Moments Frozen in Time in Our Collective Memory: The Challenger Explosion – 52 Ancestors #387

On January 28th, 1986, a bright, sunny Florida morning, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing all 7 crew members aboard. Later, we learned that their deaths probably occurred instantaneously or within seconds after the explosion ripped the capsule apart, but we didn’t know that at the time. Thank goodness they didn’t suffer and may have been blessedly unconscious, unaware of what was happening.

In the US, many people still listened to and watched the shuttle launches. This launch, in particular, was more widely viewed because teacher Crista McAuliffe was among the crew members. The launch feed was piped into many classrooms, including to Crista’s own students who had been celebrating and cheering wildly, then fell into stunned silence. shared this image today.

Most people who are old enough to recall remember exactly what they were doing that day.

I was driving on Interstate 96 in Michigan, on the way to the Hewlett Packard office where I worked. I was listening to the launch on the radio, as I did most space launches, given that I was then and remain a space geek. This launch, this time, though, was different.

Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Of course, I couldn’t see the images in the car, but I can still hear the newscaster’s voice and recall vividly where I was on the expressway. I knew I was only about 10 minutes from the office.

I clung to every word along the way. The newscaster didn’t tell us outright that the Challenger had exploded, but simply that there was something wrong, and there had been a “major malfunction,” followed by complete and utter silence. That NEVER happens on air. Never. I turned the radio up, but it was still eerily silent.

After what seemed like the longest minute or two ever, he simply said that the “vehicle had exploded.” We know now that he was listening to mission control and was probaby trying to digest what he was hearing, and weighing exactly what to say, knowing he had to say something.

He spoke dryly in very measured tones of “recovery and contingency procedures,” and then that they had “impact in the water.” You could tell he was well-trained, but the lack of urgency, panic and shock in his voice allowed us to be hopeful that it wasn’t as bad as the situation suggested.

Remember, I was in a vehicle and couldn’t see anything. I was shocked and numb. Tears began to slip down my cheeks, but I couldn’t cry because I had to drive. I needed to get to that television and see what was transpiring. Maybe I was misunderstanding.

I wanted to believe that the capsule had simply fallen into the ocean and the crew would be picked up. Maybe it was just the booster and the capsule itself was alright. Maybe.

This launch had been previously delayed. I already had a bad feeling about it. I wanted to be wrong.

You can view the NASA video here. It’s still very difficult for me to watch.

When I arrived at the office about 10 minutes later, everyone was clustered tightly around the single small television on the premises, in dead silence. Many were crying.

By this time, more commentary had emerged. I have no idea who was speaking, but the explosion and pieces cascading in graceful smokey arched contrails into the ocean was replaying. I was horrified. When I saw all those separate pieces, I realized what we were watching.

I knew that Crista’s parents and children were in the stands watching, along with the families of the other astronauts. Nothing prepares you to watch that, even though everyone knew space travel held inherent risk.

Given that a school teacher was allowed to join the crew, we believed that perhaps space travel had become safter and one day, more civilians would join those ranks.

The difference between this disaster and others is that in an instant, it was burned with a branding iron into the collective consciousness of an entire set of generations.

We witnessed it, then again and again on replay, and it was shockingly horrible. Most of us remember vividly where we were at the time.

Many were confused at first. We didn’t believe or maybe understand what we saw. We were in collective shock. No, no, this couldn’t possibly be real.

Slowly, as the day wore on, our worst fears were realized and we understood that we had witnessed the deaths of 7 incredibly brave people in the clear, blue sky above Cape Kennedy.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

This was never supposed to happen.

High Flight

The poem High Flight was written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. in 1941, but was quickly associated with the Challenger accident when then-President Reagan spoke some of these legendary words to a shocked and grieving nation in his public address to the country in lieu of the previously planned State-of-the-Union. His speech still makes me cry – it was and is incredibly inspirational, as is “High Flight.”

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

“Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

By Tim1965 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

High Flight is carved on the back of the Challenger Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery where the co-mingled cremated remains of the crew were laid to rest that May.

By Jtesla16 – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

For years, I had a copy of High Flight magneted to my filing cabinet, the words brought me comfort, honoring the pioneering spirit of those brave souls, along with others less famous and often forgotten.

Dave’s Departure

Twenty-six years later, on the same day in 2012, about the same time, my brother Dave slipped his bonds of earth too.

Not long before, Dave took this picture through the windshield of his big rig in the mountains someplace out west, probably on his last run. I always think of him, “there,” in that light. I think of them “there” too.

This day and date are forever seared into my memory. Those two events are now forever linked by a common day in terms of grief and disbelief, but also because of bravery, inspiration, admiration and love.

Share Your Memories?

What are your memories of the Challenger explosion? Have you shared them with your family members? Where were you? How did it affect you?


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Sarah Cook (1774/1775-1863), Epitome of Perseverance – 52 Ancestors #386

Sarah Cook was the wife of James Lee Claxton, or Clarkson. That name changed like a chameleon and trust me, those changes caused Sarah massive headaches too.

Much of what we know about Sarah comes from her application for her husband’s War of 1812 pension benefits and bounty land. These applications were quite difficult and fraught with bureaucratic red tape. This process of application and reapplication requiring several affidavits must have been horribly frustrating for Sarah, but it is quite the boon for genealogists, telling us a lot about Sarah and the people in her life.

It’s in those documents that we discover that Sarah’s father’s name is Joel Cook and that she was married on October 10, 1799 (or 1805) in Russell County, Virginia by Justice of the Peace, John Tate.

Ironically, while Sarah gave two different years in which she was married, her marriage month and day remained constant.

I tend to think that 1799 is accurate, in part because three of her children were born before 1805, by which time she and James were living in Claiborne County, TN.

On June 16, 1805 and twice in September, James Claxton appears in the Claiborne County court notes. It’s very unlikely that he married in Russell County on October 10 of that year. It’s equally unlikely that Sarah had three children before marrying James, and moved to another county and state without the benefit of marriage.

They would not have returned to Russell County, a week’s hard journey across the mountains by wagon to be married by the Justice of the Peace there.

In 1810, in Claiborne County, James Claxton bought land from John Hall – 100 acres on the north side of Powell River.

By 1810, Sarah would have had about 6 children. Number 7 was born in 1811, and number 8 was born between 1813 and 1815.

Sadly, Sarah said goodbye to James for the last time on November 13, 1814, as he left to do his patriotic duty and serve his county in the War of 1812. In February of 1815, just days before the end of the war, James died in distant, cold Fort Decatur, hundreds of miles away from home, on the banks of the Tallapoosa River across from the Creek Nation in what would become Alabama in 1819.

James was buried beside the fort in a now-lost grave, probably marked only with a wooden cross at the time, if that. No one other than his fellow soldiers that dug his grave was at his funeral, such as it was. There probably wasn’t much of a funeral, because every minute the men were outside the fort, they were exposed to attack. Not only that, but many men at Fort Decatur were sick, very sick.

Sarah never got to bring James home, never got to bury him, never got to dress and wash his body, never got to weep over his grave, and never got to plant flowers and speak to him in the springtime. James may never have seen his last child who was probably born after he died.

Sarah was left with at least 8 children, and that’s 8 children that we know about. We don’t know how many might have passed away as infants or as children. It would have been terribly unusual for all children born to a woman to live to adulthood.

If Sarah and James were married for 15 and a half years, and had 8 children, that would have meant Sarah had a baby about every 2 years – about normal for a pioneer couple.

I do wonder if Sarah gave birth the last time after James’ death. Perhaps she did, but before she knew that he had died.

Sarah may not have known that James had perished until the rest of the men in his unit made their way home, on foot, after their discharge in May of 1815.

The soldiers from eastern Tennessee marched the 400 miles or so to Fort Decatur, and they would have marched home, much the worse for wear, only half as many as marched to Fort Decatur the previous November. At the rate of 15 miles per day, the sad march home by the bedraggled men would have taken almost a month, about 26 days – only to bear the burden of telling the families of the men who weren’t with them where they were.

I can envision Sarah, holding a baby and the hands of 7 stairstep children as she excitedly waited for James to appear with the rest of the soldiers. She had probably given the children baths and they would have been wearing their best clothes to welcome Daddy back home.

The soldiers must have been excited to be returning home, but horribly saddened and dreaded seeing the hopeful faces of the families of the men who were buried back at Fort Decatur or along the way.

Perhaps it was Tandy Welch who served beside James and was at his deathbed – the man who would one day become Sarah’s son-in-law – that imparted the terrible news.

I have always wondered if somehow Sarah knew. Maybe she had the second-sight, or maybe she just had a “feeling.” Maybe she was hoping against hope, watching the group of soldiers approach, then pass by, one by one, until one of the men she knew walked up to her and put his hands on her arms to steady her.

Untold grief had arrived, and with it, Sarah’s life as she knew it was upended.

Sarah’s Birth

Based on Sarah’s age given on the various petitions she signed related to James Claxton’s military service, she was born in either 1774 or 1775. In 1851, Sarah gave a deposition on March 8th and in that deposition states her age as 76, which means she was born in 1775. Given that the deposition was given the first week of March, there’s a roughly 25% chance Sarah had already had her birthday in 1851. If Sarah’s birthday happened after March 8th, then her birth year would subtract to 1774.

On October 16, 1858, Sarah signed a deposition in which she states that she is 83 years old, which means that she was born about 1775.

In 1853, Sarah gave a deposition on November 29, 1853 and gave her age as 79, indicating that she was born in 1774.  By the end of November, there was only a one in twelve chance that Sarah had NOT yet had her birthday in 1853.

We even have Sarah’s signature along with son, Fairwick.

Given the two bracketing depositions, it’s most likely from these records alone that Sarah was born sometime between March 9, 1774 and November 28, 1774, someplace in Virginia, according to the 1850 census.

While we find it odd today that someone would provide inconsistent information about their age, birth date or marriage year, it was quite common in that place and time to not know your birthday or year. Even today, sometimes I have to think about how old I am and substract to be sure.

Sarah’s Death

Sarah spent the rest of her life after James’ death as a single woman. She was only 40 or so when he died and lived for 48 years as a widow, longer than she lived before James died and three times as long as she was married. She was reported to be 88 years old on December 21, 1863 when she passed away, which would have put her birth firmly in 1775.

According to this paperwork filed in conjunction with James’s pension, Sarah “died very suddenly of no particular disease being recognized,” with Rebecca Wolf and Nancy Eaton in the room with her when she died.

I wish Sarah had a gravestone, but given that she died in the midst of the Civil War, a gravestone probably wasn’t possible.

I’m positive that Sarah is buried in the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery in Hancock County, Tennessee where she lived with her son Fairwick and where he is buried as well.

In the photo above, the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is fenced on the Claxton/Clarkson original land. Sarah is buried here someplace in one of the many unmarked graves.

Sarah’s Records

In contrast with most women of her era, Sarah was quite active in land acquisition.  Some land may have been awarded to her as a result of her husband’s military service, but certainly not all of her land was thanks to James.

First, we find Sarah mentioned in her son’s land survey.

Claiborne County Survey Book 29 – page 693, Claiborne Co. Tn number 28765 March 16, 1826 – Farwix Claxton assignee of JP Shackleford, assignee of Farwix Claxton, assignee of Sarah Claxton – 100 acres granted to Farwix Claxton and his heirs lying in the county aforesaid adj Sarah Claxton on the north side of Powell’s river, crossing a public road, Sarah’s old corner. Surveyed Oct 14, 1826, filed June 4, 1853, chainers Henry Cook and John Plank

Is the Henry Cook who was the chainer significant, given that Sarah was a Cook before marriage?

It’s rather unusual that this survey wasn’t registered until in 1853, but surveys weren’t free and neither was registering deeds.

Did Fairwick and Sarah each have a 100-acre survey?  It would appear so.

On the same day in 1826, Sarah’s own 100 tract was surveyed, but the survey wasn’t entered for another 4 years, probably indicating Sarah didn’t have the money to pay the surveyor and the registration fee, both. This new survey adjoins her “old tract” which was probably the land that James Claxton purchased in 1810.

On August 16, 1826, Sarah had another 30 acres surveyed. In this deed, she is called Sally, which would have been the nickname for Sarah. So, now we know her nickname as well, called such by the surveyor who clearly knew her personally. This parcel too adjoined her “old tract.”

Chainers were often family members, and Henry Cook, found in all 3 of these surveys, may have been related to Sarah. John Plank was the neighbor, and he would surely have wanted to be sure this land was surveyed accurately.

In the 1830 census, Sarah is shown living with 5 people in her household.

  • 1 male 15-20 – unknown, probably Henry Claxton
  • 1 male 30-40 – unknown
  • 1 female 15-20 – probably daughter Martha Patsy
  • 1 female 30-40 – uncertain
  • 1 female 50-60, which would have been Sarah herself

Sarah’s daughter Rebecca had married John Collingsworth in 1829, so they could be the couple age 30-40 living with Sarah, although the dates and ages don’t align exactly.

In 1832, 25 acres was surveyed for Farwix Claxton on the Powell River adjoining his mother’s land. His brother, Henry, was a chain carrier for the surveyor.

A drawing from the Claiborne County survey book dated December 18, 1832 shows the survey for Sarah Claxton’s 30 acres bordering on Henry Clarkson’s and Levi Parks’ grant and on the Montgomery grant. Shadrack Moore and Henry Clarkson were chainers and the land was on the Powell River near 4 Mile Creek.

We are actually quite fortunate, because we know exactly where this bend of the Powell River was located. In fact, it was even called Claxton’s bend, as shown in this 1831 survey.

In 1834, in the Claiborne County Court Notes we find a lawsuit that may have forced the children of James Claxton to sell their land to their mother to protect it from being sold out from under them by court order. Fairwick, it seems, owed a debt.

Hugh Graham vs Fairwick Claxton – Fidelie S. Hurt JP returned with warrant judgement and execution for sum of 38.30 with the following returned endorsements on said execution to wit: There being no goods or chattels of def in my county I have levied this execution of F. Claxton “undivided interest in 100 ac of land on Powels River whereon Sarah Claxton now lives – June 16 1834”.  Order of sale issued.

It appears that the family was right, because they executed the deed of sale in March and the following June, the next court session, the court orders the land to be sold.  However, by this time, the land had already been sold and Fairwix had enough money in hand to pay his debt, if he so chose. However, if he chose not to pay the debt, the land his mother was living on was protected from his creditors. I’m assuming that Fairwix did indeed pay his debt, because we find nothing else in the court records that suggests otherwise.

We are quite fortunate because the resulting 1834 deed lists the children of James Claxton and Sarah, or at least the ones who were adults by this time. I would wager there were some heated discussions about this transaction, and how it would or might occur. I can’t imagine Sarah and her other children being happy about this turn of events.

1834 – Fairview (Fairwick) Claxton to Sarah Claxton, 1834, Book O-233 for $70.00 – original reads March 27th, 1834, between Farwick Clarkson, Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala, John Plank and wife Elizabeth, Levi Parks and wife Susannah, John Collinsworth and wife Rebecca, Jacob Parks and wife Patsy, heirs at law of James Clarkson deceast of the one part and Sarah Clarkson widow of the aforesaid James Clarkson decd of the other part, all of Claiborne Co. Tn. In consideration of:

    • Farwick Clarkson, $70 (signs with a signature – but all of the rest make marks. Fairwick’s wife is not included for some reason.)
    • Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala – $70
    • John Plank and wife Elizabeth – $70 or 20
    • Levi Parks and wife Susannah – $70
    • John Collensworth and wife Rebecca – $20
    • Jacob Parks and wife Patsy “Polly” – $20

To Sarah Clarkson, widow aforesaid, 100 acres, Claiborne on the North side of Powell river where Sarah lives and land that was conveyed to James Clarkson from John Hall of Sumner Co. Tn… beginning at Hobbs line, bank of Powell river. Witnessed by John Riley and Johiel Fugate. Registered Jan. 1, 1841

Sarah’s youngest child, Henry is conspicuously absent from this deed which probably suggests he was still living with Sarah and was yet underage.

Did Sarah have to borrow the money to pay her children? Did the children accept IOUs from their mother in order to convey the land to her?  Did they expect to receive their payment after her death?  Were they angry with their brother, Fairwick, or were there forces at work that we can’t understand from a distance of 179 years?

Because of the surveys, deeds and later generation lawsuits, we know exactly where Sarah’s land is today. Seen here, looking across the fence from the road, we see the old barn in the distance with the fenced cemetery in front of the barn.

This land, beautiful, but oh so rocky would have proved difficult for Sarah to work as a farm. Not to be deterred, she did work that farm, for 48 years after James died, raised her family, and from all indicators, was successful by any measure they had in her lifetime.

In 1839, Sarah was listed on the Claiborne County Tax list with 100 acres of land worth $250. The tax was 12 and a half cents and 30 acres was valued as school land, although I’m not entirely sure what that meant.

Almost everyone had a “school land” amount, and clearly everyone didn’t have a school on their property. Sarah’s entire tax was 12 and a half cents.

In the 1840 census, Sarah Claxton is shown living with one male, age 60-70 and two females aged 60-70.

One of those females would have been Sarah, but I have no idea who the other is. I have only a slight inkling of who the male might be. He might possibly have been John Helloms who we find living with Sarah in 1850.


I hate it when my research starts forest fires of rumors that I can’t later extinguish. More than two decades ago, I discovered that Sarah was living with an elderly Helloms male in the 1850 census and made the mistake of excitedly sharing my discovery with other researchers. It appears that they were excited too, and before long, Sarah’s maiden name was Helloms in countless online trees. Sarah’s maiden name was actually Cook, discovered later, but there is no catching up with a tidal wave of misinformation once it is unleashed.

In 1850, Sarah is age 75, born in Virginia, with one John Helloms, age 70, listed as idiotic, living with her. Both Sarah and John were born in Virginia. Sarah’s grandson through son Fairwick, Samuel Claxton lives next door, probably on the same land and just another house away we find Farwick with his wife, now age 50. The census was taken on December 13th, but was supposed to be taken as of April in that year. In any case, Sarah’s birth year subtracts to be 1775.

This is the record that caused many researchers to infer that Sarah’s middle name was Helloms, and that John Helloms was her brother. Until we discovered Sarah’s birth name given in James’ War of 1812 records, that assumption that John Helloms was probably her brother and she was caring for a family member stood as the conventional wisdom. However, that was incorrect and illustrates quite aptly why one should never draw even tentative conclusions, at least not out loud. Unfortunately, the majority of trees available still show Sarah’s maiden name as Helloms.

Conversely, it’s probably accurate to speculate that Sarah is somehow involved with or related to the Helloms family. In the Claiborne County Court Notes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions 1819 – 1822, on page 106 we find:

May 9, 1820 – Sarah Claxton admitted to administer on all the singular goods and chattels rights and credits of William Hulloms (this is clearly the name) decd who entered into bond with Josiah Ramsey for her security and was qualified as the law directs.

The combination of this record and that of John Hulloms living with Sarah in 1850 was truly convincing that her maiden name was Hulloms or Helloms, but it wasn’t, as sworn to by Sarah herself. However, there is very clearly a connection in some fashion to the Helloms of Hulloms family.

It’s worth noting that there is no Helloms entry in the reconstructed 1790 Virginia census using tax records from the 1780s, as provided by, but there are several Helms.  There is, however, one William Hulloms in Westmoreland County on the 1791 “census.”

There is also a William Hulloms in Ashe County, NC in 1790, although he appears to be fairly young with 3 young children – so he can probably be ruled out – but not positively.

An 1804 tax list for Knox County, TN shows a William Helloms Sr. with 229 acres on Hickery Creek with 1 white poll, along with a John Hellams with 237 acres on Hickery Creek with 2 black polls (but no white polls.)

While these might be red herrings, they may not be. Clearly there is some connection to the Helloms/Hulloms family, by whatever spelling. Sarah was a close enough relative to become administrator of William’s estate and 30 years later we find John Helloms, “idiotic,” living with Sarah.

The Helloms/Hulloms mystery stands to this day.

John Riley

Sarah continued to be involved in the community, and once again, we find her interacting with John Riley.

On August 8, 1855 she is noted as having a receipt for $24.22 in the estate of John L. Riley.

John Riley appears throughout Sarah’s life, including having been at her wedding in Russell County, according to depositions relating to Sarah’s attempts to receive both a pension and bounty land as a result of James’ death during the War of 1812.

The Russell County, Virginia deed abstracts tell us that John Riley lived on Mockason Creek in Russell County, at the foot of Clinch Mountain adjoining the Hustons and Fugates and with James Tate as a neighbor as well. John Tate was the JP that married Sarah Cook and James Claxton/Clarkson.

Members of the Riley family, along with James Claxton and the Fugates migrated together to the Powell River in then Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Riley family was one of the earliest founders in Russell County, information provided by the Riley family history. In other words, the Riley family was already well established in the region, with their first land grant in 1774, long before the Cook family arrived 20 years later in about 1795.

The Last Census

Sarah lived an amazingly long time in an era with little medical care, or at least not as we know medical care today. They didn’t have antibiotics, or assistance during childbirth other than midwives. No matter how skilled they were, fate determined in many cases whether you survived or not.

In the last census where Sarah appears, 1860, she is 85 years old, born in Virginia, and still living in her own household beside son, Fairwick. Living with her we find her grandson, Robert Shiflet, spelled Shifley in the census, along with his wife Sary (Sarah, named for her grandmother) and their daughter Elizabeth.

Sarah’s occupation at age 85? Housework. Not retired. How does a woman ever retire from housework?

It looks like Sarah spent her entire life taking care of a long list of people. Perhaps as she aged, some of those same people helped make her life a little easier. I hope so.

Sarah’s granddaughter, Sarah Claxton Shiflet is shown above. I can’t help but wonderif she looked like her grandmother.

The Civil War

The Civil War in Hancock County was brutal. Families into the late 1900s told stories of hiding their livestock and what little food they had in caves, and finally, secreting themselves there as well.

To begin with, this part of Tennessee was highly divided. Tennessee was the last state to secede and join the Confederacy on July 2, 1861. Most of the men in this part of Hancock County crossed the state line into Virginia, then into Kentucky, under cover of darkness in the night and enlisted with the Union forces. But not all.

Hancock County saw fighting, as did every county in eastern Tennessee. Making the situation even worse, this area was a crossroads for the marauding soldiers of both the north and south, and all soldiers arrived hungry. The area was savaged.

Most of the families in Hancock County did not own slaves. The land was rocky and difficult to farm. I would describe the lifestyle as subsistence living. Most people were too poor to afford slaves, had they been inclined. However, the neighbor, William Harrell owned one slave, a female name Harriet and her son, who, it turned out, was also William Herrell’s son, Cannon.

In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Tazewell, the county seat of neighboring Claiborne County, burning the town in November.

Cumberland Gap, directly north of Tazewell was a strategic military point between the north and the south, and the Gap itself changed hands several times during the war.  Each time, the forces encamped at the Gap didn’t have enough supplies to feed the men, and the soldiers of both sides ravaged the landscape of everything available to eat, leaving the residents with virtually nothing.

Food was scarce and life was incredibly dangerous throughout the Civil War. At least two and probably four of Sarah’s grandchildren died during the Civil War. We don’t know why Sarah died. It could easily have been attributed, at least in part, to the war.

By the time the war ended in 1865, Sarah was gone – having joined James a half-century later in watching over her family from the other side.

Military Records

Poor Sarah. James’ military files were then, and remain, a mess.

After I initially received part of them about 25 years ago, I managed to misplace some. When reordering those same records, they aren’t there. I’m glad I took notes at the time. I wish I had made copies, but that was before scanners.

To begin with, the military recorded his service records as Claxton on the unit’s roster, and Sarah applied as Clarkson. Eventually, they got that straightened out, but the Civil War interfered in that process too.

Sarah did succeed in receiving half of James’ pay for 5 years. She eventually received a 40-acre land grant, which she subsequently had cancelled, persevering to obtained an 80-acre grant instead, claiming she had been short-shifted. Forty acres was awarded to those who served for 30 days and 80 acres was awarded for four months service. Apparently, the powers-that-be agreed that an error had occurred, because Sarah received her 80-acre grant. We don’t know where that land was located, or if she simply sold the grant. By that time, she already had obtained her own land grants in Claiborne, now Hancock, County, TN and I’m sure she wasn’t the least bit interested in moving elsewhere. Sarah would have needed her family to help with the farm, and eventually, probably to help care for her.

For all the headaches this process caused Sarah, it provided wonderful information not available elsewhere.

