Virginia Winns, Part 2: Colonel Thomas Winn of Lunenburg

This article continues the saga of five genetically related Winn families of eighteenth century Virginia: (1) Col Thomas Winn of Lunenburg, b. circa 1720, d. 1781,[1] (2) Daniel Winn of Lunenburg, d. 1799, (3) Minor Winn Sr. of Fauquier Co., d. 1778, (4) John Winn of Lunenburg, d. 1795, and (5) Richard Winn of Middlesex.[2] Thanks to Y-DNA test results (see the prior article at this website), it is certain that the descendants of these five men share a common Winn Ancestor. It is also certain that they are not genetically related to Robert Wynne d. 1668 in Charles City County, despite a long-standing belief held by many Winn researchers that Robert was the progenitor of many Southside Winns.

The Winn Family DNA project (the “Project”) published the relevant Y-DNA results for those families. The “News” tab at the Project also purports to identify immigrant Winn ancestors for this line and says they descend from a Puleston line in Wales. The Project provides no sources. I didn’t spot any participants in the Project who identified their last known ancestor as one the immigrants or the Puleston line.[3] So … what is the basis for the Project’s claims? Hmmm … when you join the website, you are asked to provide a GEDCOM. Perhaps those GEDCOMS are the basis for some of the claims about immigrants and Welsh ancestry? Ergh. Quoting a friend, “family history without sources is fiction.” While DNA obviously isn’t fiction, drawing conclusions about ancestry without providing some kind of evidence undermines one’s credibility.

Notwithstanding the Project’s claims, I’m going to assume that the published Winn Y-DNA results prove nothing more and nothing less than what it says in the boldface summary in the first paragraph, above. Let’s address the relationship among those five men the old-fashioned way, beginning with Col. Thomas. He was a fairly wealthy man who lived a high profile life in Lunenburg: he was a Colonel in the county militia, vestryman of Cumberland Parish, and justice of the county court.[4] While we are searching for his family of origin, we will also look at his children and grandchildren. For more detail, and citations to county and other records, please check out the footnotes.

Here’s the bottom line: Col. Thomas is almost certainly a son of Richard and Phoebe Wilkes Pledger Winn of Hanover County. That is what the DNA Project claims, as well. Further, John Winn of Amelia County (wife Susannah Irby), Phoebe Winn Holland of Amelia (husband Michael Holland), and Susannah Winn Irby of Amelia (husband Charles Irby) were Col. Thomas’s siblings. Daniel Winn of Lunenburg is surely also their sibling. A rogue named Samuel Winn may be another sibling.

I wish this were a simple analysis proved by a few records. It is not. In fact, it will probably take several posts to cover the evidence. The records establish a compelling web of family relationships among several Winn families and their extended family “cluster” in three Virginia counties. They also provide a great deal of information about this family. So hang on to your hats …

Here are some basic records concerning Col. Thomas: (1) the 1768 will of his son John, who predeceased his father; (2) Col. Thomas’s 1779 will; and (3) a 1795 lawsuit in Lunenburg over the estate of Col. Thomas’s son Washington Winn.

First, the will of Col. Thomas’s son John was dated March 28 and proved May 12, 1768 in Lunenburg.[5] John’s will named his wife Susannah and his children Harrison, Betty and an unborn child. John named as his executors Thomas Winn (specifically identified by the testator as his father) and Joseph Winn, no relationship stated. Although the identity of John’s children is not critical, the timing of John’s death will (eventually) be important to this narrative. Col. Thomas’s son John obviously died in 1768.

Second, the will of Col. Thomas, dated Sept. 18, 1779 and proved April 12, 1781. Col. Thomas named these beneficiaries:[6]

  1. Son-in-law John Hix and his wife Mourning Winn Hix;
  2. Daughter Henrietta Maria Winn;
  3. Son Bannister Winn;
  4. Son Edmund Winn, who was less than twenty years old in Sept. 1779;
  5. Son Washington Winn, who was also less than twenty; and
  6. Col. Thomas’s wife Sarah.

