The Heirs of Joshua Willis Sr. – Proved by Petitions, Patents, Depositions, and Deeds

John Willis bought land on Marshy Creek in 1717 in what became Caroline County, MD. One of his sons Joshua was born about 1720 and died in 1797. Joshua left a 1790 will that has not been located. However, several legal documents … petitions, patents, deeds, and depositions … combine to identify accurately Joshua’s children and provide other details about the family. These records emphasize the need in genealogy to “Follow The Land.”

Joshua acquired during his lifetime several hundred acres of land. He devised all the land he possessed at the time he made his will. Thankfully for us, Joshua did not amend the will to devise the tracts he acquired subsequent to 1790. The tracts not disposed of in the will fell to Joshua’s heirs at law under the law of intestate descent and distribution. This led to petitions, patents, deeds and depositions that identify those heirs. Since the will is lost, those other records relating to two specific tracts of land are the only evidence we have. Luckily, they are all we need.

Willis’s Landing

Joshua acquired land he called Willis’s Landing in two transactions in 1793. On 8 Jan 1793, John Nicolls assigned to Joshua 7½ acres of a 26-acre tract that Nicolls had acquired under a special warrant. Pursuant to a special warrant dated 20 Apr 1793, Joshua surveyed 69 ¾ adjacent acres, and named it Addition to Willis’s Landing. Petitions and subsequent land sales prove that Joshua’s will did not devise these parcels acquired after 1790. Further, his will clearly did not contain a “residuary clause” whereby property not specifically devised or bequeathed would fall to an identified beneficiary. In effect, Joshua’s estate was “intestate” as to this particular land.

Joshua Willis Jr. cited those facts in a petition seeking a patent for the land in the names of the heirs. He showed that his father properly acquired and paid for the tracts and that he died intestate as to those lands, leaving “Elizabeth Everngham, Joshua Willis (your petitioner), Frances Baker, Deborah Lucas, Charles Willis, Peter Willis, Thomas Willis, James Willis, John Willis, Annaretta Fleming, and Mary Willis his only children and heirs at law.” The filing stated that Charles Willis and Thomas Willis had died without issue and that Annaretta also died, leaving Mary Fleming and Robert Fleming her only children and heirs at law. Note that Joshua Sr.’s wife must have predeceased him, otherwise the petition would have named her as an heir.[1]

Joshua Jr. filed this petition on 14 May 1805, and an order issued the same day naming the living heirs. The order called for a patent to be issued to the ten named individuals, with the first eight (the living children of Joshua Sr.) each having an undivided one-ninth interest in the property and Mary Fleming and Robert Fleming to share the remaining ninth.[2]

An earlier deposition also names Joshua’s eleven children and notes that four of the five daughters had married, identifying their husbands:

  • Elizabeth married William Everngham
  • Frances married Charles Baker
  • Deborah married Joshua Lucas
  • Annaretta married Silas Fleming

That deposition also stated that Charles and Thomas Willis had died intestate and without issue, and that Annaretta and Silas Fleming had died leaving children Mary and Robert.[3]

A short aside … Annaretta’s husband made a will dated 1 Feb 1804 naming his brother-in-law Peter Willis executor. This will reveals that Annaretta predeceased Silas because she was not named, as well as the fact that the two Fleming children were minors.[4]

On 17 Jun 1805, the heirs sold Willis’ Landing and recorded the sale in Dorchester County (the tract fell partly in Caroline and partly in Dorchester). The signatories were William Everngham and his wife Elizabeth, Joshua Willis, Frances Baker, Joshua Lucas and his wife Deborah, Peter Willis, and John Willis.[5]

We are missing a few signatories in this list: Frances’ husband Charles Baker; James Willis; the two Fleming children; and Mary Willis. What does this tell us? Likely the following:

  • Frances’s husband Charles Baker must have died before this sale. A husband represented a wife’s interest in legal transactions. Frances would only represent herself if no longer married.
  • James Willis made up for his absence by filing in the Dorchester County Court acknowledging and recording the sale on 9 Dec 1805.[6]
  • Regarding the Fleming minors, we can assume that Peter Willis probably signed on their behalf. I have not found a record of an official guardianship, but the children lived in his household.
  • The mystery is Mary Willis. Where is her signature? I believe that Mary was still a minor at the date of this sale (therefore born after 1784). I find no official guardian appointed, but there is not one for the Fleming children either. The lost will of Joshua Sr. may have designated one of the siblings to be her guardian.

The record related to Willis’s Landing proves the children of Joshua Willis. However, we can learn a bit more by examining the documents surrounding a second tract called Willis’s Luck.

Willis’s Luck

Joshua Sr. acquired 229½ acres he named Willis’s Luck under a special warrant in 1763. He sold 100 acres shortly thereafter, simultaneously buying a small tract named Bank of Pleasure that provided access to Hunting Creek for the larger tract. A 1793 resurvey of his land defined 136½ acres that he called Addition to Willis’s Luck. The resurvey included 25 vacant acres, which turn out to be genealogically significant.

Joshua Sr.’s 1790 will devised Willis’s Luck, Addition to Willis’s Luck, and Bank of Pleasure to his son Charles. Sons Joshua and Peter were contingent beneficiaries and would share the land if Charles died without issue. Several records confirm this provision of the lost will.

  • On 28 Feb 1799, Joshua Jr. sold to Peter Willis 150 acres, part of Bank of Pleasure and part of Addition to Willis’s Luck. The record states this was half the land that fell to them at the death of their brother Charles.[7]
  • On 7 Aug 1804, Joshua Jr. sold to Peter Willis 150 acres, parts of Bank of Pleasure, Willis’s Luck, and Addition to Willis’s Luck. This record recites that the land fell to Joshua by the demise of his brother Charles.[8]

Charles clearly received this land through the will, and when he died without children, Joshua and Peter inherited under the terms of the will. Absent such a contingency provision, the death of Charles would have entitled all his heirs — his siblings — to a share of the land. An 1800 petition confirms those facts but with an interesting twist. The vacant land added through the 1793 resurvey was notcovered by Joshua Sr.’s prior ownership of the tracts. The will could not devise those added acres. Here we go with another petition, since these “intestate” acres descend to Joshua Sr.’s heirs at law.

In 1800, Joshua Willis and Peter Willis petitioned for a patent related to the vacant land. They cited their father’s acquisition and patent history of the tract. They specifically stated their father Joshua made his will in 1790. They stated that the land was devised to their brother Charles and fell to them divided equally should Charles die without issue. Finally, they noted that the vacant land added to the tract in 1793, subsequent to the date of the will, was not covered by the devise of land in that document. The estate was intestate as to that extra 25 acres. They therefore asked that a patent issue for that land in the name of the heirs at law. On 10 Dec 1800, the Chancellor of Maryland ordered the patent issued as requested, which happened on 20 Feb 1801.[9]

Nine years later the heirs sold that small acreage for $87. William Everngam and his wife Elizabeth, Deborah Lucas, Peter Willis, James Willis, John Willis, and Matthew Hardcastle and his wife Mary signed the 25 Jan 1810 deed of sale. The deeds and petition related to Willis’s Luck reveal some details about these people other than just their names:

  • Charles Willis obviously died before the first sale from Joshua Jr. to Peter in February 1799.
  • In the 1810 sale, only six of the nine shares appear to be represented. The three missing shares are as follows:
    • Joshua Willis did not participate in the 1810 sale. Joshua must have died before 1810 and left no issue, or he transferred his interest to one of the other heirs. There is no record of a conveyance from Joshua to an heir or anyone else. Since there is no such record, Joshua must be deceased.
    • Frances Willis Baker did not participate and was likely also dead.
    • The Fleming children did not sign. If alive, they must still be minors and therefore born after 1789. In that case, Peter still represented them.
  • Mary Willis was by then married to Matthew Hardcastle.[10]Her absence as a signatory on the 1805 sale of Willis’s Landing established she was born after 1784. She might have married Hardcastle as early as age 16, which would mean she was born by 1790, when her father wrote his will. I put her likely birth range at 1785-1789.

It would have been nice if Joshua Sr.’s 1790 will survived and had been updated over time to cover all his property. Had that occurred, however, we might not be privy to these additional details about this family. The lesson, as always, is “Follow The Land.

[1]Joshua outlived two wives, Susannah LNU, mother of his first three children, and Deborah Greenhawk whom he married 20 May 1774.

[2]Maryland State Archives Online, Dorchester County Circuit Court, Patented Certificates, MSA_S1196_3662

[3]This deposition by Captain William Haskins states the will was made in 1797. The petition seeking a patent in the name of Joshua’s heirs at law filed in 1800 gives the date as 1790. The earlier date is correct based on the subject matter of the petition, that is, to provide proper title to lands acquired in 1793. If the will were made in 1797, it likely would have devised those lands making the new patent unnecessary.