On May 3, 1861, Sarah signed a Power of Attorney assigning Fairwix, her son, as her attorney to act on her behalf. In most of her documents, in later years, she signed with an X. Note that her surname is spelled as Clarkston. Unfortunately, the surname vacillates between Claxton, Clarkson and Clarkston. Based on Y-DNA matches, it appears to have originally been Claxton , but there is little consistency in James’s records.

This list of pensioners and their payments from Knoxville, TN shows Sarah Clarkson, widow of James, as a pensioner. Unfortunately, this record series is titled U.S., Revolutionary War Pensioners, 1801-1815, 1818-1872, which is clearly incorrect, because he served in the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War.

This record shows that Sarah was restored to the pension list in May of 68, meaning 1868 of course, correcting sheet June 8/69 in the amount of 3.50 per month. James was a Private. Commencement is February 3,1858, and then September 4, 1860.

The columns appear to be March and September of each year, and she is noted with 4 and 2 until in 1861, then 1, and then September of 1863, it looks like she did not receive anything. Sarah died in December of 1863, so it looks like her heirs were finally paid in full in January 1869.

What this summary record doesn’t tell us is that Sarah had been dealing with this in one form or another since 1816, shortly after James’ death. Nor does it hint at the disruption caused for these families by the Civil War. For that, we need to look at Sarah’s various applications beginning in the 1850s.

Benefit Applications

In the 1850’s, Congress passed several acts benefiting military survivors and widows. It was during that period that Sarah Clarkson applied for both James’ pension and bounty land. An act passed on September 28, 1850 provided for the granting of bounty land warrants. We know about the circumstances of James’ death because Sarah applied for both land and his pension.

According to the Treasury Department letter dated Dec. 30, 1853, James Claxton enlisted on November 8, 1814 and died on February 11, 1815. His widow, Sarah, had received a soldier’s half-pay pension of $4 per month under the Act of April 16, 1816 which was to last for 5 years, at that time. This means, of course, that James was paid $8 a month. In other words, he marched 400 miles and died at Fort Decatur for the sum of $24.

Hancock Co, State of Tennessee – On this 8th day of March 1851 personally appeared before me a JP John Riley of Hancock Co., Tn. and John Taylor of Lee Co., Va. who being duly sworn according to law declare that Sarah Clarkson is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. John Brockman in the 4th regiment of East Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Baylis – in the War with Great Britain declared by the United States of the 18th day of June 1812. That said Sarah Clarkson was married to James Clarkson decd in Russell Co. in the St. of Va on the 10th of October 1805 by one John Tate a JP in their presence, that the name of the said Sarah Clarkson before her marriage aforesaid was Sarah Cook, that her husband the said James Clarkson died at Fort Decature on the 20th of Feb. AD 1815 and that she is still a widow, and they swear that they are disinterested witnesses. Signed by both John Riley and John Taylor and witnessed by AM Fletcher. Sworn before William T. Overton JP

There’s John Riley again. A disinterested witness means that they don’t stand to benefit from the statement.

A second sworn statement is given below:

On March 8th, 1851 personally appeared before me Sarah Clarkson aged 76 years a resident of Hancock Co. Tn. who being duly sworn according to law declares that she is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock (number of regiment not recollected) regiment of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Colonel (too light to read) in the war with Great Britain declared June 18th, 1812. That her said husband was drafted at Knoxville Tn. on or about the 13th of November AD 1814 for the term of 6 months and continued in actual service as she is informed and believes in said War for the term of 3 months and 7 days and died at Fort Decatur or near there on or about the 20th of February 1815 as will appear on the muster rolls of his company on account of sickness. She further states that she was married to the said James Clarkson in Russell Co. VA on October 10th 1805 by one John Tate JP and that her name before her marriage was Sarah Cook and that her said husband died at Fort Decatur as aforesaid on the 20th of February AD 1815 and that she is still a widow. She makes this declaration for the purpose of obtaining the bounty land to which she may be entitled under the act passed September 25th, 1850. Witness Fairwick Clarkson (possibly others as the bottom of page is cut off) and she makes her mark.

James Lee Claxton’s death date is given variously as February 11 and February 20, by different sources.

In another statement, Sarah gave her marriage date to James Lee Claxton as October 10, 1799 which meshes better with the births of their children. By 1805, James and Sarah were living on the Powell River in what is now Hancock County, Tennessee, raising a family. Their oldest son, Fairwick (Fairwix, Farwick, Farwix) Claxton/Clarkson, also my ancestor, was born in 1799 or 1800.

A third document tells us a little more about the circumstances of James death.

State of Tennessee, County of Hancock, on the 29th day of August in the year of our Lord 1853, personally appeared before me a JP within and for the county and state aforesaid. Foster Jones and Tandy Welch citizens of said state and county who being duly sworn according to law declare that they were personally acquainted with James Clarkson decd (sometimes called and written Claxton) who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock in the 4th regiment as well as recollected of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Bales in the War with Great Britain declared June 18 1812 and that the said James Clarkson (or Claxton) sickened and died before the expiration of the time for which he engaged to serve in the said war and he belonged to the said company and regiment to which we did and that we each of us have applied under the act of Sept. 28 1850 and obtained land warrants for our service in said war. Tandy Welch and Foster Jones both make their marks, AM Fletcher a witness and Stephen Thompson a witness.

Another statement indicates that both Tandy Welch and Foster Jones swore that they witnessed the death of James Claxton.

Tandy Welch, the man who was at James’ side when he died, five years later, on June 22, 1820, married James’ daughter, Mary. I wonder, did Tandy promise James, on his death bed, to take care of his family?

On November 29, 1853, personally appeared before me Mrs. Sarah Clarkston, a resident of Hancock County aged 79 years…widow of James Clarkson…married about 1799…drew 5 years half pay in 1816…obtained 40 acres of land bounty dated Sept. 22, 1853 number 92928.

One of the absolute best things about these applications is that we actually have Sarah’s signature and it’s not an X.

We also have her son, Fairwick’s signature, as well, in several locations. Now that I see this, the surname looks identical so I wonder if he signed for her. On other documents, she signed with an X.

Sarah filed another deposition in March of 1854, claiming she was entitled to 80 acres instead of 40. The 40-acre grant was canceled (a copy of the canceled certificate is in the pension file) and the 80-acre grant was approved. Sarah also received a widow’s pension of $3.50 per month. However, under the Act of Congress of February 4, 1862 her pension was suspended due to the war with the Confederate States of America. As Tennessee had seceded to join the Confederacy, all pensions payments in the state were stopped. This, combined with the effects of the war itself in Hancock County surely had to be a hardship for Sarah.

After the war had ended, Fairwix Clarkson applied for a restoration and arrears of payment on September 25, 1866. He filed as the administrator of the estate of Sarah Clarkson, who had died on December 21, 1863, at his home on the Jonesville Road. That’s some “Merry Christmas,” especially in combination with the ongoing war.

After the Civil War, on September 24, 1866, to obtain payment, Fairwick, as administrator of Sarah’s estate was required to sign an oath of allegiance, which he gladly did, I’m sure. His son, Samuel Claxton/Clarkson (below) would yet die of injuries and illness he received in the war, enlisted as a union soldier.

Missing Documents

In addition to the information, above, now available at Fold3, I’m missing the following documents:

  • Sarah started receiving James’s half pay amount under the 1816 Act, but I don’t have that 1816 application and associated paperwork. She mentions in later documents that she submitted proof of her marriage in 1816.
  • Anything between 1816 and 1851
  • I do not have the 80-acre bounty land grant, or any information about it.

One of these documents included the statement that her father was Joel Cook.

I paid an on-the-ground researcher to pull these files at the National Archives, and the records mentioned above seem to have been misfiled someplace, probably together. The only saving grace is that I know I didn’t dream it, because the documents we do have refer to earlier, now missing, documents.

James Taylor

In addition to John Riley, another family that Sarah was involved with in early Claiborne County was James Taylor. James, then living in Kentucky, also signed that he was present at her marriage.

Who was James Taylor?

According to an 1816 survey in Russell County, James Taylor’s land shared a property line with Joel Cook, at the mouth of Musick’s spring branch.

92 – August 19, 1816 – James Taylor – 330 ac – part Treasury Warrant 11962 dated May 10, 1782 – on both sides of the north fork of Clinch River – corner to a big survey of Andrew Hebourn – corner to John Wilson – corner to Hebourn, James Madison & Harris Wilson – on the west side of a gap – corner to Joel Cook – at the mouth of Musicks spring branch – corner to Abednego White – corner to Henry Bowen.

Sarah’s Burial

Although no record officially tells us, I’m positive that Sarah is buried right here, in the Claxton cemetery, where the rest of her family is found.

Sarah’s son, Fairwick is buried here, along with his son, Samuel.

Samuel’s name is misspelled for eternity as Saluel. If one couldn’t read, how would they have known? Or did they get such a good “discount” on the stone because of the error that they just decided to leave the name alone? After all, they knew who he was.


This cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is found in Claxton bend on the original Claxton land on what would then have been known as the Jonesville Road. This picture, taken from the road, shows old barn behind the cemetery.

Me, inside the cemetery one VERY hot May day.

My cousin and I were infamously trapped inside the Clarkson Cemetery by an amorous bull who wanted to add us to his harem.

Oh, the things memories are made of.

There are many fieldstone headstones and even more graves entirely unmarked.

Sarah is here someplace.

Sarah’s Life and Times

We know that Sarah endured a great deal in her lifetime, but nothing ever defeated her except the grim reaper himself, and then not until she was 88 years of age. Sarah was the epitome of perseverance and tenacity. Indeed, she persisted.

Her life was incredible. She was a child during the Revolutionary War, lost her husband in the War of 1812 and lived to lose grandchildren in the Civil War, dying herself in the midst of the fighting.

During her lifetime Sarah moved across state lines and lived on the frontier when land on the Powell River was first being settled. She and James were the first settlers on Claxton’s Bend, and their choice of location would inform who their children and grandchildren would marry. There was no one else to marry except your neighbors.  That old adage about the choices of the parents affecting the children into the 7th generation holds true. My children are that 7th generation.

Not long after Sarah and James moved to Claiborne County, Sarah’s father, Joel Cook, sold the family land in Russell County and literally disappeared. It’s speculated that he went to Kentucky, but we really don’t know.

In any event, if the family ties had not already been severed when Sarah moved to Claiborne County, they surely were at that point by simple virtue of geography.

We don’t know if Sarah had any children that died young. We do know she had 8 children that lived between her marriage in October 1799 and James’s death in February of 1815. Four may have been two sets of twins, but twins that survived in that time are rare. It’s more likely that we just don’t know their accurate birth years. Keep in mind that Sarah gave conflicting information herself about the year in which she was married – and she was certainly present and old enough to remember. If she was born in 1774 or 1775, she would have been 14 or 15 when she married in 1799.

Birth and marriage years didn’t seem to matter terribly in that time and place. Close enough was good enough.

Sarah and James had 8 known children:

  • Fairwick born 1799/1800 in Virginia, died Feb. 11, 1874 in Hancock County, TN, the 59th anniversary of his father’s death. He married Agnes Muncy and had 8 children.
  • Mahala born Dec. 7, 1801 in Virginia, died March 1892 in Claiborne Co, TN, married Andrew Hurst, had 10 children.
  • Elizabeth born 1803 in TN, died May 1, 1847 in Claiborne Co., TN, married John Plank, had 11 children.
  • Mary Polly born September 4, 1803, died June 22, 1887 in Hancock Co., TN, married Tandy Welch Sr., had 17 children.
  • Susannah “Sukey” born October 11, 1808, died May 22, 1895 in Iowa, married Levi Parks, had 11 children.
  • Rebecca born December 6, 1808, died September 4, 1880 in Union Co., TN, married John Collingsworth, had 12 children.
  • Martha Patsy “Polly” born September 11, 1811, died December 23, 1898 in Claiborne County, TN, married Jacob J. “Tennessee” Parks, had 9 children.
  • Henry born ? 21, 1815, died August 1838, married Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker, had 3 children.

If Henry was indeed born in 1815, Sarah was pregnant when James marched off to war, and James never saw his son, Henry, who died young himself.

We receive information about Sarah’s children at her death from this 1868 letter detailing her son Fairwix’s attempts to obtain her War of 1812 pension payments that were suspended during the Civil War.

Sarah’s children and grandchildren here are stated as:

  • Fairwix who was loyal and who had 3 sons in the Federal Army. Samuel, Henry Avery and John – two of whom died in the war, and Samuel who died later of illness contracted during the war.
  • Mahala Hurst who left the county long before the war.
  • Polly Welch of Hancock County thoroughly loyal through the Rebellion.
  • Patsy Parks of Claiborne County – she and her family thoroughly loyal.
  • Rebecca Collingsworth of Union County who is reported as disloyal but from personal knowledge can say nothing.
  • Sukey Parks who moved to Iowa many years before the war.
  • Two children of Henry Clarkson deceased who died some 20 years ago named Edward H. and Flora A. Clarkson who were both loyal all during the war.
  • The heirs of Elizabeth Plank who died some 20 years ago and all of whose children were considered loyal.

In 1815, when James died, Sarah was 40 years old, give or take a few months, and she had 8 children at home, or 7 and 1 on the way. The oldest, Fairwick or Fairwix, was 15 or 16. The youngest, Henry, if born yet, was just a baby. It’s certainly possible that Henry was born after James’ death, meaning of course that James left a pregnant wife when he enlisted. James enlisted in November of 1814 and died in February of 1815. Henry’s birth was recorded in 1815. If Sarah became pregnant about the time James left, that tells us that Henry was born sometime before September of 1815. It’s certainly possible that Sarah was pregnant, with 7 children, when she received the devastating news that James had perished.

The younger children would have had no memory of their father.

Life couldn’t have been easy. Later depositions taken regarding the death of Fairwick gave us a glimpse into the drama that took place in these early very-interrelated family families living on the banks of the Powell River. All was not a bed of roses.

The Civil War introduced additional strife and upheaval. The families in this area were horribly divided, a rift that was to last for decades, certainly into the 20th century.  When I first visited Claiborne and Hancock Counties in the 1980s, more than 115 years after the Civil War ended, the families still identified each other by which side their “kin” had fought for in “the War.” While most of the families in this part of Hancock County fought for the Union, that wasn’t universal and almost every family had its share of “disloyal” or traitors. Of course, the definition of traitor depended on your perspective.

The division was still palpable and real in the early 1900s when these families still actively feuded and denied any relation to each other over Civil War alliances.

Sarah’s grandsons and great-grandsons marched off to war. For Sarah, this must have been a horrible déjà vu, a repeat of her James marching off to the War of 1812, never to return. Sure enough, just like James, some didn’t

In Sarah’s lifetime, two of her children died. Henry, her baby, died in August of 1838 and Elizabeth who married John Plank died in 1847.

Sarah’s grandson, James Claxton, son of Fairwick who named him for his father, James, had died by 1845, and Fairwick raised James’ 4 children. Of course, they lived next door to Sarah, so in reality, the entire family raised those children.

One of those boys that Sarah raised, William, died on May 4, 1863, serving the Union, at Camp Dennison, Ohio.

Fairwick lost 2 sons and a son-in-law during the Civil War. The Civil War was cruel to this family.

John Clarkson enlisted for the Union on March 15, 1862 and was killed on March 20, 1863 in Nashville, TN, almost 9 months to the day before Sarah died. John was likely buried near where he fell, so the family never got to bury him or say their goodbyes. For Sarah, a repeat of what happened to her beloved James.

The other two died a few months after Sarah. Perhaps she greeted them on the other side. Henry died February 2, 1864 in Louisville, KY and John Wolfe, Fairwick’s son-in-law and Sarah’s grandson-in-law, died March 16, 1864.

Before Sarah’s death, Fairwick’s other son-in-law, Calvin Wolf, had been captured in Atlanta, Georgia during a battle, also serving the Union, and was held prisoner under utterly horrific conditions at Andersonville Prison for 3 very long years. Sarah died without knowing what happened to this man, or what would become of her granddaughter and her great-grandchildren. Miraculously, somehow Calvin survived.

Sarah’s grandson, Levi Hurst, the son of Mahala Clarkson, shown above, who had married Andrew Hurst, also died in the Civil War. Levi was a Confederate and died September 18-20, 1863 at the Battle of Chickamauga, three months before Sarah’s death.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Sarah to have grandchildren literally fighting each other on both sides of the war.

Mahala’s granddaughter, Charity, appears to have died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 census, or she married and left no trail. Mahala’s son James Hurst married Elizabeth Farmer and we lose track of him as well.

In case you’re keeping track, that’s a total of 2 grandchildren, 2 grandchildren-in-law and 1 great-grandchild killed in the un-Civil war, along with 1 who served three tortuous years as a POW.

Sarah suffered another kind of grief as well – that of departure. Her daughter, Susannah married Levi Parks about 1824. Sarah witnessed the births of 11 grandchildren, born to Susannah. The last arrival, a baby girl joined the family in 1848, just before Susannah and Levi would sell their belongings, hitch up a wagon, and head for David County, Iowa. That sweet baby girl born in 1848 would die in 1850, the first member of that family to be buried in Iowa soil. Departure was, in those days, a form of death – because Sarah and Susannah, mother and daughter, both very clearly knew that their departure was a final goodbye and they would not be reunited until after their deaths.

So, Sarah grieved the absence of Susannah and all 11 of her children, and then the death of the baby. That bad news would have arrived by letter, if Sarah ever knew at all. It’s somehow ironic that I can discover more today about what happened to Sarah’s children who moved away than Sarah could in her own lifetime.

We know less about what happened to the rest of Sarah’s children and grandchildren, but it stands to reason that those families were negatively affected by the war as well.

Sarah Cook and James Lee Claxton had 8 children and 91 grandchildren. Sarah wouldn’t have known all of her grandchildren, because daughter Susannah Parks moved to Iowa in the 1840s and Rebecca moved to Union County, TN. Two other daughters, Patsy and Mahala were living close by in neighboring Claiborne County, so Sarah probably saw them from time to time.

Mary who married Tandy Welch (cabin shown above) and their family lived close, as did Fairwick of course, who lived next door, and several of his children.

Henry, Sarah’s son, had lived just down the road, before his death, near the Edward Walker cabin, above, where his wife, Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker had lived with the Edward Walker family.

After Henry’s death, Henry’s widow, Martha, married William Claxton, son of Fairwick and moved to neighboring Claiborne County where they became estranged from the Claxton family. I told you there was drama!

Sarah said premature goodbyes to a lot of family members in her lifetime, if she got to say goodbye at all. Aside from her parents, Sarah lost her husband, several children and grandchildren to early deaths and warfare.

She was one of very few people who saw three monumental wars in her lifetime.

Sarah’s life was anything but easy and pain-free, yet, she persevered, a testament to fortitude.

Sarah’s Mitochondrial DNA

I was fortunate enough to connect with a cousin who descends from Sarah Cook Claxton through all females. I am ever so grateful to her for testing her mitochondrial DNA.

Several of her matches have taken the full sequence test, the test needed to obtain the full haplogroup designation, which allows us to narrow the scope of the geography where Sarah’s ancestors may have been found.

Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup H100, meaning she is the 100th branch named in haplogroup H.

On the FamilyTreeDNA  haplogroup tree, you can see that H100 is a branch of H.

Haplogroup H100 is found in the FamilyTreeDNA  database in Ireland, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, the US and Scotland. Saudi Arabia? That’s unusual.

Our tester who descends from Sarah shows exact full sequence matches to four people, none of whom have entered their most distant ancestor information, and only one has provided a tree. Their ancestor is first found in Ohio in the 1800s.

Sarah’s descendant is fortunate to have 7 additional mutations that, along with her four exact matches, will likely form a new haplogroup together when the new mitotree is released. That should also provide a time estimate for a common ancestor which will help everyone immensely.

Sarah inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother whose name was Alsy, probably short for Alice.

Alsy was born sometime around 1750, probably in Virginia. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll have mitochondrial DNA matches to Virginia families. Then, Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA, combined with genealogy records and autosomal matches will help us break down that next brick wall.


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Happy Whatever Kind of Holidays You Celebrate

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing this holiday season, I wish you light, much joy and cheer.

Perhaps your heart is singing because you’re with family you haven’t seen in three years now.

Or, maybe you’re making new memories, with new friends, someplace different.

Or perhaps you flew the coop and you’re not “staying home” at all.

Maybe you’re not visiting someone else either.

Perhaps you’re gathering someplace new, making memories you never imagined possible, penning a brand-spanking-new chapter.

Far, far from home.

Maybe the old surroundings were just too painful.

Because a loved one slipped away. Remember them as their most beautiful selves – inside and out.

Take them with you in your soul. They are part of you and your new journey, guiding and protecting you along the way.

Life has changed a lot in the past few years, months and even weeks. There is more than one kind of death.

Maybe your life is in complete disarray, down to bare bones and seriously “under construction.” Nothing in its place or where it belongs, wherever that might be.

Maybe you feel like this chapter will never end.

I’m so with you on this one, but sooner-or-later, it will. Perhaps one day, you will even laugh at this adventure, “the good old days,” once it’s a distant memory of course.

Maybe you feel like you just can’t face tomorrow, or don’t want to. I’ve had those “I just want to stay in bed” days recently.

Too many of them.

But then, I glance up and I’m reminded of the simple beauty there just for the viewing. An envoy sent by Mother Nature.

Hi baby!

I’m holding you in the light and wishing you warm and sunny days. Basking in beauty

The fog and grey does lift and gives way to the glorious sunshine.

Sometimes sunshine is delivered in the form of a flower.

Or a few.

Or “furever” puppy love when you’ve rescued someone in desperate, life-threatening need.

Morning comes, even from the longest and darkest of nights. Just ask Savoy. He may be blind and can only use three legs now, but he feels love deeply and says that love and friendship arrives when you’ve given up and least expect it – in surprise packages.

Like, you, for instance.

Lighting the way for another illuminates the path for you too.

Sometimes small things are the biggest and mean so much – arriving just when you need them.

Sometimes the past just has to stay there. Cut those binding anchor ropes and float free.

Perhaps you need to light up your life with something new. Someplace new.

Dive right in and keep moving forward.

I know it sounds like a bird-brained idea, but let your imagination take flight.

May you embark on a grand new adventure.

And perhaps gain a new and different perspective along the way.

Sometimes, releasing, giving away, downsizing and beginning anew is actually gaining, not reducing.

Perspectives change. Maybe your “things” are seeds for another.

May your waters be calm, and your smiles reflect glorious happiness.

May new memories weave their way into the fiber of the old as you paddle your way through life’s currents.

May you decorate your life in unconventional ways.

Even if the familiar is completely gone. Sometimes we just have to seize the moment and redecorate our own lives.

Take a deep breath. Refresh and renew.

If old traditions are painful, leave them behind and make a new one.

Even if you need to be incognito.

Don’t displace your sense of humor😊

Wherever life has taken you, and wherever you find yourself, I wish you safe journey, safe harbour and smiles as you savor the path along the way.

Even if the trip has has been long and you’ve had to wait awhile.

Don’t worry though, because I’m sure Santa can always find you.

May your ancestors visit or at least send a message, share their wisdom and sustain you this holiday season.

And maybe, if you’ve been very, VERY good, they’ll even tell you who their parents were!


Oh wait, wait – sorry – I think maybe Santa drifted off and fell asleep again.

Their names are John Smith and Mary, last name unknown, but probably Jones, at least I think that’s what it says. There you go!


Your ancestors, John and Mary, followed their path, from who-knows-where to some county where all the records burned.

For all we don’t know about them, we know that eventually, they begat the people who begat the people who begat you. All those tiny, seemingly unimportant choices made a HUGE difference.

You descend from a long line of dreamers and adventurers, on that journey of life through the land called Unknown.

May your life be blessed so that you, in turn, can make a difference. Opportunities exist at nearly every turn.

Light a candle. Change the darkness.

Fulfillment isn’t about what we get, but what we have the privilege to contribute, the differences we make in the lives of others.

When you have taken that final step on your winding and uncertain path and are ready to walk on, may you look back upon your footprints and reflect upon a very long and cluttered trail, strewn with all of differences that you made.

Happy Holidays

Estes Ancestors to 1495, Plus Wives – 52 Ancestors #385

I’ve been asked several times to compile a list of all of my Estes lineage articles in one place.

I’ve created a table below, and I will update with links as I write additional articles or expand the lineage, although I suspect we are at the end of the Estes line at 1495.

I’ve also included the wife or partner that I descend through for each ancestor, when known. I will create a separate lineage document beginning with the wife as the first person in her family line.

