New Info – Wm Willis of Dorchester, MD

 

I recently discovered additional information about William Willis, born about 1694. William was the son of the immigrant John Willis who inherited the 50-acre tract in Dorchester County named “Wantage.” William and his wife Judith sold the land in 1734 to Richard Seward, very likely Judith’s brother. The couple then relocated to the Neck Region of Dorchester County, where Judith’s parents John and Mary Seward owned property.

I concluded that William and Judith moved to the Neck Region because they each gave a deposition between 1745 and 1752 about land boundaries in the area. Such testimony would not have been credible unless they were familiar with the property, probably as nearby residents. However, I had not located any deed or other record that placed them in the area. Now we have one: a 1764 deed clearly states that a William Willis was living on Hudson’s Creek at the head of Willis’s Cove.[1] Since there is no record of any other William Willis in the vicinity, this was surely the residence of William and Judith.

Furthermore, we now have circumstantial evidence that William and Judith had a child. A Thomas Willis gave a deposition in 1784 about the boundaries of a tract called “Bridge North,” owned by William Seward. (That land had previously been owned by John and Mary Seward and sold by them to Mary’s sister.) At the time of the deposition, Thomas Willis was 70 years old, meaning he was born about 1714. He testified to being shown the boundary markers in about 1754. He was definitely the right age to have been a son of William and Judith Willis and to have come with them to the Neck Region of Dorchester County as a young man in 1734. If so, he had been a resident of the area for 50 years at the time of his deposition.[2] With no evidence of another Willis family in the area, it is highly likely that Thomas was a son of William and Judith.

I have updated the article previously posted about the second generation of the John Willis Family to reflect this information. You can read the revised version at this link.

[1] McAllister, James A., Jr., Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 15 (Liber Old No. 19, (Cambridge, MD, 1964). 19 Old 343, 11 Jun 1764, John Taylor Sr. of Dorchester Co, Merchant, to Nicholas MacCubbin of Annapolis, Merchant: ½ of “Rosses Chance” containing 42 A. Also 200 A, being part of “Addition to Rosses Chance” on Hudson’s Creek, laid out to said John Taylor for 400 acres. Also “Littleworth” on east side of Hudson’s Creek, at the head of Willis’s Cove near where Wm. Willis lives, 49 A. (Mortgage). Wit: Thomas Taylor, Thos. Harwood. Ackn: Robt. How and Jno. Anderson, Justices.

[2] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 27 (Liber NH No. 5), (Cambridge, MD, 1967), 5 NH 259, 12 Oct 1784 – 8 Oct 1785, Commission to Charles Eccleston, Nathaniel Manning, Stanley Byus and John Trippe of Dorchester Co, Gent., to perpetuate the bounds of Wm Soward’s land called “Bridge North”, and Return. Deposition of Thomas Willis, aged about 70 years, concerning a bounder on a cove of Hudson’s Creek, shown about 30 years ago by Joseph Blades who had possession of the land. Mentions Henry Claridge who was also present when Blades showed the bounder, and who has died in the last two years. The land where the said Joseph Blades lived 30 years ago is the same land where Wm. Lee now lives, called “Bridge North”.

The Mysterious Robert Rankin of Gibson County, TN

© Robin Rankin Willis

Gary and I recently returned from a week in the Tennessee Archives in Nashville, where I wound up mucking about in Gibson County for some reason I cannot recall. I stumbled over a passel of Rankins there. They are my favorite line for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that I was nèe Rankin.

What got me enmeshed in the Gibson County Rankins was the Revolutionary War pension application of one Robert Rankin among the court records. Let’s call him Mystery Robert because his family of origin is a puzzle. He applied for a pension in Gibson in September 1832. His sworn statement is replete with military details. Unfortunately, he did not say where he enlisted, which would likely have led us to his family of origin without much difficulty

I cannot find anyone who claims descent from Mystery Robert among online family trees. This is unusual, because the general rule is that whenever one finds a Revolutionary War soldier, one finds many descendants. I have found no one claiming a revolutionary war soldier ancestor who applied from Gibson County in 1832.

If you know who this man’s family is, please let me know. I’ll send you a box of chocolates, provided that you have proof other than some online tree which cites as sources other online family trees.

Here is what the Gibson records reveal about Mystery Robert, which is precious little.

  • Mystery Robert was 84 when he applied for a pension under the Act of 1832. That was the first Congressional act in which the applicant did not have to prove that he was destitute in order to be eligible for a pension. Since Robert had not applied earlier, we know that he wasn’t destitute. He was born about 1748. He was in the North Carolina militia, which means he almost certainly lived in NC when he enlisted. His pension allowance was $50/year, and the 1835 roll of Tennessee pensioners says that he had received $150 through June 1834. Here is a transcription of his pension application.
  • Robert appeared in the 1830 census for Gibson County in the 80 < 90 age bracket (born 1740 – 1750), consistent with the stated age in his pension application. There is a female 40 < 50 (born 1780 – 1790) listed with him and a male 10 < 15 (born 1815 – 1820). This could be a young wife and son, or a widowed daughter or daughter-in-law who was his caretaker (and her son). I don’t know. The 1830 census only gives names for the head of household. I haven’t been able to identify those two other members of Robert’s 1830 household.
  • The 1830s tax records in Gibson County occasionally list a Robert Rankin, although not consistently every year. It is fairly clear that he owned no land. His only taxable item was “one white poll,” which was undoubtedly himself. However, he was charged no tax, which probably means he was exempt from taxes on account of his advanced age. I don’t know when he died, although he did not appear as a head of household in the 1840 census. I found no probate records for him in Gibson Co.

The thing about Mystery Robert that caused me to sit up and take notice was this: his pension application says that his brother was killed by Tories at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. I ran into that battle a long time ago when I was first doing genealogical research. Because it has been a while (pre-Google, in fact), I did some online research about Ramsour’s Mill (also spelled Ramseur or Ramsaur). It took place in June 1780. About 40 patriots (Whigs) died there, although it was not easy to ascertain which bodies fought for which side. The combatants wore no uniforms. The loyalists (Tories) stuck a spring of greenery in their hats; the patriots had a piece of white paper in theirs. These identifiers were sometimes missing from the bodies.

