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.

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[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.

 

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”.

Who Was Jarvis Willis

Introduction

The name Jarvis Willis appears only a few times in the 18th century civil records of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland. In one instance, a 1764 will names a Jarvis Willis as a son of John and Elizabeth Willis.[1] In a second, a 1768 land valuation records where a Jarvis Willis is living.[2] Third, the 1783 Maryland Supply Tax assessment lists a Jarvis Willis in the upper district of Dorchester County heading a household of eight and a Jarvis Willis in Caroline County with a family of four.[3] Fourth, a Jarvis Willis appears as a head of household in the 1790 federal census for Dorchester County.[4] Further, a 1798 deposition proves that one Jarvis Willis was born in 1735 (“Jarvis/35”),[5] while church records establish that another Jarvis Willis was born in 1758 (“Jarvis/58”). The latter was a son of John and Nancy Willis.[6] Finally, the name Jarvis Willis appears several times in records related to Maryland’s role in the Revolutionary War.

It is not immediately apparent how many different men named Jarvis Willis are represented in this handful of records. However, it is clear that at least two men named Jarvis belonged to different generations of the Willis family: Jarvis/35 and Jarvis/58. It is also clear that two different Willis couples had a son named Jarvis: John and Elizabeth, and John and Nancy. To learn more about these men, we need to correlate other information with the records mentioned above.

The Connection to an Original Immigrant

Two of the Willis men named Jarvis were descended from John Willis (“John #1”). John #1 was very likely the original immigrant to the Eastern Shore of Maryland of one ancestral Willis line. John #1 had several proved children, and two of his sons had proved children of their own. One such son is John (“John #2”), whose proved children include a son Jarvis. Consequently, at least one Jarvis Willis is a proved grandson of John #1.

The other son of John #1 having proved descendants was Andrew, who had a son John (“John #3”). Several researchers have suggested that John #3 is the same man as the John Willis who was the father of Jarvis/58. In fact, DNA evidence indicates that Jarvis/58 is descended from John #1. Thus, the notion that Jarvis/58 was a son of John #3 is, on its face, a reasonable theory. The purpose of this paper is to provide documentary proof of that theory. The evidence will also establish some other Willis family relationships.

Specifically, the evidence will show that Jarvis/58 was the great-grandson of John #1 through John#1’s son Andrew and Andrew’s son John #3. Further, the records will establish that Jarvis, son of John #2, was very likely the same man as Jarvis/35, and was, therefore, the uncle of Jarvis/58.

John #1 Was the Father of Andrew Willis

The records establishing that Andrew Willis was a son of John #1 are fairly straightforward, despite the fact that the 1712 will of John #1 failed to name a son Andrew.[7] Records filed during probate of the will at the Perogative Court of Maryland plainly identified Andrew as a son of John #1.[8] Thus, John #1 was clearly the father of Andrew Willis.

Andrew Willis Was the Father of John #3

At this point, the record trail becomes more interesting. Fortunately, records concerning a tract of land called “New Town” (or, “Newtown”) prove that Andrew Willis was the father of John #3. The New Town record trail starts with Andrew Willis, who was born in 1690[9] and died in 1738.[10] Andrew married first Jennet Jones, and they he had four children: sons William, Thomas, and Andrew and daughter Sarah.[11] Jennet had died before April 1728, by which time Andrew had married Rebecca Goostree. By 1733, when Andrew wrote his will, he and Rebecca had four children: sons Richard, George and John and another daughter Sarah. The following transactions concerning New Town, inherited from Rebecca’s father, establish the relationship between Andrew Willis and John #3:

1728 – Richard Goostree devised 100 acres called Newtown to his daughters Elizabeth, wife of Robert Johnson, and Rebecca, wife of Andrew Willis.[12] Thus, Rebecca and Andrew inherited fifty acres of land from her father.

1730 – the Maryland Land Office granted a warrant for forty-five acres called New Town to Andrew Willis. The tract was located in Dorchester County on the west side of Blackwater River, east of Cattail Swamp, and west of Andrew’s dwelling plantation.[13] This appears to be acreage that Andrew added to the fifty acres inherited from Richard Goostree with the combined acreage still known as New Town.

1733 – Andrew Willis devised New Town to his sons Richard and George to be divided equally. Andrew’s will provided if either son died without issue, then the deceased son’s part would go to Andrew’s son John #3.[14]

New Town can, therefore, be tracked from Rebecca’s father, to her husband Andrew Willis, and then to their sons Richard and George, with a contingent right to the land held by their son John #3. Thus, Richard and George each received about forty-seven acres, half the ninety-five acres Andrew held. Subsequent records confirm Richard’s possession of the land. However, the record shows that by 1784 Andrew’s son John #3 held an interest New Town, rather than George. Apparently, George had died without issue, triggering John #3’s contingent right. These records are as follows:

1759 – the Maryland Land Office granted a special warrant to Richard Willis to resurvey New Town. The resurvey certified a total of eighty-seven acres.[15]

1773 – Richard Willis devised Newtown to his daughter Mary Meekins. If she were to die without heirs, the land would descend to Richard’s daughter Sarah.[16]

1782 – Mary (Willis) Meekins sold land, including New Town, to Levin Hughes of Dorchester County.[17]

1784 – John #3 sold his ownership in New Town to Levin Hughes, ending the Willis family’s ownership of any part of the tract.[18]

In short, the Willis family’s transactions involving New Town began in 1728 when Andrew and Rebecca first acquired ownership and ended in 1784 when Andrew’s son John #3 sold the final parcel of the land. Tracking this ownership conclusively proves that Andrew was the father of John #3.

John #3 Was the Father of Jarvis/58

As we already know from church records, a man named John Willis was the father of Jarvis/58. Compelling circumstantial evidence proves the father of Jarvis/58 to be John #3.

The Old Trinity Church Birth Register confirms the birth date of a “Jarvey” (Jarvis) Willis born 6 Dec 1758, son of a John and Nancy (a common nickname for Ann) Willis.[19] The parish records, however, do not directly prove that the John Willis who was named in that register was John #3, i.e., the son of Andrew. Nevertheless, we can reasonably come to that conclusion from other entries in the record. First, the register also contains the record of birth of “John,” another son of John and Ann (Nancy) Willis.[20] Second, the parish record contains names of other Willis parents who were of the same generation as John Willis. During the period 1754-1775, a couple named Richard and Rachel Willis had six children, while a couple named Andrew and Sarah Willis had three.[21] There were, therefore, three Willis men – Richard, Andrew and John — who attended the same church during the same time period. We know from the will of Andrew Willis that he had sons named Richard, Andrew and John. It is reasonable to conclude that these men who attended Old Trinity Church were all sons of Andrew Willis. Consequently, the John Willis named in the church register as father of “Jarvey” was almost certainly John #3.

It follows that Jarvis/58 was a son of John #3, a grandson of Andrew Willis who owned New Town, and a great-grandson of John #1, the original immigrant.

 Additional Relationship

We can also conclude that the Jarvis Willis who was born in 1735 — Jarvis/35 — was the son of John #2 and an uncle of Jarvis/58. Several facts make that likely.

First, we know from his will that John #2 and his second wife Elizabeth had a son named Jarvis.

Second, Jarvis/35 was born at the right time to have been a son of John #2. John #2 would have probably been 45 and 50 years old when Jarvis/35 was born.[22] That age for a new father is not uncommon, especially since Jarvis was a child of his second wife.

Third, the name Jarvis was extremely rare in the Willis line. The instances named at the beginning of this paper are almost the only record of that name in Dorchester and Caroline Counties during a 100-year period. We can safely conclude there were few men with that name.

Fourth, the 1790 federal census shows only one Jarvis Willis in the region, while the 1800 census shows none. That record agrees with the fact that Jarvis/35 lived in the region until at least 1798 when he gave a deposition in Caroline County. Furthermore, as will be shown later, Jarvis/58 had moved to North Carolina by 1790.

Finally, a 1799 estate administration in Caroline County for a Jarvis Willis names a Joshua Willis, Jr., as administrator. John #2 had a son named Joshua, who also had a son Joshua. Thus, the administration records indicate a possible connection to the Willis family that included John #2.[23]

We can reasonably surmise that the Jarvis who died in 1799 was also the Jarvis who was deposed in 1798 at age 63, that is, Jarvis/35. Furthermore, by process of elimination, there are no good candidates other than John #2 to be the father of Jarvis/35. The indirect evidence, therefore, indicates it is highly probable that Jarvis/35 the Jarvis Willis who was the son of John #2. Consequently, we can say with a large degree of assurance that Jarvis/35 was the grandson of John #1, the original immigrant, and that Jarvis/35 was an uncle of Jarvis/58.

 The Military Service of Jarvis Willis – Jarvis/58 or Jarvis/35

One last issue to clarify is the military service of Jarvis Willis. Some researchers have confused the military records of these men. However, analyzing the military records in conjunction with census data clearly distinguish the two. To begin, other researchers indicate that both men served:

Dora Mitchell states that Jarvis Willis (son of John #2, i.e., Jarvis/35) served in the Revolutionary War.[24]

William Hunt states that Jarvis Willis (son of John #3, i.e., Jarvis/58) served in the 1st Carolina [sic] Company … under Capt. Joseph Richardson, citing The History of Caroline County, p. 75.[25]

The History of Caroline County states the company in which Jarvis Willis served was one of seven formed by various counties in Maryland during the period July to September 1776. These units were designated as part of the “Flying Camp,” a militia regiment from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware tasked with operating from Maryland to New York. In that role, the Caroline County contingent fought in the Battle of Harlem Heights. The soldiers were then discharged according to their enlistment terms on 1 Dec 1776 after only a few months service.[26]

Background

A little background is helpful in understanding the various military records of Maryland. Initially, the state organized militia companies from each county. These were generally “Minute Men,” called to duty for defense of their local area. Subsequently, the states abandoned the Minute Man concept, opting for organized militia committed to larger operations and centralized control, i.e., the Flying Camp. While the Flying Camp was an improvement over previous organizations, the limited enlistment term of just a few months significantly hindered its effectiveness. Finally, the Continental Congress determined that the war effort required a standing army with longer-term enlistments. Thus, Congress directed each state to organize and field a certain number of battalions. Each county in a state supplied one or more companies depending on the size of the county. In addition to these actions, Maryland required men age 18 and older to sign an oath of fidelity. That endeavor not only induced a pledge of loyalty to the state, but also provided a list of potential future recruits for the war effort.

Appearance of Jarvis Willis(es)

The records generated by these activities provide information about many of the men in the region, including both Jarvis Willis/35 and Jarvis/58. The name Jarvis Willis first appears in Joseph Richardson’s company of militia assigned to the Flying Camp. Thomas Wynn Loockerman enrolled a Jarvis Willis in that company by at least 17 Jul 1776.[27]

Second, that name appears twice in companies of militia organized by 13 Aug 1777 in Caroline County as part of the 14th Battalion. Company Captain Joseph Richardson enlisted one Jarvis Willis.[28] At the same time, Captain Joseph Douglass enlisted a second Jarvis Willis in a different company.[29]

Also, the name Jarvis Willis appears three times in the 1778 loyalty oaths of Caroline County. The evidence suggests those three occurrences represent two different men. Various officials in the county collected signatures of men who swore allegiance to the state. The Constable for each political district, or “Hundred,” then combined the names collected by these officials into a consolidated list and submitted it to the county court. Charles Dickinson, Justice of Caroline County, prepared one document indicating that a Jarvis Willis signed the oath with his mark (signifying he could not read or write).[30] On 28 Feb 1778, Thomas Wynn Loockerman, Constable of Great Choptank Hundred, a district in the southwest part of Caroline County, submitted to the court a consolidated list for the Hundred, incorporating names collected by others including Dickinson.

The name Jarvis Willis appears twice on Loockerman’s consolidated list, with one occurrence presumably coming from Dickinson, and the second occurrence indicating another Jarvis Willis. That second instance provides an additional piece of information. That listing indicates Jarvis Willis lived in Forke Hundred, a district neighboring Great Choptank to the east.[31] Thus, the record establishes two men named Jarvis Willis: one who lived in Choptank Hundred of Caroline County, and the other who lived in Forke Hundred. One researcher from Caroline County states that “Jarvis Willis (Forke)” was Jarvis Willis, son of John #2.[32] Meanwhile, the name Jarvis Willis does not appear on any loyalty oath list from Dorchester County. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the Caroline County list contains the names of both Jarvis/35 and Jarvis/58.

In addition, the name Jarvis Willis appears on the Muster Rolls as a corporal in Williams’ battalion, having enlisted 17 Feb 1777 and serving until discharged 14 Feb 1780.[33] This unit was part of the Maryland Continental Line. Significantly, only one Jarvis Willis appears in that record. It is logical to conclude that this man was Jarvis/58 rather than Jarvis/35. While both men would have signed loyalty oaths and likely served in the local militia, when the state began recruiting for the Maryland Line it would have sought soldiers the age of Jarvis/58, not Jarvis/35.

