My hair’s on fire: “just the facts, ma’am”

The title of this post doesn’t do justice to the Southern roots of the “hair” idiom. It should be rendered phonetically: “mah har’s on far.”

What does it mean? It is clearly intended to convey a sense of urgency. A feeling of being overwhelmed gets to the essence.

The Rankin families of the Northern Neck of Virginia are guaranteed fire starters in the “overwhelming” sense. There are too many Rankin records in too many counties, with too many interconnected families[1] along for the ride. There is also a prodigious amount of hogwash about at least one of these Rankins.

I flailed about in county records (no hogwash there) for Northern Neck Rankins several years ago. Mah har caught far and I abandoned them on some flimsy pretext. This time around, I vowed to limit my research to Robert Rankin (1753-1837), a Revolutionary War soldier buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Lieutenant was his highest rank in the Revolution, so I will call him Lt. Robert. My sole objective was to prove his parents. Spoiler alert: hahahahaha …

Lt. Robert’s story has several parts. I plan to spread them out over several posts along the following lines:

  • This post, subtitled “just the facts, ma’am,” invokes Sgt. Joe Friday of “Dragnet.”[2] With him in mind, you can take to the bank the facts in this post about Lt. Robert and his children. There is one exception: a legend regarding events that took place in 1936, when Lt. Robert’s remains were removed from Coldspring, Texas to the Texas State Cemetery. Like most oral retellings, it probably contains elements of both truth and fiction. You be the judge.
  • Next, a post titled “Lt. Robert Rankin: fact vs. fiction.” It will include information about the military unit in which he served, as well as additional material from his 117-page pension file. As a contrast, we will include some outrageous claims from his family’s oral history. If you want to continue believing that Lt. Robert was at Valley Forge, you might want to skip that post.
  • Third, the pièce de résistance: “Who were Lt. Robert Rankin’s parents?” That article’s appeal may be limited to genealogists who enjoy solving puzzles by analyzing many pieces of information – or at least giving it the old college try. You can decide whether any (or none) of the proposed answers are satisfactory.

Let’s start with an article about Lt. Robert in the Handbook of Texas Online.[3] It succinctly covers the essential facts and includes some informative links.[4]

 “RANKIN, ROBERT (1753–1837). Revolutionary War veteran Robert Rankin was born in the colony of Virginia in 1753. He entered the service of the Continental Army in 1776 with the Third Regiment of the Virginia line and participated in the battles of Germantown, Brandywine, and Stony Point, as well as the siege of Charleston, where he was captured; he remained a prisoner of war until exchanged, at which time he received a promotion to lieutenant. On October 1, 1781, during a furlough, he married Margaret (Peggy) Berry in Frederick County, Virginia. He returned to active duty on October 15 and served until the war’s end. Robert and Margaret Rankin had three daughters and seven sons, one of whom was Frederick Harrison Rankin. The family moved to Kentucky in 1784. In 1786 Rankin was named by the Virginia legislature as one of nine trustees for the newly established town of Washington, in Bourbon County (later Mason County), Kentucky. In 1792 he served as a delegate from Mason County to the Danville Convention, which drafted the first constitution of Kentucky. He also became an elector of the Kentucky Senate of 1792. The last mention of Rankin in Mason County, Kentucky, is in the 1800 census. The Rankins moved to Logan County, Kentucky, in 1802 and to the Tombigbee River in Mississippi Territory in 1811; the area of their home eventually became Washington County, Alabama. Four of the Rankin sons fought in the War of 1812. The family suffered a severe financial reversal around 1819–20, probably in conjunction with land speculation and the panic of 1819. In July 1828 Rankin first made an application for a pension for his Revolutionary War service.

In 1832 the Rankins moved to Joseph Vehlein‘s colony in Texas, along with the William Butler and Peter Cartwright families. Rankin was issued a certificate of character by Jesse Grimes on November 3, 1834, as required by the Mexican government. He applied for a land grant in Vehlein’s colony on November 13 of the same year and received a league and labor in October 1835.[5] The town of Coldspring, San Jacinto County, is located on Rankin’s original grant. Rankin had the reputation of being a just and diplomatic man. He was a friend of Sam Houston, and his influence with the Indians in the region was well known. Houston reputedly called upon him in the spring of 1836 to encourage neutrality among the Indians during the crucial Texan retreat toward San Jacinto. Toward the end of 1836 Rankin became ill, and he and his wife moved to St. Landry parish, Louisiana, where he died on November 13, 1837.[6] His body was brought back to the family home near Coldspring, in the new Republic of Texas, and buried in the old Butler Cemetery. In 1936 he was reinterred at the State Cemetery in Austin. His widow lived in Texas with her sons, William and Frederick, in Polk, Montgomery, and Liberty counties until her death sometime after December 1852.”

Besides being a Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, Lt. Robert was a Colonel in the Kentucky militia, commander of a group of scouts.[7] He was a clerk of court in Mason County.[8] Lt. Robert was plainly an accomplished, admired, and well-liked man. The documents in the huge pension file establish that Peggy and her sons were also highly regarded. The couple lived in Frederick County, VA; Bourbon, Mason, and Logan Counties, KY (Bourbon and Mason while they were still part of the “Kentucky District, State of Virginia); Mississippi Territory; Washington Co., AL; Texas Territory when it was still part of Mexico; the Republic of Texas; and St. Landry Parish, LA, where Lt. Robert died.[9] Peggy also lived in the state of Texas after it was admitted to the Union in 1845.

