Henry Willis, Carpenter of Maryland and Philadelphia (1829-1906), Part 2

Introduction

In Part 1 we established that Henry Willis, a carpenter born in Maryland in 1829, married Martha Anne (Annie) Stewart in about 1880. They appeared in the 1900 census in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with their children Lola and Harry.[1] The couple lived in Philadelphia during the 1880s. They appeared in a city directory and in records showing the deaths of two children and the baptism of a surviving child. Henry died and was buried in Philadelphia in 1906.

Beyond those few facts, Henry does not exist in records where we would expect to find him. He does not appear in the 1850 through 1880 censuses. There is no record of his marriage. Henry bought no land either in Maryland where he was born or in Philadelphia where he lived.

 Search for a Family of Origin

Finding little record evidence of Henry Willis, I stopped looking for him and searched instead for people who could have been his parents. Since Henry was born in Maryland and family legend says he married in Cecil County, I focused the search there. Because he was a carpenter, I looked for a Willis family that included others of that trade. With those criteria in mind, I went to the usual sources:

    • The standard people-search features of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
    • The Maryland land records at MDLANDREC.net
    • The Cecil County Historical Society at cecilcountyhistory.com with its links to Maryland and Delaware records, and
    • The separate birth, death, marriage, and probate records for Cecil County and neighboring counties in Maryland and Delaware at FamilySearch

Results

The search involved many records, lots of note taking and analyzing, and an interesting but frustrating twist at the end. One family in Cecil County fit the search criteria – the family of John and Rebecca Kilgore Willis who married in Cecil County in 1817.[2] According to the 1830, 1840 and 1850 censuses, they had at least ten children – six sons and four daughters. John Willis and several of his sons were carpenters.

So far, so good. To see if his could be Henry’s family, we dug deeper into the censuses and other records.

 1820 Census

Although married in 1817, John Willis does not appear as a head of household in the 1820 census for Cecil County. He should have been listed with a wife and a daughter under five years of age. He and Rebecca were also not listed with her parents, James and Isabella Kilgore.[3]

1830 Census

John does appear in the 1830 census. It shows John Willis and a female between 30 and 40 years old with six minors — three females and three males. The two youngest males, under five years of age, fit Henry’s later-proved birth year of 1829.[4] This is promising.

1840 Census

The 1840 census shows even more promise. John’s eldest daughter is gone from the household, possibly married. Five earlier listed children remain, and three younger children are added to the family.[5] Henry, at age 11 in 1840, fits the age 10 to 15 reported for one male in that census. The census states one person in the household is engaged in agriculture. Four people are engaged in “manufacturing or the trades,” which includes carpentry.

1850 Census

The 1850 census reveals that John is 53 and Rebecca is 54. The older children, including our possible Henry, are all of age and out of the house. The remaining children are George, 19; Amos, 15; Andrew J., 13; and Rachel R., 10. Those ages track perfectly from the previous census data.[6]  The census lists John, George, and Amos as farmers, not carpenters. However, later records show George as a carpenter and Amos and Andrew as iron mill workers.[7] Separate records prove two adult sons to be James Kilgore Willis and John Thomas Willis. Both are carpenters.[8]

 Deed Records

Deed records reveal more about these families. John Willis’s wife Rebecca Kilgore had an older sister Rachel who married Samuel Burnite in 1810. Gift deeds prove the sisters to be daughters of  James and Isabella Kilgore. In 1826, James and Isabella sold 20 acres of land north of Elkton in Cecil County to John Willis for one dollar.[9] Kilgore had inherited the land from his mother in 1788.[10] In 1827, the Kilgore’s sold about 50 acres to Samuel Burnite for three dollars.[11] Prior to those sales, Willis and Burnite owned no land. We can reasonably conclude they already lived on the lands, probably since the date of their marriages to the Kilgore sisters.

The timing of the gifts seems apparent in retrospect. James was obviously in ill health. The couple liquidated all their assets in 1827. They sold the  8-acre lot that contained their house for $100 and much of their personal property for $86. James died shortly afterwards.