Federal Pension Records

Finally, only one Jarvis Willis appears in the Federal pension rolls. He can be clearly identified as Jarvis/58 and as the corporal who served in the Maryland Continental Line. In that regard, the first pensions were only for veterans disabled during the war and unable to earn a living. Neither Jarvis/35 nor Jarvis/58 qualified under that criteria. Congress loosened the criteria in 1818, but by that time Jarvis/35 had died. However, Jarvis/58 was able to apply under the 1818 act, and is, therefore, the man who appears in the record. His pension application indicates the following:

Jarvis Willis (#S39128) of the Maryland Line applied for a pension 24 Nov 1823 in Franklin County, TN, at age 60. In 1837, he had moved to Alabama because his children had moved there (his P.O. address was Moulton, AL).[34]

There is an age discrepancy in this application. The 60-year age Jarvis gave at the time he applied is not correct. That age indicates he was born in 1763 not 1758. A five-year error in estimated age is not terribly significant. However, the error was perpetuated in the Pension Roll of 1835. That listing shows the following:

Jarvis Willis, Corporal, was entitled to $96.00 per year and had collected thus far $1,050.93. He served in the Maryland Continental Line. He was placed on the Pension Roll on 9 Jun 1824, and his pension commenced 25 Nov 1823. It states his age as 71.[35]

The information for this publication was gathered in 1834. Therefore, a stated age of 71 would again indicate Jarvis Willis was born in 1763 not 1758. Despite the age discrepancy, I am convinced that Jarvis/58 is the Jarvis Willis who appears in the Muster Rolls and the Pension Rolls.

Federal census data provide further proof that the man in the pension records is Jarvis/58. Those data confirm that a Jarvis Willis lived in the places mentioned in the pension records, and also that he was inconsistent in estimating his age. Researchers have identified him in the census at the following locations: Stokes County, NC, in 1790 and 1800; Franklin County, TN, in 1820; and Lawrence County, AL, in 1840 and 1850. The birth years indicated in those census data range from 1750 to 1765. Regardless of the birth year discrepancy, it is clear from the record that this pensioner was the Jarvis Willis born in 1758 who served in the Maryland Continental Line.

Unanswered Questions

A few questions not answered in this analysis are as follows:

  1. Why did Jarvis/58 join a Caroline County militia company? I thought at age 17 he would still be living at home with John #3 in Dorchester County. That county, of course, fielded its own company of soldiers for the Flying Camp under Captain Thomas Burk[36] and for the subsequently organized Maryland Line. Why did he not join Captain Burk’s company?
  2. Or, am I mistaken that John #3 and Jarvis/58 resided in Dorchester at this time? Even though John #3 held an interest in New Town until 1784, he certainly could have lived elsewhere, possibly in neighboring Caroline County.
  3. In that regard, Jarvis/58 and his brother John (born 1762) were the only births John #3 and Nancy/Ann recorded at the Old Trinity Church in Dorchester Parish. Is this a sign that the couple had no additional children, or moved away after 1762, or just stopped going to church?
  4. And what about Jarvis/58’s age as a corporal? During his years of service, 1777-1780, he would have been only 19 to 22 years old. I thought that more mature men held these noncommissioned officer ranks.
  5. Finally, is there a third, younger, Jarvis Willis indicated in the 1790 Federal Census for Dorchester County, or does Jarvis/35 head that household? In 1790, Jarvis/35 may have been living in Caroline County with someone else or, maybe, the census taker missed him. After all, the deposition Jarvis/35 gave in 1798 indicates he a resident of Caroline County not Dorchester. If there is a third Jarvis Willis, how is he related to Jarvis/35 and Jarvis/58?

These questions will just have to wait.

[1] Jane Baldwin Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, (Baltimore: Kohn and Pollock, 1904, reprinted Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1988), XIII:58. Will of John Willis proved 23 Jan 1764. Dorchester County, MD, Will Book 33:27

[2] James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, (Cambridge, MD, 1964), XIX:21. Report recorded 26 Nov 1768 stated Jarvis Willis was living on land called Richardson’s Choice owned by Peter Edmondson. Dorchester County, MD, Deed Book 23 Old 184.

[3] 1783 Maryland Supply Tax, http://www.mdssar.org/membership/marylandtaxlists, Dorchester County Upper District, p. 21, and Caroline County, p. 58. Neither is shown as owning land. Presumably, each lived on rented land, possibly rented from a relative.

[4] Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790, Maryland, (Washington, DC: GPO, 1908, reprinted Bountiful, UT: AGLL, Inc., 1977), 57.

[5] Irma Harper, Heirs and Legatees of Caroline County, (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1989), 20. Deposition of Jarvis Willis given at age 63 in 1798. Caroline County, MD, Deed Book B:105.

[6] Katherine H. Palmer, Birth Register of Old Trinity Church, Protestant Episcopal, Dorchester Parish, Church Creek, MD, 19.

[7] Cotton, Calendar of Wills, IV:23. Will of John Willis dated 18 Sep 1712, proved 24 Nov 1712, naming sons William and John (John #2) and daughters Grace and Eliza. Dorchester County, MD, Will Book 14:12.

[8] V.L. Skinner, Jr., Abstracts of the Inventories and Accounts of the Perogative Court (Westminster, MD, Family Line Publications, 1994), X:33. June 1714 inventory of John Willis of Dorchester County named Andrew as John’s son. Liber 36A:203.

[9] McAllister, Land Records, V:145. 1730 deposition of Andrew Willis, age 40. Dorchester County, MD, Deed Book 8 Old 404.

[10] Cotton, Calendar of Wills, VII:259. Will of Andrew Willis dated 24 May 1733, proved 23 August 1738. Dorchester County, MD, Will Book 21:918.

[11] Id. at 259.

[12] Id. at 80. Will of Richard Goostree dated 30 Apr 1728, proved 12 Nov 1728. Dorchester County, MD, Will Book 19:501.

[13] FHL Film No. 13086, Maryland Land Office Records of Warrants, Surveys and Patents, Book EI 2:164.

[14] Cotton, Calendar of Wills, VII:259.

[15] FHL Film No. 13102, Maryland Land Office Records of Warrants, Surveys and Patents, Book BC 14:350. On 23 Mar 1759, the Maryland Land Office granted a special warrant to Richard Willis of Dorchester County to resurvey New Town. The resurvey certified 39 original acres and 48 acres of vacant land for a total of 87 acres in Dorchester County on the west side of Blackwater River, east of Cattail Swamp and west of Willis’s plantation.

[16] Cotton, Calendar of Wills, XV:141. Will of Richard Willace dated 4 Jun 1772, proved 13 Oct 1773, devised a tract called Newtown to daughter Mary Meekins, but if she died without heirs, then to daughter Sarah. Dorchester County, MD, Will Book 39:692.

[17] McAllister, Land Records, XXVI:11. On 25 Sep 1782, Mary Meekins, widow of Benjamin Meekins, sold to Levin Hughes 87 acres on Blackwater River at Cattail Swamp, and all lands devised to her by her father Richard Willis. Dorchester County Deed Book 2 NH 88.

[18] Id. at 60. On 13 Oct 1784, John Willis sold to Levin Hughes land on west side of Blackwater River, east side of Cattail Swamp, called New Town, devised to John Willis by his father Andrew Willis. Dorchester County Deed Book 2 NH 546.

[19] Katherine H, Palmer, Birth Register of Old Trinity Church, Protestant Episcopal, Dorchester Parish, Church Creek, MD, 19.

[20] F. Edward Wright, Maryland Eastern Shore Vital Records, 1751-1775, (Silver Springs, MD: Family Line Publications, 1984). John Willis was born 21 Apr 1762, 34.

[21] Id. at 33-39.

[22] Cotton, Calendar of Wills, IV:23. John #2, named in the will of John #1, was the eldest son. He was, therefore, born before 1690, the birth year of his brother Andrew.

[23] Sandra Willis, Caroline County Original Inventories, Box 9450 (1792-1799), http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mdwillis/CCInventory.htm Inventory filed 26 Jun 1799 in the estate of Jarvis Willis mentions the following: Joshua Willis, Jr., administrator; next of kin, Ann Trice, John Carrol; creditor, Peter Willis. Note: Sandra Willis collected data directly from the Maryland Archives and posted it on her website prior to her death in 2007.

[24] Dora W. Mitchell, A History of the Preston Area in Lower Caroline County, Maryland, (Caroline County Historical Society, Inc., 2005), 123.

[25] William P. Hunt, “A Documentary History of One Branch of the Willis Family of the State of Maryland, c.1680-c.1805,” (New York: Copyrighted as an Unpublished Manuscript, 1975), 2.

[26] Caroline County School Teachers and Students, The History of Caroline County, (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1971), 70-75.

[27] Maryland Archives, Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, 1775-1783, (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1900, reprinted Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1972), XVIII:69.

[28] S. Eugene Clements and F. Edward Wright, Maryland Militia in the Revolutionary War, (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1987), 154.

[29] Id. at 156.

[30] Bettie Sterling Carothers, 1778 Census of Maryland, (Chesterfield, MD), 1.

[31] Id. at 6.

[32] Mitchell, History of Preston, 123.

[33] Maryland Muster Rolls, 254.

[34] Virgil D. White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Volume 3: N-Z, (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Company, 1992), 3876.

[35] United States Senate, Pension Roll of 1835, (Washington, DC: GPO, 1835, reprinted Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1992), III:543.

[36] Maryland Muster Rolls, 70.

The Case of the Unhelpful Mutant Marker

by Gary N. Willis

Rapidly mutating DNA markers can be extremely helpful for genetic genealogists. These mutations can identify sublineages that differentiate relatives within only a few generations and can sometimes solve mysteries where there are gaps in the written record. I recently thought I had discovered such a useful mutation. My Y-DNA test results differ from other members of the Maryland Group of the Willis DNA Project at position 439. That location is noted for being rapidly mutating. The genealogical paper trail indicates that seven of the nine members in the Maryland Group descend from Andrew Willis, son of John Willis the immigrant. The other two of us descend from John, Jr., another son of Immigrant John.

If the anomalous marker at 439 originated with John, Jr., it would clearly separate descendants of Andrew from descendants of John. However, the other group member who descends from John, Jr. does not share the anomaly. The mutation must therefore have originated in one of John, Jr.’s descendants rather than John himself. The paper trail shows that the line of the other John, Jr. descendant and my line diverge at Zachariah Willis, a great-great-grandson of Immigrant John. I am descended from Zachariah’s son Henry Fisher Willis, while the other Maryland Group member descends from Zachariah’s son Francis Asbury Willis. The mutation at 439 obviously occurred with Henry Fisher or his descendants, since Francis Asbury’s line lack the mutation.

Mutant Marker Chart

One of my brother’s test results are identical to mine, including the anomaly. The mutated marker at 439 therefore did not begin with my generation. It must have first occurred with one of three men: our father Noble Sensor Willis, his father Henry Noble Willis, or Henry Noble’s father Henry Fisher Willis. This conclusion is illustrated in the Mutant Marker Chart linked above. Unfortunately, this knowledge has limited value because there are so few male descendants of Henry Fisher. Henry Noble Willis was the only son of Henry Fisher, and Noble Sensor was one of only two sons of Henry Noble. The other son of Henry Noble was Harry McMaster Willis who had no sons. Absent actually digging up a dead relative, it is not possible to determine exactly where the mutation occurred. Thankfully, it is not necessary to be more precise. The remaining males in the entire line of Henry Fisher Willis are the three sons of Noble Sensor (my two brothers and I), plus our five sons and four grandsons. We should all share the mutant marker. No mysteries to be solved there.

Had the mutation occurred with Zachariah rather than further down the line, it would have been extremely useful in identifying kin. Zachariah had a number of sons including some who left the Eastern Shore of Maryland to establish families elsewhere in the country.

(For more information on this family, see “The John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland” and “The John Willis Family … The Second Generation” recently posted on this site.)

The John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland … The Second Generation

by Gary N. Willis

An earlier article on this site concluded that John Willis, the Court Cryer of Dorchester County Court and owner of “Wantage” several miles from Cambridge, had six children at the time of his death in 1712. He made a will on 18 September 1712 and died soon thereafter.[1] In his will, John devised or bequeathed the following to his children:

  1. To son William and his heirs, all of John’s land and a mare, a cow, three yearlings, and a frying pan;
  2. To daughter Grace, 2 cows, three yearlings, a young horse, bed & furniture, and his “Great Chest”, and all of John’s land if William died without issue;
  3. To daughter Elizabeth, a mare and colt; and
  4. To son John, 12 pence.

The will named four children … William, Grace, Elizabeth and John. Probate records prove an additional son, Andrew,[2] and circumstantial evidence points to a fourth son named Thomas.

Assigning accurate dates of birth to the children is difficult. Andrew was born about 1690 based on his testimony in a 1730 deposition.[3] Another deposition proves John Jr. was the eldest son.[4] A third deposition establishes that William was born between 1694 and 1700.[5] Grace was named before Elizabeth in the 1712 will, suggesting she might be the elder of the two. It is unclear whether Thomas was older than William. I suspect William was the youngest child. It was not uncommon for the youngest son, the last to leave the household, to serve as a caregiver for aging or ill parents. Such service would put him in good stead with regard to inheritance. The same is true of unmarried daughters who remained in their parents’ household.