Lt. Robert and Peggy Rankin’s three daughters and seven sons are conclusively proved. The first eight children and their dates of birth are established by a transcribed page from the family Bible that is included in Peggy’s 1844 application for a widow’s pension.[10] Peggy’s will named the two children who weren’t included in the Bible record.[11]  The ten children:

  1. Thomas Berry Rankin (Sr.) was born in Virginia, 17 May 1783; he was named for his maternal grandfather. He and his younger brother Joseph both died in 1813 at Ft. Mims during the Redstick War.[12] Thomas B. and/or Joseph Rankin had sons (and perhaps other children) who also came to Texas prior to its independence from Mexico in March 1836. Character certificates in the Texas General Land Office provide their likely identities: James Rankin Jr. and William Rankin.[13]
  2. Elizabeth Rankin was born 27 Jan 1785, also in Virginia. I have found no further record of Elizabeth. She may have been one of the four Rankin children who had died before Peggy Rankin filed her 1844 pension application.
  3. William Marshall Rankin was born 24 Aug 1786 in Bourbon Co., VA.[14] His wife was Sarah Landrum. Four related Rankin/Landrum families all arrived in Texas in January, 1830:[15] (1) William Marshall and Sarah Landrum Rankin, (2) Sarah’s parents Zachariah and Lettice Landrum, (3) William’s sister Frances Rankin Huburt and her husband M. Huburt, and (4) a second William Rankin, who was almost certainly a son of one of the two Rankins who died at Ft. Mims. William and Sarah Landrum Rankin were in Montgomery Co., TX in the 1850 census.
  4. Joseph Rankin was born 4 Nov 1788 in Kentucky. He died at Ft. Mims.[16]
  5. John Keith Rankin fought in the War of 1812d; he was born 5 Jan 1791 in Kentucky. He and his wife Elizabeth Butler moved from Washington Co., Alabama to Hinds County, Mississippi (later Rankin County, which was not named for John Keith). The couple moved to Texas during the 1840s, lived briefly in Polk County, then moved to DeWitt County. He died there on 17 Nov 1884. He and Elizabeth had eight children: (1) Moses Butler, (2) Mary, (3) Masena, (4) James, (5) Samuel, (6) Mary Ann, (7) Robert, and (8) Malinda Rankin.[17]
  6. James Rankin Sr.[18] was born 27 Jun 1792 in Kentucky. He died in Texas before 26 Apr 1847, when his mother Peggy wrote her will naming her grandchildren John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin, children of her son James Rankin, dec’d.[19]
  7. Frederick Harrison Rankin was born Feb. 15, 1794 in Kentucky and died July 2, 1874 in Ellis County, Texas. He received title to land that is now in Harris County as one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonists. He is on one or more 1826 tax lists in “Austins Colony, Texas Territory” and/or “Austin, Mexicounty Territory.”[20] In 1936, Texas erected a joint monument to Frederick and his wife Elizabeth Smith in the Myrtle Cemetery in Ennis, Ellis Co., TX. Frederick and Elizabeth had eight children: (1) Harriet, (2) Robert S., (3) Napoleon Bonaparte, (4) Emily, (5) Mollie, (6) Alexander, (7) Austin, and (8) a child who died as an infant. [21]
  8. Henry Rankin was born 7 Feb 1796 in Kentucky. I found no further record for Henry. He may have been one of the four Rankin children who had died by 1844.
  9. Massena Rankin McCombs, wife of Samuel McCombs.[22] Her first husband was a Mr. Brown.
  10. Frances Rankin Hubert also came to Texas in 1830.[23]

Finally, I promised a story about the removal of Lt. Robert’s remains from Coldspring, Texas to the Texas State Cemetery in 1936. I heard it from Mary Buller, a serious Rankin researcher descended from Lt. Robert and Peggy through one of their sons who died at Ft. Mims. Mary heard the story in a telephone conversation with a woman I will call “Faye.” If Faye is still alive, she is in her nineties. She is (or was) a local historian in Coldspring, TX.

Faye said that the family’s side of the re-interment project was spearheaded by a “hoity-toity DAR type,” despite opposition from Lt. Robert’s descendants still living in the Coldspring area. The DAR lady was insistent. The descendants capitulated.[24]

Faye told Mary she doesn’t believe that Lt. Robert is actually buried in the Texas State Cemetery. Instead, she thought, his remains probably didn’t make it back to Texas from Louisiana. She explained that during the 1936 disinterment at the Butler Cemetery in Coldspring, the coffin fell open and a skeleton toppled out. Family members and curiosity seekers were there, according to Faye. The men rushed to put the remains back in the coffin. One man, a dentist, opined that the skeleton’s teeth were not those of an 80-year-old man. They were more like the teeth of a man in his thirties, he said.

According to Faye, the family remained silent – in my imagination, they were all dressed in black and had somber, stoic expressions – and the removal continued. Faye thought that lack of refrigeration in 1837 would have discouraged shipping Lt. Robert’s remains from St. Landry Parish to Coldspring, a distance of more than 200 miles. She didn’t have an opinion on who is buried in the Texas State Cemetery, but the dental evidence convinced her it isn’t Lt. Robert.

There is also the possibility of poor grave location records in what was initially a family cemetery.

Take that for what it’s worth: oral history from someone who was old enough to have heard it from a participant. It may be the most colorful family legend I’ve ever heard.

More to come on Lt. Robert. See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Families connected to the Northern Neck Rankins include Woffendalls (various spellings), Marshalls, Harrisons, Berrys, Keiths, Kendalls, and Keys.

[2] The original “Dragnet” aired during the 1950s. If you didn’t get the reference, you are clearly younger than I. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragnet_(1951_TV_series)

[3] Ann Patton Malone, Handbook of Texas Online, “RANKIN, ROBERT,” accessed January 31, 2020, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fra40.