Think of these as chapters in my Estes lineage book! I hope some of these people are your ancestors too, and if not, I encourage you to write your ancestors’ stories.

Ancestor Article My Ancestral Spouse
William Sterling Estes (1901 or 1902-1963) Searching for Ilo’s Son – 52 Ancestors #1 Barbara Ferverda (1922-2006)
Finding Ilo’s Son, Lee Devine – 52 Ancestors #3
William Sterling Estes – The Missing Years – 52 Ancestors #5
April Fool Meltdown Thanks to William Sterling Estes, 52 Ancestors #154
WWI – 100 Years Ago – Thou Art Gone, 52 Ancestors #155
Unwelcome Discoveries and Light at the End of the Tunnel, 52 Ancestors #156
On This Day – What Were Your Ancestors Doing? – 51 Ancestors #170
Suicide – 52 Ancestors #197
Eleven “Soldier Boy” Love Letters from the Lost Summer of 1919 – 52 Ancestors #205
William Sterling Estes and the Backwards Tombstone, 52 Ancestors #209
Aunt Margaret’s Bombshell Letter – 52 Ancestors #210
William Sterling Estes’ Court Martial and Escape: 3 Wives and 4 Aliases – 52 Ancestors #217
Edna Estes Miller (1920-1990), Sister: Once Found, Twice Lost – 52 Ancestors #361
Seriously, Addie Browning (1909-1996) is NOT my Father’s Wife – 52 Ancestors #365
William George Estes (1873-1971) William George Estes (1873-1971), You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, 52 Ancestors #53 Ollie Bolton (1874-1955) Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
My Crazy Estes Aunts – 52 Ancestors #2
Unraveling the Odd Fellows Lodge Meeting in Claiborne County, Tennessee – 52 Ancestors #343
MyHeritage New Photo Enhancer – Seeing Family Faces for the First Time
Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) Lazarus Estes (1845-1918), Huckster and Gravestone Carver, 52 Ancestors #59 Elizabeth Vannoy (1847-1918)
John Y. Estes (1818-1895) John Y Estes (1818-1895), Civil War Soldier, Walked to Texas, Twice, 52 Ancestors #64 Martha Rutha Dodson (1820-1903)
John Estes Goes to Jail – 52 Ancestors #265
John R. Estes (1787-1885) John R. Estes, War of 1812 Veteran (1787-1885), 52 Ancestors #62 Nancy Ann Moore (c1785-1860/1870) 
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
George Estes (1763-1859) George Estes (1763-1859), Three Times Revolutionary War Veteran, 52 Ancestors #66 Mary Younger (c1766-1820/1830)
Moses Estes (1742-1813) Moses Estes (c1742-1813), Distiller of Fine Brandy and Cyder, 52 Ancestors #72 Luremia Combs (c1740-c1820) 
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available 1
Moses Estes (1711-1787) Finding Moses Estes (1711-1787), 52 Ancestors #69 Elizabeth “probably not Webb” Estes (1715/1720-1772/1782), Wife of Moses, 52 Ancestors #86 *2
Abraham Estes (1647-1721) Abraham Estes, (c 1647-1720), The Immigrant, 52 Ancestors #35 Barbara “Not Brock” Estes (c1670-1721), Abraham’s Wife, 52 Ancestors #70  Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
Sylvester Estes (1596-1647) Visiting Deal, Kent, UK – The Estes Homelands Ellen Martin (c1600-1649)  Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
Deal and Deal Castle – Kent, England
Sylvester Estes (1596-c1647), Sometimes Churchwarden, 52 Ancestors #31
Robert Eastes (Eastye) (1555-1616) Robert Eastes (1555-1616), Householder of Ringwould, 52 Ancestors #30 Anne Woodward (1571-1630)
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
St. Nicholas Church at Shoulden and St Leonard’s at Deal
Sylvester Estes (Eastes, Eastye) (1522-1679) Sylvester Estes (c1522-1579), Fisherman of Deal, 52 Ancestors #29 Jone (<1535-1561)
Need mitochondrial DNA – testing scholarship available *1
Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1534) The White Cliffs of Dover Anny (c1500->1533) *2
Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1533), Progenitor, 52 Ancestors #28

Brief  Estes Progenitor Synopsis

It’s hard to comprehend that the earliest known Estes progenitor, Nycholas Ewstas was born in 1495, the same year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Nycholas owned a sheep and a horse, and was found living near Deal, England, along the white cliffs of Dover.

Despite a persistent and enchanting story, there is no evidence, genetic or otherwise, that the family descends from the d’Este family of Italy. Trust me, I wanted it to be so, but I’ve pretty well disproven that oral history.

Nycholas Ewstas’s descendants, for generations, were mariners.

If you have information about these lines that I have not included in these articles, please let me know. You never know what’s going to pop up.

Estes Resources

My family trees are available at:

The Estes family archivist, David Powell, maintains free research sites here and here.

The Estes Trails Newsletter, current and back issues are available from Larry Duke at

The Estes DNA Project is available here, and all Estes descendants are welcome to join by either taking a Family Finder test, here or uploading a DNA file from another vendor. Step-by-step upload instructions are found here.

Estes men are strongly encouraged to order the Y DNA test, here. The most detailed results are available with the Big Y-700 test.


*1 – Mitochondrial DNA descends through all females to the current generation, which can be males. Anyone who descends from this woman through all females carries her mitochondrial DNA today, so is eligible for a free testing scholarship if you have not already taken a mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA. Either way, please reach out! There’s a lot we can learn.

*2 – No daughters known, so mitochondrial DNA would not be available.


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Hugh Benson (c1650-1687) and Wife, Catherine; Landowners in Leonard’s Town – 52 Ancestors #384

Let’s begin this journey by disproving Hugh Benson’s birth.

He might have been the Hugh Benson born on September 5, 1653 to William Benson in Yorkshire. The timeframe fits, and so does the location for Catholics.

Transcribed; “Hugh Benson, sone to Wm. Benson, the 4 of September.” The year, “53” is recorded at right.

This record is attached to many trees, but it’s incorrect. How do we know that?

Further digging in this church’s records reveals that this child, Hugh Benson, was buried on November 7, 1653, so this is NOT our Hugh Benson unless he came back to life.

And no, there were not multiple Hugh Bensons born to William Benson in this same church, at least not that are indexed.

This is a reminder about getting excited and failing to check further. A name and place does not a match make, no matter how much we want that to be the case. I ws very disappointed, to put it mildly.

There are other Hugh Bensons born about this time in England, but we don’t know which one, if any of those, is ours.


The first record we can attribute to our Hugh Benson is his arrival in Maryland which would have taken between two and four months onboard a ship, assuming nothing went wrong.

We know Hugh Benson was transported into the colony of Maryland on February 16, 1671 by Thomas Notley. He was apparently one of 53 “adventurers” and was free by 1682. The fact that Notley describes them as “adventurers” tells us that they weren’t convicts, political prisoners, petty thieves, or perhaps even common indentured servants. Researcher Kent Walker believes that this shipload of men were handpicked by the Catholic gentry because they were known and trusted.

Many ships arrived at St. Clement’s Island at the entrance of St. Clement’s Bay, as did the first settlers in 1634. Blackistone Lighthouse marks the location, along with a cross, today marks the location in the St. Clement’s Island State Park.

While we don’t know the name of the ship that transported Hugh, the St. Mary’s Historic District created a full-sized working replica of the Dove, above, the smaller of two ships that arrived in March of 1634 with settlers, Jesuit missionaries, and indentured servants to establish what would become Maryland. The Calvert family was fulfilling their dream of establishing a safe haven for Catholics who were persecuted in England beginning in the mid-1500s during the rule of Henry VIII. Life as a Catholic became increasingly dangerous in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The larger ships looked something like this replica in Amsterdam

Confined on these ships for weeks, mostly below deck, sleeping like cordwood in rows of hammocks, passengers would have been anything but comfortable. I tried a hammock, and not only could I not get in, I barely got out. Let’s just say there was a lot of laughter.

I’m not even going to mention personal hygiene on these ships, because there wasn’t any.

If you were lucky, the water wasn’t contaminated, lasted the length of the voyage, and the food didn’t rot or become spoiled on the way.

Danger loomed everyplace.

The ships, the masts, something going wrong, weather, dysentery, typhoid, falling or being washed overboard, not to mention issues like chronic seasickness.

One had to really, REALLY want to make this journey, or maybe have no choice in the matter.

Some died, some traveled once and never again, but others make a life on the sea.

Thomas Notley, the man who transported Hugh Benson, was a Catholic planter, merchant, and attorney in St. Mary’s County. He was active as a Burgess beginning not long after his arrival in 1662. He lived in St. Clements Hundred, and in St. Mary’s City.

In 1663, Notley purchased 500 acres from Thomas Gerrard and then added another 1800 acres. He built Notley Hall, a manor about 2-3 miles south of what is today, Maddox, Maryland. This may well have been where Hugh Benson spent at least part, if not all of his indenture.

The archives of Maryland report that their council meetings on August 6, 1676 and January 1678 were held at Manahowick’s Neck, meaning Notley’s Manor. Hugh was likely there in 1676, as indentured servants weren’t generally freed for 7 years. During a full council meeting, Notley probably had all of his servants and enslaved people at the location where many people were gathered. Notley would have needed prodigious amounts of food, lodging, and personal services for his many guests.

You can get an idea of what this area looked like by viewing the photos from the Lower Notley Hall Farm event facility, here.

Notley died testate in 1679, with no children. In his estate, he had “11 male slaves, 8 female slaves, 2 male servants, 1 female servant, 10 undetermined slaves, 5 undetermined servants.”

Hugh Benson may have been one of those servants, depending on the length of time he had to serve for his transportation. The normal length of indentured servitude was 7 years, so he might have been freed in 1678. The length of time could have been more or less depending on the contract or specific circumstances.

Dr. Carr summarized her findings about Hugh in her work and reflects that Hugh was free by 1682.

What’s somewhat confusing is Hugh’s marriage and wife, Catherine, whose birth surname is unknown.

It wasn’t common practice for indentured men to marry before arrival. Indentured people generally weren’t allowed to marry during their servitude, either.

However, we know that Hugh had at least two children with his wife, Catherine, before his death in 1687.

Mary Benson was born to Hugh Benson and Catherine sometime after his 1671 immigration, probably between 1673 and 1680, in St. Clement’s Hundred.

It’s thanks to records relating to that daughter, Mary, that we know as much about Hugh Benson as we do.

St. Clement’s Hundred was defined as St. Clements Island and 5 miles into the mainland. St. Clements is where Thomas Notley lived as well as the colonial capital at St. Mary’s City.

This inset from a 1685 map shows the Pamunkey Indian land, Portabaco, Clements Bay and St. Clements Island, and then St. Marys City. Zachia Swamp, spelled Zachkia and noted by its Native name of Pamgayo played a huge role in the lives of the next generation of settlers.

What was going on at that time in Maryland, based on the few existing St. Clements manorial records?

September 1670 – We prsent That the Lord of the Mannor (Thomas Gerard) hath not provided a paire of Stocks, pillory, and Cucking Stoole. Ordered that these Instrumts of Justice be provided by the next Court by a generall contribution throughout the Manor

“Instruments of Justice”

Stocks and pillories were both installed in the public square.

Stocks, as opposed to the pillory, only restrained the legs, and while seated. Stocks were used as both punishment as well as restraint while the accused was awaiting trial. Often people were sentenced to more than a day confined in the stocks, so they would have to soil themselves.

Since part of the point was humiliation, passerbys were encouraged to do whatever came to mind. Fiendish boys would often remove the shoes of the person in the stocks and tickle their feet. Trash and other objects were thrown, and whipping occurred, sometimes to the bottoms of the bare feet.

These stocks remain in Belstone in Dartmoor, England, as a historical marker. Notice that there is no backrest.

A pillory restrains the hands and head while the victim is standing.

Here’s me in a replica pillory in Williamsburg.

Traditional pillories were often elevated on a platform for spectator sport and designed as a torture device. I couldn’t find any historical images that weren’t nauseating and I’m not going to describe what else was done to pilloried people. Humans can be unbelievably cruel and take such perverse pleasure in inflicting cruelty upon others, and watching. I’m amazed what crowds can be convinced to go along with sometimes.

I might be smiling in this photo, but trust me, no one who was there for more than about 5 minutes would have been smiling. If you relaxed your legs, you effectively hung yourself.

What offenses got you sentenced to time in the pillory in colonial America? Public intoxication, blasphemy, fortune telling, arson, and if you were enslaved, escaping or attempting to. The pillory was also a method of disabling someone while others abused, tortured, or murdered, them.

The third “instrument of justice,” the cuckolding stool was used to dunk offenders, primarily women, who were deemed disorderly or “too scoldy,” as indicated by this 1615 ballad:

Then was the Scold herself,
In a wheelbarrow brought,
Stripped naked to the smock,
As in that case she ought:
Neats tongues about her neck
Were hung in open show;
And thus unto the cucking stool
This famous scold did go.

Sadly, many women were immersed for so long that they drown. And yes, people watched for sport.

Eventually, dunking, with or without benefit of a chair, was a test for witchcraft. If you didn’t drown, you were deemed to be in league with the devil, and you were then killed. If you’re thinking to yourself that there was no “win” here, you’d be exactly right.

Yes, unfortunately, there were witchcraft trials in Maryland. Moll Dyer, who died about 1697, was reportedly chased from her home by local townspeople in the winter of 1697 in Leonard’s Town, Maryland, after being accused of witchcraft. It’s thought that Moll was actually a healer, but a flu epidemic during the winter of 1697 led to her being an easy mark for people looking for a scapegoat.

Moll was found a few days later, dead, frozen to a stone, now named the Moll Dyer’s rock. The rock was rediscovered and transported to the courthouse square several years ago.

You could be a Catholic in Maryland, but don’t even think about being a healer or, Heaven forbid, being “scoldy” or talking back to your husband. So, I wonder if scolding people for not going to church was acceptable. And what about scoldy men?

I think if I lived in early Maryland, I might just get dunked for even asking those questions out loud.

Everyday Life

Reading the transcribed documents in the Maryland archives is quite interesting, not just for witches, but to understand the drumbeat of everyday life.

For example, an October 28, 1672 list of residents, leaseholders, and freeholders shows within St. Clement’s Manor shows Thomas Notley, but not Hugh Benson, which of course, means that Hugh was a servant.

Citizens were mentioned or reprimanded for a variety of offenses in St. Clement’s Hundred, including

  • keeping a tippling house
  • a man’s dogs injuring another man’s hogs
  • creating an affray and shedding blood
  • annoying another by keeping hogs, a mare and foal
  • selling drink without a license at unlawful rates
  • reporting a stray horse
  • not showing up for court
  • unlawfully cutting timber
  • killing a hogg but not sharing with the “lord of the manor”

The next peek we get into the life of Hugh Benson is in 1682, nearly a dozen years after his arrival, when his unnamed daughter is mentioned in the will of Collins Mackenzie.

The Maryland Calendar of wills provides us with this tantalizing tidbit.

Who was Collins Mackenzie, and why did he leave something to the unnamed daughter of Hugh Benson? That daughter had to be quite young. Is there a relationship with either Hugh or his wife, Catherine?

Whatever he left Benson’s daughter had to be tangible, because in Collin’s estate payments, nothing was paid to either Benson or Trench, which, it turns out, was actually James French who was also transported by Notley and indentured to Luke Gardiner on St. Clement’s Island.

There’s Richard Gardner, spelled elsewhere as Gardiner, again.

Because Mackenzie didn’t name a daughter, this also suggests that Hugh Benson only had one daughter, but since it was a nuncupative (spoken) will, he could simply have been very ill and near death.

If that unnamed daughter is Mary Benson, and we have to assume it is, she married Bowling Speake (of Charles County, MD) sometime in the early 1790s and they purchased land from the Gardiner family. How are these families interlaced?

According to a 1741 lawsuit, Richard Gardiner sold land to Hugh Benson of St. Mary’s County, MD, sometime after 1681.

Your Committee further find that the said Richard Crackborne by his Deed bearing date the 17th day of November 1681 did Bargain and Sell the said Tract of Land to Richard Gardiner of Saint Marys County in Fee Your Committee also find that Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth his Wife of St. Marys County aforesaid did Convey to Hugh Benson of the same County Planter 100 Acres Part of the said Tract in Fee [p. 273]

The following paragraph states the location.

Your Committee likewise find that Mary Speake is the reputed Daughter and Heiress at Law of Hugh Benson and that she intermarried (as it is said) with Bowling Speak of Charles County and that the said Bowling Speak and the said Mary his Wife, by their deed Bearing date the 31st of March 1739 did Convey the said Parcell of Land unto the Petitioner Thomas [Spalding] in Fee All which deeds appear to Your Committee to be duly Executed Your Committee further find by the Information of W James Swann a Member of your House that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase mentioned by the Petitioners to be Granted is of greater Value than that Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town.

Leonard’s Town, now Leonardtown, was part way between Notley Hall and St Mary’s City, so located just about perfectly. Given that Hugh Benson was Thomas Notley’s servant, he probably traveled this route many times between Notley Hall, the docks at Colton’s Point at St. Clement, and St. Mary’s City on behalf of his master. That path runs right through the center of Leondard’s Town. Perhaps Hugh spent the night there on his journey which would have been too distant for one day.

Leonardtown remains small, with quite a bit of land remaining undeveloped.

Leonardtown is charming and quaint today, with its old jail, now serving as a museum and visitor center still standing beside the courthouse. The original jail was apparently across the street.

The cannon in the garden outside is from the original ship, the Ark, one of two that transported the first settlers to Maryland in 1634.

The early bayside settlements like Leonard’s Town were ports, with towns established dockside to enable loading, unloading, and transacting business.

Hugh Benson was a planter, meaning a farmer in the vernacular of the day.

By Sarah Stierch – Flickr: St. Mary’s City, Maryland, CC BY 2.0,

Historical St. Mary’s City has reconstructed a typical 17th-century planter’s house based on their findings in more than 200 archaeological digs. The home of Hugh and his family probably looked very much like this, with an outside kitchen.

Or, if Hugh was a little more well-do-do, perhaps he built a home with fireplaces, 4 rooms, and two partial stories like 1700s-era St. Mary’s Manor West.

Or, maybe their home looked more like Resurrection Manor, built as early as 1660, but now demolished. Library of Congress photos, here.

This internal photo was taken after Resurrection Manor had survived for nearly 300 years. Fireplaces heated homes which were quite small by comparison to today’s structures. Many, if not most, residences had outside kitchens, but Katherine may have cooked in a fireplace like this, with a grate, cauldron and pothooks, especially in the winter.

By Kathleen Tyler Conklin – Flickr: Leonard Calvert in the State House, CC BY 2.0,

A period actor playing the role of Leonard Calvert at the colonial statehouse in St. Mary’s City gives us a glimpse into how the people Hugh interacted with would have dressed.

Hugh, of course, was probably dressed in much less opulent attire.

When in St. Mary’s on business for or with Thomas Notley, Hugh may well have worshipped in the Catholic Church built in 1667, reconstructed today.

The original settlers purchased land from the Piscataway Indians with whom they lived and traded peacefully for many years. The Indians befriended and helped the early colonists, being eager to learn more about their advanced methods and metal tools, like guns which made hunting much easier.

I found listings for three Testamentary Proceedings involving Hugh Benson although I have not examined the folios:

  • 1682 – St. Mary’s Liber 12B, folio 309
  • 1687 – St. Mary’s Liber 13, folio 514 (his estate filed)
  • 1687 – St. Mary’s Liber 14, folio 43

Hugh Benson died in 1687 as a relatively young man, under 40, and probably suddenly, given that he had no will. What happened? Was there an accident?

On August 19, 1687, Katherine renounced administration of his estate to Richard Gardiner, who died not long thereafter in England. Gardiner was a fellow Catholic and Burgess.

In Gardiner’s estate proceedings, payment for a debt was received from Hugh Benson. Of course, that could have been an old debt, or given that the settlement was in 1696, that Hugh Benson could have been Hugh’s son.

The second to last mention of Hugh Benson was in 1694, although it could have been retrospectively:

Act for payment and assessing the publick charges of this province Acts of 1694 ch 32: Tobacco is paid: to Hugh Benson two hundred and Seaventy

There is a Hugh Benson who died in Stafford County, VA, unmarried, in November of 1699. There appear to be two Hugh Bensons in Stafford County during this time, as one was noted as a runaway from the service of John Doxsey in 1702.

Hugh Benson leaves us with several mysteries.

Katherine, then a widow, had at least one small child, Mary, to raise, and possibly more.

Katherine Remarries

Catherine or Katherine, widow of Hugh Benson, must have married Thomas Cooper, born around 1650, almost immediately after Hugh’s death. She would have been about 35 years old.

She had at least two more children with Cooper and possibly three.

Katherine was deceased 28 years later, by 1715, when Thomas Cooper made his will. She wasn’t named, and Thomas left all of his property to sons Thomas and Richard Cooper, both real and personal, jointly and equally.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Well, this is where things get complicated.

Who are Thomas Spalding and Catherine?

Thomas Cooper, Jr. appears to have been the oldest child. He married Mary Riley about 1712-1713, so he would probably have been born in the 1680s.

When Thomas Cooper Jr. died in 1722, he left, “To cousin — Cooper, 310 A. of “Crackbourn’s Purchase,” now owned with bro. Richard.” Also, “To dau. Katherine, personalty and all lands except dwell. plan. — during life of wife; at her decease, to pass to dau. afsd. She dying without issue, to cousin Thomas and hrs.” I think that 310acres should be 210 acres, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.

Is the Catherine married to Thomas Spalding the daughter of Thomas Cooper Jr., meaning the granddaughter of Hugh Benson’s wife, Katherine? It certainly appears so.  Note the mention, above of Crackbourn’s Purchase.

Catherine Cooper and Thomas Spalding appear to own the original 200 acres (or 210 acres) of Crackbourn’s Purchase in 1741.

By the Committee appointed to enquire into the Facts contained in the Petition of Thomas Spalding and Catherine his Wife June the 6. 1741

Your Committee find on Inspecting the Papers of the Petitioners that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase containing 200 Acres was Granted on the 24th day of October Anno Domini 1659 unto Richard Crackborne Assignee of Walter Peak and Peter Mills Assignees of Paul Simpson in Fee. Your Committee further find that the said Richard Crackborne by his Deed bearing date the 17th day of November 1681 did Bargain and Sell the said Tract of Land to Richard Gardiner of Saint Marys County in Fee Your Committee also find that Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth his Wife of St Marys County aforesaid did Convey to Hugh Benson of the same County Planter 100 Acres Part of the said Tract in Fee [p. 273] Your Committee likewise find that Mary Speake is the reputed Daughter and Heiress at Law of Hugh Benson and that she intermarried (as it is said) with Bowling Speak of Charles County and that the said Bowling Speak and the said Mary his Wife, by their deed Bearing date the 31st of March 1739 did Convey the said Parcell of Land unto the Petitioner Thomas in Fee All which deeds appear to Your Committee to be duly Executed Your Committee further find by the Information of W James Swann a Member of your House that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase mentioned by the Petitioners to be Granted is of greater Value than that Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town.

Does this suggest that Hugh’s widow, Catherine married her neighbor, Thomas Cooper, who literally lived next door on Crackborne’s Purchase? Meaning that Crackborne’s Purchase, divided at one time into two pieces, has now been reunited?

It certainly looks that way.

Catherine’s daughter Mary Benson who married Bowling Speak sold that tract of land to Catherine’s granddaughter, Katherine, through her deceased son, Thomas Cooper Jr.

Did you get that? It was a mouthful. I had to draw this out, above.

The St. Francis Xavier Cemetery

This also suggests quite strongly that Hugh Benson, Catherine, Thomas Cooper, and probably Thomas Cooper Jr. are all buried together here in the original St. Francis Xavier Cemetery on Newtowne Neck Road, where the original Catholic church was located.

Hugh Benson and Katherine’s daughter, Mary Benson, was born around 1675. Given that Hugh didn’t die until 1687, they assuredly had at least 6 more children, if not more. Those children would have been laid to rest here too, hopefully near their parents’ eternal watch.

The Chesapeake was never far away.

The cemetery is only 400 or 500 feet from the Bay, on either side, bordered by Saint Clements Bay to the left, and Breton Bay to the right. The present-day church, which, along with the restored manor house, originally dated from 1731, is about half a mile south.

The Chesapeake, her moods, her ports, estuaries, swamps and swamp-fevers shaped the lives of the immigrant, Hugh Benson and his wife, Catherine.