Here is the piece about Ramsour’s Mill where I found this information.

The largest portion of the patriot troops were from Iredell County, NC. About thirteen of the dead patriots were from Capt. Sharpe’s 4th Creek Company, Statesville, Iredell County. (“Company” in this context may refer to a militia company and/or to a tax district).

Family history research, of course, rarely involves dead solid certainties, especially when one is dealing with facts from more than two centuries ago. Sometimes one must play the odds. The obvious odds were that Mystery Robert and his dead brother were from Iredell County, so I went digging among the Iredell records for Rankin families. This was simply a matter of looking up the Iredell research I had done almost two decades ago, when I was a rookie researcher and fixated on finding the family of origin of my last proved Rankin ancestor.

What I found in Iredell was the will of a David Rankin who died in 1789. I looked at the original will in the Raleigh Archives (found in File Box No. C.R.054.801.11 and recorded in Iredell Will Book A: 200). The will names his wife Margaret and son Robert. David also named three grandchildren: (1) David McCreary (obviously the son of David’s daughter Mrs. _______ Rankin McCreary), (2) James Rankin (expressly identified as the son of Robert Rankin) and (3) David Rankin. Grandson David Rankin’s father was not identified, so he wasn’t another son of Robert. He was a minor, under age 21 in 1781, when David’s will was written.

The express language of David’s will – with a Rankin grandson whose father wasn’t Robert – raises the inference that David and Margaret had another son who may have predeceased David.

The next step, of course, was to cast about in nearby records to find a candidate for grandson David Rankin whose father may have died before 1781. This wasn’t difficult, and was also buried among my old research. David was in Lincoln County and was the son of a James Rankin. Here are some relevant Lincoln County records:

  • July 1783, a lawsuit styled the Executors of James Rankin vs. Reuben Simpson. Plaintiff won. So there was a James Rankin who had died before July 1783. The description of plaintiffs as “executors” suggests that James Rankin died testate, but I have found no will.
  • The lawsuit resulted in the public sale of defendant’s land to satisfy the plaintiff’s judgment. Lincoln Co. Deed Book 2: 756, deed dated 21 Sep 1784 from Joseph Henry, Sheriff of Lincoln Co., to Francis Cunningham of same, levy on Reuben Simpson in suit of James Rankin, land on Beaver Dam Branch on the west side of the Catawba River adjacent Francis Cunningham, part of 640 acres granted to Reuben Simpson. A witness to the deed was Robert Rankin, who was almost certainly kin to the dead James Rankin. Perhaps the witness was Robert, son of David and Margaret Rankin.
  • A Lincoln county promissory note (or was this simply security on a guardian’s bond? My rookie notes aren’t clear) from Francis Cunninghan and Daniel McKissick to John Alexander, guardian of minors David Rankin, Jane Rankin, Margaret Rankin and William Rankin, orphans (meaning their father was dead, not necessarily their mother as well) of James Rankin. Generally, children were named in order of age, so David was probably the eldest. Source: Anne William McAllister & Kathy Gunter Sullivan, Civil Action Papers 1771-1806 of the Court of Ps & Qs, Lincoln County, North Carolina (1989).

David Rankin was still in the area on 14 Oct 1800, when he witnessed a deed from James Alexander to Horatio Gates Alexander adjacent the land of David’s guardian John Alexander. Lincoln Co. DB 22:65. John Alexander was almost certainly David Rankin’s uncle, so John was probably either (1) married to a Rankin or (2) the brother of David’s mother, Miss ___?___ Alexander who married a Rankin.

The final piece of evidence here: the Iredell County Genealogical Society has a collection called the “Philip Langenhour papers,” which were Mr. Langenhour’s collections of stories about local families. His papers mention a Miss Alexander (no given name stated) who married a Mr. Rankin (ditto) who died at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. Given the fact that the guardian of James Rankin’s children was John Alexander, it is as good a bet as you can find in genealogy that it was James Rankin who died at Ramsour’s Mill. This is the only piece of evidence I have found that a Rankin died in that battle … other than the pension application of Robert Rankin, whose patriot brother was killed there.

The pieces of this puzzle fall together quite nicely. It is reasonable to conclude that David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell had two sons named Robert and James. James married a Miss Alexander and died at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in 1780. James and Miss Alexander had children named David and Margaret (for their Rankin grandparents?), as well as Jane and William. Their uncle John Alexander became their guardian.

And here is where we take a plunge off the high diving board without, we hope (as my friend Jody McKenney Thomson, a descendant of these Lincoln County Alexanders, puts it) “forcing Cinderella’s shoe to fit” – and please forgive the mixed metaphors. Robert Rankin, Revolutionary War pensioner from Gibson County, TN, had a brother who died at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. There were only 40 dead patriots in that battle, for pete’s sake, including 13 from the Statesville area. What are the odds that there is ANOTHER dead Rankin in that crew besides James?

I think Mystery Robert is Robert, son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell, and a brother of the James Rankin who died at Ramsour’s Mill. Too much speculation? I confess to feeling a bit out on a limb. Jody, does the shoe pinch?

Please note also that Robert Rankin, son of David and Margaret, disappeared from the Iredell and Lincoln county records after 1826 without leaving any probate records. Jody and I have long wondered where the heck he went.

There is a bit more to this story. Robert had two sons who remained in the Iredell/Lincoln area: Denny, born in 1775, and James, born about 1778. Denny and James married sisters, Sarah and Elizabeth McMinn. Two of Denny and Sarah’s proved children were named Robert A. Rankin and Samuel Rankin.