[4] I must comment on the link to the state cemetery in Austin, lest your preconceived notions about Texas get even worse. Andrew Forest Muir, Handbook of Texas Online, STATE CEMETERY, accessed Feb. 18, 2020, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/les02. The Handbook cites a 1970 article from the Austin American Statesman. The article sounds as though the cemetery is populated entirely by old white men and Confederate soldiers. Although that is substantially correct numerically, it doesn’t include recent notable additions. Governor Ann Richards is buried there, with a characteristically unique, swirly, white marble tombstone. So is Don Baylor, an African-American who was a member of the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins and American League MVP in 1989. Representative Barbara Jordan is also buried there. Her oratory and distinctive voice at the 1974 Watergate hearings in the House Judiciary Committee are unforgettable (“My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is total, it is complete …”). Tom Landry and Darrell Royal are also buried in the State Cemetery, introduction probably not necessary. There is a tombstone for former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, still living, and her husband, who died in 2014. A former Harris County GOP bigwig said the Senator was “so tough you could strike a match on her backside.” Having survived the oil and gas business from 1974-1987, it seems to me that is probably a truism for most women our age who worked in non-traditional professions.

[5] “League” and “labor” refer to the acreage in a grant. A labor was 177 acres and a league was 4,428 acres.  https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fau14

[6] All sources agree that Lt. Robert died in November, 1837. However, three different specific dates appear in his pension file, number w26365 (cited hereafter as “Pension File;” images are available online at Fold.3/Ancestry.) Peggy’s 1844 pension declaration gives Lt. Robert’s date of death as November 13.  I would bet she knew exactly what day her husband of 56 years died. Pension File p. 15 et seq.

[7] Robert enlisted in the Revolutionary War as a private, was promoted to Ensign, and ended the war as a Lieutenant. If you don’t have a Fold.3/Ancestry subscription so that you can view the entire Pension File, see Will Graves’ partial transcription at https://revwarapps.org/w26365.pdf. See also Murtie June Clark, American Militia in the Frontier Wars, 1790-1796 (Baltimore: Clearfield Publishing Co., Inc., 1990) at p. 1, identifying a regiment of scouts for Mason Co., KY commanded by Col. Robert Rankin.

[8] See, e.g., Mason Co., KY Deed Book A: 171, deed dated 26 Nov 1789 from the trustees of Charles Town in Mason Co. (including Robert Rankins) to Henry Berry, lots in Charleston. The Clerk of Court was Robert Rankins.

[9] I began inserting footnotes proving that Lt. Robert actually resided in all of those places. It quickly got out of hand, partly because jurisdictions changed even though the location may not have. With one excessively long footnote already (the comments on the Texas State Cemetery), I decided to omit the citations. If anyone needs evidence, you know how to reach me.

[10] Transcription from Rankin Bible. Pension File at p. 24. This was obviously not a verbatim transcription: the transcribed added “Sr.” to the names of Thomas Berry and James Rankin. Those designations would not have been added until a later generation of the family had men by those names.

[11] Will of Peggy Rankin dated 26 Apr 1847, proved 25 Oct 1858, Polk Co., TX, Will Book A: 28. Peggy made bequests to her sons Frederick H. Rankin and William M. Rankin and daughters Frances Huburt and Massena McCombs. She also named grandchildren John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin, children of her deceased son James Rankin. She appointed her sons William M. and John executors.

[12] See, e.g., Gregory A. Waselkov, A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2006), Appendix #1, p. 250-51. It identifies Joseph Rankin as a “Tombigbee resident, born in Kentucky, brother of Thomas Berry Rankin.” The book also lists Thomas B. among those who died at Ft. Mims. The book has two errors about the Rankin family. First, it identifies Joseph and Thomas B.’s father as “Richard Robert Rankin.” I’ve never seen a record in which Lt. Robert appears by any name other than Robert, and there are many records for this man. Second, the book names Lt. Robert’s wife as “Margaret Kendall Rankin.” I have found no evidence for that middle name, either. I am 99% certain that both “Richard” and “Kendall” are incorrect.

[13] See Gifford E. White, Character Certificates in the General Land Office of Texas (Austin: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985). White’s (apparently assigned) No. 1660 says: “San Felipe de Austin, 10 Jun 1830. To Mr. S. F. Austin, Empresario. I have emigrated to this Colony… my name is James Rankin. Age 22 years. Single. My father is dead and I have no parent in this Country to represent me. I removed from Alabama, arrived in this colony in 1827. Occupation farmer. Signed James Rankin Junior.” See also No. 1663, “To Mr. S. F. Austin, Empressario (no date). I have emigrated to this Colony. William Rankin 21 years old. Unmarried. An orphan. From Alabama and arrived in this colony in January 1830.” See also Note 15: William Rankin, age 21, arrived in Texas the same month as his likely uncle William Marshall Rankin, likely aunt Frances Rankin Huburt, and William M. Rankin’s in-laws, Zachariah and Lettice Landrum.

[14] The Handbook of Texas Online (see Note 3) says that the Rankin family moved to Kentucky in 1784, suggesting that William Marshall Rankin, born in 1786, was born there. However, the 1850 census for Polk Co., TX identifies William M.’s birth state as Virginia, muddying the issue. The explanation is that William was born in what was then the state of Virginia but is now Mason Co., KY. See G. Glenn Clift, History of Maysville and Mason County, Volume 1 (Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing Company, Inc., 1936) p. 56. Two days before William was born, Lt. Robert signed a petition from the town of Washington in “the Kentucky area of Virginia” in what was then Bourbon Co., District of KY, state of Virginia. Thanks to Kevin Thompson for the correct information and the source.

[15] Villamae Williams, Stephen F. Austin’s Register Of Families, From The Originals In The General Land Office, Austin, Texas (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989). Entry No. 392, M. Hubert, 34, wife Frances (Lt. Robert and Peggy’s youngest child), 32, and 2 daughters came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; No. 393, Wm. R. Rankin, 43, wife Sarah, 33, two sons, and 2 daughters came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; No. 394, Zachariah Landrum, 64, and wife Lettuce (sic, Lettice), came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; and No. 395, William Rankin, 21, single, came from Alabama and arrived in Jan. 1830. Records also available online at Ancestry.