[4]Keddie, Leslie and Neil, Caroline County, Maryland, Register of Wills, 1800-1806, Liber JR Bi, Transcript& Liber LR C, i,(The Family Tree Bookshop, 2001), 48.

[5]Maryland State Archives online, Dorchester County Land Records, MSA_CE 46-48,(Liber HD No. 23: 181

[6]IdatHD 23:183

[7]Leonard, R. Bernice, Caroline County Maryland Land Records, Volume F, 1797-1799, (St. Michaels, MD: Helen E. Seymour), F:448.

[8]Leonard, Volume I, 1804-1809, I:090.

[9]Maryland State Archives Online, Caroline County Circuit Court, Patented Certificates, MSA_S1192_18.

[10]Marriage records indicate she married in Caroline County on 17 Sep 1806.

Revised – A Surprising Willis – Quaker Connection

Subsequent to the original posting of this article, significant new information came to my attention requiring a substantial rewrite. I have deleted the original and post this revised version in order to clear the record of incorrect information. 

During the 18thand 19thcenturies, several Willis families on the Eastern Shore of Maryland were Quakers. I have long believed that the John Willis family who lived on land called Wantage in Dorchester County was not one of them.[1]The evidence I had found to date supported that conclusion.

For example, Wantage John’s eldest son John, Jr. lived on Marshy Creek in what became Caroline County. Several Quaker Meetings and the Anglican St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish served the region. The Anglican records do not survive, so whether John Jr.’s family attended there is lost to history. On the other hand, numerous Quaker Meeting records of the period exist. John, Jr.’s family does not appear in any of them. Apparently, the family was not Quaker.

The record for Wantage John’s son Andrew is more straightforward. Andrew lived in Dorchester County. Three of his four sons appear in the records of Old Trinity Church near Church Creek at the baptism of several children between 1754 and 1775.[2]No Quaker record names any of these people. This family was clearly Anglican and not Quaker.

The elder John had two other sons, Thomas and William. Thomas lived adjacent John Jr. on Marshy Creek. William inherited Wantage from his father and lived there until moving close to his wife’s family on Hodson’s/Hudson’s Creek in the Neck Region of Dorchester County. Neither of these sons appears in any religious record, Anglican or otherwise. Therefore, no evidence suggests a connection to Quakerism for anyone in the Wantage John family for the first couple of generations. And, there is evidence that one family group was Anglican.

Beyond these first generations, descendants of John of Wantage and related families were prominent in Methodism. Barratt’s Chapel in neighboring Kent County, Delaware was the birthplace of Methodism in America.[3]Lydia Barratt, granddaughter of Philip Barratt who built the chapel in 1780 is the great grandmother of Henry Fisher Willis, a direct descendant of Wantage John. Henry was a significant supporter of the Bethesda Methodist Church in Preston, Caroline County, Maryland, with a stained glass window honoring his service in the late 1800s. Henry’s father Zachariah Willis was a trustee of the Methodist Church whose twin brother Foster gave land for a church in 1831.[4]

I concluded from this data it highly unlikely that any of Wantage John’s descendants belonged to the Society of Friends. In fact, I used membership in the Society as a screening tool to eliminate various Willis lineages as being related to John of Wantage. For example, there is a Quaker Willis line in eastern Dorchester County and in the Federalsburg region of Caroline County.[5]Another Willis line in Talbot and Caroline County attended the Tuckahoe Monthly Meeting. Indeed, many researchers have conflated a Richard Willis in that line, who married Margaret Cox, with a Richard Willis in Wantage John’s line. A third line of Willises who lived in Kent County, Maryland were also Quaker. None of these families are related to John Willis of Wantage at least on this side of the pond.

With a high level of confidence in the religious affiliation of the John Willis family, or at least its lack of affiliation with the Quakers, imagine my surprise when I came across the following entries reportedly from the birth records of the Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware.[6]Oops:

  • Richard Willis 24 of 1 mo 1794    Son of Richard Willis and Britanna his wife
  • Ann Willis 2 of 6 mo 1799      Daughter of Do & Do
  • Senah Willis 19 of 4 mo 1802    Son of Do & Do
  • Zachariah Willis and Foster Willis     27 of 12 mo 1804   Sons of Do & Do
  • Peter Willis 21 of 4 mo 1811    Son of Do & Do

The same document contains the following burial records:

  • Richard Willis 27 of 5 mo 1820    in 26thyear
  • Richard Willis 2 mo 14 1823        63rd
  • Britanna Willis 1 mo 2 1826          in the 59th

The listed parents Richard Willis and Britanna (Britannia Goutee) are well known to me, but I had no inkling they were Quakers. Richard, born 8 Aug 1759, is the son of Richard Willis, died 1764, and the great grandson of John of Wantage.  Richard and Britannia, born about 1765, married in Caroline County on 22 Jan 1788.[7]She is descended from John Gootee and Margaret Besson/Beeson, who came to the colony from France with Margaret’s father and became naturalized citizens in 1671.[8]So, have I been wrong all along about this Willis line and Quakerism?

Well, I don’t know. Certainly, I was wrong about Richard and Britannia, however, these seem to be the only Quaker records online for the family … no marriages, no grandchildren’s births, no deaths recorded after Britannia’s in 1826.

This particular record does reveal some other information. First, the record is handwritten … an Index plus a section of Births and one of Burials. However, the cover page is typewritten, stating that it is from the Wilmington Monthly Meeting.[9]An examination of the contents reveals, however, that the cover page is incorrect. The record is actually from the Northwest Fork Meeting in Federalsburg based on the following. For one thing, the record noted that two of the listed people were “Elders in the NW Fork Monthly Meeting.” Additionally, surnames in the record, such as, Charles, Dawson, Kelley, Leverton, Noble, and Wright, are of Quaker families known to have lived near the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke River. Finally, the record indicates the residence of a few of the listed persons. The record mentions only three counties: Caroline and Dorchester, Maryland, and Sussex, Delaware. Federalsburg is located at the intersection of those counties. Clearly, the record is from that Meeting and not Wilmington.

The second thing apparent from this register is that it is a copy and not the original register. The handwriting is identical throughout, both in the index and the birth and death entries. Had the entries been made at the times the events occurred from 1790 to 1828, the person making the entries surely would have changed from time to time. Therefore, the handwriting would have varied. Furthermore, many entries relating to a single family are grouped together regardless of date. For example, all the Willis birth entries are on a single page.[10]The same is true of some other families. One would expect the original register to be in chronological order with the family names mixed together. Apparently, a clerk prepared a copy of the original register, reorganized and indexed it. Likely, this document was intended for the files of a Quarterly or Yearly Meeting to which the Northwest Fork Meeting was subordinate. That would have been the Southern Quarterly and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting during the years in question.[11]

One additional Quaker reference to this family is Kenneth Carroll’s Quakerism on the Eastern Shore.That source lists under the Northwest Fork Monthly Meeting the birth of Ann Willis, daughter of Richard and Britannia and the death of Ann Willis “daughter of Richard.”[12]If this is the same Ann, she died unmarried at age 35. Interestingly, Carroll’s work does not include the other data found in the mislabeled Northwest Fork record. Obviously, he did not have access to that register.

In conclusion, it is clear that Richard and Britannia Willis affiliated with the Quakers. Apparently, the Friend’s connection ended with Ann’s death. Possibly she was the motivating factor for the family’s involvement in the sect.

_____________________

[1]John Willis, died 1712, patented a 50-acre tract named Wantage in Dorchester County in 1702.

[2]Palmer, Katherine H., transcribed Baptism Record, Old Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Creek, MD, (Cambridge, MD), 19, baptisms of son Richard’s children Mary (1754), John (1755), Elizabeth (1758) and Richard (1761); son John’s child Jarvis (1758); son Andrew’s children Keziah (1770) and George (1775).

[3]See www.barrattschapel.org

[4]Caroline County, MD Land Records, Liber JR-R, Folio 115, 29 Oct 1831 deed for ½ acre from Foster Willis and Wife Ann to trustees of the Methodist Church, proved 31 Jan 1832.

[5]Actually, this family were Nicholites, or New Quakers, until that sect reunited with the Quakers in 1798. See Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Joseph Nichols and the Nicholites: A Look at the “New Quakers” of Maryland, Delaware, North and South Carolina (Easton, Maryland: The Easton Publishing Company, 1962), 78, Births of the children of Andrew and Sarah Willis: Andrew, 3 Nov 1774; Mary, 5 Dec 1770; Rhoda, 18 May 1766; Roger, 14 May 1768; and Shadrick, 15 May 1772. Births of children of Thomas and Sina Willis: Anne, 5 Dec 1770; Elic, 1 Feb 1785; Jesse, 15 Feb 1773; Joshua, 15 Dec 1774; Milby, & Aug 1768; Milley, 3 Feb 1784; Thomas, 28 Oct 1776; and William 20 Sep 1771.

[6]Ancestry.com, U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935: Births & Deaths, 1790-1828, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware. Birth records are all at p. 19; Burial records at pp. 7, 8, and 10, respectively.