 John and Rebecca Willis lived on their piece the Kilgore land for another 29 years as they raised their family. They sold the place in 1856 for $2,500.[12]

Probate Records

John Willis made a will in December 1857 and died before the end of the year. Probate records do not include the names of any of his children, except the eldest son James. John left his entire estate to his wife Rebecca for her lifetime. The will stated that at or before her death she could dispose of the estate among the heirs as she saw fit.[13]

The estate, all personal property, amounted to $1,456 after debts and expenses. Rebecca loaned $500 to her eldest son James Kilgore Willis, secured by a mortgage on his property, 20 acres located near the former Kilgore place.[14]

On behalf of himself and all the heirs at law, i.e., “the children of John Willis,” James K. Willis sued his mother and Benjamin C. Cowan the co-executor of John’s estate in 1870. James asked that the estate funds be invested under the court’s supervision to protect the money for the benefit of the heirs at law. James claimed the heirs feared the estate would be squandered without the court’s intervention. Rebecca did not object but responded that $500 was already committed to a secure investment – her son’s property. The court agreed and in June 1870 ordered the co-executor to arrange for secure interest bearing mortgage investments of the remaining $956. The court also ordered interest from all investments go to Rebecca for her use.

Unfortunately, the probate files for John’s estate do not include a final distribution of funds identifying the heirs. There is no will or probate file for Rebecca. She died in 1886 at the home of her daughter Isabella and John T. Steele.[15]

Identity of the Six Sons

Our review of census, deed, and probate records to this point revealed six sons and proved the identities of five. The 1850 census proves the three youngest: George, Amos, and Andrew J. Willis. Probate records prove the eldest son James K. Willis. James and John T. Willis appear often in the deed records of Cecil County from 1850 through 1861 – James nine times and John four. Several of those transactions, including short term loans, are between the two of them. That activity is good circumstantial evidence that James K. and John T. are related and likely brothers.

That accounts for five of the six sons. Who is the sixth? Could it be our Henry?

Well, heck no.

The remaining son is Daniel Willis. He appears in several Cecil County records in the 1880s that do not definitively connect him to the family.[16]  However, the 1900 and 1910 censuses do the trick. In 1900, he is in the household of John T. Steele, the husband of John and Rebecca’s daughter Isabella Willis. Daniel is listed as a brother-in-law at age 77. This is the same place Rebecca Willis died in 1886. In 1910, Daniel is listed at age 87 as an uncle in the household of Annetta S. Crossan. She is a Steele daughter who married Samuel Crossan in 1869 and who had no children. Daniel died in 1911. Clearly, Daniel is a son of John and Rebecca Willis.

Conclusion

Our search for Henry Willis turned up a perfectly interesting Willis family of carpenters in Cecil County, Maryland. It just does not include Henry Willis. Below is a table setting out the data from the 1830, 1840 and 1850 censuses for John Willis’s household. The column of names and the information in the last two columns are proved by the census or other sources.

Name 1830 1840 1850 Born Comment
John Willis 30-40 40-50 53 Dec 1796 Carpenter/Farmer
Rebecca Willis 30-40 40-50 54 1796 Married 1817
Female 10-15 1815-20
James K. Willis 5-10 15-20 1821 Carpenter
Daniel Willis <5 15-20 1823 Carpenter
Female <5 15-20 1820-1825
John T. Willis <5 10-15 1827 Carpenter
Isabella Willis <5 10-15 1830 m. John T. Steele ~1849
George Willis 5-10 19 May 1831 Farmer/Carpenter
Amos Willis 5-10 15 1835 Farmer/Iron Mill
Andrew J. Willis <5 13 1837 Iron Mill Worker
Rachel R. Willis <5 10 1840 m. Dennis Dwyer~1858

The table highlights in bold the age range in the 1830 and 1840 censuses that I had mentally reserved for our Henry Willis. Cleary, that slot is occupied by John T. Willis. After this effort, I am convinced that Henry is not a native of Cecil County. So, the search for the will-o-the-wisp Henry goes on …

In any event, I hope that some descendants of John and Rebecca Willis will take DNA tests and join the Willis DNA Project (https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/willis/about) to see where they fit in the broader scheme.

 

Post Script – Part I of the search for Henry Willis was also published in the Spring 2022 edition of Chesapeake Cousins, the semiannual journal of the Upper Shore Genealogical Society of Maryland (USGSMD). I will also submit this Part 2 to them for publication. I recommend USGSMD, now in its 49th year, as a worthwhile organization for any researcher with ties to the Eastern Shore.

[1] 1900 Census Philadelphia, Ward 26, District 0628 at FamilySearch.org

1335 Kick [sic South Hicks] Street

Henry Willis head May 1829 71 M20  MD MD MD Carpenter Rent House

Annie Willis wife Jun 1846     53 M20  4/2 DE DE DE

Lola Willis son [sic Dau] Apr 1882 18  S  PA MD DE

Harry Willis son  Oct 1885 14  S  PA MD DE

[2] Married 28 Jul 1817 per Maryland Compiled Marriages, 1655 – 1850, at Ancestry.com

[3] James Kilgore appears in Cecil County in the 1820 Census at age 45+ with two women. One age 45+ is obviously his wife Isabella. The other woman is age 16-26, the correct age for Rebecca. However, there is no entry for people who could be her husband and/or her child. The indicated woman is likely Rebecca’s younger sister.