[16] See Note 12.

[17] Information for John Keith and Elizabeth Butler Rankin was provided to Louis Wiltz Kemp, a Texas historian, by May Myers Calloway, John Keith’s great-granddaughter. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin, papers of Louis Wiltz Kemp, Box 2R232, General Biographical Notebooks, Ranb-Reavis. Viewed Feb. 8, 2020. Cited hereafter as “Kemp papers, Box 2R232.”

[18] A pension abstract by Virgil White and a transcription by Will Graves both show James in the Bible page transcription as James Junior. The image in the Pension File (page 24) appeared to me that both James Rankin and Thomas Berry Rankin were designated as “Sr.” In any event, James, son of Lt. Robert and Peggy, appeared in all other records I found as “Sr.”

[19] See Polk Co., TX, Will Book A: 28, will of Peggy Rankin naming children of her son James Rankin, dec’d: John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin.

[20] Online images of tax lists at Ancestry. Frederick Harrison’s family was listed in Polk County, TX in the 1850 census. In 1860 and 1870, they were enumerated in Ellis County, TX.

[21] Kemp papers, Box 2R232.

[22] See Note 11 and the 1850 census of Polk Co., TX, household of S. McCombs, 60, farmer, b. SC, Mathinia [sic] McCombs, 45, b. KY, Jas. McCombs, 14, Mary McCombs, 12, Elizabeth McCombs, 10, and Martha Brown, 18. All children born in Texas. Martha Brown was Massena’s child from a prior marriage.

[23] See Note 15.

[24] There is correspondence about permission for the re-interment among the Kemp papers. I failed to make notes about it when I looked at them. The next time I’m in Austin, I will remedy that error. It might confirm my strong suspicion about the identity of the hoity-toity DAR type.

Friendship Andrew Willis – Part II, the Last Man Standing

Researcher Ann Wilson recently received Y-DNA results for two male Willis cousins that placed her lineage within “The Maryland Group” in the Willis DNA Project. That lineage descends from “Wantage John” Willis, died 1712, who occupied 50 acres called Wantage in Dorchester County, Maryland. Ann’s paper trail, however, leads to “Friendship Andrew” Willis, died 1777, who is not currently tied to Wantage John. Those facts launched the search for Andrew’s parents among a couple of Willis families. Part I of this analysis posted earlier concluded that Andrew Willis did not descend from the family of Quaker Richard Willis.

Part I Recap

The analysis showed the following as to Friendship Andrew:

    • He may have been born between 1720 and 1730, or likely sooner.
    • His first appearance may have been 1743 when an Andrew Willis posted a bastardy bond.
    • He was a planter of Dorchester County when he bought land called Friendship in 1753.
    • Friendship was located in Caroline County after 1773.
    • Friendship Andrew died in late 1777 or early 1778.
    • His eldest son distributed per his father’s direction Friendship Andrew’s land among five heirs including four surviving sons.
    • Andrew was likely Quaker. Two of his sons were Nicholite, or New Quakers, a sect which later merged with the Quaker

And as to the Quaker Richard Willis family:

    • Quaker Richard had a daughter Frances and sons Richard II and John:
      • Richard II had a daughter Mary and a son Richard III, who had no children.
      • John had no children.
    • Quaker Richard “daughtered out” with no male descendants beyond Richard III.
    • Friendship Andrew is not descended from Quaker Richard.

Part II

This post continues the search for Friendship Andrew’s parents within Wantage John Willis’s family. This analysis will try to eliminate men who could not have fathered Friendship Andrew, concluding with “the last man standing” as his parent. Wantage John had four sons:

    • Andrew – six known sons, one named Andrew
    • William – possible sons William and Thomas
    • Thomas – no children
    • John Jr. – six known sons, none named Andrew

Neither Andrew Willis, Son or Grandson of Wantage John, is Friendship Andrew

Andrew Willis, son of Wantage John, was born in 1690.[1] His well-documented family lived in southern Dorchester County, and he died in 1738.[2] He had a son named Andrew born around 1719, about the right time to be Friendship Andrew.[3] However, that son Andrew lived until at least 1781 in southern Dorchester, not the part that became Caroline County in 1773.[4] Moreover, young Andrew was not Quaker. Three of his children were baptized at Old Trinity Church between 1768 and 1775. His children were not the known sons of Friendship Andrew.[5] Therefore, neither Andrew Willis born 1690 nor his son is Friendship Andrew.

William Willis, Son of Wantage John May Be Friendship Andrew’s Father

William inherited the family homestead under Wantage John’s 1712 will and lived there with his wife Judith (neéSeward/Soward). In 1734, they sold the property to Judith’s brother Richard.[6] Dorchester records do not show them buying or inheriting other land. However, deed records show they gave a deposition in 1748 about the boundaries of a tract in the Neck Region of Dorchester County.[7] William testified he had known the property for about 25 years near Hudson’s Creek. William and Judith must have moved there even before they sold Wantage, maybe as early as 1723. Such a move makes sense because Judith’s family owned land in that region.

Dorchester records do not show William and Judith had any children. However, two deed book entries indicate they may have had sons. In 1764, a sale of land on Hudson’s Creek locates the tract at the head of Willis’s Cove near where William Willis lives.[8] This reference could be to William husband of Judith, or it could be to a son of that couple. Second, a Thomas Willis gave a 1784 deposition about the boundaries of Bridge North, property of William Soward.[9] At the time, Thomas was about 70 years old, therefore born about 1714. He stated he had been shown one boundary marker of the tract about 30 years ago. Thomas is the right age to be a son of William and Judith.

Beyond those two instances, the records give no clue about children of William and Judith. Regardless, the couple is the right age to have had a child Andrew, a relatively common name among William’s extended family.