[7]Cranor, Henry Downes, Marriage Licenses of Caroline County, Maryland, 1744-1815(Philadelphia: Henry Downes Cranor, 1904), 18.

[8]Browne, William Hand, Archives of Maryland v.2, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, April 1666 – June 1676(Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1884), 270, Naturalization of John Gootee and Margarett Gootee his wife of Dorchester County and Stephen Besson of Dorchester County all born in the Kingdom of France. Act read as being passed by the Assembly at 19 Apr 1671 closing of the session on the General Assembly, which began 27 Mar 1671 in St. Mary’s County.

[9]The typewritten text on the cover page reads, “II Department of Friends’ Records, 302 Arch Street, Phila., PA, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, Del., Births and Deaths, 1790-1828, Births 22 pp.; Deaths 11 pp.; Index 32 pp.”

[10]This record, however, does not include the couple’s two eldest daughters, Rebecca, born 9 Nov 1788, and Dorcas, born between 1790 and 1793.

[11]Jacobsen, Phebe R., Quaker Records in Maryland(Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, State of Maryland, 1966), 78, In 1800, by permission of the Southern Quarterly, a Monthly Meeting was established at Northwest Fork, consisting of Marshy Creek [Note: later named Snow Hill and then Preston], Centre, and Northwest Fork Preparative Meetings … When the Separation occurred within the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1827, the Southern Quarterly Meeting was simply dissolved by the Orthodox.”

[12]  Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Quakerism on the Eastern Shore(Baltimore: The Maryland Historical Society, Garamond/Pridemark Press, 1970) 255, Ann Willis daughter of Richard and Britana [sic] born 19 Apr 1799; 260, Ann Willis daughter of Richard died 22 Sep 1834.

John Willis’s Parents … A New Look

Previous articles (see links  here  and here) about John Willis who died in 1712 in Dorchester County, Maryland proposed that he was born in Wantage, Berkshire, England. That theory rested on two essential facts. First, Maryland colonists often named property after their former home in Europe. In John’s case, he named his 50-acre tract Wantage. Second, the Berkshire Parish Registers for Wantage include several marriages that might be John’s parents. One of those couples was John Willis and Elizabeth Chapman, who married in Berkshire Parish on 11 Apr 1664.[1]

New Information

One earlier article estimated John’s birth year as 1667-68, although I rounded the year to 1660 in the discussion.[2]Now I have found more precise information on the issue. Specifically, birth and christening records for Berkshire Parish show that John and Elizabeth Willis baptized a son named John on 3 Jan 1668.[3]

That record does not prove that the child born and baptized in 1668 is the same person as John Willis who died in Maryland. Nevertheless, it is significant circumstantial evidence. Importantly, subsequent parish records do not show an adult John Willis in Wantage during the period he likely would have married and had children. That at least suggests that baby John may have left Wantage when grown … perhaps for the colonies. Therefore, as a working hypothesis pending further evidence, John Willis who died in Maryland is now in my tree with a birthdate of 3 Jan 1668 and with parents John Willis and Elizabeth Chapman of Wantage, England.[4]DNA testing provides additional support for this theory. My autosomal test shows several matches with people having the Chapman surname. At least one of these has some connection to English Chapman families.

As with any unproved hypothesis, there are problems with the theory that John, son of John and Elizabeth, is the same person as John of Dorchester County, Maryland. According to the register entry, baby John Willis was baptized on the same day he was born. Most entries in the list show either a date of birth or of christening, but not both on the same date. Immediately baptizing a newborn may indicate the child was ill and not expected to survive. That might have been the situation with baby John. On the other hand, no record exists showing his death.

Children of John Willis d. 1712

The will of John Willis presented for probate in Dorchester County on 24 November 1712 proved four children: sons William and John, and daughters Grace and Elizabeth.[5]Two sons not named in the will are Andrew, proved by probate records, and Thomas, supported by circumstantial evidence. The will does not name a spouse, so we can assume that she predeceased John. Were she alive, he likely would have named her in the will with a life estate in the land or otherwise provided for her care. Further, the will does not use a married surname for either daughter, so probably they were unmarried as of 1712.

The earlier article estimated the birth years of the various children to provide a theoretical picture of the family consistent with known facts. Those estimates now need revision to account for John’s hypothetical birthdate of 3 Jan 1668/69. As mentioned in Footnote 2, son Andrew was born in about 1690, and John Jr. was born at least by 1689. I have used those two dates here. William was born between 1694 and 1700 according to a deposition.[6]I used the earlier date, which would make William 18 years old at his father’s death. Grace was named before Elizabeth in the 1712 will, possibly indicating she was the elder of the two. Since neither was married at the time of John, Sr.’s death, I have estimated birth years that would make them 16 and 14, respectively. The relative ages of Thomas and William are uncertain, but I suspect William was the youngest. Revised birthdates and their ages at 1712 are as follows:

1689 – John            age 23                           1694 – William      age 18

1690 – Andrew     age 22                           1696 – Grace            age 16

1692 – Thomas     age 20                           1698 – Elizabeth    age 14

I welcome any questions or comments about this and other articles. Please contact me at redmarker181969@yahoo.com.

[1]W.P.W. Phillimore, editor, Berkshire Parish Registers, Marriages, Volume 1, (London:Phillimore & Co., 1908), p. 41, John Willis, Junr [?] and Elizabeth Chapman, 11 Apr 1664.

[2]A 1730 deposition established that Andrew, one of John’s sons, was born in 1690, and a 1746 deposition stated that son John, Jr. was the eldest, making him born by at least 1689 to be older than Andrew. If these sons were 22 and 23 years old at the time of John Sr.’s death, a reasonable minimum age for him would be 44 or 45 when he died. In that case, John Sr. would have been born by 1667-68.

[3]Walls, Mary, transcriber, “England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” FHL Films Number 88468, 88469, at Ancestry.com, 3 Jan 1668 (Birth and Bap), John Willis, parents John and Elizabeth Willis.

[4]Actually, the year is 1668/69. Until 1752 with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by England and its colonies, the year began on 25 Mar. Thus, the date of 3 Jan 1668 in the register would be 3 Jan 1669 in the modern calendar.

[5]Cotton and Henry, Calendar of Wills, IV:23. Note that the date given in this source for the submission to probate is 24 Nov 1714. This date conflicts with the date John Willis, Jr., filed a protest to the will (3 Dec 1712) and the dates of activity in the Perogative Court records. I conclude the correct date for submission to probate is 24 Nov 1712. Dorchester County Will Book 14:12.

[6]James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from theLand Records of Dorchester County, Maryland,Volume 10 (Liber Old No. 14, folios 374-741), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), X:74. 14 Old 658, 11 Nov 1746 to 27 May 1752, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of John Harrington’s land called “Rosses Range” and “David Ropies”, and Return. Nine men and women give depositions regarding this land on Hobson’s Creek. Among them are William Willis, age about 52; Judah (Judith) Willis, age about 50; and Mary Seward, age 68.

Westward Ho the Willises

A Willis family moved from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Ohio in the early 1800s. Another moved first to North Carolina then to Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. A third migrated to Missouri. The underlying incentive to migrate was almost always to find cheaper land. But why these places? The chosen destinations pointed to the Land Acts related to the Northwest Territories.

Great Britain ceded millions of acres of land to the United States after the Revolutionary War. Most of the land was west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River, which Congress established as the Northwest Territory in 1787. The territory encompassed all or part of what would become six states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The government took several steps to entice new settlers to the area. First, it surveyed the area into a standard grid of 640-acre sections. This survey aided the organized pricing and sale of the land to individual settlers or to groups of investors. Next, Congress passed a series of Land Acts providing for land sales. The Territory’s representative to Congress, the future President William Henry Harrison, presented one of the early proposals, which Congress adopted as the Harrison Act of 1800.

The Harrison Act required buyers to purchase at least 320 acres at a price of $2.00 per acre. The buyer had to pay at least half the purchase price at the date of purchase with the balance due in equal annual installments over four years.

The required upfront payment was pretty steep for most settlers. Therefore,  Congress created the Land Act of 1804, which kept the other purchase terms but cut the minimum acreage in half, reducing the upfront payment by 50%. Settlers could better afford this arrangement, and most were able during good economic times to keep up with their payments.

The economy suffered in the late 1810s when peace came to Europe. The warring nations had been a strong market for agricultural production from the United States. That demand disappeared when armies disbanded and returned to their farms in France, Germany, and England. As a result, many farmers in the Northwest Territories could not sell their crops and could not make payments on their loans. Congress responded with the Land Act of 1820 and the Relief Act of 1821. The Relief Act let existing settlers give back land they could no longer afford to finance, and it extended the installment period an additional eight years.

The Land Act of 1820 cut the minimum purchase acreage for new settlers to 80 acres and cut the price to $1.25 per acre. The act required the total cost to be paid at the time of purchase. Settlers found this acceptable as most could afford the $100 minimum purchase under the new act without a time payment plan. The Act also applied to lands in the Missouri Territory.