His estate was substantial. The 1782 real property tax list for Lunenburg shows his estate was taxed on 1,400 acres.[7] The will devised twenty-four enslaved persons, although the inventory of his estate names eighteen.[8]

Here’s the best part: Col. Thomas named as executors his wife Sarah, William Winn (a son), Lyddal Bacon, and John Winn of Amelia Co. The witnesses were Christopher Dawson, Charles Irby, John Winn, Jr., Charles Winn, Susannah Irby, Lucy Irby, and John Winn.[9] The executor and witnesses whose names are in boldface are a key to identifying Col. Thomas’s family.

Meanwhile, the list of beneficiaries raises at least two issues: (1) whether Col. Thomas named all his children (he did not) and (2) whether Sarah, his widow, was his first wife (she was not). The rest of his children, and the fact that Col. Thomas had more than one wife, are proved in a lawsuit in Lunenburg over the estate of his son Washington, who died in late 1793 or early 1794.[10]

Despite assertions to the contrary in a compiled Winn family history, Washington was still less than twenty-one when he died, he was unmarried, and he left no will.[11] Washington’s estate reimbursed his mother Sarah in 1794 for expenses for doctors and for his coffin, expenses she incurred in her capacity as his guardian.[12] Thanks to his inheritance from his father, Washington had a personal property estate valued at £ 324.[13] Since he died without a will, his estate was divided according to the Virginia law of intestate distribution. A lawsuit ensued, which is a very happy circumstance for family history researchers two centuries later.

I am going to reproduce below the court’s distribution order dated Nov. 10, 1797, including the style of the case.[14] It is the most important evidence I have found regarding Col. Thomas’s family. Also, an abstract incorrectly transcribed the word “coheirs” in the style of the case as “cousins,” a great example of how one word can make a world of difference in family history research!

I grouped the parties in the style of the case by typeface and color to help keep them straight in the long list of complainants. The people in the first group – in red – are children of Col. Thomas except for two men who married two of his daughters, including (1) Joseph Winn who married Elizabeth Winn and (2) John Hix, who married Mourning Winn. Elizabeth and Mourning were daughters of Col. Thomas. Joseph Winn and John Hix had to be included as named parties because a married woman had no legal existence whatsoever apart from her husband, so that she could not be a party to a lawsuit on her own behalf.

The second group – shown in blue italics – names the three grandchildren of Col. Thomas through his dead son John, two of whom were named in John’s will (Harrison and Elizabeth “Betty” Winn Heart). See the discussion of the 1768 will, above. Note that we now know John’s afterborn child was named for his father.

The third group –  in black italics – identifies some more of Col. Thomas’s grandchildren, the children of his daughter Henrietta Maria Winn Bacon.[15]

Finally, the fourth group of people – green regular typeface – also names some of Col. Thomas’s grandchildren, the children of his daughter Keturah Winn Hardy.

Please note that a lawsuit concerning an estate of a person who died without a will must, as a matter of law, name all the heirs at law (meaning all the heirs under the law of intestate descent and distribution). This one lovely lawsuit therefore conclusively proves all of Col. Thomas’s heirs, i.e., his wife, his children or – if a child predeceased him – the children of the dead child (i.e., grandchildren). You can’t beat that in family history research absent a family Bible.

Here is the style of the lawsuit and order of distribution. Quote:

John Hix and Mourning his wife, Joseph Winn and Elizabeth his wife, Thomas Winn, Richard Winn, William Winn and Banister Winn, Children and Coheirs of Thomas Winn, dec’d, and Harrison Winn, Beasley Heart and Elizabeth his wife, and John Winn, children and legal representatives of John Winn, dec’d, who was the son of the last mentioned Thomas Winn, dec’d, and Susanna Bacon, Sarah Bacon, Lyddal Bacon, and Thomas Winn Bacon, infants, by Edward [sic, Edmund] P. Bacon their guardian and Keturah Hardy, Armstead Hardy, Sally Hardy, Edmund Hardy, and Jeane Hardy, by Alexander Winn, Gentleman, their next friend,