Robert A. Rankin appeared in the Gibson County records starting in 1838. Samuel Rankin began appearing in Gibson in 1837, acting as security on the bond of the administrator of one John McMinn. Keep in mind that these 19th century folks typically migrated in groups of extended family members. In 1838, the Gibson County tax list included Samuel Rankin, Robert Rankin, and Robert Rankin Jr. (and no other Rankins). (“Junior,” of course, didn’t necessarily imply a father-son relationship; it was frequently used to distinguish an elder man from a younger man having the same given name). The fact that known members of the Iredell Rankin family (and a McMinn) appeared in Gibson along with Mystery Robert provides additional circumstantial evidence regarding Mystery Robert’s identity.

I think the shoe fits quite nicely.

Finally, please note that there were other distinct Rankin lines in Gibson County beginning in roughly the mid-1800s. However, I found no evidence to connect any other Rankin line to Mystery Robert. In the 1840 census for Gibson, there was no listing for either of the two Roberts or for Samuel. Robert A. Rankin and his brother Samuel moved on to Shelby County, where both died; Samuel was Robert’s administrator.

Briefly, here are some other Rankins who lived in Gibson County:

  • David F. C. Rankin (1823 – 1885) and his wife Susan Young. David was a son of David Rankin and Anne Moore Campbell of Rutherford County, TN. The senior David Rankin was a son of Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC.
  • Jesse Rankin, who was born in Kentucky about 1795, and his wife Cynthia Sellers. Some researchers think Jesse was a son of Robert Rankin of Rutherford Co., NC and Caldwell Co., KY and his second wife Leah. Other researchers think that Jesse was a son of “Shaker Reverend” John Rankin of Guilford, NC and Logan Co., KY and his wife Rebecca. Both Robert of Rutherford and Shaker Reverend John had sons named Jesse. I don’t have an opinion yet.

Some Rankin researchers think that Robert Rankin and his wife Isabel (maiden name Rankin) of Guilford Co., NC, McNairy Co., TN and Pope Co., AR may have also lived in Gibson County. I don’t think that is the case, and one of their descendants tells me she has no evidence for that, either.

I’ve clearly got some more digging to do trying to sort out the Gibson County Rankins. Meanwhile, as my cousin Roger Alexander likes to say, “Nobody has more fun than we do!”

Genealogy 101: a Primer on Legal Stuff Every Family History Researcher Needs to Know

This morning, a friend asked a legal question about a recent post of mine. Her question made it obvious that I had failed properly to explain a legal issue affecting a family history analysis. It seems I have a bad habit of throwing around legal terms and principles as though they are familiar to everyone, which is both unfair and thoughtless.

To help remedy that, here is a short and sweet primer of legal stuff that every family history researcher needs to know. My emphasis is on law prior to the twentieth century. Some of these concepts don’t lend themselves to a prose discussion that flows logically from point to point. In those cases, I have simply provided a list of terms with explanations. In other cases, I have carried on as usual.

Disclaimer #1: every colony (and then state) passed its own laws, so the law was not the same in every colony/state. We are talking general concepts here.

Disclaimer #2: I am not going to use the cumbersome “his or her” in this discussion, at least not with respect to laws concerning estates. For my reason why, let’s start with a discussion of women’s legal status prior, for the most part, to the twentieth century.

Laws Concerning Women

Here’s a real golden oldie: the concept of coverture. That refers to the condition or state of a married woman or, alternatively, the legal “disabilities” that attached to a married woman. A single woman had some legal rights: she could own property, enter into a contract, and sue/be sued in her own name.

The “disabilities” of a married woman, on the other hand, were total; states only gradually removed these legal disabilities. The bottom line: a married woman had no legal existence whatsoever apart from her husband. Property ownership? Are you kidding? Absent a prenuptial agreement, anything a woman owned prior to marriage became her husband’s property the moment she said “I do.” If she inherited something while married, it immediately became her husband’s property. If a woman inherited something from, say, her father, the phrase generally used in the records was that the husband owned it “in right of his wife.”

Having no legal existence, a married woman could not sue or be sued in her own behalf. Her husband had to be named as a party. For example, if there was a lawsuit concerning the estate of a married woman’s father, the list of parties would usually include the names of all her brothers (although not the names of the brothers’ wives) and the names of all her sisters (and the names of their husbands). Knowing this sometines helps to sort out the relationships among parties in lawsuits concerning estates.

Moreover, since a married woman had no legal existence apart from her husband, she had no right to enter a contract on her own. A bid at an auction is an offer to enter into a contract to purchase the item being auctioned. When the auctioneer knocks off an item to a bidder, he is accepting the bidder’s offer; a contract of sale and purchase is formed when the hammer comes down.

Consequently, if you see a woman’s name listed as a buyer at an estate sale through (roughly) the entire 1800s, you can rest assured that she was an unmarried woman or a widow.

Dower right: the right of a widow to a life estate in the real property (land) of her husband who died without a will. Keep in mind here: when someone leaves a valid will, the will governs. Absent a will, the law provides the rules. Usually, a widow’s dower right was to one-third of the husband’s land. When you see an entry in a court record or a deed book stating that a woman was “privily examined” regarding her husband’s sale of some of his land, that means she had formally acknowledged her agreement to the sale (even though she had no right to convey land herself). She was thereafter precluded from asserting any dower right to that particular tract of land. This was, of course, to protect the buyer – not the wife.

A widow’s dower right was a life estate, only during her lifetinei.e., her ownership interest ended the instant she died. After the widow died, ownership of the land passed to the husband’s heirs according to the colony’s (or state’s) laws of intestate descent and distribution if he died without a will. See discussion of laws concerning estates, below.

Some colonies (I’m thinking Virginia) at one time gave a married woman a right to disavow her husband’s will if he devised to her less than the dower life estate allotted by law. So you will see records in which a widow accepts or rejects such a will. If she rejected it, then she received the jurisdiction’s dower allotment.