One factor not in their favor, besides the lack of circumstantial evidence, is geography. Friendship Andrew Willis in 1753 purchased land a considerable distance from the Neck Region of Dorchester County. That distance brings into question how a son of William would know about the land or the owner from whom he bought it. Two siblings, Thomas and John Jr., lived much closer to Andrew’s land purchase and are thus more geographically desirable.

 Thomas Willis, Son of Wantage John, Is Not the Father of Friendship Andrew

Thomas and Grace Willis are not Friendship Andrew’s parents. They are in the right place, the part of Dorchester County that became Caroline. However, there are no children in the record and circumstantial evidence indicates there were none.

No Children in the Record

In 1717, Thomas Willis purchased 50 acres of land, one half of a tract called Sharp’s Prosperity, adjacent his brother John Jr. in what would become Caroline County. Thomas died intestate in 1722, and Grace Willis administered his estate. His brothers Andrew Willis and John Willis signed the inventory of his estate as kindred. John was on the adjoining property. Andrew was not too distant, living at the time on Shoal Creek some fifteen miles away. The record does not state whether Grace Willis is Thomas’s widow or his sister, nor does it indicate if he had children. However, the inventory of Thomas’s estate lists only one bed and bedstead suggesting Grace is his widow, and they were childless.[10]

Land Records Also Suggest No Children

The ownership history of Sharp’s Prosperity also suggests the couple had no children. Various parties paid the rents on the tract after Thomas’s death.[11] The last such entry, thirty-four years after Thomas’s death, shows payment by “heirs of Thomas Willis.”[12] If Thomas and Grace had children, those children would be the heirs. If there were a single child, that child at maturity would have taken over the land and payment of rents, which did not happen. If there were multiple children, they likely would have sold the land and divided the proceeds. The record shows no such sale.

If there were no children, Thomas’s siblings and his spouse would be the heirs. In that case, Grace may have been living on the tract, and her in-laws farmed the land and helped pay the rents. The debt books show no rent payments after 1756.[13]Upon non-payment of rents the land reverted to the proprietor. We do not know why the heirs quit making payments. Possibly, Grace died. Also, her brother-in-law John Jr. acquired some additional land in 1756. Both of those events would be reason to let the land go.

Clues in the Probate Record

Thomas’s probate record reveals a couple more facts about Grace. First, she was not a Quaker. The inventory states that she took an “oath on the Holy Evangels”, that is, swore on the Bible, that her inventory filing was true and correct. Quakers did not swear on the Bible, they “affirmed” or “testified according to law” and the record usually noted that fact. The couple’s religious affiliation is significant because Friendship Andrew was probably Quaker. Two of his sons were members of the Nicholites, or “New Quakers.”

Secondly, Grace’s maiden name may have been Bexley. Her administration bond listed William Woods and William Bexley as sureties.[14] Normally, bondsmen assuring probate administration performance included one or more relatives and, if necessary, a non-relative wealthy enough to be good for the bonded amount. It surprised me to see no Willis as a surety. In 1693, a William Bexley in Talbot County made a will naming a son William. That son may be the listed bondsman.

Thomas’s estate inventory shows total assets of only £12.10.4, including a debt William Bexley owed the estate of 2 shillings, 4 pence. William Bexley’s debt suggests he may be a relative. No one else owed money to the estate. In colonial Maryland, wealthy people loaned money on a regular basis. Non-wealthy people like Thomas Willis did not, except to family. However, Thomas’s inventory of cobbler tools and leather shows he was probably a shoemaker. One explanation for the debt might be that Bexley bought a pair of boots and had not yet paid for them. We just do not know. However, we do know that there are no hints in the record that Thomas and Grace had children or that they were Quaker.

All things considered, we can be relatively certain that Thomas and Grace were not Friendship Andrew’s parents.

John Willis Jr. Could Be Friendship Andrew’s Grandfather

John Willis Jr. had six sons, none named Andrew. However, his eldest son John III is a candidate to be Friendship Andrew’s father. John Willis III was born to John Jr. and his first wife Mary about 1704.[15]  Documentary evidence does not help us here. History does not record a marriage, land purchase, children, or even the death of John III.

If John III were Anglican, the records of St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish might have that information. However, those records do not survive. If Quaker, John III likely would have attended Marshy Creek Meeting established in 1727 near his family’s home. However, I cannot find records of that meeting. Other meetings he may have attended such as Northwest Fork Meeting do not record his name.

John III died sometime after 1771, likely during the period 1776-1790 when there is a gap in the Caroline County probate records. If Friendship Andrew were born between 1724 and 1732, John III was about 21 to 29 years old at that time. That makes John III a reasonable candidate to be his father. John III is the only son of John Jr. that fits as a possibility. The other sons are either too young or their families are well documented and do not include a son Andrew.

 Conclusion – The Last Man Standing

Two of Wantage John’s four sons cannot be the forebearer of Friendship Andrew:

    • Direct evidence shows Friendship Andrew did not descend from Wantage John’s son Andrew.
    • Solid circumstantial evidence rules out son Thomas.

That leaves William and John Jr.

    • Son William is geographically undesirable but has a proved marriage and likely children. William could be Friendship Andrew’s father.
    • Son John Jr. had a son John III the right age to be Friendship Andrew’s father. John III is in the right place at the right time, but nothing else in the record argues either way as to his parentage.

Between William and John III, the latter is more likely the father of Friendship Andrew based on location, but we cannot prove it. Possibly down the road more facts will emerge. Until then we have two “last men standing,” and cannot conclusively prove either one.

 

[1] Dorchester County Deed Book 8 Old 404 – 4 Sep 1730, Deposition of Andrew Willis, aged about 40.

[2] Maryland Will Book 21:918 – 24 May 1733, Will of Andrew Willis submitted to probate 23 Aug 1738

[3] Birth year estimated.