 Complainants in Chancery,


Edmund Winn, administrator of Washington Winn, dec’d, and Sarah Winn,


End of quote. We now know all the heirs – but which ones were Sarah’s children, and which were children of an earlier wife or wives? Fortunately the order specified how much money was to be distributed to each party. That tells us which were Sarah’s children (parties “of the whole blood,” i.e., Washington Winn’s siblings), and which were the children of Col. Thomas’s earlier wife or wives (parties “of the half blood”). The court was required to make that distinction because the Virginia law of intestate distribution provided that half siblings received only half as much as siblings of the whole blood. Here is the language of the payment ordered by the court, with my comments in italics:

“To Sarah Winn, complainant [sic, Sarah, Col. Thomas’s widow, was a defendant, not a complainant ], £97.9.8

To Mourning Hix of the half blood £61.14.10 [her husband John Hix had died by then][16]

To Joseph Winn of the half blood ditto [in right of his wife Elizabeth, a daughter of Col. Thomas]

To Thomas Winn of the half blood ditto

To Richard Winn of the half blood ditto

To William Winn of the half blood ditto

To Bannister Winn of the half blood ditto

To Harrison Winn, Beasly Hart & Elizabeth his wife and John Winn, heirs of John Winn, dec’d, son of Thomas Winn, dec’d, ditto amount above. The order doesn’t say so, but the amount clearly makes John Winn a sibling of Washington of the the half blood.

To the children of Keturah [Keturah’s name is struck out in pencil and “Henrietta” is written in the order book, presumably by a researcher; Henrietta is correct] Bacon, dec’d, Susanna Bacon, Sarah Bacon, Lyddall Bacon, Thomas Winn Bacon, of the whole blood, £123.9.8

To the children of Keturah Hardy, dec’d, Keturah Hardy, Ann Hardy, Sally Hardy, Edmund Hardy & Jeane Hardy of the whole blood, £123.9.8

To Edmund Winn his part £123.9.8.” Edmund, who was a defendant in his capacity as administrator of Washington’s estate, was clearly a sibling of the whole blood based on the amount he received.

Back to our original issue, i.e., the extended family of Col. Thomas. Take heart: we will get there eventually.

In that regard, there is one thing in the will that should catch our attention. One of the most solid bets in genealogy is that witnesses to a will will and/or executors are close family most of the time. Thus, we need to discover the family relationship among Col. Thomas and his executor John Winn of Amelia Co., and witnesses Charles Irby, John Winn, Jr., Charles Winn, Susannah Irby, Lucy Irby, and John Winn. The fact that Col. Thomas appointed as an executor someone from a county across the Nottoway River – John Winn, to whom I will refer as “Amelia John” – gives him special importance.

Well, this is already too much for this installment. I will open the next article with Amelia John’s will. See you then, I hope!


[1] The “circa 1720” date of birth for Col. Thomas is based on when he appeared in certain records. So far as I have found, his first appearance was in a St. Paul’s Parish vestry book entry dated 3 Mar 1743, It identified Thomas as “Page’s Overseer,” see The Vestry Book of St. Paul’s Parish, Hanover County, Virginia 1706-1786, C. G. Chamberlayne, 1940. The overseer position was frequently a sort of “training” position among wealthy families; it suggests that he was in his early to mid-twenties. His next appearance in the records was as a grantee in a deed dated 8 Apr 1746. See Lunenburg Deed Book 1: 71 (original viewed by the author at the Lunenburg courthouse), deed from Samuel Wynne of Brunswick Co. to Thomas Wynne of St. Paul’s Parish in Hanover, 150A, witnessed by John Winn, John Stone and Richard Stone. The land Samuel conveyed was on F*cking Creek, subsequently renamed “Modest Creek” in a fit of incredibly ironic cartography. In any event, Col. Thomas was born no later than 1725. His birth year was probably somewhere between 1715 and 1725, hence “circa” 1720 as a plus-or-minus estimate. He reached his public “peak” about 1765, when he became a militia Colonel, was a county court justice, and became a parish Vestryman. See note 4. He would have been about 45.

[2] The death years for four of the five men are based on the year each one’s will was probated. I have found no basis to estimate a death date for Richard Winn of Middlesex.