Many colonial and 19th-century men who left a will devised to his wife all or some portion of his land “for life or until she remarries” — not wanting his property to fall into the hands of a new husband. Occasionally, although not very often, one finds an eighteenth or nineteenth century will in which a man left everything to his wife to “dispose of as she chooses,” which did not limit her ownership in any way. I am always tickled pink to be descended from one of those enlightened gentlemen. There weren’t very many.

Laws Concerning Estates

Here it is more straightforward to begin by listing a few definitions.

Estate: property of whatever kind that is owned by someone who has died. “Real property” means land and any improvements – houses, orchards, whatever. “Personal property” means everything else. When an estate inventory was taken, only personal property was listed – not real property. Likewise, a record of a sale of a decedent’s estate typically included only personal property. Under the English common law, adopted by all the colonies, real property – land, the source of all wealth prior to the industrial revolution – had a special place in estate distributions. [Note: once tobacco became the cash crop in Virginia, land – which was absurdly cheap, a way to attract immigration – wasn’t nearly as valuable as the people who worked it. Enter slavery, an institution which might not have become the colonial norm but for tobacco.]

Probate: matters and proceedings pertaining to estates. Used as a verb, as in “to probate a will,” it generally means to present a will and prove it to a court. An estate was probated in the county where the decedent resided. Still is, at least in Texas.

Testator: a person who has left a will. When a decedent leaves a valid will, the estate is distributed in accordance with the wishes of the testator as expressed in the will. Of course, there was no need to name all one’s children in a will. Frequently, colonial men “provided for” their children as they came of age or married with gifts of cash, land, or other property. The ones already “provided for” might not be mentioned at all in a will, or might be left a token gift, such as a shilling. This was not because Dad was cheap, or didn’t like the child who received one shilling (although that happened, too). It was just to prevent a challenge to the will based on the theory that, hey, I was his child, too, and he just forgot to mention me! He must have been unduly influenced … or non compos mentis …

Executor or executrix: a man or woman (sometimes more than one) named by a testator in his or her will to handle the matters of the estate in accordance with the will.

Intestate: a person who dies without leaving a will. In genealogy, it is often better (especially if there are good estate records for the county) to find an intestate among your ancestors than an ancestor who left a will. As noted above, there is no need to name all one’s children in a will. The distribution of an intestate’s estate, however, went to all his “heirs at law” according to the “laws of intestate descent and distribution,” see below. There was therefore potentially a great deal more information to be obtained from a distribution of an intestate’s estate than a testator’s estate.

Administrator or administratrix: a person appointed by the court to handle estate matters of an intestate decedent. Usually, an administrator/trix was a member of the intestate decedent’s family – wife, father, son – who applied for “letters of administration.”

Laws of intestate descent and distribution: let’s call it “law of intestate distribution” for short. This refers to either statutory law (rules passed by a legislature) or common law (principles estabished by common usage and court decisions) governing the distribution of the estate of an intestate decedent.

This is where the law gets really fun as it applies to genealogical research. Remember, every state had its own laws governing the distribution of an intestate’s estate … so there are no hard and fast rules. However, the old English principle of primogeniture – the rule that the eldest son inherited everything – didn’t have much application in its purest form in the colonies, so far as I have seen. Makes sense, because the colonies were populated by, inter alia, some of those younger sons who didn’t inherit.

Some colonies had variations on the notion that the eldest male was entitled to a greater share than other heirs, sometimes with different rules regarding who received how much real property versus personal property. If you are dealing with an intestate distribution, check the applicable law.

Most states passed intestate distribution laws that required a division of an estate between all of the intestate decedent’s heirs. You may have seen the phrase “heirs at law” in court or probate records. That means persons who inherit a decedent’s estate under the laws of intestate distribution. “Heirs at law” are different than “beneficiaries,” who inherit under a will. Be aware that colonial clerks of court did not always make such fine distinctions.

As a general rule, all of a man’s children were his heirs at law. If a child had predeceased his father, then any of his or her children – grandchildren of the intestate decedent – were heirs. If a man had no children, then his parents and his siblings were his heirs. (Reminder: every state has variations). All of these heirs will be named in the distribution of the estate, if you are lucky enough to have those estate records survive. FYI: there are virtually no abstracts of detailed estate records. You have to go to the county courthouse (or wherever the county keeps probate records), or the state archives, or to film available from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to get those records. If you are a serious family history researcher, those records are well worth it.

Sometimes there are lawsuits concerning an estate, which are (believe it or not) even better. Frequently, an administrator of an estate wanted to sell some land in order to pay debts, or because one of the heirs wanted his money, or because there wasn’t enough land to divide among 13 children in decently-sized tracts. An administrator had to ask the court for permission to sell an intestate’s land, and he had to join all of the heirs – each of whom had an interest in the land (or its proceeds) – as parties to a lawsuit. You will occasionally see lawsuits in such circumstances in which an administrator sues a widow and her children. Those aren’t necessarily unfriendly lawsuits; they were just what the law required to make sure everything was kosher.

Those lawsuits nearly always recited whether any heirs were underage, because any underage children had to be represented by a guardian or guardian ad litem (meaning guardian “for the day,” or for the purpose of the lawsuit). Petitions (or complaints, depending on the jurisdiction) also recited the locations of adult children who may have moved away, because due process requires that all parties to a lawsuit be given notice that they have been sued.

I now see that I have passed 2,000 words, which is more than enough for any one article. So let’s rate this as a “to be continued.” I will make notes of legal issues as they occur to me and will post another article like this when it seems worthwhile.

Shalom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3 of 5: James Trice of Caroline Co., VA, b. by 1712, d. Orange Co., NC by 1789

This post doesn’t really deal with James Trice of Caroline/Orange, notwithstanding the title. Rather, it concerns the line of James Trice of King William County, VA, whose estate was appraised there in 1769. Two Louisa County chancery court files in the Library of Virginia contain documents about a dispute among two grandsons of James Trice of King William. I relied on evidence from those files in Part 2 of this Trice series, which did deal with James Trice of Caroline/Orange. I also promised to provide abstracts of these files.