The brave and hearty souls who pulled up stakes and left the known for the unknown set the stage for the next many generations of descendants.

Life in Leonard’s Town

My friend, Maree found luscious details in the book, Origins of Clements-Spalding and Allied Families of Maryland and Kentucky.

In this excerpt, we verify that Thomas Spalding married Catharine Cooper, the child of Thomas Cooper, and by inference, his wife Catherine, who was the widow of Hugh Benson.

Thomas Cooper had willed his entire estate to his daughter, Catherine, named for her mother, of course.

However, Catherine Cooper wasn’t her mother’s only child or her only daughter. Mary Benson was Catherine Cooper’s half-sister, the child of Hugh Benson and Catherine. Mary Benson married Bowling Speake, and she too had to convey her portion of Crackburn’s Purchase.

Crackburn was where the mill was located, and where the town of Leonard’s Town, now Leonardtown, was laid out, which ties back to the 1739 deed where Bowling and Mary conveyed that land to Thomas Spalding, of course.

That 1741 court action literally says, “…Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town.” Mary Benson and her husband Bowling Speake had owned part of what would become Leonard’s Town, thanks to her father, Hugh Benson, who obtained that land about 1681ish.

The history of Leonardtown tells us that Leonard’s Town, an important port, began in the 1650s as “Newtown” or “Newtown Hundred,” but began being called Leonard’s Town shortly thereafter in honor of Leonard Calvert.

In the early years, “court” was held in various private homes in the area, one of which was possibly Hugh Benson’s, given that he owned part of the town.

In 1708, twenty-one years after Hugh Benson died, but seven years before Catherine’s second husband, Thomas Cooper died, a designated courthouse was ordered to be established, and Leonard’s Town was renamed Seymour Town in honor of the then-current governor of Maryland. However, two decades later, in 1728, the name reverted, and Leonard’s Town became the location of official business within the colony. Unfortunately, the St. Mary’s County courthouse burned in 1831, destroying the valuable records within, which is why the paucity of records today. No deeds, no marriage records, nothing.

In 1708, the Mayor of St. Mary’s City also ordered that 50 acres of land at the head of Britton’s Bay be divided into 100 lots, including one for the courthouse. This officially became Seymour Town, then Leonardtown and appears to be, at least in part, the land occupied and mentioned in the Bowling Speake and Mary Benson Speake 1739 deed to Thomas Spalding and Catherine.

Thank goodness that transaction was referred for evaluation because otherwise, we would never have known any of this.

A walking tour of Leonardtown is available, here.

Of course, I can’t discern acreage from this map, but we can see the courthouse location in the center of town. The courthouse was supposed to be on one lot, and lots would have been about half an acre each.

The mill mentioned would have probably been located on Town Run.

Or maybe the mill was on McIntosh Run literally on the other border of Leonardtown.

A small branch runs right through the western side of Leonardtown.

McIntosh Run is where McIntosh Park is located today. I’m guessing it’s a park because it floods. With the original deeds burned in that courthouse fire, there’s no way of really knowing exactly which land Hugh Benson owned.

William Spalding’s 1741 will, he left to his son, Benedict, a tenement of land called Mill Land on which my Water Mill stands.” He also left his “Watermill” to his wife and sons with a lot of land in Leonard’s Town. Judging from this, the mill was someplace within the town limits.

It was here, someplace here, that Hugh Benson lived with Catherine. Their 100 acres was twice the size of the town, and probably somehow abutted it, including part of the town itself.

Given that Hugh was noted as being from St. Clements, I suspect that his land might have been between Breton Bay, meaning Leonardtown, and Saint Clements Bay. We know they attended church just north of Newtowne Neck State Park.

It looks like present-day Maryland 243, Newtowne Neck Road, was the road out of Leonardtown, white, bordered in red above, to the west, so let’s take a drive. It’s 3 miles to Compton and 5 miles to the end of the road.

At one point, just outside town, the road runs right alongside McIntosh Run and crosses a branch.

Most of this area remains heavily treed, swampy, or both, but Society Hill Road splits off of Newtowne Road about halfway to Compton, and you can see the Bay from the end of the road there.

Hugh and Katherine would have glimpsed the bay every time they traveled this road to church.

Higher, farmable land is polka-dotted along the way, carved out of the woodlands.

Generally, the road, in the center of the peninsula, or “neck” as it’s called in the local vernacular, is the highest elevation.

It’s clear why the economy here was focused on trade and ports, not agriculture except for occasional corn fields, a rare orchard, and interspersed patches of tobacco. Animals, mostly hogs, grazed freely in the woodlands.

No matter where you were, the saltwater bay was never far away.

Fresh, non-brackish water had to be at a premium. Settlers needed to be far enough inland to live on a freshwater stream, and not in a swamp, but still close to the port.

There were probably few good options, and the best locations would have been snatched up first by the wealthy proprietors. It’s no wonder that mortality was so high. Yet, this was the land of opportunity, better than the oppression in England if you were Catholic or another “non-conformist” religion.

The Remaining Questions

Of course, there are many questions that remain, but a few stand out.

  • Did Hugh and Catherine Benson have two children, Mary and Hugh? Is the Hugh Benson mentioned in 1694 and 1696 their son, Hugh? If so, he would have had to have been born before 1673, which is just after Hugh Benson immigrated and while he was still an indentured servant.

That’s possible, especially if he arrived married, but it’s unlikely. Is there more to this story?

  • Are either of the two Hugh Bensons in Virginia the son of Hugh and Catherine? If so, what happened to that child’s land holding given that Hugh died intestate? Why wasn’t a guardian appointed for the child or children? Or did those records burn in the 1831 fire? Was his land relinquished before or when/if he died in Virginia?
  • Did Catherine have more than one surviving child with Thomas Cooper?
  • According to Thomas Cooper’s will, he had two sons, Thomas Cooper (Jr.) and Richard Cooper. Was Richard also the son of Catherine, or was Thomas married previously? I don’t see anything to indicate that Thomas Cooper Sr. had a previous marriage.

Dr. Carr estimates Richard Cooper’s birth at 1693.

  • Did Catherine, Hugh Benson’s widow, and Thomas Cooper have a third child, a daughter named Elizabeth who married James Wheatley? If so, it appears that Wheatley died relatively young and they had no children, unless Elizabeth remarried and disappeared from the records.

If Elizabeth Cooper who married James Wheatley was Katherine’s daughter, are there any descendants living today through all females to the current generation, which can be male? Those living people carry Catherine’s mitochondrial DNA. If that’s you, please reach out. I have a free DNA testing scholarship for you.

If you have answers, any information, or descend from Elizabeth Cooper and James Wheatley, I’d certainly love to hear from you!

Oh yes, and there’s one last burning question. Who was Catherine, wife of Hugh Benson and Thomas Cooper?


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Seats at the Table

It’s been a year. What a year.

Three years actually.

First, I hope you’re able to gather with family this Thanksgiving, and if not, I hope it’s by your choice.

For the past two holiday seasons, many families didn’t gather. Some did and paid a horrific price.

My immediate family didn’t gather, but groups of my more distant family did, and not everyone survived.

Aside from Covid, a word I shudder to even utter, time took its toll too.

So has the increasing hatefulness and vitrol at play in the US, and perhaps in other places too, which has irrecoverably fractured families.

Additionally, lots of people moved. I’ve actually been shocked how many, especially given that we spent months in the grip of pandemic that killed 6.6 million worldwide and over a million in the US, disabling millions more. Moving was difficult and more challenging than ever given the circumstances – yet more than 15 million households moved in the US alone according to address forwarding orders submitted to the USPS.

On the flip side, home office freed up many people who would not have previously been able to relocate.

Just looking at a handful of my colleagues, of a group of 6 people who work together regularly, four people moved, three across the country, and one person moved across the country twice.


Thanksgiving and holidays have changed for many, and maybe most, families.

Those who’ve moved will need to create new traditions and memories in new surroundings.

No more “over the river and through the woods,” because either grandma doesn’t live there anymore, or many of those chairs at that table are now empty.

There are four forever-empty chairs at my table, and yes, it has been a struggle – and that’s an understatement. If you’re struggling with this situation, regardless of why those places are vacant, let me share some thoughts and suggestions that might help. I welcome yours as well.

  • We can’t go back in time.
  • Enjoy and cherish the current moments, because they will be memories as soon as they are over.
  • Family is who we make it.
  • Empty chairs cause tears because the people who filled them enriched our lives. We were fortunate to have had them for however long.
  • Having loved deeply means grieving equally as deeply.
  • Grief is part of life. (Yea, that sucks!)
  • If your chairs are empty because of betrayal or divisiveness, understand that death occurs in many ways.
  • Anger is part of grief. It’s OK.
  • Time helps.

Sometimes when you’re in so much pain, it’s really difficult to do big things, or anything, so here are some tiny first steps.

“At Least…”

If you’re struggling to be grateful, try flipping that equation and begin a few statements with “At least…”.

  • I don’t have cancer.
  • I’m not disabled.
  • I don’t live in Ukraine.
  • My power isn’t out.
  • I don’t have 3 feet of snow.

What are you glad that you aren’t? With a little creativity, this could really make you laugh.

“At least I don’t have green ink on my face anymore.”

Your turn!

For a touch of humor, let your phone autofill the words after “At least.”

It’s the Little Things

Sometimes little things make such a big difference.

  • Someone helped me lift a heavy thing.
  • I love my cat/dog so much.
  • That baby at the store smiled at me and melted my heart.
  • My family member, even though they aren’t here, is healthy and happy wherever they are on life’s adventure.
  • I really enjoy watching the birds at the feeder (or fill in the blank.)
  • I’m looking forward to…
  • That sunset (or…) is really beautiful.
  • I love <favorite musician> singing <favorite song>

Might be a good time to queue up a few YouTube videos and songs and really listen to the lyrics, or simply close your eyes and cherish soothing voices. Maybe have a good cry, but not tears without end. You are not alone.

Let me repeat that.

You are not alone.

Peach Pie

Empty chairs are difficult and painful anytime, especially those “remembrance” days and holidays when the people who once sat there aren’t physically present. Past memories are a mixed blessing.

So wonderful that we have those memories. So heartbreaking at the same time. Sometimes we grieve lost possibilities and potential too – a future that never happened.

Other times, those memories transport their spirits to our heart and they slip in through the darkness.

Sometimes just looking at a peach pie near Thanksgiving makes me cry. But it also makes me laugh remembering Mom’s peach pie antics.

Mom loved peach pie. She became so frail in her last years that she really couldn’t handle days worth of prep for Thanksgiving, although she still desperately wanted to. We found a smorgasbord restaurant that served a wonderful Thanksgiving meal and created a “new” tradition, even though it wasn’t to last long.

On that final Thanksgiving, although of course we didn’t know it was, we arrived at our reservation time.

They seated us at a lovely table with a white tablecloth, set in a traditional, festive way. Mom spied the dessert table. Others of the family headed for the hot food line, but not Mom. Nope, Mom headed directly for dessert.

Hey, when you’re in your 80s, you can eat dessert first.

My brother asked her if she wanted “food’? She slipped right past him and made a beeline for the dessert table. Why waste time on anything else??!

Mom loved desserts, but especially chocolate and peach pie. We took this picture a month later during our last Christmas celebration together.

That Thanksgiving dessert table was full of luscious treats, all served and ready on individual plates, but there were only two slices of peach pie left.

Mom found both of them, retrieved them like buried treasure, and began making her way back through the maze of tables and people, carrying one plate in each hand.

Jim was afraid she’d fall, as she wasn’t terribly steady, so he had gone along to “assist” this tiny but mighty woman who wanted nothing to do with assistance. He tried to carry one of those plates with pie, but she was having none of that.

She sat back down at the table as everyone else arrived with plates piled high with Thanksgiving goodness. Not Mom. She had scored two pieces of peach pie and was happy as a clam with her trophies, beaming like a Cheshire cat.

Jim’s eyes started twinkling, and he reached his fork out to take a bite of the end of Mom’s peach pie.

She threatened to stab him, playfully, with her fork, and exclaimed in her shaky voice, “Don’t you dare.”

We all laughed. I don’t remember if she ever did eat any turkey, but I surely do remember laughing together and the peach pie.

And yes, she did eat both pieces.

Today, Jim and I shared that story with two unsuspecting “victims” who visited to help with something at the house. We all wound up sitting around the table together, eating peach pie, using Mom’s silverware, and laughing out loud. Those chairs weren’t vacant anymore. They were filled with smiles and laughter, seeded by Mom all these years later. Yes, she was with us.

You know, it’s hard to laugh and cry at the same time.

Trust me, we all really needed that. There are empty chairs at all of our tables this year.

I hope you can find a way to fill your heart, maybe around those tears.

Coping Strategies

Let me share with you what I’m doing this week.

  • The father of a local family that I met a few months ago has experienced a devastating medical issue. We made food because they can’t be visiting the hospital and preparing food at the same time. They are already in a difficult situation from an accident not even two years ago. I can help them, and I am.
  • We invited someone to join us who has recently moved and has no local family. I think we’re adding to the family, actually.
  • Instead of cooking in a house that’s, ummm, a disaster right now (don’t ask), we are supporting a local business by purchasing a “heat it up” Thanksgiving turkey meal.
  • We are choosing to make “lemonade” out of the situation by having a picnic with paper plates on a folding table, maybe outside. Also, did I mention peach pie?
  • I am working with someone to help with their fragile family member.
  • I assisted a cousin with a thorny genealogy challenge. Quick and easy for me but made a huge difference to them.
  • I submitted a friend’s photos to the new MyHeritage AI tool. They love them and it made them smile. Not just because the photos were wonderful, but because someone cared.

The theme here is that we feel better when we do things for others. It’s not about what “I’m” doing, it’s about doing something beneficial.

There was an old parable growing up on the farm about what to do when things are really crummy, and you’re feeling really sorry for yourself. Dad was not having that. Go over to the other side of the tracks, he said, where they have less than you do, and do something for someone over there. You’ll feel better for a multitude of reasons.

What Can You Do?

I can think of a few ideas, but I’m sure you can think of more.

  • What about a food bank or soup kitchen?
  • Maybe clean out a closet and donate to a shelter. That’s win-win.
  • Volunteer your time at a local animal shelter or rescue facility. They often need in-home fosters too.
  • Find a way to help someone feel valued or safe.
  • Visit people at nursing homes, specifically those with no family. Dementia patients may not realize you’re not family. To them, their family came to visit, and they will be overjoyed. (I view this as paying it forward or maybe karmic insurance.)

I’m Grateful For…

Looking past the immediate challenges and taking my focus off of empty chairs, I am so incredibly grateful for:

  • Special friends who help me by digging into really difficult challenges.
  • My sisters-of-heart who are always there. When blood family has walked away, they haven’t.
  • My quilt-sisters.
  • My wonderful “adopted” family around the world. You know who you are and every one of you is smiling now😊
  • My cousins who have become my family of choice.
  • My friends who have joined me, or maybe I joined them, side by side, proverbially walking together for awhile on our journeys.
  • Seeing a smile on the face of someone who hasn’t seen me for awhile.
  • Seeing someone I haven’t seen for awhile. (I can’t wait for RootsTech.)
  • Hugs, and people to hug.
  • Feeling joy and laughter.
  • For those who reach out and have reached out to help me so that I can, in turn, help others too.
  • Those who kicked my butt and told me I could. (I might not have been, ahem (clears throat), appropriately grateful in the moment.)

Love is Infinite 

While those chairs will never be filled with the same people again, they don’t have to remain empty either. Neither do our hearts.

You see, those chairs aren’t empty, they’re musical – filled by a continuum of love, from the past into the future.

Beings will fill those voids, and love will envelope you, wherever you are in your life’s journey. They are not gone, they are just a different, transformational, form of energy, and you are the sacred steward.

Happy Thanksgiving

Mary Benson (c1675–c1758) Heiress of Crackbornes Purchase in Leonard’s Town – 52 Ancestors #383

Mary Benson was born to Hugh Benson sometime after his 1671 immigration, probably between 1673 and 1678 in St. Clements’s Hundred. Her mother’s name was Catherine.

St. Clement’s Hundred was defined as St. Clements Island and 5 miles into the mainland of present-day Maryland.

Mary was married to Bowling Speake sometime before March 31, 1739, when they conveyed land that she inherited from her father to Thomas Spalding.

Bowling Speak was born in 1674, so it’s likely that Mary was born around the same time. She would have been about 65 years old in 1739.

Were it not for that deed, we would have no link to the identity of Mary’s father.

Archives of Maryland, Volume 42, Assembly Proceedings, May 26-June 22, 1741.
The Lower House. Page 212; Liber L. H. J., Page 272: (Saturday Morning June 6.
1741) By the Committee appointed to enquire into the Facts contained in the Petition of Thomas Spalding and Catherine his Wife June the 6. 1741

Your Committee find on Inspecting the Papers of the Petitioners that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase containing 200 Acres was Granted on the 24th day of October Anno Domini 1659 unto Richard Crackborne Assignee of Walter Peak and Peter Mills Assignees of Paul Simpson in Fee.

Your Committee further find that the said Richard Crackborne by his Deed bearing date the 17th day of November 1681 did Bargain and Sell the said Tract of Land to Richard Gardiner of Saint Marys County in Fee Your Committee also find that Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth his Wife of St. Marys County aforesaid did Convey to Hugh Benson of the same County Planter 100 Acres Part of the said Tract in Fee [p. 273]

Your Committee likewise find that Mary Speake is the reputed Daughter and Heiress at Law of Hugh Benson and that she intermarried (as it is said) with Bowling Speak of Charles County and that the said Bowling Speak and the said Mary his Wife, by their deed Bearing date the 31st of March 1739 did Convey the said Parcell of Land unto the Petitioner Thomas in Fee All which deeds appear to Your Committee to be duly Executed Your Committee further find by the Information of W James Swann a Member of your House that the Land called Crackbornes Purchase mentioned by the Petitioners to be Granted is of greater Value than that Part of the Land the Petitioners pray to be enabled to dispose of called Seamour Town or known by the name of Leonards Town
All which is humbly Submitted to the Consideration of the House
Signed p Order Richard Dorsey Q Com.

On page 252, Crackburns is mentioned again.

And Whereas the Land also lying at the Head of Britains Bay in Saint Marys County called Crackburns Purchase Containing One hundred Acres which he Conceived to be of much more Value than the other and is desirous the same may be settled to the same uses as the aforesaid Part of a Tract of Land…

These records tell us that this land was located at Leonard’s Town, today Leonardtown, at the head of Breton Bay, very close to, if not a part of, St. Clements.

Mary would have grown up here.

It’s possible that Mary and Bowling Speak lived at Crackborne’s Purchase, aka Leonard’s Town, after their marriage which probably occurred sometime between 1795 and 1798.

Mudd’s Rest

In 1708, Bowling and Mary purchased Mudd’s Rest from Barbara Mudd, a daughter of Thomas Mudd. Thomas’s first wife was Juliana Gardiner, daughter of Captain Richard Gardiner, who died in 1674. His second wife was Sarah Boarman. Bowling bought land in Boarman’s Manor and in Zachia Manor from Luke Gardiner, so these families were tightly intermingled. I’ve always wondered if Mary’s mother is a member of these early families but to be very clear, that’s pure speculation.

Unfortunately, early land and lease records are incomplete, and marriage records are nonexistent.

We know that Bowling and Mary had at least three children who were living when Bowling wrote his will in 1750.

Truth be told, they probably had several more children, assuming that they married about the time Mary was 20 years old, so roughly 1795. If she had her last child at age 43, and had one child every 18 months, she would have birthed approximately 15 children. If some babies died at birth, she may have had more.

While they were living in Leonard’s Town, they would have attended the original St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church established in 1661, located where the cemetery is today.

Clearly, Mary buried many children. At least some very likely rest here in tiny graves that are unmarked today, but would have been marked with small wooden crosses at the time.

After Bowling and Mary moved further north, their children were probably buried in the cemetery that became the Original St. Peter’s Cemetery on land owned by Bowling beginning in 1718.

St. Peter’s Church cemetery, then just known as the Upper Zachia chapel, was much closer to where they lived near Bryantown than St. Francis Xavier’s near Leonard’s Town.

It was 27 miles back to St. Xavier but only 6 to St. Peter’s which was then just a cabin surrounded by the cemetery that started with one burial beside the “church,” then grew. The “cabin,” perhaps someone’s home, would have been where services were held. Catholicism was illegal, so there were no official Catholic Churches, nor publicly-known services. Burials would probably have been small and quiet.

Based on the fact that Bowling and Mary purchased Mistake in 1718, where the old cemetery and the present-day church are located – Bowling and Mary’s land was the location where the early clandestine Catholic church was located. It’s also a possibility that the burials of their children were among the first in the early cemetery.

This is undoubtedly where Mary rests too, surrounded by her loved ones, buried on her son’s land.

Mudd’s Rest Location

Bowling and Mary were living in Mudd’s Rest after 1708. Where was Mudd’s Rest?

According to Mudd family researchers, they conclude that Thomas Mudd’s children were born in Port Tobacco, as was Bowling Speake, and that the land included in Mudd’s Rest was included with or near other land owned by Mudd at the southern end of Zachia Swamp, as can be seen here.

I circled this area on the map, above. You can see the southern portion of Zachia Swamp to the left.

This land driving north from Allen’s Fresh in the area where Mudd’s Rest was located is still a combination of forest, woodland, farmland, and modern-day homes. This road parallels and curves along Zachia Swamp to the west.

We don’t know when Bowling and Mary sold Mudd’s Rest, but in 1718, Bowling bought both “The Mistake,” land that would one day be inherited by his two sons, in addition to “Boarman’s Manor,” where he and Mary lived for the rest of their lives.

Boarman Manor

You can see Bowling’s Boarman land on the map above, with a closer view, below. The red pin marks the beginning of his land on Hunter’s Run.

In 1718, Bowling and Mary would have been about 44 years old. They would have had a young family – children from newborn or toddlers to maybe 20 or so. Their son, Thomas of Zachia, would have been 18 or 20 in 1718. Eventually, Thomas and his brother would inherit Mistake.

It looks like Bowling and Mary were trying to provide for their children by purchasing two tracts of land from the Gardiner family.

The Speake family was very closely allied with the Gardiners. I don’t know if that’s because of neighborly proximity, their Catholic faith coupled with the fact that the Gardiner family amassed in excess of 5000 acres of land, or if they were related through Mary’s unidentified mother.

We know almost nothing of Mary’s life on Boarman’s Manor.

Part of their land was tillable, part was forest, and part was swamp.

Archaeological excavations show that the early families interacted with the local Native people who may have lived in a village on their land.

Mary’s children would have grown up roaming the woods and learning to navigate the swamps.

The boys would have hunted and farmed, and the girls would have learned how to spin, weave, probably tend the garden, and of course, cook.

Life in Colonial Maryland

What was life like in Maryland just a few years after settlement in 1634 on St. Clement’s Island? According to the National Register of Historic Places registration for Port Tobacco:

According to contemporary descriptions, most of those lots maintained as private residences or inns and stores with living quarters above were usually fenced with paling or posts and rails for the better properties and wattle or brush fencing for others. Almost all of the lots included a small garden, a detached kitchen, a meat house and one or two smaller outbuildings. Lot sizes were a half-acre or less and a surprising number had as many as 7 or 8 buildings standing on them.

I would wager that this description of the homestead was probably similar for outlying plantations too. The more compact your buildings and homestead footprint, the more tillable land.

One building in Port Tobacco was 18X22 with a brick chimney.

One of the early homes in Port Tobacco known as Chimney House, for obvious reasons.

The largest and most opulent home was 46X34, or just over 1500 square feet. I wonder if inns were larger. Perhaps not, since men were expected to share beds with other male guests.

Within a generation, many of the original families had procured land further away. Port Tobacco was located on a swamp, stiflingly hot and humid in the summer. Waste disposal from both humans and animals was problematic due to the chronically low water table. Stagnant water is unhealthy in many ways.

It’s no wonder that when Bowling didn’t inherit his father’s land in Port Tobacco, he turned to farming. Bowling purchased Mudd’s Rest in 1708, then, described as a planter, bought Boarman’s Manor and Mistake at Zachia Manor in two separate transactions, 3-months apart, in 1718.

In 1743, when Bowling, again described as a planter, sold 250 acres of Mistake, Mary signed a release of dower.