Although establishing a birth order is not necessary to this discussion, it provides a picture of the family consistent with the known facts. A feasible order of birth satisfying that criterion is:

1683 – John, Jr.                     1690 – Andrew

1685 – Grace                           1692 – Thomas

1688 – Elizabeth                      1694 – William

Records indicate that of these children, only John and Andrew had offspring. This article discusses the four siblings who had no children before turning to John and Andrew.

Elizabeth Willis

Beyond the 1712 will there is no further mention of an Elizabeth Willis in the Dorchester County records in the early 1700’s. However, one item of interest is a corrected interpretation of her name. Several abstracters have called this daughter Eliza, but a close review of the Dorchester Will Book entry suggests otherwise. The hand-written record shows the letters “Eliz,” followed by a colon, and then followed by a superscript that appears to be “th.” I interpret this writing as shorthand for Elizabeth, not Eliza.

Thomas and Grace Willis

A Thomas Wallis [Willis] bought 50 acres of land from John Sharpe in 1717 on Marshy Creek. This land was half of a 100-acre tract called “Sharp’s Prosperity” that Sharpe patented a year earlier.[6] Thomas’s purchase adjoined the other half of the same tract that Sharpe sold on 10 Mar 1717 to John Willis.[7]

There is no record of a marriage or children for either Thomas or his sister Grace.[8] I speculate that neither brother nor sister married and that they lived under the same roof on the land Thomas bought. Thomas Wallis [Willis] died intestate five years later and a Grace Wallis [Willis] administered his estate.[9] Nothing further is known of Grace, except that she likely died before 1734, based on the sale of Wantage mentioned below.

William Willis

William married Judith (likely Seward/Soward), and they probably lived at Wantage, devised to William by his father in 1712. In 1734, William and Judith sold Wantage to Richard Seward for six pounds. Two weeks earlier, William’s brother John Willis sold the same land to Henry Ennalls for 20 shillings.[10] It is unclear from the extant records how John and William could both sell that same land to different people. The de minimis price paid to John suggests his transaction may have been to clear the title rather than to sell the land. John had filed a will contest back in 1712, which must have been unsuccessful. Otherwise, John would have been in possession of Wantage rather than William. But, that old suit may have been enough to cloud the title. I speculate that the document missing from the record is a Power of Attorney whereby Henry Ennalls acts on behalf of William to buy any claim John might have to the property. That action would clear the way for William to sell to Seward.

The sale of Wantage also suggests that sister Grace Willis may have died before the date of the transaction. The 1712 will devised the land to Grace if William died without heirs. There is no record of Grace having signed away that conditional interest, which would have descended to her heirs, if any. Two possibilities exist to explain William being able to sell the land without a quitclaim deed from Grace. Either William and Judith had children, or Grace died before 1734 and without issue, extinguishing her potential ownership. In the absence of a quitclaim deed or proof of children of William and Judith, it would be more likely that Grace had died. However, William and Judith likely had at least one son, as we shall see.

Between 1746 and 1752, William and Judith each testified regarding the boundaries of a tract of land located in Casson’s Neck or Ross’s Neck. [11] The so-called Neck Region of Dorchester County is on the north side of Little Choptank River about 10 miles west of Cambridge and 14-15 miles from Wantage. Ross’s Neck lies east of Hudson’s Creek with Casson’s Neck to the west. William and Judith must have lived nearby to give credible testimony about those property boundaries. While there is no record that they bought land in this area, a William Willis is definitely living on Hudson’s Creek at the head of Willis’s Cove.[12] With no evidence of any other Willis family in the vicinity, I conclude that this is the home of William and Judith.

Either the Willis’s deed for that land is lost or they rented the land, possibly from a relative. In that regard, various facts suggest a family connection between Judith and the Sewards. First, William and Judith sold Wantage to Richard Seward. Second, a woman named Mary Seward testified in the 1746 boundary proceeding along with William and Judith. Mary was 68 years old at the time of that deposition and Judith was 50, so Mary was old enough to be Judith’s mother. It is probably not a coincidence that the Willises sold land to a man named Seward, and then, a dozen years later, lived near a woman named Seward. The following records suggest a family connection rather than a coincidence:

  1. In 1669, a tract called “Bridge North” located west of Hodson’s [Hudson’s] Creek was first surveyed.[13]
  2. In 1710, John Seward and his wife Mary conveyed an interest in land called “Bridge North” on Hudson’s Creek to a sister Clare and her husband.[14]
  3. In 1749, Richard Seward administered the estate of John Seward, deceased.[15]
  4. In 1750, widow Mary Soward [Seward] made a will leaving land on Hudson’s Creek to her son Richard Seward.[16] The devised tract was named “Bridgeworth” [“Bridge North.”]

Those facts establish that John and Mary Seward were husband and wife, and they had a son named Richard. Mary named him as a son and executor in her will, and he was administrator of John’s estate. The Sewards owned land west of Hudson’s Creek, which qualified Mary to testify in the boundary dispute. William and Judith sold Wantage to Richard Seward for only £6, a favorable price suggesting a “brother-in-law” deal. Finally, after selling Wantage, William and Judith Willis lived in the vicinity Richard’s parents John and Mary Seward.

One explanation for the Willises’ sale of Wantage and move to the Neck Region might have been to help farm Bridge North and to care for Judith’s parents as they aged. Perhaps to assist in the Willises’ transition, the family arranged for Richard to buy Wantage. At her death, Mary gave Bridge North to Richard, and William and Judith may have lived at the head of Willis’s Cove until they died. In any event, I believe there is enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that Judith who married William Willis was the daughter of John and Mary Seward and the sister of Richard. Richard Seward still possessed Wantage as late as 1755.[17]

Circumstantial evidence also suggests William and Judith had a son. A Thomas Willis gave a deposition in 1784 about the boundaries of Bridge North, owned by William Seward. At the time of that deposition, Thomas was 70 years old, meaning he was born about 1714. He testified that he was shown the boundary markers in about 1754. Therefore, Thomas was definitely the right age to be 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.[18] With no evidence of another Willis family in the area, it is highly likely that Thomas was a son of William and Judith. We can also speculate that Thomas’s parents were deceased by 1784 (they would have been 88 – 90 years old) or they also would have been deposed about the boundaries. Possibly, Thomas was living at the head of Willis’s Cove.

John Willis, Jr.

Even before the death in 1712 of John Willis, Sr., his eldest son John had established a large family. He married Mary (last name unknown) probably by 1702, and they had several children. He was a carpenter and likely also farmed on rented land. Five years after the unsuccessful contest of his father’s will, John Willis, Jr., bought a 50-acre tract of land from John Sharpe on Marshy Creek Branch, about 15 miles from Cambridge upstream on the Choptank River.[19] As noted previously, less than five months later, Sharpe sold an adjoining 50 acres to Thomas Wallis (Willis).[20] In 1723, John expanded his property. That year, John sought a warrant to survey an additional 50 acres that he named “Willis’s Right;” the patent for the land issued in 1726.[21] In 1728, John Willis engaged John Edmondson to build a new house, probably on this new land. A lane from his new home opened onto Marsh Creek Road, which ran westward from Hunting Creek Mill past John’s property.[22]

John eventually discovered that some of his land encroached on earlier surveys. In 1736, he resurveyed Willis’s Right and his half of Sharp’s Prosperity. The resurvey found Willis’s Right ran into an elder tract called “The Plains” to the south and east. Furthermore, Sharps Prosperity ran into an elder tract to the north and east called “Bennett’s Purchase.”[23] About half of Willis’s 50 acres purchased from Sharp fell within the Bennett survey, and a few acres of Willis’s new land overlapped The Plains. The consolidated resurvey compensated for the loss of land to the elder surveys and added some vacant land for a total of 111 acres. The new patent, named “Willis’s Regulation,” included some of the land that now falls within the town of Preston.[24]

John and Mary had at least eight children who were alive in 1764: John, Mary, Judeath [Judith], Elizabeth, Isaac, Richard, Joshua and Dorcas. There is no record of Mary’s death, but she probably died between 1720-1725 based on John’s subsequent marriage and children. After Mary’s death, the senior John Willis married Elizabeth Sharpe, a daughter of his neighbor John Sharpe.[25] John and Elizabeth had two children, a son also named John born in 1731 and a son Jarvis born about 1735.[26]

John Willis’s 1764 will named all of these children.[27] Significantly, his will referred to him as a planter rather than a carpenter. “Planter” most often applied to those who had others working the land for them, and denoted a more elevated status than “carpenter,” “farmer,” or “yeoman.” John’s will left a very small amount of money to the children of his first wife: five shillings to John, Jr. and two shillings, sixpence to each of the other seven. He devised a life estate in his land to his second wife Elizabeth and then to their son John 3rd after her death. Also after her death, John 3rd and Jarvis were to split the remaining personal property.

All the children of his first wife were not only grown but were relatively old by the time John passed away. In effect, he had two families separated by almost a generation in age. Most of these children lived to see the formation in 1774 of Caroline County from parts of Dorchester and Talbot Counties. Some were involved in governance of the new county. Others added land to Willis’s Regulation or established other farms in the region. They also witnessed or took part in the formation of a new country as the Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and established a new republic.

Andrew Willis

While John, Jr. moved his family north up the Choptank River and further into the county, Andrew initially remained closer to his father’s original land on the headwaters of the Little Blackwater River. Andrew married Jennett Jones, the daughter of neighbor William Jones, who was one of the executors of John, Sr.’s will. The 1718 will of Thomas Ennals and a 1722 land sale both mention Andrew Willis and William Jones as having previously lived on adjacent tracts at head of Shoal Creek.[28] That location is about three miles from Cambridge (near the current Cambridge-Dorchester Airport), and a mile or so from the headwaters of the Little Blackwater River. Those records establish that, prior to 1718, Andrew occupied a 50-acre tract owned by Thomas Ennals called “Ennalls Purchase.” Presumably, Andrew was a tenant farmer. There is no record of Andrew’s family residence for ten years after leaving the Ennals tract. He may have moved to new farmland purchased by his father-in-law, or he may have rented elsewhere. In 1718 and 1719, William Jones bought 250 acres on Cabin Creek, which flows into the Choptank River further upstream of Cambridge and Shoal Creek, but not as far upstream as Marsh Creek where brothers John and Thomas had moved.[29]

Andrew’s and Jennett’s four children were Andrew, William, Thomas and Sarah. Doubtless they named the sons for Andrew and two of his brothers, and daughter Sarah for one of Jennet’s sisters. Jennet died about 1725. William Jones died in 1729 and devised 100 acres of his land on Cabin Creek to his son William, and 150 acres to his daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. He gave 1 shilling each to his four grandchildren by Andrew and Jones’s deceased daughter Jennet.[30]

Shortly after Jennet died, Andrew married Rebecca Goostree, daughter of Richard and Rebecca Goostree. It is unclear where Andrew and Rebecca met. Later generations of the Goostree and Willis families attended Old Trinity Church at Church Creek.[31] It is possible Andrew and Rebecca attended as well and their names are just not in the record. In any event, the couple had three sons, Richard, George and John. Those names honor her father, her brother George, and Andrew’s elder brother and father John. In 1728, Rebecca’s father died, and she inherited half of a 100-acre parcel named “Newtown” near the Great Beaver Dam.[32] I have not located the deed record for Goostree’s acquisition of Newtown. However, land records indicate in 1694 he surveyed 100 acres called “Goostree’s Delight” between Cattail Marsh and Russell Swamp, which he devised to his wife during her lifetime.[33] Current Maryland maps show Russell Swamp and Beaverdam Creek located close together about 12 miles southeast of Cambridge west of State Highway 335. Richard Goostree’s Newtown property was in that vicinity, some 20 miles or more from Cabin Creek.

Within two years after Rebecca inherited the 50 acres from her father, she and Andrew had established their residence on the land. At that time, Andrew patented an adjoining 45 acres named “New Town.”[34] The land office record locates the new 45 acres on the west side of the Blackwater River, east of the Cattail Swamp and adjacent Andrew’s dwelling plantation, presumably the inherited land.

 Andrew Willis, Sr., died in 1738 leaving a will naming his wife and all seven of his children. He devised New Town, divided equally, to his sons Richard and George. If either died without issue, his share would descend to son John. Andrew gave a pewter plate each to Sarah, William, Thomas, Andrew, and John. He left a featherbed and iron pot to Richard. Andrew named his wife Rebecca executrix and left her the residue of the personal estate as long as she was single. If she remarried, the remainder of the personal estate was to be equally divided among Richard, George, and John.[35]

Some of Andrew’s children would expand New Town and occupy the land for almost another 50 years. Some of the children and grandchildren were active supporters of the coming revolution, while at least one opposed it. However, those are all stories for the next generation.

 

[1] Cotton, Jane Baldwin, The Maryland Calendar of Wills, (Baltimore: Kohn & Pollock, 1904, reprinted Westminster, Maryland: Family Line Publications, 1988), IV:23 – 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 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.

[2] Wright, F. Edward, Judgment Records of Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties, (Lewes, DE: Delmarva Roots, 2001), 33, L36A:203, Inventory of John Willis, Dorchester County – £23.14.1 – Appraisers John Kirke, Arthur Smith. Next of Kin: Andrew Willis (son), William Willis (son). FHL 975.2 P28w

[3] McAllister, James A., Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), V:145. 8 Old 404, 13 Jun-30 Sep 1730 – Commission to John Hodson, Mark Fisher, Thomas Nevett & Henry Ennalls, Jr to perpetuate bounds of Patrick Brawhaun’s land at the head of Blackwater called “Hoggs Island.” Deposition of Andrew Willis, about age 40, regarding the first bounder of “Littleworth” or “Stevens.”