This article contains two things: (1) a summary of the Louisa County chancery court dispute and (2) abstracts of the documents contained in the two files, indexed by the Library of Virginia as Louisa County #1804-006 and #1804-011.

The chancery files contain some duplication; I did not abstract any document twice. I have omitted many documents that do not appear to have useful genealogical information concerning the Trice family. I also omitted lists of items in estate inventories. There are several in those 2 files, including the estates of William Anderson (Dorothy Dabney Anderson Trice’s first husband), James Trice of King William (Dorothy’s second husband), and Dabney Anderson (a son of Dorothy and William Anderson and a stepson of James Trice). You know where to find them if you’re interested in details: see links provided in Part 2. Finally, I’ve also omitted most of the testimony and allegations in pleadings specifically concerning the slaves at issue in the two cases – Bess and her son Dick. I may have omitted some relevant documents. There are 116 pages in the two files, some of which are written in an almost incomprehensible hand. Attorneys also succumb to MEGO.

I have numbered and titled the documents, see below, although they are neither numbered nor titled in the actual Library of Virginia files. These are therefore my own numbers and descriptions. My comments are in italics and do NOT reflect what is in the actual file – the italicized comments contain my own clarifications or conclusions.

Summary of the cases

The dispute concerns the ownership of a slave named Dick, who was the son of a slave named Bess. Dick was convicted of a felony in Hanover County and hanged. Under the colonial law of Virginia, if a slave was executed by the state, Virginia compensated the owner for his or her value. Learning this set me on my heels, since I still recoil whenever I see something involving the equation “human = property.” That’s the way it was, America’s original sin.

The court cases divide into two procedural parts. First, William Trice, son of John Trice and grandson of James Trice of King William, sued Charles Crenshaw in Charles’ capacity as executor of his father, Joseph Crenshaw. Joseph had been the administrator of the estate of James Trice, who was Joseph’s father-in-law. The parties to these cases – William Trice and Charles Crenshaw – were first cousins, both being grandsons of James Trice and his wife Dorothy Dabney Anderson Trice.

William apparently filed his claim in 1799, or perhaps late 1788. William sought an accounting of the estate of James Trice from Charles, saying that he (William) hadn’t received his share of the estate. Charles responded that the claim was old and stale and should be dismissed, an equitable defense known as “laches.” William won, and the court ordered an accounting of James Trice’s estate.

Sometime after that, Charles turned up what appeared to be new evidence (it was, it just turned out not to be relevant). He asked that the earlier order be set aside and the case reheard. Charles also filed a cross-claim against William, saying that William had received more than his fair share of James Trice’s estate. The court allowed a rehearing, and the case was tried. William Trice won, and the court ordered an accounting of the estate of James Trice, with the entire value of Dick (plus interest) to be credited in William Trice’s favor.

The archivists at the Library of Virginia created two files for these cases, one reflecting William Trice’s original claim and the other reflecting Charles Crenshaw’s cross-claim. As a practical matter, the two cases concern a single dispute and set of facts, and one needs to review both files to get the entire story.

Here is a summary of the general facts.

In 1720, Dorothy Dabney Anderson, widow of William Anderson, deeded a slave named Bess to her son William Anderson, a minor. The deed provided that ownership of Bess would revert to Dorothy if William died without issue and Dorothy were still alive. William did die as a child, with no children of his own. Ownership of Bess thus reverted to Dorothy.

Dorothy married secondly James Trice of King William County. James apparently did not consider Bess or her children to be his property in fee simple, although that would have been the case under colonial Virginia law. In a lawsuit after Dorothy died, James claimed only a life estate in Bess and her issue. James apparently considered them the property of Dabney Anderson – the only other son of William and Dorothy Anderson, presumably with ownership to revert to Dabney after the expiration of James’ life estate.

Dabney Anderson must also have thought the slaves were his, because he devised them in his will to his stepbrother John Trice. John Trice died intestate. William Trice was John’s only child, so William inherited John’s entire estate. James Trice, Dabney’s executor and the administrator of John Trice, apparently considered the slaves William’s property, as he reportedly said at one point that he wished William would come get his slaves.

William Trice based his claim for Bess’s child Dick (or his value as determined in the wisdom of the Colony of Virginia) on (1) Dabney Anderson’s devise of Bess to John Trice in Dabney’s will and (2) William’s inheritance of all of his father John’s estate. Charles, bless his heart, threw lots of factual issues at the court – e.g., Bess wasn’t listed in the inventory of James Trice’s estate, nor was she listed in the inventory of Dabney’s estate, and other matters, all to no avail. He lost. When the facts are on your side, pound the law; when the law is on your side, pound the facts; when neither is on your side, pound the table. Charles Crenshaw was in the unenviable position of having neither the facts nor the law on his side.

With that introduction, here are the abstracts. They contain more genealogical information than included in the above summary.