[3] Id. The only evidence cited in the “news” summary at the link in the prior footnote is the Christ Church Parish register, which is not without its problems. I’ll address those, or try to, in another article in this series.

[4] Lloyd Bockstruck, Virginia’s Colonial Soldiers (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988), Thomas Wynne took the oath as Colonel in the Lunenburg militia on 14 Jun 1765; Lunenburg County, Virginia, Order Book No. 12, 1766-1769 (Miami Beach: TLC Genealogy, 2002), abstract of Order Book 12: 67, entry of 11 Jun 1767, Thomas Winn, Justice, was present at county court; Landon C. Bell, Cumberland Parish, Lunenburg County, Virginia, 1746-1816, Vestry Book (Richmond: William Byrd Press, 1930), Thomas Winn was a vestryman from 1766 through 1780.

[5] June Banks Evans, Lunenburg County Virginia Will Book 2 1762-1778 (New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications, 1999), abstract of Will Book 2: 326, the will of John Winn, son of Thomas.

[6] Original of Will Book 3: 75, viewed by the author at the Lunenburg courthouse.

[7] June Banks Evans, Lunenburg County, Virginia Land Taxes 1782 – 1787 (New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications, 1990).

[8] Original of Lunenburg Will Book 3:75, 82.

[9] Id. at 75.

[10] Original of Lunenburg Order Book 16: 348, viewed by the author at the Lunenburg courthouse, court order of 9 Jan 1794 granting administration of the estate of Washington Winn to Edmund Winn.

[11] Charles Arthur Wynn, Jr., A Family History of the Wynns (Winn, Wynne) of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia (Decorah, IA: Amundsen, 1991) incorrectly asserts that Washington was married and that he had a will. Washington did not have a will: (1) none can be found among the relatively intact Lunenburg probate records, (2) his estate had an administrator (rather than an executor), and (3) the court divided Washington’s estate according to the law of intestate descent and distribution – which only applies in the absence of a valid will. Further, it is certain that Washington had no wife who survived him, or his mother Sarah would not have been Washington’s guardian when he died and Washington’s widow would have been one of the distributees of his estate. Distribution to a surviving parent is a standard provision in most laws of intestate distribution. In fact, had both of Washington’s parents been alive, they would (if the VA law at that time was like current TX law) have been entitled to the whole estate and his siblings would have received nothing.

[12] June Banks Evans, Lunenburg County, Virginia Guardian Accounts 1791-1810 (New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications, 1995). Washington would not have had a guardian had he been of full legal age.

[13] June Banks Evans, Lunenburg County Virginia Will Book 4 1791-1799 (New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications,1991), abstract of WB 4: 45a, inventory and appraisal of the estate of Washington Winn, dec’d.

[14] Original of Order Book 17: 292, 293, viewed by the author at the Lunenburg courthouse.

[15] The style of the case incorrectly names the guardian of the Bacon children as Edward P. Bacon. I have a Bacon ancestor, also a Lunenburg resident, so I’ve scrubbed the Lunenburg records on the Bacons. In fact, I looked through the original deed grantor-grantee index, as well as the individual deed book indices for a number of years, trying to find an Edward P. Bacon. The Bacon children’s guardian was undoubtedly Edmund Parkes Bacon, who is all over the Lunenburg records at the turn of the century.

[16] Lunenburg Will Book 4: 149A, original viewed by author at Lunenburg courthouse, will of John Hix dated 19 Feb 1795, proved 8 Dec 1796. The will names wife Mourning and children.


2 thoughts on “Virginia Winns, Part 2: Colonel Thomas Winn of Lunenburg”

  1. Robin, another hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark posting. Thank you for this clear, carefully composed and carefully reasoned, account of what the available records tell us about this Winn family.

    I agree with you about the Puleston claim: where does it come from? I’ve tried to spot documentation at the FTDNA site, but haven’t yet seen it.

    1. Thanks, my friend! I have emailed the co-administrator asking what they do with the GEDCOMs and other questions, but haven’t heard back from her. It is, of course, the holidays, so perhaps next week. Happy New Year to you!
      RRW xoxoxox

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