the middle of the page and not just as a link in the top banner.

New dashboard projects.png

Clicking on the project name takes you to the public display.

You can also still access projects from the top as well.

New dashboard projects 2.png

Updates

Another aspect of the new interface that I like is myUpdates.

Found at the top left, just below Quick Links, this new communications box provides the latest information from Family Tree DNA to you.

For my account, I see the following:

New dashboard myUpdates.png

New surveys with this update are the Family Ancestry survey, the Y DNA survey and the mtDNA survey. Of course, I don’t have a Y DNA survey because as a female, I don’t have a Y chromsome.

I want to review the surveys in depth, so I’ll be writing an article very shortly – but in the mean time, you need to know that these answers ARE FINAL, meaning that once you submit them, you can never change them. Please be vigilant and accurate, because these surveys are important so that the resulting science is reliable for all customers.

Security and Privacy

On the previous version of the personal page, your personal information, genealogical questions, privacy and security were located just beneath your profile photo.

New dashboard old.png

Not so now. In fact, they are completely obscured in the down arrow under your name at far right, NOT in the gear showing beneath your name.

New dashboard gear.png

Intuitively, I looked under the gear, above, but that’s not the place. It’s another gear. The Account Settings gear that you see drop down by clicking on your name, shown below, is NOT the same gear as you’re seeing above.

New dashboard account settings.png

Yes, I know this is confusing at first, but it’s not when you realize that there are two separate gears and if one doesn’t show the option you’re looking for, just click on the other one.

Click on the “Account Settings” gear by first clicking on your name to access the following information:

  • Account Information: contact information, beneficiary, password
  • Genealogy: surnames, earliest known ancestors
  • Privacy and Sharing: profile, matching preferences, origins, family trees
  • Project Preferences: sharing and authorizations by project
  • Notification Preferences: e-mail notifications by test and for projects

I hope that things like the surnames and earliest known ancestors will be moved to a much more visible location with prompts for people to complete. It was hard enough before to encourage people to complete this information and now the option to access these tabs is entirely invisible.

The earliest known ancestor and surnames are critical to the matches maps, to the EKA (earliest known ancestor) fields in both the Y and mitochondrial DNA displays and to the surname matching for Family Finder matches. Having testers complete this information means a much more meaningful and productive experience for all testers.

These three functions, in particular, are too important to have “out of sight, out of mind.”

Project Administrators

If you are a project administrator or have written instructions for your family or groups of people about to how to manage pages, change account settings, or join projects – you need to review and update your documents.

Group Project Search

A new group project search function has been added at the bottom of the main Family Tree DNA page, if you are not signed in.

New dashboard group projects.png

You can access the page, here.

New dashboard search page.png

I’m not sure that a potential customer will understand that they are supposed to enter a surname to find a project – or the benefits of doing so. I hope this can be changed to add instructions to enter a surname or topic, and add wording to more closely reflect the search function on the main page.

However, most people will still access the surname search in the center of the main Family Tree DNA page where it does say “search surname.”

New dashboard surname search.png

I would also like to see an “ancestor search” added so that people can see if someone with their ancestors has already tested. This would encourage testing.

Summary

In summary, I like these features of the new dashboard:

  • I like the fact that the icons and features are all the same size in the space for that product – like advanced matching , the matrix and the learning center.
  • I like that the dashboard can be rearranged.
  • I like that the projects are showing clearly at left.
  • I like the new myUpdates section.
  • I like the Quick Links.
  • I like the larger, more noticeable badges that tell testers whether their haplogroup is predicted or confirmed. It might be nice to have a popup explaining how testers can confirm a predicted haplogroup and the associated benefits.
  • I like the fact that testers can see at a glance the level of their testing for each product, which also means they can quickly see if an upgrade is available.
  • I like the fact that this version is much more friendly towards handheld devices such as iPads and phones.

Improvements I recommend are:

  • Add the Account Settings back to the main page.
  • Move the trees from the bottom to the top to encourage user participation.
  • Add back the familiar blue upgrade button. People aren’t going to look in the shopping cart for a menu.
  • Add a feature at the top that shows clearly for the 3 main products, Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and Family Finder if one of those 3 has not been ordered and is available for the tester to order.
  • Separate Big Y into Big YBig Y-500 and Big Y-700 buttons, providing Big Y and Big Y-500 testers with an upgrade avenue.
  • Add a popup at the top to encourage people to build a tree or upload a Gedcom file.
  • Add a popup at the top to encourage people to test other family members and to link testers in their tree so that they can enjoy phased matches assigned via matches to maternal and paternal family members.
  • Add a popup at the top to coach people to complete the various functions that enhance the user experience including:
    • Earliest Known Ancestor
    • Surnames
    • Matches Map information
    • Sharing
    • Joining projects

The new features are certainly welcome and a great start.

I hope these improvements are added quickly, because I fear that we lose opportunities every day when people don’t understand or don’t add information initially, then never sign in again.

We need to help testers and family members understand not only THAT they need to provide this information, or that they can upgrade their tests, but WHY that’s important and beneficial.

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