File # 1804-006

  1. Cross-complaint of Charles Crenshaw dated April 1802?
  • Charles Crenshaw was the executor of the will of Joseph Crenshaw.
  • Slave Bess was a gift (sic, a devise in a will) from Dabney Anderson (son of Dorothy Dabney Anderson and William Anderson) to John Trice (son of Dorothy Dabney Anderson Trice and James Trice).
  • There is a gift deed in King William Co. by Dorothy Anderson giving Bess to her son William Anderson. However, if William died without children, and Dorothy was still alive, then Bess reverted to Dorothy. Deed dated 15 Feb 1720.
  • William Anderson died without children in Dorothy’s lifetime.
  • Asserts that William Trice (named as defendant) has received more than his just share from the estate of James Trice.
  • Joseph Crenshaw married the sister of John Trice. Plaintiff Charles Crenshaw, “in right of Joseph, being entitled to one moiety thereof” (e., one half of the estate of James Trice), because “the said James Trice, the father of them both (i.e., both John Trice and Joseph Crenshaw’s wife) died intestate.”
  • Seeks an accounting of James Trice’s estate.
  1. Deposition of Henry Edwards and wife Mary Edwards dated 14 Sep 1802.
  • John Trice died at less than twenty years old. Summary of this deposition in the other case says that he died less than age 21.
  • James Trice was John Trice’s father.
  • William Trice of Louisa County was a son of Mary Edwards and John Trice. William was their only child. Mary LNU Trice remarried to Henry Edwards after her husband John Trice died.
  • Mary Trice is age 77. She met James Trice when she was 9. Some researchers believe that Mary was probably nèe Anderson, a daughter of William and Dorothy Dabney Anderson. For what it’s worth, I agree.
  • Henry Edwards (Mary’s husband) was guardian of William Trice. Henry once sued James Trice on William’s behalf in a dispute concerning slaves. Henry did not recover Bess, because James Trice prevailed on his claim that he owned a life estate in Bess.
  • James Trice’s wife had died before that suit.
  • Joseph Crenshaw was the administrator of James Trice when James died.
  • Bess, the slave into dispute, came into the estate of James Trice by virtue of his marriage to Dorothy Anderson.
  1. Deposition of Susanna Crenshaw, 28 Oct 1802.
  • Dorothy Anderson who married James Trice was living in King William County about December 1742.
  1. Appraisal of the estate of James Trice, dec’d, dated 22 Feb 1769 and recorded in King William Co., April 1769.
  • Appraisers were Thomas Crenshaw, George Dabney Jr., and Thomas Baker.
  1. Answer of Defendant William Trice to Charles Crenshaw’s Cross-Complaint dated 11 May 1802.
  • Admits to 1720 gift deed of a slave from Dorothy Anderson to William Anderson and that William Anderson died without issue.
  • James Trice married Dorothy Anderson and took possession of the slave during his life.
  • About five years before William Trice was born, Dabney Anderson died leaving a will that was proved in Caroline County, James Trice, executor. Dabney Anderson’s will was presented for probate by the executor James Trice (Dabney’s stepfather) on 13 Feb. 1735/36, see Caroline Co. Order Book 1732-40 at 319.
  • Dabney Anderson’s will devised a slave to John Trice, the son of James Trice.
  • William Trice is the only child of John Trice, who died intestate at less than age 21.
  1. Gift deed dated 15 Feb 1720.
  • Deed signed by Dorothy D. Anderson, widow of William Anderson, dec’d, of St. Johns Parish, King William County.
  • Gift of slave to son William Anderson, a minor.
  • If William dies without issue and Dorothy survives him, then the slave reverts to Dorothy.
  1. Deposition of Dorothy Hicks in Albemarle Co., 23 Sep 1799.
  • Dorothy lived with James Trice from the time she was a child until a grown woman.
  • Her parents were Godney Trice and Judith Trice. Judith Trice was nèe Anderson (see receipt from Godney and Judith in File #1804-011) and was a child of William and Dorothy Dabney Anderson. Some researchers speculate that Godney Trice was a son of James Trice. However, Godney (who also appears in records as “Goodwin”) was not one of the heirs of James Trice, which means either (1) he wasn’t a son of James or (2) he did not survive James and left no children. However, Godney’s father was definitely not James Trice of King William because Godney left at least one child – Dorothy Trice Hicks – who survived James Trice. If Godney had been James’ child, Dorothy (and any other children of Godney) would have been heirs of James Trice since James died intestate. I don’t know who Godney/Goodwin’s parents were and can’t even speculate intelligently.
  • Dorothy was about 10 – 12 years old when Dabney Anderson died. That would make her b. abt. 1722-23. She is now about 67. That would make her b. abt. 1732. There is clearly some inconsistency in her testimony.
  1. Deposition of Gravet (?) Edwards, 25 Oct. 1802. Dorothy Trice was alive 5 or six years after 1727. Another deponent testified she was still alive in 1742. Another deponent testified that she died before James Trice, so she clearly died by 1769.

File #1804-011

  1. Complaint of William Trice v. Charles Crenshaw as Executor of Joseph Crenshaw
  • Plaintiff William Trice (called William Trice Sr. in various other records in these two files) was the only child of John Trice, dec’d, who was the son of James Trice.
  • Dabney Anderson of Caroline County died sometime in 1735, will dated 16 Dec 1735. Dabney appointed James Trice (the father of John Trice and grandfather of William Trice) executor of his will.
  • Dabney Anderson devised to John Trice 3 slaves in fee, including Bess. John Trice died intestate and William Trice claims the slaves under Dabney’s will.
  • James Trice administered the estate of his son John Trice.
  • John Trice, father of William, died under age (less than 21) and intestate, so that William Trice became entitled as John’s heir at law to the slaves bequeathed to John.
  • Joseph Crenshaw was administrator of James Trice’s estate. Joseph Crenshaw died and Charles Crenshaw was Joseph’s executor.
  • William Trice names Charles Crenshaw the defendant in this lawsuit.
  1. Sale, estate of James Trice.
  1. Answer of Charles Crenshaw to the complaint of William Trice dated 12 Mar 1799.
  • Admits that he is the executor of Joseph Crenshaw, who was the administrator of James Trice, who was the executor of Dabney Anderson.
  1. Inventory of the estate of Dabney Anderson dated 13 Feb 1735.
  • Signed by Joseph Woolfolk, Jos. Martin, Jacob Burrus, and James Trice. Recorded 12 Mar 1735.
  1. Two receipts on one piece of paper, both dated 25 Feb. 1736
  • Godney Trice and Judy Trice acknowleded receipt from James Trice of a slave who was a legacy given them by Dabney Anderson. Evidence that Judith Trice was Dabney’s sister.
  • Joseph Ashburn and Sarah Asburn acknowledged receipt from James Trice of “our part of Dabney’s estate,” a slave who was a legacy from “our brother Dabney Adnerson dec’d.” Evidence that Sarah Ashburn was Dabney’s sister. 

 

Part 2 of 5: James Trice of Caroline Co., VA, b. by 1712, d. Orange Co., NC by 1789.