[4] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 9 (Liber Old No. 13: Liber Old No. 14, folios 1-373), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), IX:36, 14 Old 130, 14 Mar 1746 – Deposition of Thomas Pierson, planter of Dorchester County, aged about 60 years, states that John Willis now living in St. Mary’s White Chappel Parish near Hunting Creek was to the best of deponent’s knowledge the eldest son of John Willis who lived on Blackwater River about 4-5 miles from Cambridge, and who was formerly Cryer of Dorchester County Court.

[5]  McAllister, Land 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.

[6] FHL 13080, Maryland Land Office, v. FF 7:23 – Survey Certificate 22 Nov 1716 for 100 acres to John Sharpe called “Sharp’s Prosperity” in Dorchester County beginning at a red oak in the woods on south side of the head of Marshy Creek Branch that issues out of south side of Great Choptank River above Hunting Creek. Beginning at a red oak, then S 13 deg E 80 perches, then S 85 deg E 80 perches, then N 38 deg E 145 p, then N 13 deg W 46 p, then by a straight line to the beginning. Patent issued 6 Aug 1718

[7] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), at 23, 7 Old 68, no day or month 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to Thomas Wallis, of the same county, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on south side of the head of Marshy Creek branch out of Great Choptank River above Hunting Creek. Bounded on one side by land sold to John Willis. Wits Jerem? Thomas, J Lookerman. Acknowledged 19 Aug 1718

[8]  The land on Marshy Creek was located within St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish. Unfortunately, the church records for that locale which might prove the marital status of Thomas or Grace do not survive.

[9] Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, XVI:60, 61 and 151. Filings by John Pitts, gentleman, of Dorchester County, bond of Grace Wallis, administratrix of Thomas Wallis, and inventories of the estate of Thomas Wallis, and Skinner, Administration Accounts of the Perogative Court, Libers 1-5, 1718-1724, (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1995), 138. L5:38, Account of Thomas Wallis of Dorchester dated 13 Mar 1723 – Account total £12.17.7, Payments totaled £18.5.2 made to Patrick Mackalister, Mr. Charles Ungle, John Sharp, John Pitt, Edward Billeter, William Edmondson. Administratrix Grace Willis.

[10] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 6 (Liber Old No. 9), (Cambridge, Maryland, 1962), 9 Old 223, 30 Jul 1730 [or 1734], John Willis of Dorchester County, planter, for 20 shillings to Henry Ennalls, of same, gentleman, “Wantage,” 50 acres, originally taken up by John Willis, dec’d, on Blackwater Riv., adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by mark, John Willis. Witnesses: William Murray, Bw. Ennalls. Acknowledged 30 Jul 1734, and 9 Old 214, 15 Aug 1734, William Willis and wife Judith of Dorchester Co., planter, for 6 pounds to Richard Seward, of same, “Wantage,” 50 acres near head of Blackwater River adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by marks, William Willis, Judith Willis. Witnesses: Henry Trippe, Cha. Lowndes. Dorchester County Court (Land Records) MSA CE46 10, http://mdlandrec.com

[11] McAllister, Land 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.

[12] McAllister, 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.

[13]         Keddie, Leslie and Neil, Dorchester County, Maryland, Rent Rolls 1659 – 1772 Volume #1, (The Family Tree Bookshop, 2001), 35, “Bridge North” surveyed 8 Apr 1669 for John Tench, lying on the west side of Hodsons Creek.

[14] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 4 (Liber Old No. 6), (Cambridge, MD, 1961), 6 Old 154, 13 Jun 1710 – John Seward of Dorchester County, planter, and Mary his wife, to their sister Clare and to Aaron Tunice of said county, planter, her husband, part of two parcels of land of the west side of Hudson’s Creek called “Bridge North” and “Addition”, containing 98 acres more or less. Conveyed to Aaron and Clare Tunice for the lifetime of Clare, and after her death to Edward Tunice their son. Wit: Jno Snelson, Theo. Bonner, Jno Hambrooke. Acknowledged 14 Jun 1710

[15] Skinner, V.L., Jr., Abstracts of the Inventories and Accounts of the Perogative Court, 1744-1750, (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1994), 131 – Admin Accounts of John Soward, dec’d, of Dorchester County, 10 Sep 1749 – Account Balance £29.9.6, Payments £35.3.1; Received from: Joseph Harrington; Payments to: Foster Cunliff & Sons per John Caile, Thomas McKeel, Henry Ennalls, Henry Hooper, Jr.; Administrator Richard Soward.

[16]         Cotton, v. 10 at 218, Will of Mary Soward, widow of Dorchester County, 5 Oct 1750 – To son Edward Soward 1 Shilling; to son William Soward 1 Shilling; to son Richard Soward dwelling house and plantation, which is part of two tracts “Bridgeworth” and “Addition”. Executor: son Richard. Wit: Thomas Calwell (or Caldwell), Abraham Walker, and Cornelia Jones. Probate 4 Nov 1751. 43. V.10, P 218 28:323

[17]         McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 11 (Liber Old No. 15, folios 1 – 368), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), XI:52, 15 Old 247, 11 Aug 1754 -15 Mar 1755, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of Richard Soward’s land called Wantage. A deposition of Thomas Soward, about 30 years old, mentions the widow Brawhawn; John Stevens grandfather of the present John Stevens; Richard Soward, brother of the deponent; and a bounded tree of Littleworth and Wantage between Roger Woolford’s plantation and Brawhawn’s, about 15-16 years ago.

[18] 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”.

[19] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), 16. 7 Old 51, 10 Mar 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to John Willis, of the same county, carpenter, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on Marshy Creek Branch above Hunting Creek. Wits Thomas Noble, Jane Noble. John Nichols, attorney for John Sharp. (Note that Thomas Noble and John Nicols co-owned “Hampton” located on west side of Hunting Creek, bought from Richard Bennett 15 Jan 1713, 6 Old 230)

[20] Clerks frequently varied the spelling of the name Willis, sometimes within the same document. Those variants include Wallis, Wallace, Wallice, Willace, Willes and Willous. In fact, John Willis Sr. appears in early rent rolls as John “Wallis” in possession of “Wantige.”

[21] Maryland Land Office – Warrant for 50 acres surveyed, called “Willes’s Right,” beginning at red oak standing in the woods on south side of Great Choptank River and west side of main road from Hunting Creek Mill [Murray’s Mill] to Parsons Landing, then N 82 deg W 40 perches, NNW 30 perches, SW 24 perches, SE 26 perches, SW 66 perches, SE 98 perches, NNE 11 perches, and then straight line to the beginning. Patent issued 5 Jul 1726

[22] Mitchell, Dora, A History of the Preston Area in Lower Caroline County, Maryland, (Denton, MD: Caroline County Historical Society, 2005), 122

[23] Maryland Land Office – Warrant granted John Willis 1 Jul 1736 for resurvey of “Willis’s Right” of 50 acres and one moiety of “Sharp’s Prosperity” of 100 acres. Resurvey of 14 Oct 1736 found: 1) “Willis’s Right” was adjacent Sharps property but ran into an elder tract called the Plains; 2) “Sharps Prosperity” began on the south side of the head of Marshy Creek and two legs ran into an elder tract called “Bennett’s Purchase.” The consolidated survey for John Willis contained 111 acres including some vacant land and is called “Willis’s Regulation.” It adjoins “Bennett’s Purchase.” Patent examined and allowed 21 Nov 1737; fees collected and patent issued 21 Oct 1743.

[24] Mitchell at 122

[25] Mitchell at 122, in 1732 probate records for John Sharpe, deceased, indicate a next of kin as Elizabeth Willis.

[26] Mitchell at 123

[27] Maryland Calendar of Wills – 23 Jan 1764 – Will of John Willis, Sr., Planter, Dorchester County – Wife Elizabeth; Children: elder son John Willis, Jr. (born of first wife, Mary) (5 shillings), Mary Clift, Judith, Elizabeth Killingsworth, Isaac, Richard, Joshua, Dorcas Nichols (each 2 sh, 6 p) Wife Elizabeth got all remaining personal property for her life, and then to be divided equally between John Willis 3rd, son of Elizabeth, and son Gervey [Jarvis]. Wife Elizabeth to have all land known as “Willis’s Regulation” for life and then to go to John 3rd. Executrix: Wife Elizabeth Willis, Wit: Henry Turner, John Barton, 33. V.13, p.58; WB 33:27

[28] Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, IV:167-9 – Will Book 14:631, Will of Thomas Ennals dated 7 May 1718 – To Thomas Hayward and heirs, 50 acres part of “Ennalls Purchase” (plantation where Andrew Willis lived), at head of Shoal Creek, and on branch lying between Wm Jones and Andrew Willis’, proved 13 Aug 1718, and, McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old No. 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), I:71. 2 Old 161, 13 Mar 1722 – Land sale from Thomas Hayward to Henry Ennalls, land devised to grantor by Col. Thomas Ennalls, dec’d, at head of Shoal Creek where Andrew Willis lived adjacent land where William Jones lived, part of “Ennalls Purchase”, 50 acres more or less.

[29] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), 2 Old 16, 2 Feb 1718 – Thomas Gray and Mary his wife to William Jones: Goodridges Choice on Cabin Creek containing 101 A more or less. Wit: Richard Hooper, Bartholomew Ennalls, and Henry Ennalls. Acknowledged 2 Feb 1718 before Henry Ennalls and Levin Hicks, Justices, by Thomas Gray, And, McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), 2 Old 27, 15 Nov 1719 – Jacob Gray, planter, and Isabell his wife to William Jones: Part of “Guttridg Choice” on Cabin Creek containing 150 A of land. Wit: Edward Verin, Goovert Loockerman. Assignment from Philadelphia Williams to William Jones of her “third part of ye within mentioned lands,” dated June 15, 1720.

[30]                     Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, VI:127 – Will Book 19: 765 – Will of William Jones, planter, Dorchester County, 10 May 1729. 1) To son William and heirs, 100 acres on north side of Cabbin Creek being part of a tract bought from Jacob Gray; he dying without issue, to daughters Sarah and Elizabeth; and personalty; 2) To daughters Sarah and Elizabeth, 50 acres of afsd tract; they dying without issue, to son William; and 100 acre dwelling plantation illeg., bought of Thomas Gray; and personalty; 3) To daughter Rebecca Vearing, personalty; 4) To four grandchildren, issue of daughter Jennet Willis, deceased, 1 shilling each; 5) To wife Jennet, executrix, use of dwelling plantation illeg., and residue of personalty during life; at her decease to pass to son William and daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. Probate 5 Sep 1729.

[31] Palmer, Katherine H., transcribed Baptism Record, Old Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Creek, MD, (Cambridge, Maryland), 7 and 19.

[32] Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, VI:80 – Will Book 19: 501 – Will of Richard Goostree, planter, Dorchester County, 30 Apr 1728 – To wife Rebecca, executrix, dwelling plantation “Goostree’s Delight” during life; at her decease to son George and heirs; he dying without issue to pass to grandson Robert, son of Robert Johnson; and 1/3 of personal estate – To son George, personalty; – To two daughters, viz, Elizabeth, wife of Robert Johnson, and Rebecca, wife of Andrew Willis, and their heirs, 100 acres “Newtown” near the great Beaver Dam – To children of son-in-law Phillip Phillips, 1 s each – To son George and daughters Elizabeth Johnson and Rebecca Willice, residue of personal estate – Overseers: Sons-in-law Robert Johnson and Andrew Willice. – Test: Redman Fallen, John Shenton (Shinton) Acknowledged: 12 Nov 1728 –

[33]         Keddie, Rent Rolls 1688-1707 Volume #3, 7 – 2 Mar 1694, Goostree’s Delight, 100 acres surveyed for Richard Goostree, lying in the woods between Cattail Marsh and Russell Swamp.

[34]         FHL 13086, Maryland Land Office – Book EI 2:164 – Warrant for 45 acres called New Town granted Andrew Willis 8 Oct 1730, in Dorchester County on west side of Blackwater River and on the east side of Cattail Swamp and on the west side of Andrew Willis’s dwelling plantation. Survey certified 21 Oct 1730, Henry Ennalls, Deputy Surveyor Dorchester Co. Patent issued 13 Jun 1734

[35] Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, VII:259, Will Book 21: 918 – Will of Andrew Willis, Dorchester County, 24 May 1738. 1) To two sons Richard and George, “New Town” divided equally, should either die without issue to pass to son John; and personalty; 2) To sons John, William, Andrew and Thomas, and daughter Sarah, personalty. He left a pewter plate to each child plus a feather bed and iron pot to Richard; 3) To wife Rebecca, executrix, residue of personal estate, should she marry to be divided between sons Richard, George and John. Test: Robert Johnson, Mary Carway (Carriwy), John Pritchett Fisher. Probate 23 Aug 1738.

died without issue, his share would descend to son John. Andrew gave a pewter plate each to Sarah, William, Thomas, Andrew, and John. He left a featherbed and iron pot to Richard. Andrew named his wife Rebecca executrix and left her the residue of the personal estate as long as she was single. If she remarried, the remainder of the personal estate was to be equally divided among Richard, George, and John.[35]

 

Some of Andrew’s children would expand New Town and occupy the land for almost another 50 years. Some of the children and grandchildren were active supporters of the coming revolution, while at least one opposed it. However, those are all stories for the next generation.