Bowling’s 1750 Will

According to Bowling’s will, prepared in 1750, they had three living children. Bowling also remembered, by name, two grandchildren, although he and Mary unquestionably had several more:

  • Son Thomas (of Zachia) Speake to whom Bowling left part of Mistake where Thomas lived. Thomas was born about 1700 and married an unknown woman named Jane. They had 8 living children in 1755, including Edward, below.
  • Son William Speake to whom Bowling left part of Mistake with his dwelling place. William was born about 1716 and married Elizabeth Hagan, his sister’s husband’s cousin, and possibly a woman named Mary later in life. In 1779, he sold his portion of Mistake and was living in Frederick County, MD.
  • Granddaughter Ann Higdon to whom Bowling left “second choice of my beds an furniture my great chest one Dish & three plates one iron pot & Cattle and Sheep.” What we don’t know and can’t tell from this is which of Bowling’s children Ann Higdon was born to. We also don’t know what happened to Ann.
  • Daughter Mary Baggott to whom Bowling left cattle, sheep, one feather bed and furniture and one chest. Mary was born about 1710 and married John Baggott.
  • Grandson Edward Speake, son of Thomas Speak, to whom Bowling left “my Dwelling Plantation and also a small tract of land c(alled) the meadow also his first choice of the negroes and the first choice of my beds and fuz”

Men in colonial America didn’t write wills “just in case.” They wrote wills when they believed they were going to need them imminently. This tells us that Bowling was ill in 1750, and by inference, Mary was caring for him.

However, Bowling clearly recovered. In fact, so much so that in 1752, two years later, on March the first, he got himself in trouble.


Catholicism was outlawed in Maryland, and the Speake family was very clearly Catholic. We find Bowling in the court record in the Lower House of the Maryland judicial records:

The Lord Proprietary against Bowlen Speak} The said Bowlen Speak being bound by Recognizance for his Appearance here this Court, to answer of and concerning a Presentment by the Grand Jurors, for the Body of the Province of Maryland, against him found; for that he, on or about the first Day of March last, did, in a public Manner, drink the Pretenders Health, and good Success in his Proceedings; and being demanded whether he is guilty of the Premisses in the Presentment aforesaid mentioned, or not guilty, says he is guilty thereof, and submits to the Court’s Judgment thereon.

Bowling was fined 10 pounds of current money, but didn’t have it, so off to jail he went.


A historic survey of the Port Tobacco jail site identified CH-172, above, as the historic location.

The old jail was built in the 1860s on the location of an earlier jail, conveniently located behind the 1820s courthouse. In 1727, the county built a courthouse and jail on this 3-acre site adjacent Chandler’s Town that eventually became Port Tobacco.

In 1729, the county surveyor laid out the town. More than 100 lots were arranged along a grid of streets, lanes, and alleys, plus a marketplace. A number of already improved lots were incorporated, including one owned by Mary Speake, the widow of Bowling Speake’s brother, John. Mary, John’s widow, succeeded her husband as an innkeeper.

Although we don’t know exactly where the Speake Inn was located, we do know that John Speake, Bowling’s brother, was the most prosperous innkeeper in Portobacco. On May 12, 1717, for example, while establishing some specific property lines, the commissioners met at the “House of John Speake’s in Portobacco Towne” to inspect land records.

I can just see those men, in their colonial era attire of long-sleeved collared shirts, knee-breeches, long stockings, a waistcoat or vest, and black buckled shoes, wearing their powdered wigs, huddled around a table, with mugs of grog, of course, pouring over parchment papers.

Today, little remains of the original Portobacco Towne of more than 80 homes.

The red arrow points to the location of the jail, behind the courthouse.

I visited a few years ago, but I had no idea at the time that my ancestor was confined in that jail, even if it was for a relatively short time. I should have walked around back.

Today, only the courthouse and three historic homes remain of Port Tobacco.

The other homes lining the market square would probably have resembled these.

Today, the old brick courthouse functions as a museum.

The interior of the courthouse is restored in the style of a colonial courtroom. Bowling would have seen something like this, minus the contemporary people, of course.

Did Mary attend court with Bowling that fateful day? Was she watching? What about their children? Were they sitting with their mother? Women didn’t typically “attend court,” but maybe Mary did anyway.

Did Mary stare out the window at the jail with a sinking feeling as Bowling defiantly and perhaps a little too gleefully, with absolutely no remorse, pronounced that he was, indeed, guilty, and submitted to the court’s judgment thereon?

Did she know what was coming? She knew they didn’t have money to pay, and his fine wasn’t payable in tobacco. Actual coinage was required.

Was Mary frightened for her 72-year-old rather outspoken and unapologetic husband to be remanded to jail?

Were Catholics safe? What if he got into an argument? He clearly had no hesitation when it came to expressing his sentiments about what was, at that time, a highly controversial and political subject. Politics and religion, especially combined, are extremely volatile topics. A 72-year-old man wouldn’t be able to protect himself in jail.

Bowling’s friends pledged security that he would pay his fine and bailed him out, but apparently, the judge, obviously knowing Bowling, was not convinced that he would behave. His friends had to fork over 50 pounds to ensure his good behavior until the next court.

I’d wager that Mary, at home was MUCH harder on him than the judge. Maybe Bowling wished he were back in jail. Or maybe he went to Edward’s house, or Thomas’s, or William’s. Or maybe we went and cleaned the barn. At least until the next court when he had to show up with the money. How would Bowling have raised that money anyway?

Why did Bowling get into trouble?

The Pretender, of course, whose health Bowling was toasting, refers to Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” grandson of the deposed King Charles – a Catholic. The 1745 attempt of father and son to reclaim the throne from the Protestant monarchy is known as the Jacobite Rebellion. In other words, Bowling was very publicly proclaiming that he supported overthrowing the British King. Not a good idea.

Given that Bowling’s exclamation was public, and he drank to the Pretender’s health, it’s fairly obvious that he visited the local pub and maybe had a mite too much to drink. So, not only did he probably come home drunk, in his 70s, he also managed to get himself arrested, prosecuted, fined, and jailed.

Yep, I bet Bowling was in one HEAP of trouble with Mary.

I can just hear his children now, “Mom, PLEASE keep him at home!!!!”


In 1754, Bowling and Mary must have been feeling their age, and they sold part of both Boarman’s Manor and Mistake.

On July 23, 1755, Bowling was still transacting business. He sold 121 acres of land in Mistake to his son, Thomas of Zachia. Ten days later, Thomas wrote his will.

What happened?

As difficult as those early years must have been for Mary, burying three or four times as many children as survived, plus Bowling’s 1752 “indiscretion,” which landed him in “gaol,” 1755 had to have been the worst.

On September 13, two wills were probated, one following the other, on the same day. Mary had lost both Bowling and her son, Thomas of Zachia, between July 23 and early September. For all we know, they could have died within days or even hours of each other.

I can’t even begin to image the grief Mary experienced. It’s hard enough to lose a spouse, but to lose an adult child at the same time would have compounded that immeasurably. Not to mention that Mary had grieving grandchildren as well. Who would take care of them? How would they all survive?

Did William, her surviving son, build the coffins for his father and brother both? Were other people sick too? Were they buried side by side at St. Peter’s?

We know that Mary was living in both 1750 and 1755, because she is named as the executor of Bowling’s will. He described Mary as “my well-beloved wife” and left her life estate in his “dwelling plantation” and the rest of his personal estate. After that, it was to belong to their grandson, Edward Speake.

This bequeath to Edward is quite interesting. Edward was born to Thomas of Zachia about 1727. By 1750, Edward would have been in his early 20s – strong and marriage age.

In 1750, Bowling and Mary would have been in their mid-70s, quite aged for that time and place. I don’t know of course, but I’d wager that Edward was living with Bowling and Mary, or at least on their property, helping them and farming the plantation. Perhaps this bequeath was Bowling’s way of guaranteeing that there was someone nearby to help. After all, his two sons were living up on Mistake, six or seven miles distant.

I’m sure the idea was that Mary would continue to live on their home property and Edward would farm it and take care of things for Mary.

After that, it would be his.

Apparently, Edward didn’t love the farm quite as much as Bowling did.

Mary’s Death

Mary died sometime after Bowling’s estate inventory was filed, although, unfortunately, not detailed, on February 12, 1756. She probably died before June 17, 1758, when Edward sold 17 acres known as Speake’s Meadow adjoining the upper tract of Boarman’s Manor to Philip Edelen for 2000 pounds of tobacco. However, that conveyance may not be an outright sale. The Speak/e/s Family of Southern Maryland book reports that part of the original deed is missing, but it appears that Edward may have mortgaged this land, not sold it outright. The 17 acres remained in Edward’s name until 1769, when it appears in Philip Edelen’s name, suggesting that Edward may have defaulted on the loan.

Not to complicate matters, but It’s possible that Edward was able to take a mortgage on that land even though Mary was still living, since he clearly had a right to it after her death. By 1758, Mary would have been about 83 years old.

Mary may have died before 1758, though, because Edward is shown on the rent rolls for 1756-1758 as owning the 17 acres of Speake’s Meadow. It’s hard to know whether they would have recorded Mary as holder of the life estate, or the person who was actually working the land, paying the taxes and who would be the eventual owner in fee simple.

In 1760, Edward sold the remaining 159 acres of Boarman’s Reserve to Samuel Hanson, complete with “houses, gardens, orchard, fences and other improvements” for another 2000 pounds of crop tobacco. Mary was unquestionably deceased by this time.

I wonder at the disparity of 17 acres for 2000 pounds of tobacco, and 150 acres plus the rest of the farm for the same amount.

Having stood on this land, much of it is woodland and swamp, so perhaps this 17 acres of meadow was quite valuable, comparatively speaking.

No Mitochondrial Lineage

I think the high colonial mortality rate in Maryland, plus the various types of “swamp sickness,” have come home to roost.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only passed on to the next generation by females.

To find Mary’s mitochondrial DNA, we either need to begin with her own female descendants or those of her mother or sisters.

  • Since we don’t know who Mary’s mother is, that avenue is not possible.
  • Mary Benson had no known sisters, so we’re striking out there too.
  • Mary Benson had one daughter, Mary Speake, her namesake who married John Baggott.
  • Mary Speake Baggott may have had more than two surviving children, but the only children we know of are John Bowling Baggott and Samuel Baggott, both living with their father and listed on the rent rolls after Mary’s death.

It’s possible that there are actually female lines, but we need to be able to identify and confirm them.

At this point in time, a Bible or maybe previously unknown letters or a family story is pretty much our only hope of identifying either Mary Benson’s mother, sisters (if she had any,) or additional children of her daughter, Mary Speake Baggot, assuming, of course, that she had more than two children who survived.

If you meet this criterion, please reach out. I have a DNA testing scholarship for you.

Mitochondrial DNA might well be the only remaining key we have available to unlock the identity of Mary Benson’s mother.


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Thomas Speake of Zachia (c1700-1755): Life and Death in Zachia Swamp – 52 Ancestors #382

Thomas Speake of Zachia was born about 1700, the son of Bowling Speake and Mary Benson. He was named after his grandfather, Thomas the Immigrant.

To understand Thomas’s life, we need to tell his story, at least partly, in reverse.

Thomas’s father, Bowling wrote his will on October 20, 1750, but he didn’t pass away for another five years.

Bowling left a life estate to his wife, Mary, but after her death, his plantation was to descend to Edward, Thomas’s son, along with another tract of land. Edward was also to receive first choice of enslaved persons owned by Bowling, and first choice of beds and furniture.

Bowling’s will was quite unusual, given that Bowling’s son, Thomas of Zachia (Edward’s father,) was living, as was Bowling’s other son, William.

Why was Bowling’s grandson Edward his primary heir and not sons Thomas or William? Why not Bowling’s other grandchildren?

Was there friction within the family?

Was Edward living with Bowling, helping his grandparents, perhaps? Bowling would have been 75 or 76. Was Edward a favorite grandchild?

Was Thomas ill? And what about William?

At that time, it was typical for men to marry about age 25, so if Edward was Thomas’s eldest son and was approximately 25 in 1750, and Thomas was 25 when he was born, that puts Thomas’s birth around 1700, or possibly before. Thomas could have been born as late as 1708 if Edward was 21 in 1750, and Thomas was 21 when he was born.

Thomas of Zachia

Bowling’s son, Thomas Speake is called Thomas of Zachia to differentiate him from other men by the same name, including his first cousin. He was listed by that name on the St. Mary’s County, Maryland 1750 rent rolls and that’s also how he refers to himself in his will.

To fully understand what was transpiring, we need to step back a generation.

Bowling Speake’s brother, John had inherited land from Thomas the Immigrant in Port Tobacco that included an inn, giving him the name of John the InnKeeper or InnHolder.

Bowling, on the other hand, not inheriting as the eldest son, had to fend for himself. He purchased, leased, and otherwise farmed various parcels further out, in the Manor of Zachia. These lands were swampy and much less productive than land near and in Port Tobacco. Sacaya, later Zachia was reported to have meant “dense thicket” in the Algonquian-Fox dialect of the Native people who hunted and camped there before white settlers arrived.

In an article about the Alvin family, we discover some interesting information about the lands of Zachia Manor, which would certainly include the Speak lands that abutted those lands.

“The lease was relatively cheap—Zachia Manor had the poorest soil of any of Lord Baltimore’s manors. And Lord Baltimore’s leases were on better terms than private landlords could afford to offer.”

Therefore tenants in Zachia Manor, also known as the Jourden Tract, tended to be relatively poor, and the land comparatively inexpensive.

Added to that, within a few years, the nutrients in the land would be depleted by continuous tobacco growth, requiring more land to produce as much tobacco. With multiple sons inheriting, productivity dropping, and less land available, the next frontier was quite inviting. Maryland was no longer a place of opportunity by the 1770s. There just wasn’t enough land to go around.

Thomas of Zachia was caught up in that transition generation.

Early Years

We know almost nothing of Thomas of Zachia’s early years, other than through his father, Bowling Speake.

We know the family was Catholic, so Thomas would have been baptized by a traveling priest, probably in his own father’s home.

We also know that Thomas inherited some of his father, Bowling’s, land.

Bowling’s Land – It’s Complicated

Over his lifetime, Bowling owned various tracts of land, and had one resurveyed, both losing part of the acreage and gaining adjacent acreage.

I told you it was complicated.

You can read about the Maryland land in detail, here and here. This article only deals with that land that involved Thomas of Zachia.

  • In 1718, Bowling bought 220 acres from Luke Gardiner in Charles County called Mistake, located on the northern boundary of Zachia Manor, for 5000 pounds of tobacco.

Thomas would have been 18 or 20 years old, or maybe older when his dad bought that land. Perhaps Bowling bought Mistake with the idea that his son, Thomas would work it. In Bowling’s will, 32 years later, he still lived on his land at Boarman’s Reserve at his death, so there’s no reason to think he ever lived on Mistake.

Part of me can just hear that original landowner, after maybe claiming that land, then having it surveyed and realizing just what he had, saying, “Wow, what a mistake.” And his wife, “Yep, that’s what we’ll call it, the mistake. Maybe you can sell it.”

  • In 1735, a resurvey of Mistake increased the size to 572 acres, more than doubling the total, although Bowling lost part of the original tract. Surveying was difficult in swampland.

The St. Peter’s Church 300th Anniversary book tells us that the land now occupied by St Peter’s Church includes 37 acres of Mistake where the church and school stand and another few acres between St. Peter’s Church Road and Poplar Hill Road where the present-day cemetery is located, pictured below.

  • In 1738, Bowling acquired Speaks Meadow which added another 17 acres.
  • The 1742 rent roll shows Bowling with a total of 869 acres, of which Mistake was 572 acres.
  • In March of 1744, Bowling sold 250 acres of Mistake where he’s described as a planter.

In this drawing contributed years ago by Jerry Draney, the original Mistake is in green, the resurveyed Mistake is in burgundy, and the St. Peter’s Church land is in yellow.

  • In February of 1754, Bowling sold 60 acres of Mistake to Philip Edelin and in December, 100 acres of Mistake to James Montgomery which are today still undeveloped swamp.
  • On July 23, 1755, Bowling deeded his son, Thomas Speake of Zachia, 125 acres of land that included the home where Thomas was living. Both men were clearly alive at this time.

However, the deed was not recorded until September 20, 1755, a week after Bowling’s will was probated on September 13, 1755. His will left:

  • Tract 1 – to Thomas of Zachia, 121 acres (parcels E and F on the map, below, also contributed by Jerry Draney)
  • Tract 2 – to William Speake, 202 acres (probably should have been 102), with his dwelling place (parcels C and D on the map)

Unfortunately, this map conflicts with the map, above, and the contributor is deceased. Using the St. Charles County GIS system, I can’t resolve these boundary lines. Typically I can see at least some of the original survey lines, but not this time.

These maps and some other information are from the comprehensive book, The Speak/e/s Family of Southern Maryland, which I highly recommend for any Speak researcher, published by the Speak Family Association, John Morris, Editor. While it doesn’t answer every question, the book provides a HUGE amount of wonderfully organized information.

So, does Thomas of Zachia have a total of 125+121 acres, or does he just have 121 (or 125) acres? Did Bowling simply deed Thomas the land he was going to inherit, or does Thomas actually own two parcels totaling 246 acres?

Thomas of Zachia’s Will

On August 2, 1755, just ten days after that deed was conveyed, Thomas wrote his own will.

Thomas willed his portion of his father’s land, as follows:

  • Tract 1 – to Thomas Bowling Speak and John Speak, 120 (sic) acres in Mistake to be divided equally between them the crossways and not the length unless they should so agree. Thomas Bowling was to have first choice. Parcels E and F on the map.
  • Tract 2 – to Charles Beckworth Speake and Nicholas Speaks, all the remaining part of that track called Speak’s Enlargement and the remaining part of Mistake containing together 90 acres after the decease of his wife, Jane. That land to be equally divided by a line drawn from Jordon’s Swamp to the opposite line, with Charles having first choice. There is no record of the disposition of this land.

This is clearly more land than Thomas had received in his father’s will. But it’s not equal to what was deeded to him plus what was willed to him. This only totals 210 acres, not 246.

Ironically, both Bowling and Thomas’s wills were probated on the same day, September 13, 1755, so they had died within days, or maybe even hours of each other. It’s likely that both of their deaths occurred after the prior court session, a month earlier.

My assumption was that Bowling deeded his son the land that he wllled to him, but now I don’t think that was the case.

There is no record of Thomas purchasing any land. Bowling deeded Thomas 125 acres and then willed him 121 acres, although Bowling wrote his will in 1750, before he deeded the land to Thomas. That totals 246 acres.

However, a month later, Thomas leaves a total of 210 acres to his heirs.

Something, someplace, is missing. Like 36 acres.

However, this wasn’t Thomas’s first confusing land transaction. Nor Bowling’s.


We know that Thomas was married before August 28, 1734, when he and his wife, Jane, conveyed two tracts of land in St. Mary’s County to George Plater. One was called Pope’s and contained 200 acres, and the other was Mount Clipsaw, containing 68 acres and adjoined the first parcel.

Thomas Speake and Jane to George Plater. Liber P.L. #8 p.284-286. Indenture 28 Aug 1724 / recorded 28 Apr 1724 between Thomas Speake of Charles County, planter and Jane his wife to George Plater, Esq. of St. Mary’s Co for 18 lbs 15 shillings current money, tract called Pope’s whereon John Pope formerly dwelt near Potomac River at the mouth of a creek called Baker’s Creek in CC. 200 acres. Also land called Mount Clipsaw, 68 acres which land was conveyed by Thomas George Plater to a certain Barton Smoot of Charles County.

We have no idea where Thomas and Jane obtained this land, but it was located near the Potomac River at the mouth of Baker’s Creek. John Pope had previously lived on Pope’s and, according to the rent rolls, Plater had owned both tracts before that and conveyed them to Barton Smoot in April 1724.

This probably accounts for the persistent rumors that Jane was a Smoot, but to date, there is no evidence to support that. There is no Jane listed in either Barton Smooth’s will, nor that of his father.

You may be noticing a persistent theme that the St. Charles County early property records are incomplete.

The Catholic Church

Thomas and Jane were probably married by a visiting priest in the fledgling mission church on Upper Zacchia Swamp that was founded in 1700. That “church” may very well have been in his own father’s home.

Jesuit Priests from St. Ignatius Church at St. Thomas Manor, 20 miles distant, visited the area occasionally on horseback to minister to the needs of the faithful and would ring a bell that they carried in their saddlebag to announce to everyone within earshot that a priest had arrived, and services would be held.

In 1692, Maryland barred Catholics from all civil rights, establishing the Church of England as the official religion. However, the Upper Zachia Parish was established in 1700, located near the headwaters of Upper Zachia Swamp. In 1704, it became illegal to practice Catholicism openly, so churches were officially closed. Priests then disguised themselves as peddlers, and of course, there was no more bell-ringing to announce services, although chalices disguised as bells were hung from the sides of their horses. Catholics worshiped in small, private chapels or private homes. Religious freedom would not be secured again until 1775.

This chalice, housed at St. Ignatius Church was carried by the priest and would have been used for communion. Bowling and Thomas both would have taken communion from this very cup.

Additionally, the priest from St. Ignatius carried a “relic of the true cross” in a silver and glass case which he wore around his neck. This relic was a piece of wood that is supposed to be part of the cross upon which Christ was crucified that was brought back from the Holy Land during the Crusades.

In the photo, above, I’m holding both, knowing that very likely four generations of my ancestors took communion and drank from this chalice and marveled at this relic.

Church services were held either in a log cabin, or after 1704, in the home of fellow Catholics, such as Bowling.

The original St. Peter’s cemetery is found on Bowling’s land. Many unmarked graves are located in the open, grassy space.

The name of St. Peter’s was conferred after the Revolutionary War when Catholicism could once again be practiced openly.

The land once owned by Bowling, then by his sons, was donated to the Catholic church by Thomas Reeves in 1825, and a church building was built in 1860 where the current St. Peter’s Church stands. However,  Reeve’s Chapel stood across the road from the old cemetery. In 1941, the current St. Peter’s Church was built in the current location, a couple of miles away. The old church, Reeves Chapel, shown in a painting, above, was demolished in 1972.

Thomas Reeves (1753-1825) and his wife, Elizabeth Edelen (1755-1840) are buried in the St. Peter’s Cemetery across the road.

Elizabeth’s parents were Philip Edelen and Jane Gardiner. Bowling sold his Boarman Manor land to Philip Edelen, and Thomas of Zachia’s son, Edward sold the land he inherited from his grandfather to Edelen as well.

It’s worth noting that Bowling purchased his land in Boarman Manor in 1718 from Mary Gardiner, and Mistake on Zachia Swamp in 1718 from Luke Gardiner whose wife was Mary Boarman. This may or may not be significant genealogically. These families were connected one way or another – perhaps only through these purchases, or perhaps more.

It’s certainly possible that the lands of Upper Zachia Swamp, six or seven miles on north of where Bowling lived, was the next location of available, unsettled land.

Zachia, now Zekiah Swamp is the dominant feature of this landscape, and the lives of the people who lived here.

It remains the largest and densest hardwood swamp in Maryland, meandering some 21 miles through Charles and Prince George’s counties.

This very remote area even has its own urban legend – the Goat Man, a strange hairy man-creature with horns who has been “spied” off and on for decades and maybe centuries. He is reported to hack his victims to death while bellowing like Satan.

Clearly, Bowling hadn’t heard that tale before he purchased!

Zachia Manor

In December of 1749, Thomas leased Lot 69 of Zachia Manor, owned by the Lord Proprietor.

According to an old map, this was likely at the northern end, probably close to the land that Bowling purchased, near or even abutting the blue stars.

Lot 69 is not shown on the map, but probably beside or close to Ignatius Baggett.



Zachia Swamp also known as Jourdan’s Swamp or Jordan’s Run, marked with red arrows on this topo map, runs from the St. Peter’s Church at the top, where Bowling, then Thomas owned land, to the Wicomico River at the bottom of the map which then feeds into the Potomac.

Zachia Manor ran right along that swamp. Bourman’s Manor where Thomas may have been born, and where Bowling lived is marked with a red star, and the Zachia Manor/Zachia Swamp land, with blue stars.

Thomas’s three-life lease for Lot 69 meant it was in effect until as long as any of the three people named were alive. In this case, that would be, presumably Thomas, Jane, and John. In 1768, the proprietor conducted a survey of the Manor and indicated that two of the three were still living, Jane, age 54, and John, age 35. Clearly, Jane would have had to have been a decade older to have been married before 1724.

On the 1750 and 1753 rent rolls, Thomas of Zachia is noted with 100 acres, plus 20 acres, of Mistake. In 1754, the parcels were combined.