[4] Dorchester County Deed Book 28 Old 356 – 22 Sep 1781, Andrew Willis of Dorchester County, planter, purchased  for £60 current money 49½ acres from Benedick Meekins of Dorchester County, planter, and Mary his wife, being part of a tract called Addition to Adventure and part of a tract called Adventure

[5] Palmer, Katherine H., transcribed Baptism Record, Old Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Creek, MD, Cambridge, MD – Children of Andrew and Sarah Willis: Andrew 12 Feb 1768; Keziah 12 Oct 1770; George 3 Dec 1775.

[6] Dorchester County Deed Book 9 Old 214 – ­­­­15 Aug 1734, William Willis and wife Judeth of Dorchester County, planter, for £6 current money sell to Richard Seward of Dorchester County 50 acres called Wantage near the head of Blackwater River adjoining Littleworth. Signed William (M) Willis, Judeth (+) Willis

[7] Dorchester County Deed Book 14 Old 658 – 3 Sep 1748 Judah [sic Judith] (+) Willis age 50 stated she had heard of the tracts Rosses Range and David Ropies but did not know the bounders; Wm (M) Willis age 52 stated he has known the place for 25 years but not the bounders.

[8] Dorchester County Deed Book 19 Old 343 – 11 Jun 1764, John Taylor Sr. of Dorchester County, Merchant., to Nicholas Maccubbin of Annapolis, Merchant for £285.14.6, three tracts totaling 291 acres on Hodsons Creek, at the head of Willis’s Cove near where Wm. Willis lives.

[9] Dorchester County Deed Book NH 5:259 – 4 Dec 1784, Deposition of Thomas Willis, aged about 70, regarding the boundaries of Bridge North, property of William Seward/Soward.

[10] Perogative Court of Maryland Inventories, 9:9 – Inventory of the Estate of Thomas Willis, 15 Oct 1722.

[11] Skinner, V.L. Jr., Abstracts of the Debt Books of the Provincial Land Office of Maryland, Dorchester County, Volume I and II, Genealogical Publishing Company: Baltimore, MD, 2016

[12] Ibid, Vol II, p 234, 1756, Book 20:159, Heirs of Thomas Willis, Sharp’s Prosperity, 50 acres.

[13] Ibid, Vol I and II, Rent entries, which include the years 1758, 1766, 1767, and 1770, show no property named Sharps Prosperity nor any payments on behalf of Thomas Willis.

[14] Testamentary Proceedings of the Perogative Court of Maryland, 26:77, on 28 Nov 1722 John Pitts, gentleman, of Dorchester County exhibited bond of Grace Wallis administratrix of Thomas Wallis. Sureties William Bexley, William Woods, dated 29 Sep 1722. Also filed inventory of the estate.

[15] Dorchester County Deed Book 25 Old 26, 13 Nov 1770 -2 Aug 1771, Deposition of John Willis the Elder of Dorchester Co, aged about 67 years, mentions his father John Willis and a bounder of land called Painters Range on Hunting Creek Mill Pond.

Friendship Andrew Willis – Mystery Man, Part I

Researcher Ann Wilson recently received Y-DNA results for two male Willis cousins that placed her lineage within “The Maryland Group” in the Willis DNA Project. That lineage descends from John Willis, died 1712, who occupied 50 acres called Wantage in Dorchester County, Maryland. We refer to him as Wantage John. Ann’s paper trail, however, leads to Andrew Willis, died 1777, who is not currently tied to Wantage John. This article explores how John and Andrew might be related.

What We Know About Andrew

In 1753, Andrew Willis “of Dorchester County, Planter,” bought a 28-acre tract for £6.10.00 in Dorchester called Friendship, so let’s call him Friendship Andrew.[1] He was therefore a resident of the county at the time of the purchase. He was not a yeoman farmer who tilled the land. A “Planter” had others, sometimes enslaved people, doing the hard work. Frustratingly, Dorchester records do not show Friendship Andrew before 1753, so there is no indication how he qualified as a “Planter.”Friendship Andrew’s first appearance in the record may have been ten years earlier. In 1743, an Andrew Willis posted a bastardy bond in St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish.[2] That parish covered the region of Dorchester County that included the tract called Friendship.  After his initial 28-acre purchase, Andrew had his land resurveyed twice to confirm boundaries and add vacant land, resulting in a tract that by 1764 totaled 304 acres called Friendship Regulated.[3]

Friendship Andrew had five sons. He orally directed that should he die without a will, his son Thomas was to divide Friendship Regulated among the five, with 100 acres each to Thomas and Andrew, 70 acres to Ezekiel, and the home plantation to his youngest son Elijah except for a parcel to Joseph.[4] Friendship Andrew died intestate in 1777 or 1778. In Aug 1778, Thomas essentially followed his father’s request and deeded parts of Friendship Regulated to Andrew, Ezekiel, Joseph, and to Isaac Collins.[5] Thomas did not deed any land to Elijah, who must have died before 1778. Likely, Isaac Collins married Elijah’s unnamed daughter, who would be entitled to a share of the land under the Maryland law of intestacy.

Between 1783 and 1786, Joseph, Andrew Jr., and Ezekiel sold all or part of their inherited land.[6] Each was most likely at least 21 years old at that time. Therefore, all were born by 1765. If their father was 25 – 35 years old at that date, he would have been born between 1730 and 1740. Since Friendship Andrew was a “Planter” by 1753, his birth date was probably sooner, maybe in the range of 1720-1730.

What we do not know are Friendship Andrew’s parents. Two groups from which he might directly descend are the family of Wantage John Willis and the Quaker family of Richard and Frances Willis. This article will examine Quaker Richard’s family. I will address Wantage John in a later post.

Quaker Richard married Frances, widow of Richard Dawson, about 1683.[7] Quaker Richard died in 1690 leaving a will that proved their sons Richard Jr. and John and a daughter Frances.[8] Based on the following analysis, it is highly unlikely that Friendship Andrew descended from either son of Quaker Richard.