 

 

 

[1] Cotton, Jane Baldwin, The Maryland Calendar of Wills, (Baltimore: Kohn & Pollock, 1904, reprinted Westminster, Maryland: Family Line Publications, 1988), IV:23 – 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 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.

[2] Wright, F. Edward, Judgment Records of Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties, (Lewes, DE: Delmarva Roots, 2001), 33, L36A:203, Inventory of John Willis, Dorchester County – £23.14.1 – Appraisers John Kirke, Arthur Smith. Next of Kin: Andrew Willis (son), William Willis (son). FHL 975.2 P28w

[3] McAllister, James A., Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), V:145. 8 Old 404, 13 Jun-30 Sep 1730 – Commission to John Hodson, Mark Fisher, Thomas Nevett & Henry Ennalls, Jr to perpetuate bounds of Patrick Brawhaun’s land at the head of Blackwater called “Hoggs Island.” Deposition of Andrew Willis, about age 40, regarding the first bounder of “Littleworth” or “Stevens.”

[4] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 9 (Liber Old No. 13: Liber Old No. 14, folios 1-373), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), IX:36, 14 Old 130, 14 Mar 1746 – Deposition of Thomas Pierson, planter of Dorchester County, aged about 60 years, states that John Willis now living in St. Mary’s White Chappel Parish near Hunting Creek was to the best of deponent’s knowledge the eldest son of John Willis who lived on Blackwater River about 4-5 miles from Cambridge, and who was formerly Cryer of Dorchester County Court.

[5]  McAllister, Land 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.

[6] FHL 13080, Maryland Land Office, v. FF 7:23 – Survey Certificate 22 Nov 1716 for 100 acres to John Sharpe called “Sharp’s Prosperity” in Dorchester County beginning at a red oak in the woods on south side of the head of Marshy Creek Branch that issues out of south side of Great Choptank River above Hunting Creek. Beginning at a red oak, then S 13 deg E 80 perches, then S 85 deg E 80 perches, then N 38 deg E 145 p, then N 13 deg W 46 p, then by a straight line to the beginning. Patent issued 6 Aug 1718

[7] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), at 23, 7 Old 68, no day or month 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to Thomas Wallis, of the same county, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on south side of the head of Marshy Creek branch out of Great Choptank River above Hunting Creek. Bounded on one side by land sold to John Willis. Wits Jerem? Thomas, J Lookerman. Acknowledged 19 Aug 1718

[8]  The land on Marshy Creek was located within St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish. Unfortunately, the church records for that locale which might prove the marital status of Thomas or Grace do not survive.

[9] Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, XVI:60, 61 and 151. Filings by John Pitts, gentleman, of Dorchester County, bond of Grace Wallis, administratrix of Thomas Wallis, and inventories of the estate of Thomas Wallis, and Skinner, Administration Accounts of the Perogative Court, Libers 1-5, 1718-1724, (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1995), 138. L5:38, Account of Thomas Wallis of Dorchester dated 13 Mar 1723 – Account total £12.17.7, Payments totaled £18.5.2 made to Patrick Mackalister, Mr. Charles Ungle, John Sharp, John Pitt, Edward Billeter, William Edmondson. Administratrix Grace Willis.

[10] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 6 (Liber Old No. 9), (Cambridge, Maryland, 1962), 9 Old 223, 30 Jul 1730 [or 1734], John Willis of Dorchester County, planter, for 20 shillings to Henry Ennalls, of same, gentleman, “Wantage,” 50 acres, originally taken up by John Willis, dec’d, on Blackwater Riv., adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by mark, John Willis. Witnesses: William Murray, Bw. Ennalls. Acknowledged 30 Jul 1734, and 9 Old 214, 15 Aug 1734, William Willis and wife Judith of Dorchester Co., planter, for 6 pounds to Richard Seward, of same, “Wantage,” 50 acres near head of Blackwater River adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by marks, William Willis, Judith Willis. Witnesses: Henry Trippe, Cha. Lowndes. Dorchester County Court (Land Records) MSA CE46 10, http://mdlandrec.com

[11] McAllister, Land 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.

[12] McAllister, 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.

[13]         Keddie, Leslie and Neil, Dorchester County, Maryland, Rent Rolls 1659 – 1772 Volume #1, (The Family Tree Bookshop, 2001), 35, “Bridge North” surveyed 8 Apr 1669 for John Tench, lying on the west side of Hodsons Creek.

[14] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 4 (Liber Old No. 6), (Cambridge, MD, 1961), 6 Old 154, 13 Jun 1710 – John Seward of Dorchester County, planter, and Mary his wife, to their sister Clare and to Aaron Tunice of said county, planter, her husband, part of two parcels of land of the west side of Hudson’s Creek called “Bridge North” and “Addition”, containing 98 acres more or less. Conveyed to Aaron and Clare Tunice for the lifetime of Clare, and after her death to Edward Tunice their son. Wit: Jno Snelson, Theo. Bonner, Jno Hambrooke. Acknowledged 14 Jun 1710

[15] Skinner, V.L., Jr., Abstracts of the Inventories and Accounts of the Perogative Court, 1744-1750, (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1994), 131 – Admin Accounts of John Soward, dec’d, of Dorchester County, 10 Sep 1749 – Account Balance £29.9.6, Payments £35.3.1; Received from: Joseph Harrington; Payments to: Foster Cunliff & Sons per John Caile, Thomas McKeel, Henry Ennalls, Henry Hooper, Jr.; Administrator Richard Soward.

[16]         Cotton, v. 10 at 218, Will of Mary Soward, widow of Dorchester County, 5 Oct 1750 – To son Edward Soward 1 Shilling; to son William Soward 1 Shilling; to son Richard Soward dwelling house and plantation, which is part of two tracts “Bridgeworth” and “Addition”. Executor: son Richard. Wit: Thomas Calwell (or Caldwell), Abraham Walker, and Cornelia Jones. Probate 4 Nov 1751. 43. V.10, P 218 28:323

[17]         McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 11 (Liber Old No. 15, folios 1 – 368), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), XI:52, 15 Old 247, 11 Aug 1754 -15 Mar 1755, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of Richard Soward’s land called Wantage. A deposition of Thomas Soward, about 30 years old, mentions the widow Brawhawn; John Stevens grandfather of the present John Stevens; Richard Soward, brother of the deponent; and a bounded tree of Littleworth and Wantage between Roger Woolford’s plantation and Brawhawn’s, about 15-16 years ago.

[18] 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”.

[19] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), 16. 7 Old 51, 10 Mar 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to John Willis, of the same county, carpenter, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on Marshy Creek Branch above Hunting Creek. Wits Thomas Noble, Jane Noble. John Nichols, attorney for John Sharp. (Note that Thomas Noble and John Nicols co-owned “Hampton” located on west side of Hunting Creek, bought from Richard Bennett 15 Jan 1713, 6 Old 230)

[20] Clerks frequently varied the spelling of the name Willis, sometimes within the same document. Those variants include Wallis, Wallace, Wallice, Willace, Willes and Willous. In fact, John Willis Sr. appears in early rent rolls as John “Wallis” in possession of “Wantige.”

[21] Maryland Land Office – Warrant for 50 acres surveyed, called “Willes’s Right,” beginning at red oak standing in the woods on south side of Great Choptank River and west side of main road from Hunting Creek Mill [Murray’s Mill] to Parsons Landing, then N 82 deg W 40 perches, NNW 30 perches, SW 24 perches, SE 26 perches, SW 66 perches, SE 98 perches, NNE 11 perches, and then straight line to the beginning. Patent issued 5 Jul 1726

[22] Mitchell, Dora, A History of the Preston Area in Lower Caroline County, Maryland, (Denton, MD: Caroline County Historical Society, 2005), 122

[23] Maryland Land Office – Warrant granted John Willis 1 Jul 1736 for resurvey of “Willis’s Right” of 50 acres and one moiety of “Sharp’s Prosperity” of 100 acres. Resurvey of 14 Oct 1736 found: 1) “Willis’s Right” was adjacent Sharps property but ran into an elder tract called the Plains; 2) “Sharps Prosperity” began on the south side of the head of Marshy Creek and two legs ran into an elder tract called “Bennett’s Purchase.” The consolidated survey for John Willis contained 111 acres including some vacant land and is called “Willis’s Regulation.” It adjoins “Bennett’s Purchase.” Patent examined and allowed 21 Nov 1737; fees collected and patent issued 21 Oct 1743.

[24] Mitchell at 122

[25] Mitchell at 122, in 1732 probate records for John Sharpe, deceased, indicate a next of kin as Elizabeth Willis.

[26] Mitchell at 123

[27] Maryland Calendar of Wills – 23 Jan 1764 – Will of John Willis, Sr., Planter, Dorchester County – Wife Elizabeth; Children: elder son John Willis, Jr. (born of first wife, Mary) (5 shillings), Mary Clift, Judith, Elizabeth Killingsworth, Isaac, Richard, Joshua, Dorcas Nichols (each 2 sh, 6 p) Wife Elizabeth got all remaining personal property for her life, and then to be divided equally between John Willis 3rd, son of Elizabeth, and son Gervey [Jarvis]. Wife Elizabeth to have all land known as “Willis’s Regulation” for life and then to go to John 3rd. Executrix: Wife Elizabeth Willis, Wit: Henry Turner, John Barton, 33. V.13, p.58; WB 33:27

[28] Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, IV:167-9 – Will Book 14:631, Will of Thomas Ennals dated 7 May 1718 – To Thomas Hayward and heirs, 50 acres part of “Ennalls Purchase” (plantation where Andrew Willis lived), at head of Shoal Creek, and on branch lying between Wm Jones and Andrew Willis’, proved 13 Aug 1718, and, McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old No. 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), I:71. 2 Old 161, 13 Mar 1722 – Land sale from Thomas Hayward to Henry Ennalls, land devised to grantor by Col. Thomas Ennalls, dec’d, at head of Shoal Creek where Andrew Willis lived adjacent land where William Jones lived, part of “Ennalls Purchase”, 50 acres more or less.

[29] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), 2 Old 16, 2 Feb 1718 – Thomas Gray and Mary his wife to William Jones: Goodridges Choice on Cabin Creek containing 101 A more or less. Wit: Richard Hooper, Bartholomew Ennalls, and Henry Ennalls. Acknowledged 2 Feb 1718 before Henry Ennalls and Levin Hicks, Justices, by Thomas Gray, And, McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), 2 Old 27, 15 Nov 1719 – Jacob Gray, planter, and Isabell his wife to William Jones: Part of “Guttridg Choice” on Cabin Creek containing 150 A of land. Wit: Edward Verin, Goovert Loockerman. Assignment from Philadelphia Williams to William Jones of her “third part of ye within mentioned lands,” dated June 15, 1720.

[30]                     Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, VI:127 – Will Book 19: 765 – Will of William Jones, planter, Dorchester County, 10 May 1729. 1) To son William and heirs, 100 acres on north side of Cabbin Creek being part of a tract bought from Jacob Gray; he dying without issue, to daughters Sarah and Elizabeth; and personalty; 2) To daughters Sarah and Elizabeth, 50 acres of afsd tract; they dying without issue, to son William; and 100 acre dwelling plantation illeg., bought of Thomas Gray; and personalty; 3) To daughter Rebecca Vearing, personalty; 4) To four grandchildren, issue of daughter Jennet Willis, deceased, 1 shilling each; 5) To wife Jennet, executrix, use of dwelling plantation illeg., and residue of personalty during life; at her decease to pass to son William and daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. Probate 5 Sep 1729.

[31] Palmer, Katherine H., transcribed Baptism Record, Old Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Creek, MD, (Cambridge, Maryland), 7 and 19.

[32] Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, VI:80 – Will Book 19: 501 – Will of Richard Goostree, planter, Dorchester County, 30 Apr 1728 – To wife Rebecca, executrix, dwelling plantation “Goostree’s Delight” during life; at her decease to son George and heirs; he dying without issue to pass to grandson Robert, son of Robert Johnson; and 1/3 of personal estate – To son George, personalty; – To two daughters, viz, Elizabeth, wife of Robert Johnson, and Rebecca, wife of Andrew Willis, and their heirs, 100 acres “Newtown” near the great Beaver Dam – To children of son-in-law Phillip Phillips, 1 s each – To son George and daughters Elizabeth Johnson and Rebecca Willice, residue of personal estate – Overseers: Sons-in-law Robert Johnson and Andrew Willice. – Test: Redman Fallen, John Shenton (Shinton) Acknowledged: 12 Nov 1728 –

[33]         Keddie, Rent Rolls 1688-1707 Volume #3, 7 – 2 Mar 1694, Goostree’s Delight, 100 acres surveyed for Richard Goostree, lying in the woods between Cattail Marsh and Russell Swamp.