Yesterday, I posted an introduction to a series of articles about the James Trice who first appeared in the Virginia records in a 1733 road order as a resident of Caroline County. James married as his second wife Ruth Booth (widow of Daniel Booth), and moved to Orange County, NC, where he died in late 1788 or 1789. We’re calling him James Trice of Caroline/Orange for short.

In that introduction, I posed several questions about James, all of which address what I think are misconceptions/misinformation about James Trice of Caroline/Orange. The questions begin with these two:

  1. Was Dorothy (nèe Dabney) Anderson married to James Trice of Caroline/Orange? The answer is “NO,” beyond any doubt. Dorothy was married to a different James Trice. 
  1. Was the James Trice who was married to Dorothy (nèe Dabney) Anderson the father of James Trice of Caroline/Orange? Again, the answer is “NO.” There is no doubt about that, either.

Here is one initial note before we get to the evidence. Writing this article reminded me again of some of the rules of genealogical research, to wit …

Rule #1: follow the land. If there is one thing British common law is finely honed to accomplish, it is to keep track of who owns which piece of earth. If you want to prove, e.g., that Dorothy Dabney married William Anderson about 1700, Virginia land records will do it for you.

Rule #2: keep track of county creation history. If an ancestor suddenly disappears from the records of, say, Pike County, Alabama, it might be because he moved away. Or it might be that he begins appearing instead in the records of Barbour County, which had been created from Pike County.

Rule #3: if you find a chancery court case involving your research targets, consider it golden. Cherish it. Almost everything in this article is conclusively proved by two chancery court files located in the Virginia State Library in Richmond. A very nice researcher named Rubyann Thompson Darnell pointed me toward them.

Rule #4: you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a charming prince.

OK, back to the Trice questions. Let’s start with Dorothy Dabney Anderson’s family of origin and husband.

Dorothy was the daughter of Cornelius Dabney, who acquired land on Pouncey’s Swamp (or Pownce’s, or several other variant spellings) in the Pamunkey Neck of what was then St. John’s Parish, King & Queen County, Virginia. A committee of the Virginia Assembly “confirmed” this land to Cornelius in 1699, and also named four children who apparently claimed it under Cornelius Dabney’s will.[1] The Dabney children were James, George, Dorothy and Sarah Dabney.

In April 1701, official Virginia land patents were issued for that land to the four Dabney children.[2] By then, Dorothy had married William Anderson. The Anderson patent names both William Anderson and his wife Dorothy in a grant of land in Pamunkey Neck, St. John’s Parish, Pownce’s Swamp, adjacent land of Sarah Dabney. Sarah’s patent expressly states that her tract was adjacent to James Dabney and “land of her sister Dorothy.”

Those particular land records prove, among other things, that Dorothy Dabney, daughter of Cornelius, married William Anderson some time between 1699 and 1701, and that they owned land in St. John’s Parish in what was then King & Queen County. See Rule #1.

By early 1720, Dorothy was a widow. In February that year, she signed as “Dorothy D. Anderson” a deed of gift to her son William. The deed, which was the gift of a slave,[3] was recorded in St. John’s Parish, King William County. Dorothy Anderson had probably not moved. Instead, the county in which she and William lived had just changed when King William was created from King & Queen County in 1700. See Rule #2.

This deed, as well as numerous other records on which this article relies, can be found in two chancery court case files from Louisa County, VA. Both files concern essentially the same controversy, a claim and cross-claim between first cousins. The subject of the controversy, originally filed (as nearly as I can tell) about 1798, was the son of the slave named in the 1720 gift deed from Dorothy to her son William. The Library of Virginia, bless its heart, has digitized those records and made them available online. See Rule #3.

I will summarize my abstracts of relevant records from those files in the next article in this Trice series. If you are interested in them and can’t wait for abstracts, the files are designated Louisa County Chancery cases, index number 1804-006 and 1811-011. Be advised that you will wade through a considerable amount of dross while searching for the gold. See Rule #4.

The files are available online here: #1804-006. And here: #1804-011

Here are two things the chancery court dispute conclusively proves.[4]

  • Dorothy Dabney Anderson, widow of William Anderson, married as her second husband James Trice of King William County. Let’s call him James Trice of King William.[5]
  • Dorothy’s husband James Trice died intestate and his estate was appraised on 22 February 1769 in King William County.

There is no doubt that James Trice of King William was not the same man as James Trice of Caroline/Orange, who died in Orange County in 1788-89.[6] James Trice of Caroline/Orange had left Virginia some time in 1756, when he last appeared in the Caroline County records.[7] He was definitely a resident of North Carolina by no later than 1759.[8] He was still living in North Carolina when the other James Trice died in Virginia.

To turn this into a syllogism:

  1. James Trice of King William (d. by 1769) was not the same man as James Trice of Caroline/Orange (d. by 1789);
  2. James Trice of King William was indisputably the husband of Dorothy Dabney Anderson;
  3. Therefore, James Trice of Caroline/Orange did not marry Dorothy Dabney Anderson. The answer to Question #1 is “NO.”

There is more that the chancery court records prove.

  • James and Dorothy Dabney Anderson Trice had two, and only two, children who have any descendants: John Trice and a daughter, probably Martha Trice.
  • John Trice married Mary LNU and died intestate before age 21. John and Mary had only one child, William Trice, who was one of the claimants in the Louisa county chancery court dispute.
  • James and Dorothy’s other child was a daughter, possibly named Martha, who married Joseph Crenshaw. Joseph and Martha’s son Charles Crenshaw was the cross-claimant in the Louisa chancery court case.

If James and Dorothy Trice had any children besides John and Martha, that child (or children) must have died before 1769 and cannot themselves have had any children who were still alive as of 1769. James Trice’s 1769 King William estate was equally inherited by Joseph Crenshaw (“in right of his wife” Martha) and John Trice’s son William. Because James Trice died without a will, the Virginia law of intestate descent and distribution required that all of his children (or children of a deceased child) share in his estate. Thus, Joseph and Martha Crenshaw (daughter of James Trice) and William Trice (son of John Trice and grandson of James Trice), the only heirs, were James Trice’s only surviving heirs.