 Friendship Andrew Is Not Descended from Richard Willis Jr.

Richard Willis Jr. was born 13 Oct 1684.[9] He is the right age to be Friendship Andrew’s father. However, Richard Jr.’s mother Frances wrote a will in 1723/4 and a codicil in 1729 in which she named three children, two sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. She did not name an Andrew as a son of Richard Jr. Instead, she identified Richard (III) and Mary as Richard Jr.’s children.[10] Frances divided her real property between her son Richard Jr. and his son Richard III.[11] In 1741, Richard Jr. made a will that, like his mother Frances, did not name a son Andrew.  Richard Jr. left all his property to his wife and at her death to a grandchild, with a nephew as a conditional devisee.[12] Surely, if Andrew were a son of Richard Jr., that child would have been named in either his father’s or grandmother’s will, if not both. We can reasonably conclude that Friendship Andrew was not a son of Richard Jr.

Furthermore, Andrew was not a son of Richard Jr.’s son Richard III. In his 1737 will, Richard III gave everything to his sister Mary, except some bequests to two cousins.[13]  Clearly, he had no widow and no children. Thus, neither Richard Jr. nor Richard III, son and grandson of Quaker Richard, was Friendship Andrew’s father.

John Willis Is Not Friendship Andrew’s Father

Quaker Richard’s son John was born 7 Sep1686 and married Margaret Cox 10 Jul 1712.[14] He died intestate in 1723 almost certainly without surviving children. First, there is no mention of children in the record. Second, there was no division of his estate as required by the laws of intestate distribution if children are involved.

No Mention of Children in the Record

If John and Margaret had any children, the eldest would have been about ten when John died. The accounts filed by his widow, however, do not mention any children, who are often identified in such filings.[15] Further, there are no guardianship records as required for minor children … no guardian bond, no guardian accounts, no distribution of the estate to indicate an heir other than Margaret.

Division of Estate

If John and Margaret had children, John’s estate would have been allocated by law one-third to the widow and two-thirds to the children.[16] Margaret died just three years after John, and her personal property was almost identical to her husband’s. John’s estate inventory totaled £103.14.04.[17] Hers amounted to £102.17.11, rather than a third that amount.[18] Having no portion carved out for any children indicates there were none.

If John had no children, the widow would get one-half the personal estate according to law and the other half would go to the deceased’s siblings Richard Jr. and Frances.[19] In that case, one would expect Margaret to have controlled only about £50. However, with no minor children involved, the adult heirs could easily have forgone receiving anything immediately from their sister-in-law. Taking their share would have only made her life more difficult. It makes sense that they would put off a distribution until a later date. In this case, the delay was only three years until Margaret died.

Land – The Final Evidence

The final argument against Friendship Andrew descending from Quaker Richard’s sons is that Andrew received no land from them. Families almost always passed down land from father to son. Maryland Provincial Land Office records show the subsequent owners of the lands of Quaker Richard and Frances Willis and their sons. Friendship Andrew Willis inherited none of that land.[20] Were he in the line of succession, he most likely would have ended up owning some of their land.

Conclusion

It is safe to conclude that the mystery man, Friendship Andrew Willis, is not descended from the line of Quaker Richard and Frances Willis. Neither Richard Jr., his son Richard III, nor John Willis is Andrew’s father. The next article will look at the sons of Wantage John for a possible father.

 

[1] 15 Sep 1753, Dorchester County Deed Book 14 Old 738 – Thomas Hackett of Dorchester County, Planter, and wife Sarah for 6 pounds, 10 shillings, paid by Andrew Willis of the same place, Planter, sell part of a tract of land called Friendship adjoining Grantham and containing 28 acres.

[2] Wright, F. Edward, Judgement Records of Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties, Delmarva Roots: Lewes, Delaware, 2001, p 34 – Aug 1743, Dorchester County Court Judgment Records, p 231 – Presented that Sarah Willis of St. Mary’s White Chappel Parish, spinster, on 10 May 1743 committed fornication and begat a bastard child. Fined 30 shillings. Andrew Willis her surety to indemnify the inhabitants of the county for 7 years from keeping and maintaining a bastard child.

[3] 6 Apr 1754 survey, 23 Sep 1760 patent, Dorchester County, 113 acres, Patented Certificate 1174, MSA S1196-1317, the survey found Friendshipencroached on an elder 1,000-acre tract patented in 1684 called Grantham located in “woods near Catarine Creek.” The resurvey eliminated the encroachment, realigned his tract adjoining Grantham, and added vacancies for a new total of 113 acres then called Friendship Regulated. And 23 Mar 1764, Dorchester County, 304 acres, Patented Certificate 1175, MSA 21196-1316 added vacant lands for a total of 304 acres called Friendship Regulated.

Note: The reference to Catarin Creek is an error. The land was located about five miles north of Federalsburg, estimated by the location of “Davis’s old field,” “lands of Abraham Collins,” “Collins Crossroads,” and Raccoon Branch referenced in other tracts adjoining Grantham and Friendship Regulated.

[4] Caroline County Deed Book D:381, 27 Aug 1793 – 10 Dec 1793, Deposition of John Walker, carpenter, age 52, said he was at the house of Andrew Willis, father of the late Thos. Willis dec’d, of whom Sina Willis is widow, and heard Andrew say he intended 100 acres of his land for Thomas, 100 acres for son Andrew, 7 [sic 70] acres for son Ezekiel, and the home plantation for his youngest son Elijah excepting a parcel to be laid off for the said Andrew’s son Joseph; and that in the event of his death without a will, that Thomas would so convey; to which Thomas agreed and so did. The deposition was requested by Abraham Collins who bought part of Friendship Regulated from Ezekiel in 1786.