These government programs helped people from the Eastern Shore acquire property in far away places just as headright incentives helped populate Maryland and other colonies 100 years earlier. Maryland residents also benefited from one of the easiest routes into the lands beyond the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains. The Cumberland Narrows in Maryland’s Allegheny County (not to be confused with the Cumberland Gap near the border of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia) provides the best east to west access in the mountain range for potential settlers from the northern tier of states. Beyond The Narrows, emigrants soon found the Ohio River and a watery highway to the West.

We know that some Willis families took advantage of these purchase opportunities. Foster Willis of Caroline County, Maryland died in Missouri. Tilghman Willis of Dorchester County, Maryland died in Ross County, Ohio. And Shelah Willis, a son of William from Maryland, was probably born in North Carolina, married in Warren County, Ohio, and died in Berrien County, Michigan. We will look in depth at Foster, Tilghman and Shelah Willis at a future date.

Jessie Sensor Willis – The Blizzard Baby

My grandmother Jessie Sensor (1881-1937) was born this date 136 years ago during one of the worst blizzards in Nebraska history. Her parents were the Reverend George Guyer Sensor (1852-1913) and Julia Frances Mendenhall (1857-1941). George’s Methodist ministry took the family eventually to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It was there in Somerset County that Jessie at age 18 married Dr. Henry Noble Willis (1865-1926) who was almost twice her age. Henry had a daughter and a son by his first wife, Mary E. McMaster (1867-1898), who were only 10 years and 12 years, respectively, younger than his new bride. Henry and Jessie had two children of their own, Grace (1904-1909) and Noble (1916-1968), and adopted a third, Kathryn (1905-1972).

The family moved to Wilmington, Delaware where Dr. Willis established his practice. By 1930 with her husband deceased, Jessie still lived in Wilmington with her son Noble. Living in her household were Kathryn and her husband William New. Jessie worked as Assistant to the Pastor of Harrison Street Methodist Church. Shortly after Jessie’s 39th birthday, her mother Julia wrote a letter describing the blizzard that occurred during the winter of Jessie’s birth. Julia says in the letter that the current year’s weather had reminder her of the winter of Jessie’s birth and inspired her to write.

Below is my transcription of that letter followed by a few explanatory comments:

1373 Park Boulevard, Camden – N.J.,                                            Jan 29th 1930

My Dear Jessie –

“Once upon a time”, many years ago there lived on the plains of Nebraska a young couple. They were far from childhoods home and loved ones. Many times they had been homesick and longed for familiar faces. ‘Twas in the month of January – a great blizzard was on. The worst storm, ‘twas said, that was ever known in that part of the country. Snow was piled high, roads were drifted so that one could not find the familiar path. Many, on account of the blinding snow that bewildered them, perished within a few rods of home. Houses were so completely covered with snow that it was impossible to get in or out. A coal famine, caused by snow drifted railroads, made more terrible the suffering of those without fuel. Many perished from cold and lack of food. When relief came it was [Page 2] found that all furniture in many homes had been burned and that partitions were being torn down for fuel to keep the inmates from freezing – food was exhausted and had help been delayed a day longer many would have been added to the victims who had already perished. In the midst of this dreadful storm and suffering there came to this young couple a darling baby girl to bless their lives. She was warmly welcomed and how thankful they were for her safe arrival in the storm – also that there was coal in the bin to protect her little life. $26.00 per ton was what it cost but they were too thankful to get it to consider the cost and while the fire did smell like greenbacks they were not deterred from using it for, did not a new young life need to be protected? And no expense must be spared for the comfort of the mother and babe – now you may go on with the story. Rather a cold reception after months in that cozy little nest provided for the little stranger by the dear heavenly father. Whose tender [Page 3] care for many years has shielded that life midst storm and sunshine and today we pray that the same care and protection may follow her the balance of her life – Blessing her and making her a blessing each day. The present snow storm and suffering in the west has made me rather reminiscent. They tell me this is a sign of old age but I don’t believe it.

Have just had a nice letter from Aunt Maggie which has somehow renewed my youth. She has just passed her 76th birthday and writes a beautiful hand and such a cheery letter. Here [sic] daughter Anna is living in California and has located Annabell your Uncle Will’s daughter. She has not met her yet but has met the lady she with whom she lives a Miss Brown who is supervisor of music in the schools and who told her that Annabell has specialized in music and art and is now a teacher and a very fine girl. She [Page 4] also told her that Emma her mother had died last Jan. her brother Edward is in Chicago. I was glad to get this bit of family news. I would love to see these children. Dear Maggie thinks I should undertake the trip to see her. Well maybe we will some day when your ship and mine come in.

I must now hurry to a close as it is getting late. I came in to Grace’s today to keep house while she went to buy her coal. Began this letter yesterday was interrupted so am finishing it here. My chair came last evening. It is beautiful, my couch is also in place and now I have a really fine sitting room.

Oh! I must not forget to tell you that Glennie Davis of Woodetown is living near me and we have an invitation to take dinner with her when you come as she [Page 5] is very anxious to see you.

 Another item still – the burglars tried again to get here this week but as Doc has so completely fastened all windows and doors they did not make it. He and Grace watched them as they worked and saw them leave. He thinks he has discovered who they are.

Tell Kitty I say “Thank you” for getting my chair and to come see it. Grace joins me in love.

            Write or come up when you can.

                                    Goodnight –

                                                Mother

 What a wonderful story of the first days of Jessie’s life. I love Julia’s writing skill and sense of humor … the coal was so expensive the fire smelled like greenbacks. And what wonderful additional clues about the family’s current life are embedded in this letter. See the following explanatory comments regarding certain statements in the letter:

“Many times they had been homesick and longed for familiar faces.”

Reverend Sensor was assigned to Grand Island, Nebraska when he married Julia Mendenhall in Pennsylvania on Christmas Day, 1879. Both had been born and raised in central Pennsylvania. The Mendenhall family had been established there as early as 1685. The Sensor family, George’s father Frederick and grandfather George, moved to Pennsylvania from Maryland in 1805.

“‘Twas in the month of January – a great blizzard was on.”

This was January 1881. Records available on the web indicate this winter was known as the winter of the great snows.

“Many, on account of the blinding snow that bewildered them, perished within a few rods of home.”

A rod is 16 ½ feet, a common unit of measure of the period, and one still used in land surveying.

“A coal famine, caused by snow drifted railroads, made more terrible the suffering of those without fuel.”

An article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat dated February 24, 1881 stated that between February 2 and February 19 there were no trains on the Pacific Extension of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern line.

“In the midst of this dreadful storm and suffering there came to this young couple a darling baby girl to bless their lives.”

Jessie was born in Grand Island, Hall County, Nebraska, January 16, 1881.

“Have just had a nice letter from Aunt Maggie which has somehow renewed my youth. She has just passed her 76th birthday and writes a beautiful hand and such a cheery letter. Here [sic Her] daughter Anna is living in California and has located Annabell your Uncle Will’s daughter.”

Aunt Maggie is likely Margaret Hoyt who married Julia’s brother Judson Phineas Mendenhall, and Anna is their daughter. Uncle Will is probably Julia’s brother, William Henry Mendenhall and Annabell his daughter.

“She also told her that Emma her mother had died last Jan. Her brother Edward is in Chicago.”

William H. Mendenhall married Emma Muttersbach. Emma apparently died in January 1929, Will was still alive at the time, and they had at least two grown children … Annabell living in California and Edward in Chicago.

“I came in to Grace’s today to keep house while she went to buy her coal.”

Grace Sensor Miller (1882-1966) is Jessie’s sister who lived in Collingswood, New Jersey. She was Julia’s second daughter, born July 15, 1882, also in Nebraska. Reverend Sensor was assigned to Grand Island in 1879 and to St. Paul, Nebraska in 1882, but shortly after that appointment had to return east for health reasons, according to his official Methodist obituary.

“I must not forget to tell you that Glennie Davis of Woodstown is living near me and we have an invitation to take dinner with her when you come as she is very anxious to see you.”

I have not identified Glennie (Glenda?) Davis. Woodstown, New Jersey is about 20 miles south of Camden. Reverend Sensor was assigned to Woodstown, NJ, where Julia likely met Glennie Davis, sometime late in the period between 1886 an 1899. In 1899, Sensor transferred from the New Jersey Conference to the Wilmington Conference and served four years at Pocomoke City and Crisfield, Maryland and Chincoteague, Virginia (all on the Delmarva Peninsula). During that time, Dr. Henry Willis met and married Jessie Sensor.

“Another item still – the burglars tried again to get here this week but as Doc has so completely fastened all windows and doors they did not make it.”

Doc is Dr. William Edwin Miller (1870-1947), Grace’s husband.

“Tell Kitty I say “Thank you” for getting my chair and to come see it.”