In 1755, Bowling conveyed 125 acres of Mistake to Thomas where he lived, presumably the land Thomas was already paying taxes on.

Bowling Speake to Thomas Speake. Liber A #1 ½, p.388. 23 Jul 1755 / 20 Sep 1755. Bowling Speake of CC, planter. For the love and affection for my son, Thomas Speake, 125 acres of land being part of a tract of land called Mistake, where said Thomas Speake’s dwelling place now is and at that end of Mistake next to Speake’s Enlargment, lying in CC. Signed Bowling Speake. Wit: Smith Middleton and John Pigion Vincent.

Thomas also received 121 acres of Mistake in his father’s will.

I’ve drawn the approximate location of Thomas’s land based on Jerry’s earlier map. The 121 acres accounted for in Thomas’s will is shown in the red triangle, with Thomas of Zachia’s dwelling place in the top 60 acres chosen by his son, Thomas Bowling Speake.

The bottom 60 acres was inherited by Thomas of Zachia’s son, John.

However, there’s another 90 acres that are included somehow in Mistake and Speak’s Enlargement that I can’t account for. Basil’s original land isn’t entirely accounted for either, so I just don’t know.

I created this spreadsheet to track Basil and Thomas of Zachia’s land, but some transactions are clearly missing. Suffice it to say that Thomas owned another 90 acres of land adjacent the portion of Mistake that he willed to his sons.

It may also be worth noting that Mudd Road is nearby, just west of this land, and was owned by the Mudd Family in the mid-1800s. Dr. Samuel Mudd conspired with John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin who became lost in Zachia Swamp after attempting to escape through the Swamp after being treated by Mudd.

If you crossed the swamp behind the Mudd home, you would have been on the land that had belonged to Bowling, then Thomas of Zachia and his brother, John. 

You can view a YouTube video of Zachia Swamp behind the Mudd farm, here.

Bowling bought land from the Mudd family in the early 1700s. These families are all found down by Bourman Manor, and then a few miles further north in Zachia.

Poplar Hill Road, running east to west, Gardiner Road running south, then Piney Church Road running west, then angling north, traverses Bowling’s land and probably Thomas’s. Piney Church Road is now the Gardiner Mine Site and is inaccessible from either end.

This area is still extremely dense and unpopulated, and I really don’t know how Thomas or either of his sons would have been able to eek a living out of this triangle of land. It’s evident from the aerial that some has been cleared and is being farmed today, but not much.

Historical documents indicate that plantations were set out in three-to-ten-acre plots for growing tobacco, the major source of revenue and currency in colonial Maryland. Access to the bay was essential to be able to transport and sell one’s produce.

Perhaps this is why this parcel was named Mistake, although if Thomas enslaved two people, plus a poor pregnant convict, clearly he was engaged in some type of farming that required labor. It’s also evident from his estate inventory that they were living at a subsistence level.

It’s possible that the map reconstruction is incorrect and this portion of Mistake is closer to St. Peter’s Church. Jerry, the individual who did the original map work is deceased now, and his two maps conflict somewhat with one another.

Regardless, we know positively that we are very close.

The Original St. Peter’s Cemetery

One big hint is the location of the original St. Peter’s Cemetery at the intersection of Poplar Hill Road and Gardiner Road.

One thing is for sure – Thomas is assuredly buried here. His father, Bowling probably is as well. Catholics would have wanted to be buried in consecrated ground.

The family would have buried two men within days. Thomas’s mother lost her husband and her son. Thomas’s children, their father, and grandfather. It would have been a time of great sorrow.

The earliest stones here date from the 1820s and the most recent burial was in 2017.

The Original St. Peter’s Cemetery is at the intersection of Gardner Road and Poplar Hill Road, on Bowling’s land.

Thomas’s portion of his father’s land was south on Gardiner Road. Just turn right at this corner.

This was definitely Bowling’s land, but we may not be able to see far enough to view Thomas’s land.

That’s likely Thomas’s land in the distance. I’d love to know where his homestead was located.

Unfortunately, the Google Street View vehicle didn’t drive down those side roads.

Thomas’s Death

It’s unclear whether Bowling or his son, Thomas died first. Their wills were probated the same day. Thomas’s was filed first, which may not mean anything.

We know for sure they were both living in July.

  • July 23, 1755 – Bowling deeded land to Thomas
  • August 2, 1755 – Thomas of Zachia wrote his will

Thomas was clearly unwell by August 2nd, just days later. I hope they didn’t infect one another on July 23rd.

  • September 13, 1755 – Wills of both Bowling and Thomas were probated

In the Name of God Amen, I Thomas Speake of Zachia of Charles County in the province of Maryland being weak in body but of perfect sense and memory thanks be to almighty God for it do make & ordain this my last will and testament in Manner & form following:

FIRST my soul unto the hands of God who gave it & my body to the Dirt from whence it was taken to be buried at the Discretion of my Executer herein after named;

Also I give & bequeath to my loving wife Jane Speake my Dwelling plantation on whereon I now live during her natural life together with all that tract or parcel of land called Speakes Enlargement during her natural life also all my personal Estate as negroes crattles & cattle household furniture and plantation utensils of all sorts whatsoever except one Dun Mare;

Also I give & bequeath to my son Edward Speake five English Shillings;

Also I give & bequeath to my two sons Thomas Bowling Speake & John Speake one hundred and twenty acres of land to them & their heirs & assigns forever the said land to begin at the second course or line of a tract of land called Mistake & to run with the courses of the said land as they are laid out for me in the said tract of land called Mistake & at the end of the course next to Jordan Swamp take in part of a tract of land called Speakes Enlargement with one line & from the last end of that line to run with one straight line to their beginning and then to divide it equally between them the cross way & not the length way unless they should so agree & my son Thomas Bowling Speake to have the first choices provided that they nor either of them or any person or persons by or through their means may not disturb or molest my aforesaid wife Jane Speake from occupying and abiding on that part of the said land on which tract of my Dwelling plantation now is;

Also I give and bequeath to my two sons Charles Beckworth Speake & Nicholas Speake all the remaining part of that tract of land called Speakes Enlargement & my remaining tract of that tract called Mistake containing both together ninety acres to them & their heirs and assigns forever after the Decease of my wife Jane Speake to be equally divided between them by a line drawn from Jordan Swamp to the opposite line & my son Charles Beckworth Speake to have first choice;

Also I give to my daughter Elizabeth Ann Mary Smith the wife of Peter Smith that tenement whereon they now live for the space of five years & no longer provided they keep but one labouring hand (as we commonly call it, threon) at one time besides their two own slaves.

Also I give & bequeath all my personal estate aforementioned after the decease of my wife Jane Speake to be equally divided among my two sons Charles Beckworth Speake & Nicholas Speake and my three daughters Elizabeth Ann Mary Smith the wife of Peter Smith, Ann Speake & Eleanor Speake

I do ordain constitute & appoint my said loving wife Jane Speake to be the sole executrix of this my last will & testament. In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand & affixed my seal the second day of August in the Years of our Lord One Thousand seven hundred & fifty five.

Signed sealed published & declared by the said Thomas Speake to be his last will & testament in the presence of us.

Edwd X Miles
John Baggot
James Smith
Thomas X Speake seal

John Baggott witnessed his will, and Ignatius Baggett leased Lot 67 and 68 of Zachia Manor.

On the back of the foregoing will was endorsed the following probate

To wit: Maryland for 13th September 1755 Edward Miles John Baggot and James Smith the three subscribing witnesses to the within will who being duly and solemnly sworn on the holy Evangelists of almighty God does depose & say that they saw Thomas Speake the Testator sign & seal the within Will and heard him publish & declare the same to be his last will & testament and at the time his so doing was to the best of their appurtunicions of sound & disposing mind & memory and that the severally subscribed as witnesses to the said will in the presence of the Testator and at his Request which probate was taken in the presence of Edward Speakes heir at Law who did no object to the same.

7 1/2 Lides Sworn before Dan. Jenifer DC of Chas.Cty.

[Will Book 29, p. 544]

Thomas signed with an X, although he may have been too ill to sign his name.

It was startling to turn the page and see his father’s will, written into the book the same day.

Thomas only left Edward five shillings, but if you look as Bowling’s will, you’ll see why. Bowling left his grandson a substantial inheritance, and apparently, Thomas knew that. Edward already had his share, so his father remembered him in his will, but left the balance to his other children.

I hate to even ask, but what happened to Thomas’s daughters? Unfortunately, the St. Ignatius Catholic records burned in a church fire, and county marriage records don’t exist until the mid-1800s, so we may never know. The marriage records for Thomas of Zachia’s sons perished too.

Thomas’s Inventory

Fortunately, Thomas’s estate had an inventory, but for some reason, his father’s did not, or at least it wasn’t recorded.

An inventory of Thomas’s estate was taken on February 2, 1756 and included:

  • One young negro man
  • One old negro man
  • One servant woman, a convict, bigg with child 3.25 years due
  • One feather bed and sorry? covering, bedstead and ?
  • 30 pounds of good feathers
  • 45 pounds of old feathers
  • One servant’s bed of hen feathers
  • One bedstead and some sorry bed covering
  • Two mares, four cowes and four yearlings
  • Seven yews and 1 yearling a ?
  • 12 shoats and 1 sow
  • 40 barrels of indian corn
  • 4 bushels of corne beens
  • 20 bushels of wheat
  • 23 pounds of old puter (Pewter)
  • 5 pounds of old broken puter
  • 1 old gun and hale part of a pair of shoot molor?
  • One pr pincher shoe hammer, 3 pegging aules and two lathes
  • One pair coopers compasses and small parcels of carpenter tools
  • Small parcel of old tin
  • Three horn bells, one old box iron and heaters
  • One small looking glass, one wore out ?, wore out sifter
  • One broken King sever? And a small parcel of stone ware
  • Six wore out cape books, some old books
  • 1 very small gilt trunk
  • Three sides of sole leather and a dog skin
  • 513 pounds of corn fed pork
  • 17 hogs gutt fatt
  • 6 old hundred gallon sider casks
  • 8 bushels of oates
  • One old frying pan and parcel of planters tooles
  • 2 iron wedges and 8 pounds old iron
  • The 8th part of a wore out saine and rope
  • 1 large old chest
  • Wearing apparel
  • A parcel of old lumber
  • 1 old tobaco box, three glass bottles,
  • 54 pounds pott?
  • 3 pounds of wrought iron
  • 1 small grind stone and a ? of old ? lanyards

Errors excepted James Keetch, ? Darnall

Some of this document is very difficult to read.

It’s worth noting that there is no Bible, which I found unusual.

The hundred-gallon “sider casks” tell us that Thomas had apple trees and of course, pressed cider. Maybe hard cider.

There’s no tobacco, which suggests his land was planted in corn, beans and wheat. This is very unusual for this region, but tobacco is back-breakingly labor intensive.

There are lots of old, worn-out, and broken items.

Someone was making shoes. Were some of those shoes made out of dog skin?

Cooper and carpentry tools are in evidence too, although it’s impossible to know if those items were for farmstead use or if Thomas and/or his enslaved people were providing these services for neighbors. They might have been making cider casks.

The highest value items are, in order:

  • Young negro man – 55 pounds
  • Old negro man – 45 pounds
  • 40 barrels of Indian Corn – 20 pounds
  • Two mares, 4 cowes and 4 yearlings – 14 pounds
  • The female servant with more than three years left to serve was only 4 pounds, the same as the feather bed, bedstead and covering or 20 bushels of wheat.

The fact that Thomas owned humans hurts my heart. I wish we knew their names, but they are effectively lost to history.

I’m curious how Thomas came to be the master of a female convict servant. Was she deported while pregnant, or did she become pregnant after arrival?

I hope, really, really hope that the servant’s bed of hen feathers was where this woman slept.

What happened to her and her child? Whose child was it? What was she convicted of, and where?

According to the Journal of American Studies in the article, Convict Runaways in Maryland, 1745-1775:

“The existence of convicts in Virginia and Maryland stemmed from the provisions of the Transportation Act passed by the British parliament in 1718. This stated that felons found guilty of non-capital crimes against property could be transported to America for seven years while the smaller number of criminals convicted on capital charges could have their death sentence commuted to banishment for either fourteen years or life. Between 1718 and 1775, when the traffic ended with the approach of war, more than 90 percent of the 50,000 convicts shipped across the Atlantic from the British Isles were sold by contractors to settlers in the Chesapeake, where there was a continuous demand for cheap, white, bonded labour. Though many convicts were people who had resorted to petty theft in hard times rather than habitual criminals, they were often viewed with jaundiced eyes in the Chesapeake as purveyors of crime, disease and corruption. They also had to endure, along with slaves and indentured servants, the everyday reality of lower-class life in colonial America: the exploitation of unfree labour. It is therefore not surprising that many convicts, like other dependent labourers, tried to free themselves from bondage by escaping from their owners.”

If the woman was convicted for 7 years, she would have arrived in 1752 and become pregnant in Maryland. Indentured servants weren’t allowed to marry, so it’s unlikely that convicts were permitted to marry either. Furthermore, if an indentured servant had a child, years were generally added to their servitude for the “bother” to their master. I wrote about Enforced Bastardry in Colonial America, here.

Of course, this also begs the question of whose child she was carrying.

And did either of them survive?

What happened to those two enslaved men? How old was “old” in this context?

Death in the Chesapeake

I’m fascinated by the fact that Thomas died within days of his father. Is there a story here?

Life expectancy in the Chesapeake was a full decade shorter than in New England.


The Chesapeake region was swampy and the residents battled malaria, dysentery, and typhoid.

Average life expectancy from 1650-1700 was 41 years, and from 1700-1745 was 43 years.

Both dysentery and typhoid killed fairly quickly. Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease can torture its host for a long period before death, is almost always fatal if untreated, and thrives in the heat. Many people die of complications. Those who survive can become infected again. The cause of malaria wasn’t understood until 1897, having been attributed to “bad air” or miasma. The colonists had no idea why they got sick, nor how to protect themselves.

Of course, malaria is caused by bites of infected mosquitos, but so is yellow fever. The death rate from yellow fever is so high that those not-yet-infected often had to work day and night to bury the dead during an outbreak.

Due to the low water table creating stagnant water, risk of human waste contamination, the cause of both dysentery and typhoid, was significant.

Typhoid was more common in hot months and anyone unfortunate enough to get both typhoid and dysentery at the same time simply wasn’t going to survive. The hallmark of both was “bloody flux” accompanied by fever, often high fever, followed by severe dehydration and systemic organ shutdown.

Nearly half of the indentured servants in the Chesapeake died before finishing their contract. Colonists began to learn that the area was unhealthy, and their children moved toward the Piedmont.

Given that Bowling and Thomas lived six or seven miles apart, they wouldn’t have been sickened by the same contaminated water supply, unless they were visiting with each other. However, smallpox was a recurrent, contagious, epidemic that would affect many people within a region.

We haven’t even mentioned consumption, known as tuberculosis today, but it seems that many people would have died of something else before they had the opportunity to contract a disease that would kill them slowly.

So, what killed Basil at about age 81 years of age, and his son Thomas at about 55, within days of each other, but not the wife of either man?

Spouses share water supplies, so the women would have contracted dysentery or typhoid as well. Of course, they could have survived.

Spouses also shared close living quarters, not to mention drinking water from the same gourd dipper, for example. If one person had something contagious, every other person in the household could be expected to contract it.

My guess would be malaria, also known as ague or marsh fever due to its association with swamps, and because it’s not contagious from person to person.

After all, Bowling and Thomas both lived along the length of Zachia Swamp. They died in the summer. Mosquitos would have been rampant. And their wives didn’t die.

Zekiah Swamp Run is literally the name of the intertwined, braided stream system snaking through Thomas of Zachia’s land.

It’s ironic that his own nickname may hold the clue to his demise.

All things considered, Bowling was exceptionally lucky to live double the local life expectancy of 41 or 43 years, and Thomas outlived that by a decade or so as well.

Such was life in 1755 in Zachia Manor, aka Zachia Swamp.


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

The Ancestors are SPEAKing: An 18-Year Y-DNA Study That Led Us Home – 52 Ancestors #381

In 2004, 18 years ago, I founded the Speak(e)(s) Family DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA. I descend from Nicholas Speaks through his son, Charles Speaks.

Some two decades before, I had met my wonderful cousin, Dolores Ham, by snail mail. We were introduced by Mary Parkey (1927-2000), a genealogist in the Cumberland Gap region who seemed to know something, if not everything, about the early settler families.

Mary wasn’t my cousin through the Speaks line, but she knew who was researching each line, and put me in touch with Dolores.

I met other researchers and discovered that a Speaks Family Association (SFA) had been formed in 1979.

I had a young family at the time, so I joined, but never attended any of the annual meetings, known as conventions, until 2005. I did enjoy the newsletters, however. It was always a good day when a newsletter or a letter from a cousin was waiting in the mailbox.

The goal of the Association was to share research and to determine if, and how, the various Speak lines in America were related. The “rumor” was that the family was from England, but no one knew for sure. We didn’t even know who was actually “in” the family, or how many different families there might be.

In 2004, when I established the Speaks DNA Project in collaboration with the SFA, our goal was stated, in part, as follows:

This project was begun to determine the various Speak(e)(s) lines around the world. According to family legend, the original ancestor came to England with William the Conqueror and his last name then was L’Espec. It was later spelled Speke and then the derivatives of Speake, Speakes, and Speaks carried by descendants today.

We knew that there was a Speak family in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Did our ”Nicholas” line descend from Maryland, or not?

We knew there was a Thomas Speak (c1634-1681) who settled there by 1661 and had two sons, John the InnKeeper or InnHolder (1665-1731) and Bowling (c1674-1755), named after his mother’s birth surname.

Fast forwarding two or three generations, our Nicholas Speak or Speaks was born about 1782 and was first found in Washington County, Virginia in 1804 when he married Sarah Faires. That’s a long way from Maryland. Who was Nicholas? Who were his parents? How did Nicholas get to Washington County, Virginia? There aren’t any other Speaks men, or women, in Washington County. Was he dropped fully grown by the stork?

In 2005, I attended my first Speaks Family Association Convention, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and met my lovely cousins who I’m quite close to. I gave an introductory talk about Y-DNA, and several Speaks males volunteered to test, including a descendant of Nicholas.

I was ecstatic, but within a year, we had a, well, “problem.”

In 2006, the Convention was held in Alabama, in the heat of summer. Not only did we have technology issues and lose power during the presentation, part of me hoped it wouldn’t come back on.

At that point, we had 8 Y-DNA testers.

At first, everything was fine. Two testers each from Thomas the immigrant through sons John and Bowling.

  • Thomas, Bowling and then two different sons. They matched.
  • Thomas, John, and his son Richard. They matched too.
  • All four men above, match each other.

Everything’s good, right?

Not so fast…

Then, a father/son pair tested who were also supposed to descend from the Thomas, Bowling, and Thomas line. Thankfully, they matched each other, but they did NOT match the other descendants of Thomas the immigrant.

Because we had multiple men through both of Thomas the immigrant’s sons, we had confirmed the Y-DNA STR marker signature of Thomas – which means that the father/son pair had experienced a genetic disconnect, or, they were actually descended from a different Speak line.

That wasn’t all though. Two more men tested who believed they descended from Thomas the immigrant through John and then Richard. They didn’t match each other, nor any of the other men either.

This was a difficult, painful situation, and not what was anticipated. Of course, I reviewed the results privately with the men involved before presenting them at the convention, and only did so with their permission.

In an effort to identify their genealogical lines, we discovered seven other mentions of early colonial Speak immigrants, including one named Thomas.

Over time, we would discover additional Y-DNA genetic Speak lines.

Bonus Cousin

Y-DNA also revealed an amazing new cousin, Henry, who didn’t know who his father was, but thanks to DNA, discovered he is a genetic Speaks AND identified his father.

Unfortunately, his father had recently passed away, but Henry contacted his uncle and was welcomed into his immediate family, as well as our broader Speaks family. Talk about life-changing! I will never, ever forget Henry’s emotional journey, or the small role I was privileged to play. For a long time, I couldn’t even tell his story without tearing up.

I met Henry in person for the first time at the convention last week. Lots of hugs all around!

In 2006, our Y-DNA haplogroup was known only as I1b1. We knew it was fairly rare and found in the rough Dinaric Alps border region between Bosnia and Croatia.

By User:Doron – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We weren’t wrong. We were just early. Our ancestors didn’t stop in the Alps.

Today, the migration path into Europe-proper looks like this.

In 2009, the convention was held in the Speaks Chapel United Methodist Church founded by the Reverend Nicholas Speaks, in Lee County, Virginia.

My dear cousin, Lola Margaret Speak Hall descends from Nicholas through two of his children and visited us as Nicholas’s wife, Sarah Faires, describing their lives together.

I can’t even begin to describe how moving it was to hear “Sarah” read from her Bible and recall her life with Nicholas and each of their children, especially those she buried across the road in the cemetery.

The cemetery was visible through the door as Sarah was speaking, describing Nicholas preaching their children’s funerals, and the sound of the clods of dirt hitting their coffins.

That reunion in Nicholas’s church was memorable for another reason, too. I was baptized, surrounded by my family, in my ancestor’s church.


More Speaks men were taking Y-DNA tests, but we still had no idea where the Speaks line originated overseas.

The Association had been working with John Speake in Cambridge, England, above, who had been assisting the American Speak family by obtaining British records. We had hoped that we would match his Y-DNA, because that would mean that we shared a common ancestor, probably from Priestweston, Shropshire in the 1500s. Plus, we really liked John and wanted to be related.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case, so we knew one English family we did NOT descend from, but we still didn’t know where our family line was from. We are, however, eternally grateful to John for his amazing research and the critical role he would play.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail of Y-DNA testing is often a match with a man either from the “old country,” wherever that is, or someone who unquestionably knows where their ancestor is from. Through a match with them, it allows other testers to jump the pond too.

In early 2010, John Speake in Cambridge reached out to me and said that he had found an anonymous man in New Zealand who was agreeable to taking a DNA test.

By this time, I wasn’t terribly hopeful, but John sweetened those waters by telling me that this man’s family had only been in New Zealand for two generations – and he knew where his ancestors “back home” were from.

I ordered a test for our anonymous tester.

I had nearly forgotten about this man a few weeks later when I suddenly received what seemed like a slot machine jackpot clanging when an entire series of emails arrived, one for each of our Y-DNA testers, saying they had a new match. Yep, our anonymous NZ tester.

Suddenly, I cared a whole lot about his genealogy.

Where was his paternal ancestral line from?


Gisburn? Where the heck was Gisburn?


Gisburn is a tiny village in Lancashire, England.

This antiquarian map shows “Gisborn” located along the Ribble River. Gisburn is ancient, located on the old Roman road, appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ghiseburne, and is believed to have been established in the 9th century.

This was beginning to get serious. This is no longer speculation or unsourced oral history, but actual evidence.

Another cousin, Susan Speake Sills, a DAR Chapter Regent, started digging immediately. Nothing motivates genealogists like the imminent hope of breaking down a brick wall.

Susan and I shot emails back and forth, night and day, for three or four days, and confirmed that our New Zealand cousin’s ancestor, James Speak, had been born in Gisburn between 1735-1749.

We knew, or though we knew, that Thomas Speake, the immigrant, was Catholic. Maryland was a safe haven for Catholics hoping to escape persecution in England.

Thomas was rumored to have been born to a John, but we had no idea where that rumor arose.

Was our Thomas born in Gisburn too?

Susan discovered that St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn held 50 marked Speaks burials.

In 1602/03, William in Gisburn had a son named John.

We found men named Richard, Stephen, John, William, Thomas and more.

And, there were many unmarked graves and unreadable stones.

Susan was just getting started.

Next, Susan discovered that the records of St. Mary’s and All Saints Church in Whalley held pages and pages of Speak family records.

The earliest Speak burial there was in 1540.

During this timeframe, people did not have the right to come and go freely. They were vassals, tied to the land.

Whalley is 11 miles from Gisburn.

Susan and I were fairly quiet as we worked, because we did NOT want to start any unfounded rumors by speaking too soon in the heat of our excitement. We were desperately trying to connect elusive dots.

In 2011, the Convention was held near Thomas and Bowlng Speak’s land in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, our ancestral homeland in America.

Thomas the immigrant settled in Port Tobacco sometime before 1661 and would have attended St. Ignatius Church at St. Thomas Manor where he was probably buried after his death in 1681, in what is now an unmarked grave.