[34]         FHL 13086, Maryland Land Office – Book EI 2:164 – Warrant for 45 acres called New Town granted Andrew Willis 8 Oct 1730, in Dorchester County on west side of Blackwater River and on the east side of Cattail Swamp and on the west side of Andrew Willis’s dwelling plantation. Survey certified 21 Oct 1730, Henry Ennalls, Deputy Surveyor Dorchester Co. Patent issued 13 Jun 1734

[35] Cotton, Maryland Calendar of Wills, VII:259, Will Book 21: 918 – Will of Andrew Willis, Dorchester County, 24 May 1738. 1) To two sons Richard and George, “New Town” divided equally, should either die without issue to pass to son John; and personalty; 2) To sons John, William, Andrew and Thomas, and daughter Sarah, personalty. He left a pewter plate to each child plus a feather bed and iron pot to Richard; 3) To wife Rebecca, executrix, residue of personal estate, should she marry to be divided between sons Richard, George and John. Test: Robert Johnson, Mary Carway (Carriwy), John Pritchett Fisher. Probate 23 Aug 1738.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the Right John Willis on the Eastern Shore of Maryland

 

Last week, I posted an article on The John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland. Born about 1660, John Willis migrated from England as a young man. He was a small time farmer and served as Court Crier at the Dorchester County Court. He patented land in 1702 and named it “Wantage” after his hometown village in Berkshire County, England. John had children Grace, John, Eliza, Andrew, Thomas and William. John, Sr. died in 1712 leaving a will naming four of his six children, two of whom had proved descendants. My intent is to write additional articles regarding these descendants of Willis’s sons John, Jr. and Andrew. However, before undertaking that task, it would be useful to share some research that helped identify the patriarch John Willis in the original article.

Several Willis families on the Eastern Shore include persons named John. Numerous primary records, such as headrights, land patents, deeds and wills record other individuals who may be connected to John Willis. Other secondary sources contain the work product of professional researchers. For example, the twenty-three-volume Colonial Families of the Eastern Shore of Maryland[1] recognizes four Willis families. However, none is the John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties. One monograph, “A Documentary History of One Branch of the Willis Family of the State of Maryland, c.1680–c.1802,”[2] does address the correct family but contains several errors as to John’s origin and his descendants. Indeed, my data table for accumulated research from sources related to Dorchester County is 110 pages long. This article summarizes evidence from some of those sources and my use of each in my search for the correct John Willis.

Willises in Colonial Families

Colonial Families provides an entry for “The Willis Family of Dorchester County.” This is a Quaker family headed by a Richard Willis who married Frances, widow of Richard Dawson. Richard Willis patented 260 acres called Rondley in 1687.[3] Richard’s 1689 will naming children Richard, John and Frances included a reference to Rondley.[4] This tract distinguishes Richard’s family from the subject John Willis of Dorchester and Caroline Counties. The land related to Richard is located on the Transquakin River and on the Nanticoke River many miles from Wantage where the John Willis family lived near the county seat of Cambridge.

While this Richard Willis clan is not the family in question, several people incorrectly attributed to the Richard group by Colonial Families are members of the John Willis Family. Specifically, Colonial Families names a John Willis, with sons William and Andrew, as a “probable” son of the senior Richard Willis.[5] This John is not a son of Richard but is an original immigrant and the patriarch of the John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties. William and Andrew were indeed sons of John of Dorchester and members of that distinct family group based on deed records related to Wantage and John’s will and its probate. Furthermore, they were not Quakers. Rather, a Quaker John Willis who married a Margaret Cox at the Transquakin Meeting House in 1712 is a more likely descendant of this Richard Willis.[6]

“The James Willis Family” in Colonial Families begins in Somerset County in 1679 when James marries Rebecca Barnaby, daughter of James Barnaby.[7] A James Willis is named in the early patent books as having been transported to Maryland by 1665; James Barnaby and wife Mary with their two daughters Rebecca and Elizabeth were also named as transported to the Province in about the same time.[8] Other records show James Barnaby first patented land in 1663 thereby preceding James Willis to Maryland.[9] I found no connection between this family and John Willis of Dorchester and Caroline Counties.

“The Nathaniel Willis Family” established itself in Worcester County in the 1730’s according to Colonial Families.[10] Nathaniel’s family arrived too late to have been connected directly to John Willis of Dorchester and Caroline Counties. An earlier record in Worcester County shows that a Thomas Willis patented land called Amity north of the Pocomoke River in 1683,[11] but Thomas left no male heirs ruling out any ancestral connection to John Willis.

“The Willis Family of Kent County” outlined in Colonial Families includes a father John Willis and sons John and Richard, but neither father nor son is the John in question. The entry states that based on an apprenticeship record from Kent County, “Richard born 4 Apr 1697 is the son of an unidentified John Willis.”[12] However, we identify this father John as being the same person as John Williss of Cecil County, a person listed in Colonial Families but not attached to any family.[13] We conclude that John of Kent and John of Cecil are one and the same based on the following facts:

1. The 1698 will of John Williss of Cecil County named wife Dorothy as executrix and named children John, Richard and Mary. Further, it identifies him as a Quaker;[14]

2. The birth dates for all three children and John’s death date are noted in the records of the Cecil County Monthly Meeting of Quakers. Son Richard’s birthday in that record corresponds to the date listed in the Kent County apprentice records, confirming that this is the correct Richard and, therefore, the right family,[15]

3. John Williss’s widow Dorothy married William Hopkins, evidenced by a 1708 court filing from Kent County in the probate of John’s estate where she is named both as Hopkins’s wife and as Willis’s executrix,[16] and last,

4. The will of the son John Willis, a cordwinder of Kent County, proved in 1716, leaves everything to his brother Richard, naming William Hopkins as executor and noting that his brother Richard will be under the care of William Hopkins until of age.[17] Richard, born in 1697, was almost 19 when his brother died.

Thus, it is clear that the Willis Family of Kent County with brothers John and Richard was a Quaker family originally headed by John Williss, and that it actually had its beginnings in Cecil County. Clearly, this is not the non-Quaker family of John Willis of Dorchester and Caroline Counties.

In conclusion, Colonial Families does include the correct John Willis although attributed to the wrong family. In fact, none of the clans summarized in Colonial Families is the right one.

 Same Name Confusion

The frequent use of the given names John, Richard, William and Thomas within the various Willis families during the 17th and 18th centuries complicates the task of distinguishing people of the same name and associating them with the right clan. This so-called “same name confusion” affects not only our modern day analysis but created confusion 300 years ago.

A case in point is the probate of the will of the previously mentioned John Williss of Cecil County. According to Perogative Court records, following the death of John Williss the court lost track of John’s widow and executrix Dorothy.[18] She had filed an account in her deceased husband’s probate in 1700 from Cecil County,[19] but in 1702 the court twice ordered the Sheriff of a different county — Dorchester — to bring the widow to court presumably to file additional inventories and accounts. The sheriff responded in both instances that she could not be found in his jurisdiction.[20] She and her new husband William Hopkins finally filed the necessary documentation six years later from their residence in a third county — Kent.[21]

We can infer that the reason the court looked for Dorothy in Dorchester was first the court knew she had left Cecil County. Secondly, the court knew from other filings that a John Willis and a Richard Willis lived in Dorchester. Since both those names appeared in the will of John Williss of Cecil County, the court may have thought the Dorchester residents to be those heirs and assumed Dorothy may be close by. In fact, there is no established relationship of the Richard and John Willis residing in Dorchester County to the John of Cecil County. The two men known by the court to be in Dorchester at that time may have been Richard the county coroner and John the county court crier. We just do not know. It is, however, now clear from the record in 1708 that Dorothy, her new husband and her two sons, John and Richard, were in Kent County and not in Dorchester.

One Branch of the Willis Family

“A Documentary History of One Branch of the Willis Family of the State of Maryland, c.1680-c.1805” lists many deeds, wills and other records that summarize the John Willis family’s official existence. It correctly identifies the John Willis who became patriarch of a new Willis line of immigrants, but suffers from a bit of “same name confusion” as to his origin. The monograph asserts that John Willis first owned land in Barbados and then moved to St. Michaels, Maryland, in 1680, rather than coming to the Province directly from England.[22] The article does not cite a source for this statement. Nor does it explain John’s relocation to Dorchester County from St. Michaels in what is now Talbot County. I doubt that John of Barbados ever went to Maryland based on several pieces of evidence. First, the records in Barbados (St. Michaels Parish, interestingly) indicate that John Willis had a hired servant and owned five slaves and five acres of land.[23] With only five acres of land, this man does not sound like a farmer. Instead, he sounds like a merchant of some sort and rather wealthy, not like John Willis of Dorchester and Caroline. Second, if the wealthy John of Barbados had arrived in Maryland in 1680, he likely would have purchased land far earlier than the 1702 patent of Wantage. There is no record of such a purchase in either Talbot or Dorchester Counties. Logic says that John of Dorchester and Caroline counties came directly from England and not Barbados. Regardless, “One Branch” creates a workable outline for the correct John Willis family.

Early Willis Headrights

 There are several Willises who appear in the earliest Maryland patent records related to land granted under the headrights program. Under that program, in effect between 1633 and 1683, persons paying passage to the colony for themselves or others were entitled to 50 acres of land for each person transported. Sometimes, the transported person paid back the cost of his or her passage by service to the benefactor, in which case the passenger became entitled to a headright of his or her own.[24]

The first Willis listed in the headrights record is a Thomas Willis noted as having been transported by 1633, creating a headright for the person bearing the expense.[25] These rights were assignable, leading to the creation of a market among land investors and speculators. Subsequent purchasers of a headright ensured that the right was re-recorded in their name, usually citing the reason for the headright being originally granted. This practice meant that a transported passenger might be recorded multiple times in the patent books. That may have been the case with Thomas Willis since that name appears again as having been “transported by 1634.”[26]

The patent books also show early headrights claimed for the transportation of a Francis Willis by 1649, Edward Willis by 1657, James Willis by 1665, and again a Thomas Willis by 1666.[27] A John Willis is also listed as having one headright by 1666.[28] He may have transported himself, bought a headright, or he may have been transported by someone else and completed his term of service earning a headright of his own. Regardless of how John obtained the headright, there is no indication where he located within the Province of Maryland and nothing to connect him to the Eastern Shore. Importantly, no land records indicate that a John Willis took possession of headright acreage in Dorchester County at that early date.

Finally, there is a Henry Willis transported to Maryland in August 1684 at age 21 on the John & Elizabeth bound to John Moore of London for four years.[29] Henry Willis was from Wantage. The ship’s record names Henry’s father as Leonard Willis.[30] It is possible that Henry Willis was related to John Willis of Dorchester and Caroline Counties although I have not proven any connection at this point.

First Appearance – Possibly but not likely 1680

A John Willis does first appear in the records of Dorchester in 1680 as witness to two land transactions involving Thomas Foulks.[31] I find no corroborating evidence that this John is connected to the subject family. Such evidence might be, for example, subsequent involvement of the named parties in the deed record with the members of the John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties. There is no such involvement except, possibly, with a Thomas Jones who is another witness in one of the transactions. A son of our subject John Willis marries the daughter of a neighbor named William Jones, and this William Jones becomes a witness to and executor of John Willis’s 1712 will. If William Jones and Thomas Jones are related, it might support a theory that the 1680 witness John Willis is the head of the subject family. However, I have not found a relationship between the two Joneses. To the contrary, the name Thomas Jones is associated with the John Williss family of Cecil and Kent County. John Williss’s son Richard was at one time apprenticed to a Thomas Jones. Therefore, the John Willis who witnessed these deeds may have been more likely the John Williss of Cecil/Kent.

Conclusion

Having reviewed numerous primary records and secondary sources, we can state with some assurance that most of the early Willises on the Eastern Shore are not associated with the family of John Willis of Dorchester and Caroline Counties. Furthermore, our analysis points to the correct immigrant John Willis who acquired the land named Wantage as described in the earlier article.

———————-

[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:310, 312, and Vernon L. Skinner, Jr. and F. Edward Wright, Colonial Families of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Volume 22, (Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books, 2006), XXII:211, 215.

[2]  William P. Hunt, “A Documentary History of One Branch of the Willis Family of the State of Maryland, c.1680-c.1805,” (New York: Copyrighted as an Unpublished Manuscript, 1975).

[3] 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.

[4] 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. Note: after Richard’s death, Frances married Edward Fisher, and after Edward died, she married Edward Newton.

[5] Peden, Colonial Families, V:313.

[6] Id. at 314.

[7] Skinner, Colonial Families, XXII:211.

[8] Gust Skordas, editor, The Early Settlers of Maryland, An Index of the Names of Immigrants Compiled from the Records of Land Patents, 1633-1680, in the Hall of Records, Annapolis, Maryland, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968), 24, 510. James Barnaby, Mary Barnaby, Rebecca Barnaby, Elizabeth Barnaby were transported by 1665 (Book 8:19), James Barnaby, Jr., of Somerset County was transported by 1665 (Book 11:309); and James Willis was transported by 1665 (Book 9:94).

[9] Skinner, Colonial Families, XXII:211.

[10] Id. at 215.