[4] 1830 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 2, John Willis (2 1 – – – 1 – – – – – – –  – 1 – – 1 – – – – – -) https://www.ancestry.com. The household also contains a second female age 30 to 40. We can reasonably assume she is an adult relative of John or Rebecca. She may have been the single female aged 16-26 listed with James Kilgore in 1820, possibly a younger sister of Rebecca.

[5] 1840 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 2, John Willis (1 2 1 2 – – 1 – – – – – – 1 – 1 1 – 1 – – – – – – ) https://www.ancestry.com. The ages in the census fit a perfect progression from the 1830 census, that is: John and Rebecca are 40-50; two elder sons are 15-20; a remaining elder daughter is 15-20; the third son and a younger daughter are 10-15; two new sons are 5-10; and the youngest daughter is under 5. The household includes four enslaved persons.

[6] 1850 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 3, https://www.ancestry.com

John Willis M 53 Farmer  DE $1,200 real property

Rebecca       F 54                    MD

George        M 19 Farmer   MD

Amos           M 15 Farmer  MD

Andrew J.   M 13                   MD

Rachel R.    F  10                    MD”

[7] No enslaved persons are associated with the household in 1850. The separate Slave Schedule for 1850 shows no Willis as an owner of an enslaved person. Deed records do not record any manumissions.

[8] 1860 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 4, https://www.ancestry.com

James Willis M 40 Carpenter MD $,1500 real property $800 personal

Mary               F  30                 MD

Joseph            M  13                MD

Sarah              F  11                 MD

Kate                F   9                  MD

Clara               F    7                  MD

Georgeanna F   4                   MD

Mary               F   1                   MD

1860 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 4, https://www.ancestry.com 

John T. Wiles (Willis) M 33 MD Carpenter $500 real property, $100 personal

Catherine               F 28         MD

Mary                         F 7            MD

Louisa                      F 4            MD

[9] Cecil County, Maryland Deed Book JS 23:357, “James Kilgore, Esq., of North Milford Hundred, Cecil County, Maryland” sold to “John Willis, Carpenter, of the same hundred, county, and state.” The deed is signed by James Kilgore and his wife Isabella is named as having been privately questioned regarding her approval of the sale. The land was part of a 378-acre tract called Wallace’s Scrawl originally patented in 1737 to Matthew Wallace It was resurveyed and patented again in 1791 at 496 acres to Andrew Wallace. MSA S1194-1063 and S1194-1062, respectively.

[10] Cecil County, Maryland Will Book 5:213, Will signed by Rebekah Kilgore dated 3 Jun 1785, probated 25 Oct 1788, gave 5 shillings each to five sons and three daughters. Daughter Elizabeth Alexander received all Rebekah’s wearing apparel. Son James Kilgore received the family plantation and the remainder of the personal estate.

[11] Cecil County, Maryland Deed Book JS 25:39, on 31 Mar 1827 Kilgore sold 50+ acres to Samuel Burnite for $3.00

[12] Cecil County, Maryland Deed Book HHM 7:304, The deed recites that the 20 acres descended to James Kilgore by will and that Kilgore sold it to Willis, and that the land is part of a tract called “Wallace’s Scrawl.”

[13] Maryland Probate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940, https://www.familysearch.org

[14] James later sold the land, subject to the existing mortgage, for a tidy profit.

[15] The Midland Journal, Rising Sun, Maryland, 5 Feb 1886, Friday, p. 5. At www.newspapers.com. Mrs. Rebecca Willis widow of the late John Willis died at the residence of he son-in-law John T. Steele on Saturday, the 9th instant (9 Jan 1886) in the 91st year of her age. Her remains were interred at Head of Christiana Cemetery on the Tuesday following (12 Jan 1886).

[16] Daniel Willis married Hannah Ann Sutton on 15 Apr 1847 in Cecil County. They appear in the 1850 census living next door to James Willis. Hannah likely predeceased Daniel because he registered in 1863 for the Civil War draft as a single man at age 41, occupation carpenter. Daniel appears in the 1970 census in a boarding house as a single man, age 45, occupation carpenter. If he had children, he likely would have resided with one of them.

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