I wonder if Thomas stood in the churchyard, perhaps during funerals, and gazed out over the Port Tobacco River which of course empties into the Chesapeake Bay, and wondered about the family members he had left behind, across the expansive ocean.

Thomas willed his land to his eldest son, John, who was an InnKeeper in Port Tobacco.

His younger son, Bowling Speak had to secure land on his own. He obtained land generally known as Zachia Manor.

This portion of the grant was specifically called “The Mistake,” although we have no idea why, which is owned in part today by St. Peter’s Catholic Church.

The land where the church actually stands was not owned by Bowling, just the attached land beginning about where the bus is parked and extending into the woods beside Jordan’s Run.

The old St. Peter’s cemetery, where the original church stood, is located nearby, just outside the boundary of Bowling and his son, Thomas of Zachia’s land.

It’s likely that our ancestors, Bowling and his son, Thomas, who died in 1755, within days of each other, and their wives, are buried here.

We gathered on Bowling’s land called Speaks Enlargement, adjacent The Mistake. It felt like Nirvana to have located his land and obtained permission to visit both parcels.

Me, Susan Speake Sills, Lola-Margaret Speak Hall and Joyce Candland, a descendant of John the InnKeeper, standing on Bowling’s land. We laughed so much that day as we explored Bowling and Thomas’s land, cherishing our time together.

Lola-Margaret’s heart-felt kiss of gratitude for this discovery says it all – for all of us. The only difference is that she actually had the hutzpah to do this!

Cousins on the prowl. What would we discover?

Susan found old, unmarked graves in the woods.

Lola-Margaret and I found rocks that had once been owned by Thomas and Bowling.

In 2011, my Convention presentation contained a surprise – the information about our Gisburn match, and what we had found. Church records, and graves.

I showed this cemetery map from St. Mary’s in Gisburn, where our New Zealand cousin’s family was buried.

It felt like we were so excruciatingly close, but still so far away.

We knew unquestionably that we were in the neighborhood, but where was our Thomas born?

Who was his family?

I closed with this photo of St. Mary’s in Gisburn and famously said, “I don’t know about you, but I want to stand there.”

It was a throw-away comment, or so I thought, but as it turned out, it wasn’t.

2013 – The Trip Home


Cousins Susan and Mary Speaks Hentschel left no stone unturned. Two years later, our Convention was held in Lancashire, and indeed, I got to stand there.

So did our Speak cousin from New Zealand whose Y-DNA test bulldozed this brick wall for us.

We were then, and remain, incredibly grateful for this amazing opportunity.

Of course, I couldn’t resist the St. Mary’s cemetery, nor the cemeteries at the other churches we would visit. It must be something about being a genealogist. There are still Speak family members being buried here.

There are many ancient and unmarked graves as well.

With abundant rainfall, cemeteries overgrow quickly.

It’s common for stones to be moved to the side, or even built into a wall, in order to facilitate maintenance of the grounds.

St. Mary’s church itself was built as a defensive structure sometime before 1135 with these arrowslits for archers in many locations, including the tower.

The Stirk House

During our visit, we stayed at the beautiful Stirk House in the Ribble Valley, a 17th century manor house and the only local lodging available for a group.

We discovered after we checked in that the Speak family had owned this property in the 1930s and had converted it into a hotel. How lucky could we be? Talk about synchronicity!

The Stirk House was originally built in 1635 using stone from the dismantled Sawley Abbey during Henry VIII’s reign and the resulting dissolution of the monasteries. Our Catholic ancestors would have witnessed this devastation, and probably grieved the destruction deeply.

For some reason, I was incredibly moved as we passed the remains of Sawley Abbey during our visit, and grabbed a shot through the rain-speckled window. At this point, I had no inkling of the historical connection that would emerge.

Whalley Abbey

Whalley Abbey, above, was destroyed as well in the Protestant attempt to eradicate Catholicism. Instead, they succeeded in driving it underground.

As our ancestors’ lives revolved around churches and religion, so did our visit as we retraced their steps through time.

While the stones of Sawley Abbey were repurposed to build local structures after its destruction, the Whalley Abbey and cloister walls, above, still stand, albeit in ruins.

The Abbey, formed in 1178, is shown in ruins here in this 1787 drawing. The village of Whalley is visible in the background, at right, with the church tower evident.

The Abbey spring, believed by some to be sacred, is fenced for protection today.

This trip was truly the opportunity of a lifetime and we tried to take advantage of every minute, absorbing everything our ancestors would have experienced, walking in their footsteps.

I didn’t fully grasp at that time that we weren’t hunting for “the” location or locations where our ancestors trod, but that they trod everyplace here. Wherever we walked, it was in their footsteps.

St. Mary’s Church in Whalley

Our next stop was St. Mary’s Church in Whalley, not far from the Abbey, where Henry Speke was granted a lease in 1540.

This church is ancient, build in the 1200s, replacing an earlier church, and stunningly beautiful.

Our trip group photo was taken inside St. Mary’s.

As we sat in the choir, our guide explained the history of the church, which is our history too.

The little green men carved into the wooden choir seats are a wink and a nod to an earlier pagan era. Our ancestors would have known that era too.

We sat in the pews where earlier generations of Speaks families sat. The boxed, enclosed pews were for the wealthy manor owners. Our family wouldn’t have been sitting there.

The original St. Mary’s church, shown in this painting, looked different than today. The church in the painting would have felt quite familiar to the early Speak families who sat in the pews here each Sunday.

In addition to the churches in Gisburn and Whalley, we visited St. Leonard’s Church in Downham which is a chapelry of the church in Whalley.


The tower is original to the 1400s, but the rest of the church was rebuilt in 1909-10. Lord Clitheroe graciously brought a drawing of the old church as it looked when the Speak family attended.

This church, in the shadow of Pendle Hill, proved to be quite important to the family.

Pendle Hill from the cemetery outside St. Leonard’s church, where Thomas was baptized.

Pendle Hill can be seen across the roofs of the village houses.

Downham, on the north side of Pendle Hill was small then, and remains a crossroad village today with a population of about 150 people, including Twiston.

Twiston is located less than 3 miles away, yet it’s extremely remote, at the foot or perhaps on the side of Pendle Hill.

What’s left of the stocks at Downham, beside the church cemetery, just waiting for those who needed to be punished, like those reviled Catholics hiding out in the wilds over by Pendle Hill.

During our visit, Lord Clitheroe provided us with a transcription of the Downham church records wherein one Thomas Speak was baptized on January 1, 1633/34, born to Joannis, the Latin form of John, in nearby Twiston.

Is this Thomas our Thomas the immigrant who was born about that same time? We still don’t know, but there are clues.

The problem is that there is a marriage record for a Thomas Speak to Grace Shakelford in 1656, and a burial record in 1666 for Grace recorded as “the wife of Thomas Speak of Twiston.” But there is no burial record for Thomas, and no children recorded either during that time, which is very strange.

So, is that our Thomas, or a different Thomas? Those records don’t align well. It’s certainly a Thomas of the right age, in the right place, and born to a John as well.

However, our Thomas was in Maryland by at least 1661 and probably earlier. Would he have left a wife behind? Would she still have been noted as his wife and him recorded as “of Twiston” if he was in America?

Records in this area are incomplete. A substantial battle was fought in Whalley in 1643. Churches were often used for quartering soldiers. Minister’s notes could well have been displaced, or books destroyed entirely.

In Downham, the years of 1608-1619 are missing, along with 1638-1657, inclusive which would hold records vital to our family for nearly two critical decades.

We know, according to probate records, that the Downham families originated in Whalley based on research by John D. Speake, of Cambridge, contained in the recently published book, The Speak/e/s Family of Southern Maryland

Probate files show that in 1615, “John Speake of Twiston, husbandman” mentions his son William and William’s children, including John who was the administrator of his will. For John to be an administrator, he had to be age 21 or over, so born in 1594 or earlier. Some John Speak married Elizabeth Biesley at Whalley in 1622 and is believed to be the John Speak Sr. recorded in Downham Parish Registers.

However, John seemed to be the Speak given name of choice.

The existing Hearth Tax returns for 1666-1671 that recorded, and taxed, the number of hearths observed in each home during an inspection shows the following Speak households, none of which were too impoverished to have a hearth:

  • 3 in Twiston
  • 2 in Gisburn (Remington)
  • 1 in Stansfield, near Halifax

Of the above entries, 5 were named John, and one was Ann.

There were two additional Speak families in Newchurch, near Pendle, which is more distant, as is Stansfield, maybe a total of 30 miles end-to-end.

There were no Thomas Speaks listed.

One final hint may be that there are three tailors mentioned in the Gisburn church registers over time, one of whom was Thomas, a tailor, who died in 1662. Did our Thomas the immigrant come from a long line of tailors? If so, how could he have supported himself as a tailor in the remote Lancashire countryside? Is that, perhaps, part of why he immigrated, in addition to being Catholic?

Or, maybe our Thomas apprenticed as a tailor in Maryland as an indentured servant and tailors in Gisburn are simply a red herring.

The Whalley, Gisburn and Twiston families are closely connected. The difference may well be that our Thomas’s line remained secretly Catholic, so preferred the “uninhabited” areas of the remote Twiston countryside. Even today, Gisburn is described as being “rural, surrounded by hilly and relatively unpopulated areas.” And that’s Gisburn, with more than 500 residents. Downham is much smaller, about 20% of the size of Gisburn.

What do we know about Twiston?


Twiston is too small to even be called a hamlet. These ghostly buildings are what’s left of the former Twiston Mill, built after an earlier mill burned in 1882. The original farm and corn mill was owned originally by Whalley Abbey at least since the 1300s. Twiston is near an old lime kiln, probably in use since Roman times, and the Witches Quarry, a steep, vertical rocky outcrop popular with hikers and rock climbers.

The ancient homesteads were clustered along the bubbling Twiston Brook, a branch of Pendle Brook that originates on Pendle Hill, watering the farm and powering the original corn mill. It was actually a smart place to settle, because the stream was fresh, given that there were no upstream homesteads to pollute the water.

These buildings stood, huddled together, probably for safety, in a field carved out of the wilderness, surrounded today by hundreds of sheep grazing on the hillsides and high moors.

Stone walls divide pastures and line the steep hillsides, with gates allowing shepherds and now, farmers to pass through. Eventually, the sheep venture high enough to graze and shelter on the moorland.

At the higher levels of Pendle Hill, the forest gives way to moors and the sheep roam freely.

The sheep also have the right-of-way, so vehicles travel slowly. The heathered moor is quite stark and incredibly beautiful.

The fields along the Ribble River with its feeder brooks and settlements, running through the valley beneath Pendle Hill are lush, green, and timeless. The land surrounding the River is relatively flat, beckoning settlers and encouraging farming.

This is one of those places where the ancient voices call out and pluck the strings of your heart.

And your heart answers in recognition.

Where you know the earth holds the DNA of your ancestors, and their blood watered the landscape in the Ribble Valley.

By Beacon Hill overlooking the Ribble valley by Bill Boaden, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Beacon Hill overlooks the Ribble Valley, with Pendle Hill in the background.

Our ancestors lived, and loved here and because of that, we live now.

Their descendants are scattered across the world, on many continents, yet we reunited here in our homeland – like birds following their sacred compass, guiding them across the oceans home again.

When the Speak family lived here, it was considered a “wild and lawless region” by local authorities, probably due in part to its remoteness – and also the rebellious nature of the inhabitants. We have never submitted easily to pressure.

Twiston is nestled at the base of Pendle Hill.

If you were a Catholic, living in a hotbed of “recussants,” and trying to be invisible, Twiston would be a location where you might be able to successfully disappear among those of like mind.

The road to Twiston was too twisty, rock-lined and narrow for our bus to navigate, causing us to have to back up down a one lane road with rock walls on both sides for some distance.

These ancient moss and fern-covered walls have stood for centuries, some with gateway passages to neighboring houses in small hamlets.

Others stand sentry along the old cartways where they’ve been for centuries.

The stone walls keep sheep and cattle in, and today, wayward vehicles out.

The walls have been tended and repaired by generations of stewards. Generations of our Speaks men probably placed some of these very stones, having removed them from their fields.

The footpaths, now roads, pass within inches of old stone homes and barns, dissecting farms in many places. That’s exactly how the old cart road traveled, and how you got to your neighbor’s farm. In fact, that old road took you right to their door.

Pendle Hill always serves as your guidepost.

If you’re lost and don’t know which way to turn, just find the hill and reorient yourself.

Its stark beauty is ever-present. Pendle Hill always looms someplace in the distance.

Since the bus couldn’t get to Twiston, a few adventurous cousins somehow found a taxi to rent and a brave driver willing to take them to Twiston, after he finally figured out where Twiston actually was.

I’m still REALLY mad at myself because I took a hike in the forest instead, although I enjoyed connecting with the land.

It had been a very long day and I didn’t really realize the significance of Twiston at that time. Plus, space in the taxi was limited and I suffer from motion sickness. I should have taken Dramamine, sat on the roof, and gone anyway.

The road to Twiston, now called a lane, grows increasingly narrow. Who knew there was such a remote region in the hill country of Lancashire?

Finally, Twiston appears where the forest ends and the road widens a tiny bit.

If only these ancient buildings and rock walls could speak, share their stories and reveal their secrets. Old documents, however, do provide some insight.

This document, originally penned in Latin, was provided by the Lancashire archives.

John Speak, in 1609, was a farmer, with a house (messauge), garden, orchard, 10 acres of farmland, 5 of meadow, and 10 acres of pasture.

Even orchards were walled to prevent unwanted visitors.

Indeed, Twiston is where John Speak lived. If the Thomas born in Twiston to Joannis, Latin for John, in 1633 and baptized on January 1, 1634 in old St. Leonard’s Church in Downham is our Thomas, this is his birth location.

For our family, this is, indeed, hallowed ground.

Catholics weren’t the only people sheltering in the shadow of Pendle Hill.

The accused Pendle Witches, probably women who were traditional healers, lived here too, persecuted and executed in 1612, as did Quakers, all vilified along with Catholics.

No wonder Thomas, along with the Catholic Bowling family, found a way to make his way to the safety of Maryland.

It’s ironic that in 1670, after being persecuted themselves for their Catholic beliefs, in this same valley, the Speake men were reporting Quakers.

Records of Speak men in Twiston persist into the 1800s, and one of our local testers descends from Henry Speake, born about 1650 in Twiston.

Local Testers

Prior to our visit, we published small ads in local newspapers and contacted historical societies. We found several Speak(e)(s) families and invited them to dinner at the Stirk House where the after-dinner speaker explained all about DNA testing. You probably can’t see them clearly, but there are numerous DNA kits laying on the table, just waiting for people to have a swab party.

Our guests brought their family information and photos and we had an absolutely lovely evening.

One of those families traced their line to Twiston. Be still my heart.

Five men from separate Speak families tested. None of them knew of any connection between their families, and all presumed they were not related.

I carried those men’s DNA tests back in my hand luggage like the gold that they were.

They were wrong. All five men matched each other, AND our Thomas Speake line. Susan and I got busy connecting the dots genealogically, as much as possible

  • Two of our men descended from Henry born in 1650, married Alice Hill and lived in Downham/Twiston.
  • Two of our men descended from John Speak born about 1540, married Elina Singleton, and lived in Whalley.
  • Two of our men, including our New Zealand tester, descend from John born sometime around 1700, probably in Gisburn where his son, James, was born about 1745.

We knew indeed that we had found our way “home.”


Today, the Speaks family DNA Project has 146 members comprised of:

  • 105 autosomal testers
  • 31 Speak Y-DNA testers
  • 24 of whom are Thomas the immigrant descendants
  • 8 Big Y tests

Over the years, we’ve added another goal. We need to determine how a man named Aaron Lucky Speaks is related to the rest of us. Autosomal DNA confirms that he is related, but we need more information.

Aaron Lucky is first found in 1787 purchasing land and on the 1790 Iredell County, NC census. We finally located a Y-DNA tester and confirmed that his paternal line is indeed the Lancashire Speaks line, but how?

After discovering that all 5 Lancashire Speaks men descend from the same family as Thomas the immigrant, we have spent a great deal of time trying to both sort them out, and tie the family lines together, with very limited success.

Can Y-DNA do that for us?

The Y-DNA Block Tree

When men take a Big Y-700 DNA test, they receive the most detailed information possible, including all available STR markers plus the most refined haplogroup possible, placing them as a leaf on the very tip of their branch of the tree of mankind. The only other men there are their closest relatives, divided sometimes by a single mutation. Eight Speaks men have taken or upgraded to the Big Y test, providing information via matching that we desperately needed.

This Big Y block tree is from the perspective of a descendant of Nicholas Speaks and shows the various mutations that define branches, shown as building blocks. Each person shown on the Block Tree is a match to the tester.

Think of haplogroups as umbrellas. Each umbrella shelters and includes everything beneath it.

At the top of this block tree, we have one solid blue block that forms an umbrella over all three branches beneath it. The top mutation name is I-BY14004, which is the haplogroup name associated with that block.

We have determined that all of the Speak men descended from the Lancashire line are members of haplogroup I-BY14004 and therefore, fall under that umbrella. The other haplogroup names in the same block mean that as other men test, a new branch may split off beneath the branch.

Next, let’s look at the blue block at far left.

The Lancashire men, meaning those who live there, plus our New Zealand tester, also carry additional mutations that define haplogroup I-BY14009, which means that our Thomas the Immigrant line split off from theirs before that mutation was formed.

Thomas the immigrant’s line has the mutation defining haplogroup I-FTA21638, forming an umbrella over both of Thomas the immigrant’s sons – meaning descendants of both sons carry this mutation.

Bowling’s line is defined by haplogroup I-BY215064, but John’s line does not carry this mutation, so John’s descendants are NOT members of this haplogroup, which turns out to be quite important.

We are very fortunate that one of Thomas’s sons, Bowling, received a mutation, because it allows us to differentiate between Bowling and his brother, John’s, descendants easily if testers take the Big Y test.

Aaron Luckey Speak

As you can see, the descendants of Aaron Lucky Speak, bracketed in blue above, carry the Bowling line mutation, so Aaron Luckey descends from one of Bowling’s sons. That makes sense, especially since Charles, the father of Nicholas, my ancestor born in 1782, is also found in Iredell County during the same timeframe.

Here’s a different view of the Big Y testers along with STR Y-DNA testers in a spreadsheet that I maintain.

Thomas the immigrant (tan band top row) is shown with son, Bowling who carries haplogroup BY215064.

Thomas’s son John, the InnKeeper, shown in the blue bar does NOT have the BY215064 mutation that defines Bowling’s group.

However, the bright green Aaron Lucky line, disconnected at far right, does have the mutation BY215064, so this places Aaron Luckey someplace beneath, meaning a descendant of, Bowling. We just don’t know where yet.

Sometimes we can utilize STR marker mutations for subgrouping within haplogroups, but in this case, we cannot because STR mutations in this family have:

  • Occurred independently in different lines
  • Back mutated

Between both of these issues, STR mutations are inconsistent and entirely unreliable.

In some cases, autosomal DNA is useful, but in this case, autosomal doesn’t get us any closer than Y-DNA due to record loss and incomplete genealogy above Nicholas. An analysis shows that Aaron Luckey Speak’s descendants match each other closer than they match either John or Bowling’s descendants.

We have a large gap in known descendants beneath Thomas of Zachia, other than Nicholas’s line.

Combining genetic and genealogy information, we know that both Charles Beckworth Speak and Thomas Bowling Speak, in yellow, are found in Iredell County. The children of Thomas of Zachia, shown in purple, are born in the 1730s and any one of them could potentially be the father of Aaron Luckey.

The men in green, including William, Bowling’s other son, are also candidates to be Aaron Luckey’s ancestor, although the two yellow men are more likely due to geographic proximity. They are both found in Iredell County.

We don’t know anything about William’s children, if any, nor much about Edward. John settled in Kentucky. Nicholas (green) stayed in Maryland.

There may be an additional generation between Charles Beckworth Speak (yellow) and Nicholas (born 1782), also named Charles. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this part of the tree.

Aaron Luckey’s descendants may be able to search their matches for a Luckey family, found in both Iredell County AND Maryland, which may assist with further identification.

It seems that Aaron’s middle name of Lucky is likely to be very significant.

Connecting the Genetic Dots in England

What can we discern about the Speak family in the US and in Lancashire?

Reaching back in time, before Thomas was born about 1633, what can we tell about the Speak family and how they are connected, and when?

The recently introduced Discover tool allows us to view the Y-DNA haplogroups and when they were born, meaning when the haplogroup-defining mutation occurred.

The Time Tree shows the haplogroups, in black above the profile dots. The scientifically calculated approximate dates of when those haplogroups were “born,” meaning when those mutations occurred, are found across the top.

I’ve added genealogical information, in red, at right.

  • Reading from the bottom red dot, Bowling’s haplogroup was born about the year 1660. Bowling was indeed born in 1674, so that’s VERY close
  • Moving back in time, Thomas’s haplogroup was born about 1617 and Thomas himself was born about 1634, but it certainly could have been earlier.
  • The Lancashire testers’ common haplogroup was born about 1636, and the earliest known ancestor of those men is Henry, born in Twiston in 1650.
  • The common Speak ancestor of BOTH the Lancashire line and the Thomas the immigrant line was born about 1334. The earliest record of any Speak was Henry Speke, of Whalley, born before 1520.

The lines of Thomas the Immigrant and the Lancashire men diverged sometime between about 1334, when the umbrella mutation for all Speaks lines was born, and about 1617 when we know the mutation defining the Thomas the Immigrant line formed and split off from the Lancashire line.

But that’s not all.


As I panned out and viewed the block tree more broadly, I noticed something.

This is quite small and difficult to read, so let me explain. At far left is the branch for our Speaks men. The common ancestor of that group was born about 1334 CE, meaning current era, as we’ve discussed.

Continuing up the tree, we see the next haplogroup umbrella occurs about 1009 CE, then the year 850 at the top is the next umbrella, encompassing everything beneath.

Looking to the right, the farthest right blocks date to 1109 CE, then 1318 CE, then progressing on down the tree branch to the bottom, I see one name in three blocks.

What is that name?

I’m squinting!!!

Here, let me enlarge this for you!


The name is Standish, as in Myles Standish, the Pilgrim.

Miles is our relative, and even though he has a different surname, we share a common ancestor, probably before surnames were adopted. Our genetic branches divided about the year 1000.

The Discover tool also provides Notable Connections for each haplogroup, so I entered one of the Speaks haplogroups, and sure enough, the closest Speak Notable Connection is Myles Standish 1584-1656.

And look, there’s the Standish Pew in Chorley, another church that we visited during our Lancashire trip because family members of Thomas Speake’s wife, Elizabeth Bowling, are found in the church records here.

Our common ancestor with the Standish line lived in about the year 850. Our line split off, as did theirs about the year 1000, or about 1000 years, or 30-40 generations ago.

Our family names are still found in the Chorley Church records

Ancient Connections

The Discover tool also provides Ancient Connections from archaeological digs, by haplogroup.

Sure enough, there’s an ancient sample on the Time Tree named Heslerton 20641.

Checking the Discover Ancient Connections, the man named Heslerton 20641 is found in West Heslerton, Yorkshire and lived about the year 450-650, based on carbon dating.

The mutation identifying the common ancestor between the Speak men and Heslerton occurred about 2450 BCE, or 4500 years ago. Those two locations are only 83 miles apart.

Where Are We?

What have we learned from the information discovered through genealogy combined with Big Y testing?

  • We found a Speek in Whalley in 1385.
  • Thomas Speake was baptized in Downham and born in Twiston in 1733.
  • Our New Zealand tester’s ancestor was found in Gisburn about 1745.
  • All of these locations are within 15 miles of each other.

  • Chorley, where the Standish family is found in the 1500s is located 17 miles South of Whalley. Thomas Speak’s wife, Elizabeth Bowlings’ family is found in the Chorley church records.

What about the L’Espec origin myth?

  • The Speak family clearly did not arrive in 1066 with the Normans.
  • We have no Scandinavian DNA matches.
  • No place is the surname spelled L’Espec in any Lancashire regional records.
  • The Speak family is in Whalley/Chorley area by 1000 when the Speak/Standish lines diverged
  • The common ancestor with the Standish family occurred about the year 850, although that could have occurred elsewhere. Clearly, their common ancestor was in the Chorley/Whalley area by 1000 when their lines diverged.

The cemetery at Whalley includes Anglo-Saxon burials, circa 800-900.

The Speak men, with no surname back then, greeted William the Conqueror.

And lived to tell the tale, along with their Standish cousins, of course.