[11] FHL Film No. 13073, Maryland Land Office, Book 24:382, and FHL Film NO. 13075, Maryland Land Office, Book 29:430. A 27 Sep 1681 survey for Samuel Cooper certified 150 acres called Amity in Somerset County located on north side of Pocomoke River about 5 miles from the river. On 30 Nov 1861, the tract was assigned to Thomas Willis and the patent issued on 10 Aug 1683.

[12] Peden, Colonial Families, V:310.

[13] Id. at 314.

[14] Jane Baldwin Cotton, The Maryland Calendar of Wills, 1685-1702, (Baltimore: Kohn & Pollock, 1904, reprinted Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1988), II:195. Will of John Willis, Cecil County, dated 13 May 1698, proved 4 Mar 1699, gave to wife Dorothy, executrix, his dwelling plantation during her life; to son John said plantation at death of his mother and 200 acres; to son Richard 200 acres adjoining the plantation; to daughter Mary 200 acres adjoining Richard Hill’s property. In the event of death of all children without issue, the estate would pass to poor Quakers. Cecil County, MD, Will Book 6:362.

[15] Peden, Colonial Families, V:314. The Cecil Monthly Meeting records the following dates: Mary born 19th da., 6th mo., 1686; John born 31st da., 7th mo., 1693; Richard born 4th da., 2nd mo., 1697; John Willis died 24/8/1699, (Note that British calendars began the year with March until 1752), and, id. at 311. On 22 Aug 1717, Richard Willis son of John Willis, dec’d., was bound as an apprentice to Thomas Jones, but because he was not kept to the trade, the said Richard was bound to Oliver Higginbotom, carpenter, until age 21, which would be 4 April next. He was to follow the trade of a carpenter and cooper. {KEBI JS#W:33A}

[16] V. L. Skinner, Jr., Abstracts of the Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court of Maryland, (Baltimore: Clearfield Company, Inc., 2007), XI:130. In a Court Session on 22 Nov 1708, in the probate of John Willis of Cecil County, accounts were filed from Kent County of William Hopkins & his wife Dorothy, executrix of John Willis, dated 22 Feb 1708. Probate Book 21:79.

[17] Jane Baldwin Cotton and Roberta Bolling Henry, The Maryland Calendar of Wills, 1713-1720, (Baltimore, 1914, reprinted, Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1988) IV:101. Will of John Willis, cordwinder, dated 1 Jan 1706, proved 11 Feb 1716, devised to brother Richard, John’s dwelling plantation and personalty which is in the hands of James Murphy. Richard was to be under the care and management of William Hopkins until of age. Will Book 14:352.

[18] The Perogative Court of Maryland had jurisdiction over all probate in Provincial Maryland. Initially, all probate was done in person at the capital in St. Mary’s County. Later, the appearances were conducted at the various County Courts, but copies of all records were filed or were supposed to be filed at the capital. If not filed timely, the Perogative Court would issue a summons to be executed by the county Sheriff.

[19] Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, IX:6. Court Session Jul 1700 – In the probate of John Willis, exhibited from Cecil County were the accounts of Dorothy Willis executrix of John Willis. Probate Book 18B:9. (Cecil County Monthly Meeting recorded that John Willis died 24 Oct 1699 ).

[20] Id. at124, Court Session 1702 – In the probate of John Willis, the Court ordered the Sheriff of Dorchester County to summon Dorothy Willis, administratrix of John Willis. The Sheriff’s return to the court was “NEI,” meaning “non est inventar” (not found). Probate Book 19A:89., and at 152, Court Session 1702 – In the probate of John Willis, the Court ordered the Sheriff of Dorchester Co to summon Dorothy Willis, administratrix of John Willis. The Sheriff’s return to the court was, “No such person.” Probate Book 19A:126.

[21] Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, XI: 130. Court Session, 22 Nov 1708 – In the probate of John Willis of Cecil County, accounts were exhibited from Kent County of William Hopkins & his wife Dorothy, executrix of John Willis, dated 22 Feb 1708. Probate Book 21:79.

[22] Hunt, “One Branch of the Willis Family”, 1.

[23] John Camden Hotten, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality: Emigrants; Religious Exiles; Political Rebels; Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices; Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700, London, 1874, reprinted, Baltimore: Genealogical Printing Co., Inc., 1983), 459. The records are from St. Michaels Parish in Barbados.

[24] Carson Gibbs, Jr., A Supplement to the Early Settlers of Maryland, (Annapolis, MD: Maryland State Archives, 1997), vi-viii.

[25] Gust Skordas, editor, The Early Settlers of Maryland, An Index of the Names of Immigrants Compiled from the Records of Land Patents, 1633-1680, in the Hall of Records, Annapolis, Maryland, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968), 510.

[26] Id. at 510.

[27]         Skordas, Early Settlers, 510, and Gibbs, Supplement to Early Settlers, 242.

[28]         Gibbs, Supplement to Early Settlers, 242. John Willis had one headright by 1666. Patent Book GG:42 Archives Film SR 8205, Transcript Book 10:599 Film SR 7352.

[29] Skordas, Early Settlers, 510, and, Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1661-1699, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990), II:471.

[30]         Coldham at 471, and Phillimore, Berkshire Registers, I:34, Leonard Willis and Margaret Powell, 8 Sep 1652; I:39, Leonard Willis and Anne Bell, 10 Sep 1659. Henry, born in 1663, fits as a son of either marriage. There is no proved connection between John Willis Sr. and Leonard and Henry of Wantage.

[31] McAllister, Land Records of Dorchester County, II:52, 53. 4 Old 3-4 – 1 May 1680, Thomas Foulks and wife Sarah to Wm Dorrington, release of property left to Sarah by John Cornelius; Peter Johnson and James his son; and Thomas Fisher, late husband of the said Sarah. Witnesses: John Willis, Wm Reese, Thos Jones, Dorchester County Deed Book 4 Old 3-4., and II:53, 2 May 1680, William Dorrington to Thomas Foulkes, Chirurgeon [sic, surgeon], bill for 14K pounds of tobacco to be paid by Dorrington to Foulkes. Witnesses John Willis, Wm Reese, Thos Jones. Dorchester County Deed Book 4 Old 4.

The John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland

John Willis Sr. was born about 1660 in Wantage, Berkshire County, England. He grew up with fond memories of this village before immigrating to the Province of Maryland as a young man. He gained employment with the Dorchester County Court at Cambridge and married in about 1683. He and his wife initially lived on rented land, raising a family and working off the cost of his passage to the New World. He farmed the rented property as a primary livelihood since the part time nature of work at court sessions did not provide steady or sufficient income. In 1702, John was able to patent his own property and acquired 50 acres, naming it “Wantage” after his hometown.

By the time the family moved onto Wantage, John and his wife had six children: Grace, John Jr., Eliza, Andrew, Thomas and William. With two teenage girls and two teenage boys to help with the house and the land, the Willises farmed corn and wheat for cash, tended a truck garden and raised chickens and livestock for their own use. There were plenty of chores for the younger sons. The Willises formed a close friendship with the families of neighbors William and Jennet Jones and with John and Dorothy Stevens who resided at “Littleworth.”

 As the years went by, John Jr. learned the carpentry trade and married Mary LNU. They moved to rented land close by. Andrew married Jennet Jones, the neighbors’ daughter, and rented land near William Jones’ property on Shoal Creek. William, the youngest son, married Judith LNU, and they lived at Wantage with the elder Willises and Grace, Eliza and Thomas. Soon, Thomas went to live with his brother John to help farm his rented land. William took over running Wantage, while Judith helped care for an ailing Mrs. Willis. Before long, Mrs. Willis passed away leaving William and Judith along with Grace and Eliza living at Wantage with John Sr.

 As John Sr.’s health began to fail in 1712, he made a will rewarding William (and his wife Judith), Grace and Eliza for their steadfast support. John Jr. contested the will, but it was allowed to stand. John Jr. and his brother Andrew each had several children. For the next three hundred years, descendants of these two brothers intermarried with families on the Eastern Shore. The family history is a rich and interesting story of women and men. A handful fought in the revolution. Some were instrumental in establishing the early Methodist church in the region. Most were farmers. Some became doctors.

This italicized narrative contains some speculative details about John Willis and his family. However, it is consistent with the provable facts. The following article about the family’s humble beginnings in the New World will present that proof. It is the first installment in a series I hope to publish over the coming years.

The Provable Facts

John Willis Sr. lived from circa 1660 until his death about November 1712. The date of his will in Dorchester County and the beginning of probate prove his date of death. I estimate his birthdate from two facts. First, a deposition in 1730 establishes that one son (Andrew) was born in 1690. Second, a 1746 deposition states that another son (John) was the eldest, making him born by at least 1689 to be older than Andrew. If these sons were only 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 in 1667-68 at the latest. To use a round number and allow for a longer lifespan, I estimated John’s birth date at about 1660.

John Sr. had six children surviving at the time he wrote his will. However, the will only names four of the six. Eldest son John contested the will in part because two children were not named.

John Sr. served as the Court Crier at the Dorchester County Court and lived on land a few miles from Cambridge, the county capital. His land named “Wantage” was located on the upper reaches of the north branch of the Blackwater River (now known as the Little Blackwater). Wantage can be tracked to three of his sons, and its name is the best clue to John Sr.’s home of origin.

If John, Sr. followed the custom of many of his peers, the name Wantage likely came from his hometown. A village of that name within the Church of England’s Parish of Berkshire is located in Berkshire County, England, about 50 miles west of London and 80 miles from the city of Cambridge. Internet research shows the village currently is home to several Willis families. The Parish Registers for the church at Wantage list marriages from 1538 forward. Among the marriages are three generations of men named John Willis, the last of whom might be the father of John Willis Sr. of Maryland.[1] However, with no conclusive proof this article does not focus on John’s possible parents.

John Willis Sr. was not the only person from Wantage, England, in the Province. A common laborer named Henry Willis came to Maryland in August 1684 at age 21 on the John & Elizabeth bound to John Moore of London for four years.[2] The ship’s record names Henry’s father as Leonard Willis.[3] Evidence that another person immigrated from Wantage supports the theory that John Sr. did as well.

 Possible First Appearance – 1694

The possible first appearance in Dorchester County records of John Willis Sr. is in 1694 when a man by that name was an appraiser of the estate of William Pritchett.[4] A John Willis served as appraiser again in 1700 and 1703.[5] It is logical to assume the appraiser in all three cases is the same John Willis. An appraiser had to be sworn to this duty and served only with the approval of the court. We know that John had connections at the court since he served as Court Crier.[6] On the other hand, John Sr. signed his 1712 will with a “mark.” He did not know how to read and write. It is likely that men appointed as appraisers were more educated than John Sr.

 Land Acquisition – 1702

John Willis patented land from the provincial land office in 1702, acquiring 50 acres called Wantage on the Blackwater River.[7] As already discussed, John may have named this tract after his hometown. John Willis appeared on the 1704 rent rolls as a planter, indicating he was a landholder.[8] Wantage would remain in the family until 1734.

 Will of John Willis – 1712

John Willis made a will on 18 September 1712 and died soon thereafter. The will was presented for probate on 24 November 1712.[9] In his will, John provided that:

  1. Son William and his heirs would inherit all land and some personal property,
  2. Daughter Grace would inherit certain personal property and all the land if William died without issue,
  3. Daughter Eliza would inherit certain personalty, and
  4. Son John would inherit 12 pence.
  5. The will named William Jones and Rice Levena as executors.

John Willis Jr., eldest son of the deceased, filed a will contest on 3 December 1712, asking that administration not be granted the executors because there were only two witnesses to the will one of whom was an executor making his witnessing inappropriate. Further, John stated there were two children not mentioned in the will suggesting that his father was not of sound mind at the time of making the will. William Jones, one of the witnesses to the will and a named executor, appeared in support of John Jr.[10]

The Court ordered on 20 February 1712/3 that all parties appear in April 1713 to give evidence regarding John Sr.’s mental condition at the time he made his will.[11] I have found nothing resolving the dispute in the Dorchester County court records, nor any reference to the contest in the probate records of the Perogative Court. However, apparently the Court ruled against the contest because probate continued under the named executors. Had the Court sustained the contest, the Court would have nullified the will, appointed an administrator, and the estate would have been distributed according to the rules of intestate distribution … which would have been far more favorable to John Jr. Instead, Inventories and Administration Accounts filed by the named executors for the estate of John Willis in 1714 and 1715 indicate that probate moved forward apace.[12]

A few other comments regarding the terms of the will and its administration are in order. First, the will does not name a spouse of John Willis. We can logically 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 by their adult children. Last, the will does not use a married surname for either daughter. We conclude that they were unmarried in 1712.

 Unnamed Children of John Willis

 Andrew – Andrew is a proved son of John Willis, Sr.

1. An inventory of the estate of John Willis filed at the April 1714 Perogative Court Session names Andrew as a son.[13]

2. Andrew continued to live reasonably close to Wantage and William Jones, his father-in-law, was a former neighbor. Jones, one of the executors of John’s will, owned land adjacent Wantage and is the father of Jennett Jones who married Andrew Willis. Also, Andrew Willis and William Jones are noted in the 1718 will of Thomas Ennals and in a 1722 land sale as having had land adjoining each other at head of Shoal Creek.[14] The head of Shoal Creek is about three miles from Cambridge (near the current Cambridge-Dorchester Airport) and a mile or so from the headwaters of the Little Blackwater River.