Kitty is Kathryn Willis, adopted daughter of Jessie Sensor and the late Dr. Henry Noble Willis.

Well, that’s it for now. I have a trove of letters between Jessie and Noble during the last three years he was a student at Duke. I will share some of these in the future, although they are heartbreaking as Jessie was slowly dying during Noble’s senior year but did not want him to know it.

Thanks for reading …

 

 

Appendix to The John Willis Family and The Maryland Supply Tax of 1783

An abbreviated descendant chart for John Willis of Wantage with highlighted names of people and tracts of interest. This Appendix supplements the narrative article “The John Willis Family and The Maryland Supply Tax of 1783,” which is located immediately below this posting:

 

….. 1 John Willis b: 3 Jan 1668/9, Wantage, Berkshire, England, d: Nov 1712 in Dorchester Co, MD (patented Wantage in 1702)

……….. 2 John Willis, Jr. b: Abt. 1689 in Dorchester Co, MD, d: bef 23 Jan 1764 (1717 land on Marshy Creek, Willis Regulation)

……….. + Mary Unknown d: Bef. 1731, m: Abt. 1702

…………….. 3 John Willis b: Abt. 1703 (25 Old 26), d: likely Bef. 1783

…………….. 3 Mary Willis

…………….. + Unknown Clift (Poss. Joseph or Mark)

…………….. 3 Judeath Willis

…………….. 3 Elizabeth Willis

…………….. + Unknown Killingsworth

…………….. 3 Isaac Willis d: Abt. May 1789 (Letters Admin to Henry & Joshua Willis)

………………….. 4 Henry Willis b: Bef. 1760 (“of Isaac” in Loyalty Oath 1778)

………………….. 4 Andrew Willis b: Bet. 1761-1767 (“of Ic” in 1783 Supply Tax)

…………….. 3 Richard Willis b: Abt. 1718 (15 Old 452), d: 1764 in Dorchester Co., MD

…………….. + Rebecca Granger d: Aft. 14 Aug 1771

………………….. 4 Richard Willis, Jr. b: 08 Aug 1759 in Dorchester Co., MD, d: 14 Feb 1823 in Caroline Co., MD (Sarah’s Delight, New Foundland)

………………….. + Britannia Gootee b: Abt. 1765 in Dorchester Co., MD, d: 03 Jan 1826 in Caroline Co., MD, m: 22 Jan 1788 in Caroline Co., MD

………………….. 4 Mary Willis

………………….. 4 Thomas Willis d: 1795 in Caroline County, MD (Perry’s Delight, New Land)

………………….. + Elizabeth Perry

………………….. 4 Joshua Willis b: Abt. 1765, d: Bet. 1793-1805 (Good Luck, New Land)

………………….. 4 Robert Willis d: 1804 in Caroline County, MD (Perry’s Discovery)

………………….. + Sarah Rumbold b: 31 Oct 1757, m: 08 Nov 1774 Dorchester Co., MD

…………….. 3 Joshua Willis b: Abt. 1720, d: Abt. 1797 (First Constable Caroline Co.) (Painter’s Range, Bank of Pleasure, Willis’s Right)

…………….. + Susannah Unknown poss. Richardson d: Bef. 1774

………………….. 4 Elizabeth Willis b: Abt. 1762

………………….. + William Everngham m: 1786

………………….. 4 Joshua Willis b: Abt. 1763

………………….. + Elizabeth Wright m: 02 Sep 1799

………………….. 4 Frances Willis b: Abt. 1767

………………….. + Charles Baker d: Bef. 1805 in 23 HD 181, m: 1785

…………….. +Deborah Greenhawk m: 1774

………………….. 4 Deborah Willis

………………….. + Joshua Lucas m: 1789

………………….. 4 Charles Willis b: Abt. 1776, d: Bef. 1801

………………….. 4 Peter Willis b: Abt. 1777, d: 03 Oct 1834

………………….. + Elizabeth Holmes m: 1798

………………….. 4 Thomas Willis b: Abt. 1778, d: Bef. 1801

………………….. 4 James Willis b: Abt. 1779

………………….. 4 John Willis b: Abt. 1780

………………….. 4 Annaretta Willis b: Abt. 1781

………………….. + Unknown Fleming

………………….. 4 Mary Willis b: Abt. 1783

…………….. 3 Dorcas Willis

…………….. + Benjamin Nicols

……….. + Elizabeth Sharp d: Aft. Nov 1768, m: 1730

…………….. 3 John Willis III b: 1731, d: Abt. Nov 1794 (inherited Willis Regulation)

…………….. + Keziah Unknown d: Aft. Nov 1794

………………….. 4 Philemon Willis b: 1764, d: 05 Mar 1836 in Talbot Co., MD

………………….. 4 John Willis

………………….. 4 William Willis

………………….. 4 Lewis Willis

………………….. 4 Sarah Willis

………………….. + John Nabb

………………….. 4 Nicholas Willis b: Aft. 1771

………………….. 4 Henry Willis b: Aft. 1771

…………….. 3 Gernay “Jarvis” Willis b: 1735, d: 1799

……….. 2 Grace Willis b: Abt. 1685, d: Aft. 1722

……….. 2 Elizabeth Willis b: Abt. 1688

……….. 2 Andrew Willis b: 1690, d: 1738 in Dorchester Co., MD

……….. + Jennet Jones d: Bef. Apr 1728

…………….. 3 William Willis b: 1717, d: 1782

…………….. + Unknown poss. Elizabeth Hill

………………….. 4 Elizabeth Willis b: Abt. 1736, d: 1793

………………….. + James Buchanan b: 1737, d: 1805

………………….. 4 William Willis b: Abt. 1740, d: 1793

………………….. 4 Jacob Willis b: Abt. 1742, d: 1782

………………….. + Elizabeth Nancy Eaves b: 1756, d: 1782

…………….. 3 Thomas Willis b: 1715, d: 1751

…………….. + Rachel Bullock d: 1757

…………….. 3 Andrew Willis b: 1719, d: 1778

…………….. + Sarah Hill b: 1720

………………….. 4 Andrew Willis b: 12 Feb 1768 in Dorchester Co., MD (Fisher’s Venture)

………………….. 4 Keziah Willis b: 12 Oct 1770 in Dorchester Co., MD

………………….. 4 George Willis b: 03 Dec 1775

………………….. 4 Mary Willis

…………….. 3 Sarah Willis b: 1721

……….. + Rebecca Goostree b: 1697, d: 1746 (inherited land that became New Town)

…………….. 3 Richard Willis b: 1721, d: 1773 (inherited New Town)

…………….. + Rachel Possibly Pritchett

………………….. 4 Mary Willis b: 17 Feb 1754 in Dorchester Co., MD (inherited New Town)

………………….. + Benjamin Meekins b: 03 Oct 1747 in Dorchester Co., Maryland, d: Bef. Sep 1782

………………….. 4 John Willis b: 03 Jan 1755

………………….. 4 Elizabeth Willis b: 08 Dec 1755 in Dorchester Co., MD (inherited Buttons Chance)

………………….. + possibly Budd Shinton (owner of Buttons Chance in 1783)

………………….. 4 Richard Willis b: 20 Mar 1761 in Dorchester Co., MD

………………….. 4 Sarah Willis

…………….. 3 George Willis b: 1723, d: Bef. 1784 without issue

…………….. 3 John Willis b: 1725, d: Aft. 1784 (inherited New Town through George)

…………….. + Ann/Nancy Unknown

………………….. 4 Jarvis Willis b: 06 Dec 1758 in Dorchester Co., MD, d: 1852 in Lawrence, AL

………………….. 4 John Willis b: 21 Apr 1762 in Dorchester Co., MD

……….. 2 Thomas Willis b: Abt. 1692, d: 1722

……….. 2 William Willis b: Bet. 1694-1700, d: Aft. 1746 (inherited Wantage)

……….. + Judith Seward/Soward b: Bet. 1696-1702, d: Aft. 1746

…………….. 3 Thomas Willis b: Abt. 1714, d: Aft. 1784

 

 

The John Willis Family and the Maryland Supply Tax of 1783

A friend recently pointed me toward a great resource, the Maryland Supply Tax of 1783. The Continental Congress periodically levied a tax on each state to pay for soldiers’ salaries and supplies during the Revolutionary War. Many of the Maryland records of the 1783 tax survive and are preserved in the Maryland State Archives (MSA). Best of all, the records are available online so you can review them from home.

MSA published an index of the records for some counties at: http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/stagser/s1400/s1437/html/ssi1437e.html

Most importantly, the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (MDSSAR) scanned the surviving records and posted them on their website at: https://www.mdssar.org/membership/marylandtaxlists

Like most tax records of the era, these contain a wealth of information about the property owners. The records list all heads of household along with details such as land holdings, names of the tracts, numbers of slaves by age and gender, numbers of horses and cattle, the value of each asset and the total tax assessed. Some jurisdictions also describe the real property as to location, condition of the soil, and improvements. Additionally, the lists show the number of white inhabitants for each household, sometimes divided by gender. Males without taxable property between the ages of 18 and 50 were listed and assessed a default tax of 15 shillings. Paupers were listed as such and assessed no tax.