Because James Trice of Caroline/Orange was not one of the heirs of James of King William, James Trice of Caroline/Orange cannot have been a son (or grandson) of James Trice of King William and Dorothy Dabney Anderson. The answer to Question #2 is also “NO.”

And that’s all the news that’s fit on print on the first two Trice issues. Please don’t go away, though. As far as Trice controversies are concerned, we have just begun to fight.

[1] Louis des Cognets, Jr., English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records (Princeton, NJ: 1958).

[2] Marion Nell Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers Volume 3: 1695-1732 (Richmond: Virginia State Library,1979) at 46 (abstract of VA Patent Book 9 at 350, 351 and 352).

[3] It pains me considerably to type words showing that some human beings were considered property and could be given by one owner to another.

[4] State Library of Virginia, online chancery court records, Louisa County files indexed as #1804-006 and #1804-011. Records in the two files include the complaint of William Trice and the cross-claim of Charles Crenshaw, William’s answer to the cross-claim, Charles’ answer to the original complaint, 1720 gift deed from Dorothy D. Anderson to her minor son William Anderson, inventory and appraisal of the estate of William Anderson dated 25 Jun 1719, deposition of Henry Edward and his wife Mary (who married John Trice, son of James Trice of King William, and was the mother of William Trice, the plaintiff), appraisal of the estate of James Trice (22 Feb 1769, King William County), 1735 Caroline County inventory of the estate of Dabney Anderson (James Trice, executor), and numerous other deposition notices and the usual detritus of lawsuits.

[5] In addition to the Louisa Co. chancery files, there is other proof that Dorothy Dabney Anderson married James Trice. See will of Susanna Anderson (widow of Cornelius Dabney who remarried to a Mr. Anderson after Cornelius died) dated 4 Mary 1722 and recorded 5 Feb 1724, Hanover Will Book I: 632. The original will book was lost, but a copy of the will was re-filed in 22 Dec 1868. Susanna’s will names her grandson William Anderson (the donee in Dorothy’s 1720 gift deed), William Anderson’s stepfather James Trice, and Susannah’s children Cornelius Dabney, Dorothy Trice (identified as the wife of James Trice), and Mary Carr (wife of Thomas Carr).

[6] Feb 1788 or Feb 1789 (year not clear) entry in Orange County, NC Minute Book IV: 98, original viewed by R. Willis at the NC Archives.

[7] John Frederick Dorman, Caroline County, Virginia Order Book 1755 – 1758, Part One, 1755 – 1756 (Washington, D.C.: 1976), abstract of 8 Apr 1756 entry mentioning lease and release from James Trice and wife Ruth, at p. 160 of the Order Book.

[8] Weynette Parks Haun, Orange County, North Carolina, Court Minutes 1752 -1761, Book I (Durham, NC: 1991), abstract of Sep 1759 court minutes, jury ordered to lay out a road from the Great Road to Cape Fear where James Trice lives. Jury included James Trice, Edward Trice and John Trice.

 

James Trice of Caroline Co., VA, b. by 1712, d. Orange Co., NC 1789: Part 1 of 5

 

Not long ago, a man who learned from his FTDNA “Family Finder” autosomal DNA test that we are related through our Trice lines contacted me. It turned out that we have the same Trice great-great-grandparents, so we are (as they say in north Louisiana) gen-u-wine cousins. Because of him, I have to cast yet another vote in favor of DNA testing, if for no other reason than to meet very nice relatives who were previously unknown to you.

Meanwhile, email conversations with my newfound cousin caused me to look again at the Trice family. My own last conclusively proved Trice Ancestor is the James Trice who first appeared as a resident of Caroline County, VA in a 1733 road order, married as his second wife Ruth Booth (widow of Daniel Booth), and moved to Orange County, NC, where he died in 1789. Let’s call him JAMES TRICE of Caroline/Orange to distinguish him from at least one other James Trice who made a brief appearance in the records of Caroline County.

There is a great deal of bad information floating around the internet about this man. This isn’t surprising. Trices began appearing in Virginia in the 1670s, and they did not choose their locations wisely. They appeared in New Kent, King & Queen, King William, Hanover, and Caroline counties. All of those counties have suffered serious losses of records. Moreover, “Edward” and “James” were favorite Trice given names from the time they started appearing in the colonies, which makes the job of distinguishing among them – with few records available – even more difficult.

Here are a few issues that jump out …

  1. Was Dorothy (nèe Dabney) Anderson married to James Trice of Caroline/Orange? The answer is “NO,” beyond any doubt. Dorothy was married to a James Trice whose estate was appraised in February 1769 in King William County, VA.
  1. Was the James Trice who died in King William County and who was married to Dorothy (nèe Dabney) Anderson the father of James Trice of Caroline/Orange? Again, the answer is “NO,” and there is no doubt about that, either.
  1. Who were the two wives of James Trice of Caroline/Orange? Answer: (1) I don’t know, but wish I did; and (2) Ruth Booth, nèe May.
  1. James Trice of Caroline/Orange had a son by his first wife named Edward Trice (b. abt. 1737, Caroline Co., d. 1800, Orange Co.). Edward’s wife was named Tabitha. What was her maiden name? The conventional wisdom is that she was nèe Harrison. I cannot find any evidence for that assertion, nor can I find anyone who is willing to share any evidence they have on the issue. On the other hand, there is some convincing circumstantial evidence that Edward’s wife Tabitha was Tabitha Booth, the daughter of Ruth May Booth Trice and her first husband, Daniel Booth.

Addressing these issues with references to actual evidence in county and other records is going to require more than one post in order to avoid inflicting the MEGO syndrome on the reader: “my eyes glaze over.”

Please stay tuned. There is considerably more information about these Trices to come shortly. And Happy New Year, y’all!!!