[5] Caroline County Deed Book GF A:285-287, 21 Aug 1778. Rather than the instructions conveyed in the above 1793 deposition, Thomas conveyed 87 ½ acres to Andrew, 50 acres to Ezekiel, 32 ½ acres to Joseph, and 29 ¾ acres to Isaac Collins. This left Thomas holding 104 ¼ acres for a total of 304 acres contained in Friendship Regulated.

[6] Caroline County Deed Books, A:650, 659 – Joseph, 1783; A:773 – Andrew, 1784; B:116 – Ezekiel, 1786.

[7] Marriage date estimated based on the 13 Aug 1684 date of the birth of Richard Willis Jr.

[8] Dorchester County Deed Book 4 ½ Old 1 – Will of Richard Willis dated 21 Oct 1689, probate 2 Jan 1690. 300 acres called Rondley to go to his sons.

[9] Quaker Birth Records, Third Haven Monthly Meeting, 1665-1930, p 21, Richard Willis 8th Mo 13th 1684. Note: 1st month for Quakers is March.

[10] Maryland Will Book 19:679 – Will of Frances Fisher dated 28 Feb 1723/4, codicil 14 Apr 1729, probate 7 May 1729. Note: the widow Frances Willis married Edward Fisher who predeceased her.

[11] Ibid, ­­­679 and 680

[12] Maryland Will Book 22:439 – Will of Richard Willis dated 6 Nov 1741, probate 20 Jan 1742 – To wife Mary the dwelling plantation which at her death to pass to granddaughter Elizabeth Jolley and heirs. Should Elizabeth Jolley die without heirs the plantation would go to Willis Newton son of Edward Newton [and Richard’s sister Frances Willis Newton]. Personal property bequeathed to wife Mary and to Elizabeth Jolly at age 16. Wife Mary executrix. Wit: Thomas Smith, James Billings, Robert Jenkins Henry. [Note: at the time of his will, Richard Jr.’s son Richard was already dead. Richard Jr.’s daughter Mary’s husband Francis Jolly had died (with his estate underwater), and she had married Hugh Rimmer. Richard, Sr. was guardian of grandchild Elizabeth Jolly. At Richard’s death, Major James Billings became guardian. Elizabeth Jolley died without heirs, and the land went to Willis Newton and eventually his son Thomas Newton.]

[13] Maryland Will Book 21:814 – Will of Richard Willis, wheelwright, of Dorchester County dated 11 May 1737, probate 19 Nov 1737 – To sister Mary, executrix, entire estate except legacies of personal property to cousins John Newton and Margaret Newton children of Edward Newton [and Frances Willis Newton]. Wit: Richard Webster, Sr, Sarah Whaland, Anna Webster.

[14] Quaker Records, Third Haven Monthly Meeting, 1665-1930, p 21, John Willis 7th Mo 7th 1686, and Marriage Book 1668-1938, p 100, 10 Jul 1712 at their Meeting House in Dorchester County. Note: The record is in the books of Third Haven Monthly Meeting in Talbot County.

[15] Perogative Court Accounts 5:280, 19 Sep 1723 – Account for estate of John Williss of Dorchester Co, total account £103.14.4, payments made £25.15.8, dated 19 Sep 1723. Payments to William Ennals, John Orell, Dr. William Murray, William Hemsley, John Hodson Jr., Capt John Rider. Administratrix Margaret Williss.

[16] “An Act for the better Administration of Justice in Testamentary Affairs granting Adminisrcons recovery of Legacies Secureing filiall portions and distribution of Intestates Estates” (1715)  (Ref: Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, April 26, 1715 – August 10, 1716, Acts of the Assembly, April 26-June 3, 1715, Archives of Maryland, Volume 30, William Hand Brown, Maryland Historical Society, 1910, pp. 331-347) – “… one third part of the said Surplusage to the wife of the Intestate and all the residue by Equall portions to and amoungst the Children of such persons dying Intestate and such persons as Legally represent such Children …”

[17] Perogative Court Inventories 8:191, 9 May 1723 – ­­­­Inventory of the estate of John Willis, £103.14.04 appraised by Thomas Hides, Charles Dean; creditors Jno Rider, W Ennalls; kindred Richard Willis, Daniel Cox: filed 16 July 1723 by Margaret Willis administratrix, who “gave testimony according to law” that the inventory was true and correct.

[18] Perogative Court Inventories 11:399, 4 Jul 1726 – Inventory of the estate of Margaret Willis, £102.17.11 appraised by W Ennalls, Edward Newton; creditors W Ennalls, John Rider; kindred Dan’l Cox, Betty Cannon; filed 5 Jul 1726 by Richard Willis administrator.

[19] Testamentary Affairs Act, “And in Case there be no Child or Children nor any Legall representatives of them then one Moyety of the said Estate to be allowed to the wife of the Intestate the residue of the said Estate to be Distributed Equally to Every of the next of kindred of the Intestate who are in Equall Degree and those who Legally represent them(Provided there be no representatives admitted among Collatteralls after brothers and Sisters Children) …”

[20] Skinner, V.L. Jr., Abstracts of the Debt Books of the Provincial Land Office of Maryland, Dorchester County, Vol I, Genealogical Publishing Company: Baltimore, 2016 – p 152, Richard III tracts owned by Phil. Covington, p 193, Richard Jr.’s tracts owned by John Leatherbury “for his wife.”

[21] Dorchester County Deed Book 7 Old 63 – 26 Jul 1718, Frances sold all her real estate to sons Richard and John Willis for 2,000 pounds of tobacco. The deed provided that when ready to make a division, John would have first choice as to the part he would take. The deed also required them to sell Rondley to John Dawson, possibly Frances’s son from her first marriage.

[22] John received 2,000 pounds of tobacco “on account of the land” and another 2,000 pounds as compensation for not receiving an enslaved person (Frances willed five enslaved people to various legatees).

[23] Jenkins, Dan, Baja Oklahoma, Antheneum, division of Simon & Schuster: New York, 1981