I recommend beginning at the searchable MSA index to identify the pages and tax district where a person of interest or a named tract of land is listed. Then logon to the MDSSAR site and scroll to the proper location. The scanned records are alphabetical within each tax district, making the site easy to use. I was pleased to find my family, the descendants of John Willis, listed here.[1]

The John Willis Family

In 1702, the John Willis who settled in Dorchester County patented 50 acres of land named Wantage located on the Little Blackwater River about three or four miles from Cambridge. John had four sons: John Jr., Thomas, Andrew, and William. We know from county land records the following information:

John, Jr. bought land in 1717 on Marshy Creek in what would become Caroline County. John’s land became known as Willis’s Regulation and stayed in the family for several generations.

Thomas purchased land on Marshy Creek adjoining John’s tract. However, he died without issue.

Andrew ultimately lived in Dorchester County on his second wife’s inherited land located west of the main Blackwater River. He expanded his holdings with a patent called New Town in 1730.

William inherited Wantage from his father John, Sr. in 1712 and lived there until 1734 when he sold to William Soward, one of his wife’s brothers.

Sons John, Jr. and Andrew, Sr. had proven children. Son William had one likely son Thomas, who does not appear in the records. The Caroline County assessment lists the following sons of John, Jr.: Joshua, John III, and Jarvis; and his grandsons Henry, Andrew, Richard, Thomas, Joshua, and Robert. The Dorchester County assessment lists three grandsons of Andrew, Jr.: Andrew, John, and Jarvis.[2] That list also shows William Soward as the owner of Wantage, the Willis family’s original tract, and Levin Hughes as the owner of New Town, previously owned by Andrew’s family. Let’s turn to the detail within each county’s assessment.

Caroline County Assessment

The 1783 assessment divided Caroline County into three districts – Upper Choptank, River, and Lower Choptank Districts.[3] All the sons and grandsons of John Willis, Jr. listed on the 1783 rolls are in Lower Choptank. There are other Willis families in the county not related to the John Willis of Marshy Creek. Those Willis groups can be identified and distinguished generally by their lands.[4] Here is what the record reveals about each Willis related to John, Jr., grouped by family:

Isaac Willis, son of John, Jr., was alive until 1789 when Letters of Administration issued on his estate. However, he is not listed in the 1783 tax assessment. We can conclude he did not own land and was too old to be otherwise listed. Therefore, he was exempt from taxation. Neither of his sons owned land either.

Henry Willis, listed as “of Isaac” in the 1778 Loyalty Oath records, is shown in the tax assessment. He does not own land and heads a household consisting of one male and two females. His property including 3 horses and 3 cattle are valued at £30.

Andrew Willis, listed as “of Ic” in the 1783 tax assessment, is shown with no land and a family of one male and three females. His personal property is assessed at £10.

Apparently, these Willis men worked land owned by others, possibly relatives. As seen below, many in the family owned significant acreage.

Richard Willis, son of John, Jr., died in 1764. His four sons listed below owned 1,000 acres of land and total property valued at £727.

Richard Willis, son of Richard, Sr., owned 200 acres called Sarah’s Delight, Addition to Sarah’s Delight and Newfound Land. Only 20 acres was cleared while the rest was forested. Richard lived alone in 1783, however he had a female slave age 14-36 and two older slaves. He did not marry until five years later. His property was assessed at £185.

Thomas Willis, son of Richard, Sr., owned 400 acres being part of Perry’s Delight and part of New Land, 100 acres of which was under cultivation. He owned one slave and 5 cattle. His household apparently consisted of just him and his wife (known from other sources to be Elizabeth Perry). Thomas was one of the more prosperous young men in the region with property valued at £260.

Joshua Willis, Jr., son of Richard, Sr., owned 200 acres named Good Luck and part of New Land adjoining his brother Thomas. The improvements on his land were noted as “Bad,” presumably in need of repair. He owned one slave and 22 cattle with a total property value of £190. He headed a household of two males and four females.

Robert Willis, son of Richard, Sr., owned 200 acres of land, which was part of Perry’s Discovery. The improvements on his land were also noted at “Bad.” His household consisted of three males and three females. Robert’s property was valued at £92.

Joshua Willis, son of John, Jr., owned 464 acres called Painters Range, Bank of Pleasure and Willis’s Luck. Acreage under cultivation totaled 180 acres and property improvements were listed as “Good.” Joshua owned ten slaves, three of them males ages 14-45. He also had seven white males in his household, which explains his ability to farm so much acreage. He had 23 cattle and nine horses. His property assessed at £676, clearly the wealthiest individual Willis on the list. His total household was seven males and five females.

John Willis III, son of John, Jr. and his second wife Elizabeth Sharp, owned 163 acres called Addition to Willis’s Regulation. This land combined the original tract on Marshy Creek purchased by John Willis, Jr. with other patents and resurveys. John III inherited the land under his father’s 1764 will after the death of his mother Elizabeth. Improvements on the land were in Bad condition, but 100 acres were under cultivation. John had four slaves, five horses and 11 cattle, and headed a household of seven males and two females. His property value totaled £192.

Jarvis Willis, son of John, Jr. and his second wife Elizabeth Sharp, did not own land. He headed a household of one male and three females and had property assessed at £10.

The Willis families descended from John, Jr. owned 1,627 acres and total property valued at £2,105 – quite impressive for a group that began from the humble beginnings of John Willis of Wantage. Sadly, the record also shows that among their “property” were nineteen human beings. Their aggregate white households totaled 24 males and 23 females.[5]

Dorchester County Assessment

The Willis families in Dorchester related to John Willis of Wantage were descended from John’s son Andrew. This branch of the family was not as successful in the state of Maryland as the John Jr. branch. Many of them migrated to the mainland, seeking improved fortune in Virginia, North Carolina and other places. The descendants who remained did not have significant property. The Willises or the lands related to the Willises are scattered among Dorchester County’s three districts – Upper, Middle, and Lower.[6]

Andrew Willis, Jr., son of Andrew, Sr., is not listed because he died in 1778.

Andrew Willis, son of Andrew, Jr., owned 60 acres called Fisher’s Venture located near Staplefort’s Creek in the Lower District. Cleared acreage amounted to 8 acres. Andrew had eight cattle and a total property value of £71. His household included seven people total. Dorchester County records do not indicate gender of the white household members.

Richard Willis, son of Andrew, Sr., is not listed because he died in 1773. He had inherited in 1738 half of land called New Town from his father. Richard willed his half of New Town to his daughter Mary, wife of Benjamin Meekins. Richard willed other land he owned called Buttons Chance to his daughter Elizabeth.

After her husband died, Mary Willis Meekins, daughter of Richard, sold her share of New Town to Levin Hughes in 1782. Therefore, she is not listed.

Elizabeth Willis, daughter of Richard who inherited Buttons Chance, is not listed as its owner. Instead, a Budd Shinton is shown as the owner of 27 acres called Buttons Chance in 1783. I found no purchase of Buttons Chance by Shinton. It is possible that he married Elizabeth Willis. He owned two other tracts: 54 acres being part of Johns Delight plus 93 ½ acres unnamed.

John Willis, son of Richard, is listed as a pauper with no assets yet a household of eight people. There are three Johns who could be this pauper. One is John, mentioned below, who inherited and sold part of New Town. He was not likely to be without assets in 1783. John who inherited New Town also had a son John, but he was too young to have a household of eight people. Therefore, I eliminated both of these men leaving the listed pauper as John, son of Richard.

John Willis, son of Andrew, Sr., is not listed. He inherited the other half of New Town from his father through the demise of his brother George. Andrew’s 1738 will gave New Town to sons Richard and George with their share to fall to son John should either die without issue. George apparently died without children because John sold half of New Town to Levin Hughes at some time before the 1783 assessment. That sale was recorded in 1784. I surmise that John had moved away before 1783. Levin Hughes is therefore listed as the owner of 85 acres called Addition to New Town in the Lower District of Dorchester.

Jarvis Willis, son of John, is listed in the Upper District without any land. He has two horses and five cattle and total property valued at £23. He headed a household of eight people.

The last land of interest to the Willis family is the original 50-acre tract called Wantage. John of Wantage willed it to his son William. William and his wife Judith sold it in 1734 to William Soward, one of her brothers. The 1783 tax list shows William Soward as owning 50 acres being part of Bridge North and 50 acres called Wanton [sic Wantage] both in the Middle District of Dorchester. Improvements on the property included an old frame dwelling, two logged houses and an orchard.