Are our ancestors buried in these early Anglo-Saxon graves? I’d wager that the answer is yes. We are likely related to every family who lived in this region over many millennia. Little is known of Lancashire during this time, but we do know more generally that the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people, arrived in the 5th century and integrated, eventually, with the Native Britons, the Celts. These carvings certainly do have a Celtic feel.

This family photo, standing in the church in Whalley where it all began, is now imbued with a much deeper significance.

Little did we know.

And this, all of this, was a result of Big-Y DNA tests. We could not have accomplished any of this without Y-DNA testing.

Our ancestors are indeed speaking across the ages.

We really have found the road home, the path revealed by the DNA of our ancestors.


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Charles Speake, (c 1731 – 1794), But Which Charles? – 52 Ancestors #380

We are certain that Charles Speake (spelled a variety of ways including Speak, Speaks, and more) is the father of the Nicholas Speak (or Speaks) who was born in 1782 in Maryland, married Sarah Faires in 1804 in Washington County, Virginia, and founded the Speaks Chapel Methodist Church in Lee County, Virginia around 1820.

However, the question is, “which Charles?”

We know about early and later chapters of Charles’ life. What’s missing is a positive identification.

It’s rare that we have an intermediate gap in a lineage. We know the identity of the Catholic immigrant, Thomas Speak (c 1634-1681), along with the next couple of generations. Thomas married Elizabeth Bowling and their son was Bowling Speak (1674-1755).

Bowling married Mary Benson, whose mother is unknown, and their son, known as Thomas (Speake) of Zachia, died within days of his father in 1755. Their wills were probated the same day, September 13th. Nothing confusing there, right?

Both men, thankfully, did write wills. I do have to wonder what took them both. Dysentery or typhoid would be my first guess. I wonder who else in their families died.

Thomas of Zachia’s will reads, in part:

Also I give and bequeath to my two sons Charles Beckworth Speake & Nicholas Speake all the remaining part of that tract of land called Speakes Enlargement & my remaining part of that tract called Mistake containing both together ninety acres to them & their heirs and assigns forever after the Decease of my wife Jane Speake to be equally divided between them by a line drawn from Jordan Swamp to the opposite line & my son Charles Beckworth Speake to have first choice;

There is and remains debate about whether the actual word is or should be Beckworth, Becworth, or Beckwith, but for this purpose, it doesn’t matter. Long-time researcher and Washington DC Family History Center manager for 25 years, Joyce Candland, truly researched the Maryland families to death, and she reports that while there are no Beckworth families living in Charles or surrounding counties in Maryland, there are several Beckwith families. I’m calling him Charles Beckworth for consistency and because that’s how it was transcribed into the will book by the clerk at the time.

Charles Beckworth Speake was born about 1731 or 1732 in Charles County, Maryland. His mother is unknown, but a betting person would say it’s a female Beckwith – just saying. His siblings were:

  • Elizabeth (b c 1725)
  • Edward (b c 1727)
  • Thomas Bowling (b c 1729)
  • John (b 1732 or 1733)
  • Nicholas (b c 1734)
  • Anne (b c 1736)
  • Eleanor (b c 1738)

What’s particularly important here are the names of people NOT among Charles Beckworth Speak’s siblings – specifically Martin and Richard.

Maryland Records

Twenty-three years later, Charles appears in Montgomery County, MD in 1778 where he signed an oath of fidelity along with Martin Speake and Richard Speake.

Those men would have been age 21 by 1778, so born before 1757. The men may well be the grandsons of Thomas of Zachia who died in 1755, or possibly descendants of other related Speak(e)(s) men in this part of Maryland.

The Charles on this list could have been and probably was Thomas of Zachia’s son, but Thomas didn’t have sons named Martin or Richard. Martin and Richard could potentially have been sons of Charles Beckworth. Charles Beckworth would have been about 46 years old by this time, give or take.

No Charles Speak by any spelling is found in Maryland again, not on the 1783 tax list nor is he found on the 1790 Maryland census. No estate either.

The recently published book, The Speak/e/s Family of Southern Maryland by the Speak/e/s Family Association, with John S. Morris, III, as editor, reports that a 1924 letter from A. Howard Speake (born 1867 in Maryland) to Charles Washington Speake (born in 1850, great-grandson of Thomas of Zachia), stated that, “In 1787, 6 or 7 of the Charles County Speakes moved to North and South Carolina.”

The western Carolinas were the frontier that had opened after the Revolutionary War. There wasn’t much settlement there as you can see on this 1770 map of Rowan County, except Fort Dobbs.

You can view photos of reconstructed Fort Dobbs and life on the frontier, here.

Of course, no settlers meant there was land and opportunity following the Revolutionary War, something that was in short supply in Maryland. Too many sons and not enough land encouraged migration to the frontier.

Next Stop – North Carolina

This is where it gets confusing.

In 1787, Charles Speak or Speaks, I’m not differentiating between the various spellings at this point, is found on a tax list in Rowan County, North Carolina.

The next year, Iredell County was formed from Rowan,

In the 1790 census, there is a Charles Speak living in both counties.

Pardon me while I facepalm.

That’s certainly possible given that we know that Thomas of Zachia had several sons. He also had a brother, William, whose descendants, if any, are unaccounted for.

Charles Beckworth Speake, born about 1731, could have had a son, also named Charles, born after 1752 who could have been in his 30s by 1790 and could well have been found on the census. While they may have been in different counties, they could have both lived very close to the county line.

I know there’s a lot of “could” in that paragraph, but what we do know is that there are two men named Charles among the Maryland Speake family members who migrated from Maryland. We also know that there was only one Charles Speak in 1787, so perhaps the younger man was either not yet there, not married, or living in another household.

Maryland Evidence

The 1850 census of Lee County, Virginia confirms that Nicholas Speaks was indeed born in Maryland in 1781 or 1782.

Which of course means his father came from Maryland too.

Nicholas is tied to the Charles in North Carolina. But which Charles is which?

Speak Families of Rowan County, NC

Thomas Specks/Speeks is listed on the 1779 Rowan tax list. He then purchased land in 1782. In 1785 he applied for a patent on Brush Creek

On August 13, 1779, Richard Speaks entered a land grant on both sides of Bear Creek which included a small improvement, which was issued in May of 1789, when the land fell into Iredell County.

In 1784, Richard was paid for NC Revolutionary War military service.

Iredell County was formed in 1788 from Rowan.

On July 16, 1789, Charles Speaks obtained a license to marry Jane Connor. This man is Nicholas’s father.

Clearly, Charles’s first wife who would have been the mother of Nicholas Speaks had died sometime after his migration from Maryland to North Carolina. He wouldn’t have made that journey with small children and no wife.

In the 1790 census, Charles Speaks of Rowan County is shown with 1 male over 16, 4 males under 16 and 3 females, which included his wife. At most, one child would have been born to that marriage by this time, which means that there were at least 5 children born to his first wife. I’d wager several more were born and died or were perhaps already adults.

Four males under 16 suggests that the youngest son was born about 1780. If that is the youngest child in the family, and his first wife was his same age, then she would have been born no earlier than 1735. That’s possible. If those sons were the eldest, then their mother would have been born about 1754, which means this Charles could be a generation offset from Charles Beckworth Speake who was born in the early 1730s.

Charles is enumerated 6 houses away from Martin Speaks with 1, 3 and 3 in his family, who is, in turn, 22 houses from Richard Speaks with 2, 2 and 4.

Susan Sills, another long-time researcher, DAR Chapter Regent (among other positions,) and president emeritus of the Speaks Family Association, tracked Martin and feels he was born 1750-1755. He was still living in 1812.

In 1790, we also find an Ann Speaks with 2 males under 16 and 3 females, living beside one Asa Martin which may or may not be relevant given the first name of Martin Speak. Adam Speeks (sic) is 14 houses away with 1, 2 and 3. Is Ann the widow of Thomas who was on the 1779 tax list? Susan Sills feels that this Thomas is probably Thomas Bowling Speake, brother of Charles Beckworth Speake, given that they both disappear at the same time from Maryland. There is no proof one way or another.

By 1800, only Martin Speak is left in Rowan county, with 12 family members, including 3 older boys 16-25.

Speak Families in Iredell County

The 1790 census in Iredell County shows Charles Speaks with 1, 3, and 2 in his family. This man appears to be younger than the Charles in Rowan County, although that could be an errant assumption if some or all of the other Speaks men nearby are his adult sons or, perhaps, his other children died.

We do know, based on the number of children, that this Charles in Iredell in 1790 is not the Charles Speak who dies in 1794. What happened to the Charles in Iredell in 1790? Is the Charles in Iredell Charles Beckworth Speak, and the Charles in Rowan his son?

Also, in the same county in 1790 we find Luke (probably actually Lucky) Speaks with 1, 2, and 3, and Thomas Speaks with 1, 2, and 2.

On October 26, 1793, Charles purchased 200 acres of land on Hunting Creek in Iredell County from James Maiden, but that deed was not filed until 1795, after Charles’ death. Witnesses were Christopher Houston and Mary Hughes, and the deed was proven by Howard Barker.

Locating Hunting Creek in Iredell County was challenging. I found it above Iredell, but the portion within Iredell seems to intersect with the South Yadkin and is called the South Yadkin today. Regardless, it’s not far from the Wilkesboro area. The other Speaks men owned land nearby.

I found this lovely Iredell County map on WikiTree, here, with some of the early landowners mapped. You can see Hunting Creek meandering across the northeast corner of the county. A HUGE thank you to whatever anonymous person created this.

John Maiden, the man Charles purchased land from, is shown in the upper right corner living nearby other people that Charles interacted with, including Christopher Houston and Andrew Mitchell – so we know we have the right neighborhood.

Settlements at that time were located along rivers and streams for easy access to water.

This current map helps us locate both Long Branch and Hunting Creek, now the South Yadkin.

Even today, much of this land is still heavily wooded.

Today, Powell Bridge Road approaches and crosses the South Yadkin near where Charles Speaks lived.

The land along Hunting Creek appears to be flat and fertile – a perfect place to homestead.

In 1800, we find Thomas Speaks, with 1 male 26-44, 1 male under 10, 2 males 10-15, 2 males over 45, 1 female over 45, 2 females under 10, and 2 females 10-15.

We also find Luckey Speaks two houses away with 11 people in his household, including 5 sons and two women 26-44, the same age category he falls into. We know from land grants that Aaron Luckey Speeks applied for land on a branch of Hunting Creek in August of 1787, and later also obtained land on Brush Creek. Aaron Luckey died in 1825 when his wife, Lucretia petitioned the court to have her dower land set off.

Thomas and Aaron Luckey seem to be in the same age bracket and clearly live very close to each other, which suggests they may be brothers.

They may be the nephews of Charles Speak. It’s clear that they are somehow related.

Charles’ Death

Charles Speak died before August 26, 1794 when his estate was probated in Iredell County court and administration granted to his wife, Jane. This would be the same Jane who he married in 1789 in Rowan County. Charles was enumerated in Rowan County in 1790, but clearly, by 1794, he was living in Iredell. Based on his known children and their ages, he cannot be the Charles in Iredell in 1790.

Charles had probably died within 90 days of when his estate was probated, and quite unexpectedly, based on the fact that he had no will. On September 24th, his personal property was sold.

Purchaser Item
Jean Speakes 1 woman’s saddle and bridle
Jean Speakes 1 quantity pewter
Jean Speakes 1 bed and furniture
Jean Speakes 3 beds
Jean Speakes 1 flare (flax?) Wheel
Jean Speakes 1 pot of hooks
Jean Speakes 1 Dutch oven and hooks
Jean Speakes 1 bay mare
Jean Speakes 1 pail
Jean Speakes 1 pair cotton cords
Jean Speakes 2 hogs
Jean Speakes 1 cradle
Jean Speakes 1 table
Jean Speakes 1 pig
Jean Speakes 1 ? brake
Susana Speaks 1 bed
Susana Speaks 1 flare wheel
Susana Speaks 1 coter ?
Susana Speaks 2 books
Claiborne Howard Chisels?
Claiborne Howard 2 plains
Claiborne Howard Crooked links?
Claiborne Howard 2 ax
John Maiden 1 bare mattock
John Maiden Quantity tobacco plough and shire
John Maiden ?
Will Gill 1 bay more
Larriner Maiden 1 handsaw, draw knife
Jeremiah Gaither 1 ? sole leather
Willl Howard 1 lath?
Robert Luckey 1 cow and heifers
Robert Luckey 1 ? edge and draw knife
Arch. Young 1 pair bowl ?
James Gibson 1 pail and churn
Solomon Hays 1 ? iron
John Harvey 1 quantity tobacco
Thomas Bill 1 jug
Francis Holing? 1 loom
James Holman 1 G stick 1 ?
Thomas Morgan 1 looking glass and stoole?
Thomas Bill Sr. 1 grindstone and cow
James McCord 3 lythes
Francis Barnard 1 loin and shote
Solomon Parker 1 shire
Halbert Hobart 1 flat wheel
James Lovelace 1 cow
Edward Jacobs 2 sheep
Will Anderson 2 ewe?
John Hudson 2 ewe
James Maiden 1 colt
Will Partrick 1 sheep
Katy Holman 2 sholtes
James McCord 1 bay hide
Jean Speaks 1 clock

That cradle just tugs at my heart. Did Jean have a baby? She did purchase her cradle from his estate, given that the husband legally owned everything.

This family wasn’t poor. There were 5 beds, a looking glass, and a clock.

I find it very interesting that a man named Robert Luckey is purchasing, and we have a mystery person by the name of Luckey Speak, also written on his land grant as Aaron Luckey Speak. This leads me to think that some Speaks man was married to a Luckey woman, pardon the pun.😊

A land grant in 1778 to Robert Luckey shows his land on the “waters of Hunting and Bever Creek and Burr Creek” which also places him in the same proximity. I wonder if he came from Maryland.

The writing on the original estate sale document was difficult, at best, so if you can correct or figure out anything that I missed, please let me know.

Susanna Speak purchased immediately after the widow. Was Susannah a daughter that was of age, so not listed as an orphan two years later? If so, what happened to her? If not, who is she?

On November 16, 1794, the court ordered Burgess Gaither, Christ. Houston and William Young, Esq., to settle Charles’s estate. I would LOVE to see that estate settlement, but it’s not in the estate packet nor are settlements detailed in the court notes.

On March 14, 1795, Charles’ widow, Jane, purchased 5 acres on Hunting Creek from James Maiden including the house where she lives. Was the house that Charles built not built on his property? Or, somehow, did Jane wind up not living on his property? Normally, Charles property would have been managed by the children’s guardians and she would have remained living there as well – at least until the children were of age. We don’t know because there’s no record of the disposition of Charles’ land. Furthermore no guardian had been appointed for the children, which suggests she is filling that role.

More than a year later, in May of 1796, Richard Speaks was appointed guardian for Charles’ orphan sons Joseph, Thomas, Nicholas, John, and James Speaks. Charles’ only daughter mentioned, Elizabeth, was put under the guardianship of Elizabeth Speaks. We have no idea who Elizabeth was, but she could have been the widow of one of the other Speaks men who had arrived or died since 1790.

If any of these children were born to Charles’ second wife, Jane Conner, they weren’t living with her after May of 1796 – or – if there were additional children that were living with Jane or Jean, they weren’t mentioned in the estate, which is entirely possible.

Something must have happened to Jane, or in her life, to keep those children for more than a year, then for the court to assign guardianship.

Jane bought the few acres with her house, but what happened to the rest of Charles’ land?

Clearly, Jane was not doing well, because on November 2, 1799, she allowed Aaron Butler to have her property if he would support her forever. Neither Aaron nor Jane are found in the 1800 census. My heart aches for that woman.

Charles’ Estate Packet

Fortunately, we find Charles’s signature on promissory notes in his estate packet. I’ve never been so grateful for debts owned!

I sure would like to know what he purchased from Anthony Bitting.

This note is for carpentry services to William Howard in 1789, witnessed by Thomas Prather. Did Charles spruce up the house for his new bride when he remarried?

Another transaction in December of 1792 was to John Larkin Hodgson(?) for wool hats – 2 for boys and 1 woman’s, probably for his wife or perhaps his daughter. They were finished two months later, in the dead of winter when they would have been sorely needed. It snows in Iredell County. That brandy might have been to keep warm too!

This receipt submitted in May of 1796 for payment shows Charles’ wife paying taxes for 1793 and 1794. Does this mean that he died in 1793, or were taxes simply paid the following year?

One promissory note in August of 1793 for a yard of linen and something else was submitted by William Taylor to Charles’ estate for payment. It appears that this might be a merchant account.

Another note is for blacksmith work at “sundry times” and mending a “riffle,” or is that roofe, in 1792. Looks like he may have traded a cow at one point for payment of part of the account. It also appears that he might have been building a cabin, given that it looks like there is a reference to logs. That would make sense given his land grant in 1793 on Hunting Creek.

Two more payments are to James Maiden and Isaac Holeman for bushels of corn.

Another is paid to James Gaither from the estate, but the receipt doesn’t say what it’s for.

Another to Elias Lovelace (constable) for what appears to be stud service for a horse?

A bill submitted to his estate for payment in 1795 was dated October 26, 1793 from Charles Speak to Andrew Mitchell for making one pair of leather breeches. We know Charles was still living at that time. We also know the leather breeches weren’t in the estate sale.

Andrew Mitchell is shown on the Iredell County early settler map, also along Hunting Creek.

There are other payments to or from William Taylor and James McCord, but no note is included in the packet. This could be from the estate sale.

Richard Speak

We don’t know who Richard Speaks was, but it’s clear that he was a relative of some sort, and it’s tempting to presume he’s Charles’ brother. However, there are problems with that assumption.

To begin with, if this Charles is Charles Beckworth, then he has no brother, Richard.

If we are a generation further down the tree, then indeed, this Charles could be the son of Charles Beckwith, and Richard could be his brother. Another possibility, of course, is that these men are uncle/nephew, or, that Richard is Charles’s oldest son.

We do know that Charles, Martin, and Richard all appear together in North Carolina, and that they all sign the Maryland oath before leaving.

In 1796, Richard sold his land on Bear Creek in Rowan County, along with another parcel in 1797, which gave his residence as Washington County, TN, which was essentially most of the eastern portion of Tennessee upon Tennessee’s formation.

Bear Creek is now in Davie County, formed in 1836 from Rowan, adjacent the eastern border with Iredell, and very near where Hunting Creek intersects with the South Yadkin, also near Beaverdam Branch. In 1791, Martin Speaks bought land on Beaverdam and in 1800, on the South Yadkin. This locates Richard, Martin and Aaron Luckey all together in this area.

This area is called Cooleemee Junction in Davie County, today.

While Google Maps calls this entire stream system the South Yadkin, other topo maps still call it Hunting Creek and Bear Creek.

Richard and Aaron Luckey probably lived within 1000 feet of each other, but it’s several miles up Hunting Creek from Cooleemee Junction to the area where James Maiden owned land.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that James Maiden didn’t own additional land further south in what is today Davie County that he sold to Charles Speak and his widow. However, I don’t think that happened, because we find the neighbors, including James Maiden, purchasing at Charles Speak’s estate sale – which pretty much tells me Charles lived several miles upstream of Richard on Hunting Creek. Of course, that new cabin could have been closer to Richard. There’s just no way of knowing today.

What we do know is that Richard moved on, to Washington County, TN, with Charles’ orphans in tow.

In 1804, we find Nicholas Speaks, then 22, marrying Sarah Faires in Washington Co., VA.

There is absolutely no further record of any of Nicholas’s siblings, nor of his guardian, Richard. It’s like they just disappeared off the face of the earth. Perhaps they did during a time of significant churn or their disappearance is due, in part, to record loss.

It’s worth noting that Charles’ son, Nicholas, named his children, in birth order as best I can group them:

  • Charles
  • Sarah Jane
  • Samuel Patton (Where did that middle name come from?)
  • John
  • Joseph
  • Thomas
  • Jane V.
  • Jesse
  • James Alan
  • Frances “Fanny” J.
  • Rebecca

The names bolded are the same names as Nicholas’s father and brothers. Only sister, Elizabeth is missing and there’s certainly room for a baby to have died.

And, ironically, there is no Richard, which certainly begs the question of how Nicholas was related to Richard, and what happened.

Sanity Grid

I’ve completed a grid that, I hope, helps sort these North Carolina relationships.

Ann seems to be Thomas’s widow. Adam is only found once and could be Thomas’s son. We know that Thomas Bowling Speak’s wife’s name was Ann from the Maryland records.

Richard, Charles, and Martin, in blue, are together in Montgomery County, MD, then arrive together in North Carolina.

There are two Charleses enumerated in 1790, one in both Rowen and Iredell County. The Charles in Rowan in 1790 and earlier seems to be the man who died in Iredell in 1794, which begs the question of what happened to the Charles enumerated in Iredell in 1790. Was he Charles Beckworth Speak?

The blue group and last three grouped together with a black border overlap.

Martin, Luke (Lucky) and Thomas are all three found in very close proximity, as is Richard, before he leaves.

I strongly suspect that Thomas who arrived in 1779 was Thomas Bowling Speak, and that he was accompanied by his brother Charles Beckworth Speak, which is why we have two Charles in 1790. One could be the son of Thomas Bowling Speak, or the son of Charles Beckworth Speak.

Who Was Charles, the Father of Nicholas?

I surely wish I had the answer to that question.

  • Charles could be Charles Beckworth or Beckwith Speaks, son of Thomas of Zachia named in the 1755 will.
  • Charles could be the son of Charles Beckworth or Beckwith Speaks.
  • Charles could be the son of Thomas Bowling Speake who disappears from Maryland records after selling his land in 1766 and is likely the Thomas who appears in Rowan County in 1779.

Whoever Charles is, he seems to have left Maryland with both Martin and Richard – and all three men were of age in 1778.

Given that we don’t have a will for Charles Beckworth Speak, it’s possible that Richard was his eldest son, which is why he was appointed as the guardian of the younger children. If this is the case, then Richard would have been born in the 1750s and the youngest children, as late as 1780. For a guardian assigned in 1796, the children would all have been under 21, so born after 1775. That means that Charles would probably have had two wives before Jane Conner if he was having children from 1755-ish through 1780.

We have no indication of this, but it’s also possible that William Speak, son of Bowling Speak, brother to Thomas of Zachia might have had children and one of the Charles might have belonged to him or been his grandchild.

One thing we do know, positively, thanks to Y DNA is that Nicholas Speaks, Charles’s son, does indeed descend through the Bowling Speak line and not the John the InnKeeper line, both sons of Thomas the immigrant.

Given that Bowling only had two sons, Thomas of Zachia who died in 1755, and William whom we know nothing about, that limits the options.

Of Thomas’s sons, we believe that both Thomas Bowling Speak and Charles Beckworth Speak migrated to Rowan County in 1778, right as the Revolutionary War was ending.

Thomas of Zachia did have two other sons, Edward and Nicholas who stayed in Maryland, so the Charles who appears in Rowen County is less likely to be their son.

My bet is that Charles, the father of Nicholas and the other orphans is either:

  • Charles Beckworth Speak himself, although I’m inclined to think that perhaps the Charles who disappears after the 1790 census may have been the elder Charles who settled in close proximity to his sons.
  • Charles Beckworth Speak’s son by the same name. Probably the most likely option. This man might well be brothers with Martin and Richard found in Maryland. This would also explain the Richard who is appointed guardian of the orphan children in 1796.
  • Charles, a son of Thomas Bowling Speak whose widow was Ann found on the 1790 census.

Next Steps

How might we proceed? The best bet would be to search the DNA matches from Nicholas’s descendants to find any matches with Beckworth or Beckwith families. Of course, multiple lines of descent are certainly possible, so caution would be in order. This would be especially useful if the tester has painted their segments and identified which ones descend through the Speaks line.

Of course, the lack of those matches wouldn’t prove a negative, but multiple matches within the Beckwith/Beckworth family to multiple people in Nicholas’s line, preferably triangulated matches, would be an incredible piece of evidence suggesting not only that Nicholas’s father is Charles Beckworth/Beckwith Speaks, but also might point the way to the correct Beckwith family.

Another possibility is to search the autosomal DNA matches of the Nicholas Speaks descendants to see if they have any matches with the Luckey family, either in Maryland or early in Rowan/Iredell County.

We don’t know who Charles Beckworth Speak married, nor do we know the surname of Thomas Bowling Speak’s wife, Ann.

Could I be lucky enough to find this information in Nicholas’s matches’ trees?


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research