3. In a 1730 deposition, Andrew Willis, then about age 40, gave a sworn statement about the location of a boundary marker for a tract of land called “Littleworth” or “Stevens”. Littleworth frequently appears in the land records as having been adjacent Wantage. Andrew’s knowledge of the boundary would logically derive from having lived at Wantage as a youth.[15]

Thomas – Circumstantial evidence supports Thomas as the remaining unnamed child of John Willis Sr.

1. John Sharp sold a 50-acre tract of land on Marshy Creek Branch above Hunting Creek to John Willis Jr. on 10 March 1717.[16] Less than five months later, Sharp sold an adjoining 50 acres to Thomas Wallis (Willis).[17] Since families often moved as a group, a reasonable conclusion is that there was a relationship between John and Thomas, and that they were likely brothers. Of course, it is possible that the two were unrelated … the last name Wallis was an alternate spelling for the name Wallace as well as Willis. However, clerks frequently varied the spelling of the name Willis, sometimes within the same document. Those variants include Wallis, Wallace, Wallice, Willace, Willes and Willous. In fact, John Willis Sr. appears in early rent rolls as John “Wallis” in possession of “Wantige.”[18] For purposes of this article, I assume this is Thomas Willis. If I am wrong, then we can state we have no information about him, however, since he seems to have had no children, it does not matter.

2. Grace Wallis (Willis) administered the estate of Thomas Willis in 1722-1724.[19] The 1712 will proves a Grace Willis as a daughter of John Willis, and there is no record that she married.[20] Furthermore, there is no record that Thomas Willis married, nor a record of any offspring. These two unmarried siblings possibly shared the same roof on Thomas’s land, and upon his death intestate Grace handled the estate. On the other hand, it is possible that administratrix Grace was Thomas’s wife. But, again with no offspring, it does not matter to this analysis.

3. As we will see later, Andrew Willis named sons with his first wife Andrew, William and Thomas. Presumably, he named one for himself and the others for two of his brothers. He named sons with his second wife Richard, George and John.

In conclusion, the John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties included sons John, Andrew, Thomas and William, and daughters Grace and Eliza. Assigning accurate dates of birth to the children is problematic. Andrew was born in about 1690. John Jr. was the eldest son and therefore born at least by 1689. A deposition given sometime between 1746 and 1752 establishes that William was born between 1694 and 1700.[21] Grace was named before Eliza in the 1712 will, indicating she was likely the elder of the two. The relative ages of Thomas and William are also uncertain, but I suspect William was the youngest. It was not uncommon for the youngest son, the last to leave the household, to serve as a caregiver for aging or ill parents. Such service would put him in good graces with regard to inheritance. The same could be said of a daughter who remained in the household and unmarried.

Establishing a birth order is not necessary to the analysis, but provides a theoretical picture of the family consistent with the known facts. A feasible order of birth satisfying that criterion is:

1685 – Grace                           1690 – Andrew

1687 – John                                     1692 – Thomas

1688 – Eliza                                     1694 – William

Disposition of Wantage

William Willis and his wife Judith apparently lived at Wantage until 1734, when they sold it to Richard Seward for six pounds. However, two weeks prior to that sale, eldest son John Willis sold the same land to Henry Ennalls for 20 shillings.[22] The two sales are a puzzle that is not solved by the deed or probate records.

By 1734, John Jr. lived many miles from Wantage in what later became Caroline County and had no apparent claim to his father’s former tract. However, John Jr.’s earlier will contest and the fact he was the eldest son may have created some cloud on the title in the eyes of Richard Seward, the prospective buyer. William Willis or Seward may have asked John to relinquish any claim to the land prior to Seward buying it. John could comply by conveying his interest, if any, in the land to William (or Seward), clearing title so his brother’s transaction could proceed. Such a transaction would account for the very low price paid in John’s deed. The 20 shillings paid to John likely compensated him for his time and travel between his home and Cambridge to complete the transaction.[23]

However, the puzzle is that John Jr. deeded his interest to Ennalls and not to William or Seward. Something is missing in the record – a power of attorney under which Ennalls was acting on William’s or Seward’s behalf, or a subsequent transaction from Ennalls conveying John’s interest to either Seward or William. Regardless of this mystery, the record is clear that the Willises had no connection to Wantage after 1734 since Richard Seward still possessed the land twenty years later.[24] _____________________

Thus ends the first installment of the John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland. In future articles, I hope to tell the story of the descendants of John Jr. and Andrew, some of whom played a significant role in the history of Preston, Maryland, and the surrounding area.

[1]  W.P.W. Phillimore, editor, Berkshire Parish Registers, Marriages, Volume 1, (London:Phillimore & Co., 1908), I:17, John Willis and Annis Robinson, 31 Mar 1600; I:30, John Willis and Alice Lindsey, 19 Aug 1639; and I:41, John Willis, Junr [?] and Elizabeth Chapman, 11 Apr 1664.

[2]  Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1661-1699, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990), II:471.

[3]  Id. at 471, and Phillimore, Berkshire Registers, I:34, Leonard Willis and Margaret Powell, 8 Sep 1652; I:39, Leonard Willis and Anne Bell, 10 Sep 1659. Henry, born in 1663, fits as a son of either marriage. There is no proved connection between John Willis Sr. and Leonard and Henry of Wantage.

[4] Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, VII:61. Court Session 1694 – In the probate of the estate of William Pritchett, John Haslewood of Dorchester County exhibited the bond of Hannah Charlescroft, administratrix of William Pritchett. Securities Richard Owen, Jarvis Cutler. Also inventory by appraisers John Frank and John Willis. Probate Book 15C:125.

[5] Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, VIII:180. Court Session May 1700 – In the probate of the estate of Patrick Donelly, attorneys exhibited the inventory of Patrick Donelly by appraisers David Jenkins and John Willis, Probate Book 18A:62, and XI:4. Court Session Oct 1703 – In the probate of the estate of Daniell Seare of Dorchester County, attorneys exhibited Inventories of the estate of Daniell Seare by appraisers John Willis & William Walker. Probate Book 20:4.

[6]  McAllister, Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 9 (Liber Old No. 13: Liber Old No. 14, folios 1-373), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), IX:36. 14 Old 130, 14 Mar 1746 – Deposition of Thomas Pierson, planter of Dorchester County, aged about 60 years, states that John Willis now living in St. Mary’s White Chappel Parish near Hunting Creek was to the best of deponent’s knowledge the eldest son of John Willis who lived on Blackwater River about 4-5 miles from Cambridge, and who was formerly Cryer of Dorchester County Court.

[7] FHL Film No. 13078, Maryland Land Office, 194. On 10 Sep 1702, John Taylor assigned to John Willis all right, title and interest in 50 acres of land, part of a warrant for 2,389 acres granted Taylor on 15 Oct 1792, Book CD4/194, and Id. at 194. On 3 Mar 1702/3, the Maryland Land Office issued a survey certificate to John Willis for a tract of 50 acres called Wantage on the Blackwater River, beginning at lowermost bounder of Littleworth, then N 36 deg E 100 perches, N 36 deg W 80 perches, S 36 deg W 100 perches, then straight line to the beginning. Book CD4/194.

[8] Hunt, 1. John Willis is mentioned in the “Quit Rents” of 1704 as being a “planter,” on file in the Library of Congress and the London Public Record Office, and Keddie, Leslie and Neil, Dorchester County, Maryland, Rent Rolls 1688-1707 Volume #3, (The Family Tree Bookshop, 2001), 75. Wantige was surveyed for John Wallis on 3 Mar 1702, lying on the Blackwater River beginning at the lowermost bounded tree of “Littleworth.” It encompassed 50 acres and the rental was 8 shillings.

[9] 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 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.

[10] Id. at 23.

[11] http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mdwillis/DCWillsWillis.htm#John1712, Sandra Willis who abstracted numerous documents from primary records in Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot Counties created this site.

[12] V.L. Skinner, Jr., Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, Volume XIII, 1712-1716, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2008), 113, 124, 132, 153 and 157, Probate Book L22:256, 368, 378, 452 and 456.

[13] F. Edward Wright, Judgment Records of Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties, (Lewes, DE: Delmarva Roots, 2001), 33. L36A:203, Inventory of John Willis, Dorchester County – £23.14.1 – Appraisers John Kirke, Arthur Smith. Next of Kin: Andrew Willis (son), William Willis (son). FHL 975.2 P28w

[14] Jane Baldwin Cotton, The Maryland Calendar of Wills, IV:167-9. Will Book 14:631, Will of Thomas Ennals dated 7 May 1718 – To Thomas Hayward and heirs, 50 acres part of “Ennalls Purchase” (plantation where Andrew Willis lived), at head of Shoal Creek, and on branch lying between Wm Jones and Andrew Willis’, proved 13 Au 1718, and, James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old No. 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), I:71. 2 Old 161, 13 Mar 1722 – Land sale from Thomas Hayward to Henry Ennalls, land devised to grantor by Col. Thomas Ennalls, dec’d, at head of Shoal Creek where Andrew Willis lived adj land where William Jones lived, part of “Ennalls Purchase”, 50 acres more or less.

[15] James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), V:145. 8 Old 404, 13 Jun-30 Sep 1730 – Commission to John Hodson, Mark Fisher, Thomas Nevett & Henry Ennalls, Jr to perpetuate bounds of Patrick Brawhaun’s land at the head of Blackwater called “Hoggs Island.” Deposition of Andrew Willis, about age 40, regarding the first bounder of “Littleworth” or “Stevens.”

[16] Id. at 16. 7 Old 51, 10 Mar 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to John Willis, of the same county, carpenter, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on Marshy Creek Branch above Hunting Creek. Wits Thomas Noble, Jane Noble. John Nichols, attorney for John Sharp. (Note that Thomas Noble and John Nicols co-owned “Hampton” located on west side of Hunting Creek, bought from Richard Bennett 15 Jan 1713, 6 Old 230)

[17] Id. at 23. 7 Old 68, no day or month 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to Thomas Wallis, of the same county, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on south side of the head of Marshy Creek branch out of Great Choptank River above Hunting Creek. Bounded on one side by land sold to John Willis. Wits Jerem? Thomas, J Lookerman. Acknowledged 19 Aug 1718

[18] Keddie, 75.

[19] Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, XVI:60, 61 and 151. Filings by John Pitts, gentleman, of Dorchester County, bond of Grace Wallis, administratrix of Thomas Wallis, and inventories of the estate of Thomas Wallis, and Skinner, Administration Accounts of the Perogative Court, Libers 1-5, 1718-1724, (Westminster, MD:Family Line Publications, 1995), 138. L5:38, Account of Thomas Wallis of Dorchester dated 13 Mar 1723 – Account total £12.17.7, Payments totaled £18.5.2 made to Patrick Mackalister, Mr. Charles Ungle, John Sharp, John Pitt, Edward Billeter, William Edmondson. Administratrix Grace Willis.

[20]         The land on Hunting Creek was located within St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish. Unfortunately, the church records for that locale that might prove the marital status of Thomas or Grace do not survive.

[21]         James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land 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.

[22] Maryland Land Records, 9 Old 223, 30 Jul 1730 [or 1734], John Willis of Dorchester County, planter, for 20 shillings to Henry Ennalls, of same, gentleman, “Wantage,” 50 acres, originally taken up by John Willis, dec’d, on Blackwater Riv., adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by mark, John Willis. Witnesses: William Murray, Bw. Ennalls. Acknowledged 30 Jul 1734, and 9 Old 214, 15 Aug 1734, William Willis and wife Judith of Dorchester Co., planter, for 6 pounds to Richard Seward, of same, “Wantage,” 50 acres near head of Blackwater River adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by marks, William Willis, Judith Willis. Witnesses: Henry Trippe, Cha. Lowndes. Dorchester County Court (Land Records) MSA CE46 10, http://mdlandrec.com

[23]         I believe the date of John’s transaction to be 30 July 1734, not 1730. The extant deed book is a copy of the original. The recopied document states the date of the deed in words rather than numbers, “One thousand seven Hundred and thirty.” I believe the scribe who recopied it missed the last two words of the date, which under the style of the day should have been “and four”. If John intended his transaction just to clear title for to William’s sale, the following logically occurred. John showed up at the Dorchester County Court when it was in quarterly session. Henry Ennalls drafted a deed that John signed (by mark, like his father he could not read or write). The court justices, including Henry Ennall’s brother Bartholomew, witnessed the signing, and John acknowledged the deed in open court, verifying its validity. All this occurred on a single day, 30 Jul 1734, which limited the inconvenience to the citizen who traveled some distance from Hunting Creek to Cambridge. The payment in the deed was for time and expenses. Sixteen days later Richard Seward bought the land from William and Judith Willis with assurance that John would not be able to successfully protest the sale.

[24] James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 11 (Liber Old No. 15, folios 1 – 368), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), XI:52, 15 Old 247, 11 Aug 1754-15 Mar 1755, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of Richard Soward’s land called Wantage. A deposition of Thomas Soward, about 30 years old, mentions the widow Brawhawn; John Stevens grandfather of the present John Stevens; Richard Soward, brother of the deponent; and a bounded tree of Littleworth and Wantage between Roger Woolford’s plantation and Brawhawn’s, about 15-16 years ago.