One possible disparity in the record is that the lands are stated as situated on the Little Choptank. That is certainly true of Bridge North, which is located in the neck region of Dorchester on Hudson’s Creek. However, Wantage is located near the Great Choptank River which might be in the Upper District. The custom of the day was that property owners rendered their own property, sending a notice to the tax assessors of the tally of acreage and other taxable property. William Soward likely lived in the Middle District on Bridge North, property long held by his family. I suspect as a matter of convenience, Soward rendered both properties to the Middle District commissioners rather than making separate submissions to the Middle and Upper District. In any event, I am confident the property in question was the original Wantage.

I highly recommend everyone take a look at the data available in these records. They help form a better picture of the life and circumstances of folks who lived so long ago.

*************

[1]Note: The Willis surnames in Caroline County appeared in the MSA Index but were missing on the MDSSAR site. However, knowing where they should be from the index, I requested and got copies of those pages from the Maryland Archives.

[2] See separate Appendix to The John Willis Family and The Maryland Supply Tax of 1783 for an abbreviated descendant chart for John Willis of Wantage highlighting the names of people mentioned here and related land.

[3] Caroline County’s normal jurisdictional subdivisions or “Hundreds” were Great Choptank, Fork, Tuckahoe, Bridgetown and Choptank. The 1783 tax districts were as follows: 1) Lower Choptank District – made up of Great Choptank Hundred and Fork Hundred. This district encompassed the entire southern part of the county bordering Dorchester and bounded on the east by the Choptank River and on the west by Delaware; 2) River District – parts of Tuckahoe and Bridgetown Hundreds; and 3) Upper Choptank District – the remainder of Tuckahoe and Bridgetown Hundreds and all of Choptank hundred.

[4] The Willis data are found on pages 57-59 of Lower Choptank District, Caroline County.

[5] Other Willis listings in Caroline County include two families descended from Quakers Richard and Frances Willis. Elijah, Thomas and William are clustered around land called Timber Tree Neck. The second group includes Andrew. Joseph, Ezekiel and Thomas associated with land called Friendship Regulation. Needless to say, none of these families owned slaves.

[6] The Upper District included Great Choptank Hundred and Nanticoke Hundred, which bordered Caroline County and Delaware, respectively. I do not know the western or southern boundary. The Middle District covered Transquakin and Little Choptank Hundreds. The Lower District was everything south of Transquakin and Little Choptank.

 

Willis DNA Project … Maryland Group

There are currently about 300 participants in a Willis DNA project. Eleven of those participants are known through Y-DNA testing to descend from John Willis d. 1712 of Wantage in Dorchester County, Maryland. Below is a chart indicating some of John’s descendants. Nine of the current Y-DNA participants are descended from the first seven legs of this chart. The other two do not yet have a paper trail specifying from which of John’s four sons they descend. Currently, none of the participants are from the last two branches, John’s sons Thomas or William.

Willis Y-DNA Chart

 

Thomas Willis … A Descendant of the Quaker Family of Richard and Frances Willis

Another researcher recently asked if I had any information to help connect Thomas Willis to any Willis family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She knew Thomas had purchased land in Dorchester County, and his son William had sold land in Caroline County prior to relocating to Guilford County, North Carolina. I believe Thomas Willis to be part of the Quaker family of Richard and Frances Willis, for two main reasons:

For four generations the Dawsons and Willises, including Thomas Willis and two sons, conducted land transactions among themselves. Frances Willis connected to the Dawson family through her first marriage to Richard Dawson.

Additionally, Frances’s will proves relationships supporting Thomas Willis’s inclusion as part of her family.

Richard Willis Family

The Richard Willis family is a Quaker family of Richard Willis who married Frances, widow of Richard Dawson. They had three children, Richard, John and Frances.[1] Thomas is a likely son of either Richard or John.

Willis and Dawson Land Deals – First Two Generations

Real estate deals in the Colonies often involved family members. Land transactions for the Willis extended family fit that pattern. For example, Richard Willis’s will left land to his sons, who later sold it to a son from their mother’s first marriage. Richard Willis patented a tract called Rondley on the Transquakin River in 1687.[2] His 1689 will devised Rondley to sons Richard and John.[3] In 1699, widow Frances Willis married Edward Fisher, who resided on the Nanticoke River.[4] He died about a year later leaving all his land to Frances.[5] In 1718, widow Frances Fisher conveyed some of her land on the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke to her sons Richard and John Willis, with the proviso that they convey their ownership in Rondley to John Dawson, a son from her first marriage.[6] In 1721, Richard Willis and his wife Ann sold another tract to John Dawson.[7] This pattern of family deals continued after Frances Fisher died in 1729.

Frances Fisher’s Will

Frances Fisher’s 1724 will proved several family relationships including five identified grandchildren.[8] The will named other people without clearly defining the relationship. For example, the will named Obediah, Anthony and Elizabeth as children of Richard Dawson, but did not state Frances Fisher’s relationship to either Richard Dawson or to his three children. Were these children from her first marriage to Richard Dawson, or were they her grandchildren?

Quaker records show the births of Obediah, Anthony, and Elizabeth Dawson, along with others including Richard and John.[9] Some were likely children of Frances and Richard Dawson, although the parents were not named in the register. The record also shows Obediah Dawson died in 1694.[10] Assuming these records refer to the same Obediah (and I have found no other), Frances’s likely son Obediah died 29 years before she made a will. Clearly, Frances Fisher’s will was providing for her grandson Obediah. This means Obediah Dawson’s father named in the will was Frances’s son Richard, born 1674. That fact helps explain other relationships in the land transactions set out below.

Willis and Dawson Land Deals – The Next Generation

A generation after the earlier real estate deals, the pattern of family transactions continued. A Thomas Willis bought one tract from “John Dawson, son of Richard Dawson” in 1757[11] and another in 1765 from “John Dawson, son of Richard.”[12] The John Dawson in those deeds was not Richard and Frances Dawson’s son John. According to a 1730 deed, their son John died earlier.[13]

That begs the question: who was “John Dawson, son of Richard?” First, a clarifying term such as “son of” following a name almost always meant more than one person in the vicinity shared that name. The clarifying phase specified the exact person involved in the record. The best candidate for “Richard” in this clarifying phase is Richard Dawson named in Frances Fisher’s will, implying that John Dawson is another grandchild of Frances.

But wait, you say! If John were Richard Dawson’s son, why did the will not mention him with Richard’s other three children? For that matter, if Thomas Willis were part of this family, why was he not named in Frances’s will? I think the answer is the same for both men … neither was born before Frances died.

“John Dawson of Richard” was likely a son of Richard Dawson, Frances’s son from her first marriage. Thomas Willis was likely a son of Richard or John Willis, sons from her second. The evidence suggests John Dawson and Thomas Willis were about the same age. Both likely were born in 1730 or later, after Frances had made a 1729 codicil to her will. Further, each must have been at least 21 to execute their first land deal in 1757, so each must have been born by 1736. If correct, they were born between 1730 and 1736 and became the third generation involved in these intra-family land transactions.

Willis and Dawson Land Deals – The Last Generation

The families’ fourth generation continued the tradition of land transactions. The record proves that Thomas Willis had at least two sons, William and Elijah.[14] In addition to several deals between just Thomas and his sons, in 1780, William Willis rented land to a John Dawson.[15] In 1793, Thomas’s son Elijah bought land from a “John Dawson (of Richard).”[16] The record proves the Willis sons in these transactions were from the next generation. It is reasonable to think that the John Dawsons in these deals might have been as well.

Conclusion

I believe direct and circumstantial evidence provide a strong case that Thomas Willis descended from Richard and Frances Willis. The land transactions over two generations between various people named John Dawson and the Thomas Willis family continued a pattern of Willis-Dawson family land deals begun two generations earlier. The evidence in Frances’s will coupled with the land transactions strengthens the case. It is highly likely that Thomas Willis was a child of one of Richard and Frances Willis’s sons, either Richard or John Willis. I have not found record evidence as to which.

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Timeline – Key Events

Est 1682 –        Richard Willis married Frances (LNU), widow of Richard Dawson.

1683 – 1684 –   Richard Willis, Jr. born to Richard and Frances, based on young Richard’s deposition in 1732-3.

1687 –              Richard Willis patented “Rondley” in Dorchester County.

21 Oct 1689 –   Richard Willis made a will leaving “Rondley” to his minor sons Richard and John when they reached 21 years of age. The tract would descend to his daughter Frances if the sons died without issue.

1 Oct 1699 –     Widow Frances Willis married Edward Fisher of Dorchester County at the Quaker Meeting House near Tuckahoe Creek.

25 Oct 1700 –   Edward Fisher, Nanticoke River, Dorchester County, made a will leaving personal property to his brother William Fisher and family. Edward left all real property to his wife Frances. There is no mention of any children. I assume there were none.

26 Jul 1718 –    Frances Fisher conveyed her land, except for her home planation, to sons Richard and John Willis with the proviso that they convey “Rondley” to John Dawson, a son of Frances and Richard Dawson.

7 Aug 1721 –     Richard and wife Ann Willis sold two tracts of land on the Transquakin River to John Dawson.

29 Feb 1723 –   Frances Fisher made a will leaving half her home plantation to son Richard Willis and half to his son Richard, her grandson. The will said some unstated accommodation had been made with her son John Willis. The will identified five grandchildren; three others are proved by analysis.

14 Apr 1729 –   Codicil to Frances Fisher will, proved 7 May 1729.

Before 1730 –    John Dawson son of Frances died. On 9 Mar 1730, Isaac Dawson, likely son of John Dawson, sold land on Transquakin that John Dawson, deceased, had bought from Richard Willis in 1721.

1730 – 1736 –   Thomas Willis likely born during this period to either Capt Richard Willis or his brother John Willis. John Dawson likely born during this period to Richard Dawson.

1732 – 1733 –   Deposition of Capt Richard Willis, age 49, mentions deponent’s mother Frances Fisher, about 29 or 30 years ago.

6 Nov 1741 –     Will of Capt Richard Willis proved 20 Jan 1742.

17 Jan 1757 –   John Dawson, “son of Richard Dawson” of Dorchester sold to Thomas Willis a tract called “Addition to Timber Tree Neck.”

29 Oct 1765 –   John Dawson, “son of Richard” sold part of “Addition to Miles Swamp” to Thomas Willis.

5 Dec 1773 –     Caroline County formed. The Willis lands are now located in the new county.

25 Feb 1779 –   Gift Deed: Thomas Willis gave to son Elijah Willis the part of “Timber Tree Neck” that Thomas owns. Son William owns the other part.

16 Jun 1780 – Deed of Lease: William Willis rented 6 acres of “Addition to Miles Swamp” to John Dawson for 75 years at a fee of 6 pence per year.

23 Oct 1783 –   Thomas Willis and son William sold 7½ acres of “Addition to Timber Tree Neck” to Elijah Willis.

23 Oct 1783 –   Elijah Willis sold “Levin’s Folly Enlarged” to William Willis.

16 Jun 1784 –   William Willis sold 59¼ acres of “Addition to Timber Tree Neck” and 18¾ acres of “Addition to Miles Swamp” to Elijah Willis.

23 Nov 1785 – William Willis sold the rest of his holdings of “Addition to Timber Tree Neck,” “Levin’s Folly Enlarged,” and “Addition to Miles Swamp” to Levin Wright. William then moved to North Carolina.

5 Feb 1793 –     John Dawson, of Richard, sold part of “Addition to Miles Swamp” to Elijah Willis.

[1] Henry C. Peden, Jr. & F. Edward Wright, Colonial Families of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Volume 5, (Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books, 1999), V: 312.

[2] Peden, Colonial Families, V: 312, and Calvin W. Mowbray & Mary I. Mowbray, The Early Settlers of Dorchester County and Their Lands, (Self published, 1981), I: 171. A patent issued to Richard Willous for a tract in Dorchester County called “Roaley” (Rondley), 260 acres.

[3] James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 3 (Libers Old 4 ½ – Old 5), (Cambridge, MD, 1961), III:1. The will of Richard Willis dated 21 Oct 1689, proved 8 Jan 1689/90, devised to his sons Richard and John Willis at age 21 the 300 acre plantation called “Rondly.” His daughter Frances Willis would inherit if sons died without issue. Dorchester County Deed Book 4½ Old 1.

[4] Lucy Kate McGhee, Maryland Quaker Record of Third Haven (Tred Avon), Talbot County, MD, Marriages, Volume 3, pt 1, p. 60, 1 Oct 1699, Marriage of Edward Fisher of Dorchester County and Frances Willis, widow and relict of Richard Willis, at the Meeting House near Tuckahoe Creek, which was a sub-meeting of Third Haven.

[5] Jane Baldwin (Jane Baldwin Cotton), The Maryland Calendar of Wills, (Baltimore: Kohn & Pollock, Publishers, 1904, and reprinted Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications) 1988, V. II p 223, 11: 117, Will of Edward Fisher, Nanticoke River, Dorchester County, dated 25 Oct 1700, proved 4 Mar 1701, To brother William, sister in law Thomasin, Thomas, James and Mary, sons and daughter of brother William Fisher afsd, personalty; To wife Frances (formerly wife of Richard Willis), executrix, and heirs, home plantation, 50 acre “Western” (Weston), and 50 acre “Fishers Landing.” Witness: Jno Rawlings, Dan’l Cox, Thos Peterson.

[6] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD), 1962, 7 Old 63, 26 Jul 1718, Frances Fisher of Dorchester County sold to Richard Willis and John Willis, her sons, “Weston,” 50 acres; “Addition to Fishers Landing,” 53 acres; “Bartholomews,” 200 acres, and “Fishers Landing, 50 acres. Richard and John Willis to convey “Roadley” (“Rondley”) to John Dawson. Witness: J. Rider, Levin Hicks, acknowledged the same day

[7] Id., at 8 Old 26, On 7 Aug 1721, Richard Willis and wife Ann of Dorchester County, Gentleman, sold to John Dawson, planter, of Dorchester, “Maidens Choyce” on Transquakin River adjoining “Exchange,” 100 acres and White Lady Field” adjoining “Maidens Choyce,” 100 acres. Witness: Cha. Deane, John King. Acknowledged 9 Aug 1721.

[8] Baldwin, Calendar of Wills, V. VI, p. 109; 19: 679, Will of Frances Fisher, Dorchester County, dated 29 Feb 1724, proved 7 May 1729, To son Richard Willis, ½ home plantation on Nanticoke River; To daughter Frances Newton, personalty; To grandson Richard Willis other ½ of said plantation pursuant to an agreement lately made with son John Willis, and personalty at age 21. Son Richard Willis to have charge of estate during minority of said grandson Richard; To granddaughters Frances and Mary (daughters of Edward Newton), personalty; To Elizabeth (daughter of Joseph Thompson), personalty to be delivered to her by her uncle Edward Newton when 18 years of age; To Obediah, Anthony and Elizabeth (children of Richard Dawson), personalty; To sons Richard Willis and Edward Newton, executors, residue of personal estate. Witness: Thomas Griffith, Samuel Long, William Burn (dec’d at date of probate). Codicil: 14 Apr 1729. To granddaughter Elizabeth Thompson, son [sic] Richard and his sister Mary Willis, personalty.

[9] McGhee, Quaker Record of Third Haven, Volume 1, p. 50, Birth dates Obediah 13 Apr 1672, Richard 13 May 1674, Elizabeth 19 Nov 1677, Sarah 15 Sep 1678, John 7 Jun 1681, Anthony 13 Apr 1683.

[10] Id., at 73, Obediah Dawson died 21 Nov 1694.

[11] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Volume 11 (Liber Old No. 15, folios 1 – 368), 1963, 15 Old 449, On 17 Jan 1757, John Dawson (son of Richard Dawson) of Dorchester County, planter, to Thomas Willis of the same, part of a tract on the east side of the Northwest Fork of Nanticoke River, called “Addition to Timber Tree Neck”, located near John Brown’s home plantation and containing 134 ½ acres. Witness: Henry Hooper, Edward Tripp, Justices.

[12] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Volume 16 (Liber Old No. 20), 1964, 20 Old 384, On 29 Oct 1765, John Dawson (son of Richard) and Sarah his wife of Dorchester Co, planter, to Thomas Willis of same: part of “Addition to Miles Swamp” on the Northwest Fork of Nanticoke, 32 acres. Wit: Edward Trippe, Wm. Haskins, Justices.

[13] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), 1962, 8 Old 405, On 9 Mar 1730, Isaac Dawson of Dorchester sold to Joseph Ennalls, of the same, 100 acres, part of lands bought by John Dawson, dec’d, from Richard Willis, on the west side of main branch Transquakin River. Witness: Jno Pitt, Jno Anderton, Richd Dawson. Acknowledged the same day.

[14] Caroline County Deed Records, Liber GFA, Folio 348, Deed of Gift dated 25 Feb 1779 – Thomas Willis to his loving son Elijah Willis a tract of land called “Timber Tree Neck” or “Addition to Timber Tree Neck” and all to the westward of a ditch in the middle now between myself and my son William Willis – has a life clause for he and wife Rebekah to use land.

[15] Caroline County Deed Records, Liber GFA, Folio 487, Deed of Lease – A Deed of Lease dated 16 Jun 1780 between John Dawson and William Willis, rent a tract of land called “Addition to Miles Swamp” containing 6 acres for 75 years at a yearly rent of 6 pence.

[16] Caroline County Deed Records, Deed Book D: 285, John Dawson (of Richard) to Elijah Willis: for £21.19.4, 17 acres, part of “Addition to Miles Swamp” on east side of Northwest Fork of Nanticoke River. John Dawson and Sarah his wife each acknowledged before TW Loockerman, Jos. Douglas, Justices.

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”.