Andrew Willis of Washington Co, MD

A researcher contacted me about an Andrew Willis who died in 1823 in Washington County, Maryland. My contact wondered if we could trace Andrew back to the immigrant John Willis who owned “Wantage” in Dorchester County and died in 1712. The answer is no. Revolutionary war pension files, census records, deeds, and probate filings prove that Washington County Andrew is not related to Wantage John.

Washington County Andrew served as a private in the 5th Regiment of the Maryland Line. While in Washington County he was awarded a pension paid from 31 Mar 1818 through his death on 4 Dec 1823. Beginning in 1825, his pension was paid to his wife Lettie Willis from the date of the last payment to Andrew. In an 1820 court appearance related to his pension, Andrew stated he resided in Washington County, that he was 68 years old (thus born in 1752), was impoverished, and that his wife was old and frail. He stated they lived with a son whom he did not identify.[1]

Census records in Washington County support Andrew’s statements in his pension application.

  • Andrew appears in the county for the first time in the 1800 census. That census lists Andrew heading a household with three other males and three females. The census shows that he and his wife were 26-44 years old and with two sons under 10, one son age 10-15, and two daughters under 10.[2]
  • The 1810 census shows Andrew with the same family members, whose ages track almost perfectly from a decade earlier.[3]
  • As expected from his pension application, Andrew is living with a son at the time of the 1820 census. That census lists Edward Willis as a head of household in the county for the first time. His household contains two men age 26-44 and one over 45, and three females … one 15-25, one 26-44 and one over 45.

The older man and woman in the 1820 census are Andrew Willis and his wife Lettie. The two younger men are their sons Edward and Isaac. The youngest female is their daughter Elizabeth. The woman age 26-44 is Isaac’s wife Nancy LNU.

By 1830, the family has disappeared from Washington County. Andrew died in 1823, Edward died in 1825, Lettie died probably between 1825 and 1829, and the surviving family members moved to Ohio.

A second Revolutionary War benefit application proves Isaac Willis as a son of Andrew. Isaac applies in 1850 for bounty land due Andrew for his service in the war. Isaac files from his home in Ohio on behalf of himself and the other the heirs of Andrew Willis.[4]

Deed and probate records prove Edward died with no wife or children and the name of Isaac’s wife and his sisters. In 1812, Edward purchased a small tract of land on Antietam Creek.[5]I suspect that he became head of household at about that time. He died intestate in 1825 with a very small estate.[6]

In 1829, Edward’s heirs at law sold the Antietam Creek land. The participating heirs included Hezekiah Donaldson and his wife Sarah, Nehemiah Hurley and his wife Elizabeth, and Isaac Willis and his wife Nancy.[7]Since Edward died intestate, his estate would go to any existing wife or children. Absent either, his estate would go to his siblings.

Clearly, Sarah Donaldson, Elizabeth Hurley, and Isaac Willis are Edward’s living sisters and brother. Conversely, anyone not included in the deed is not a sibling. That last point is important in eliminating as Edward’s possible siblings two Willis males who lived concurrently in Washington County. William Willis and Levin Willis who appear in census and deed records of the era are not children of Andrew and Lettie Willis. Likewise, an unnamed son of Andrew and Lettie appears with them in the 1800 and 1810 censuses but is absent from the 1820 census of Edward’s household. I conclude this son has died. If alive, he would have participated in the 1829 sale of land with the other siblings.

In sum, the evidence in Washington County proves the following nuclear family:

  • Andrew Willis       b 1752         d 1823
  • His wife:
  • Lettie LNU Willis  b 1756-65    d likely between 1825-29
  • Their children:
  • Edward Willis       b 1785-90    d 1825
  • Isaac Willis           b 1785-90    d after 1850
  • Sarah Willis          b 1791-94    m in 1818 to Hezekiah Donaldson[8]
  • Son FNU Willis     b 1791-99    d before 1820
  • Elizabeth Willis     b 1800         m between 1820-25 to Nehemiah Hurley
  • Their daughter-in-law:
  • Nancy LNU           b est. 1790   m before 1820 to Isaac Willis

We cannot track this group back to Wantage John Willis even though he had two great-grandsons named Andrew, one in Caroline County and one in Dorchester. The ages of the children in Washington County Andrew’s family disprove any connection to either great-grandson.

Caroline County Andrew

One great-grandson Andrew (the son of Isaac Willis, son of John, Jr.) lived in what became Caroline County. With a father named Isaac, this Caroline County Andrew seems a likely candidate to be the same person as Washington County Andrew, who named one of his sons Isaac. Furthermore, Caroline County Andrew appears in the 1790 census in Caroline and disappears from the county before the 1800 census. Could he have moved to Washington County?

Sure. But records argue against that possibility. The 1783 Tax Assessment shows Caroline County Andrew with no land and a household of one male (himself) and three females. That does not fit the nuclear family above where the male children are older than the girls, and where no child was born before 1785. The 1790 census for Caroline County Andrew also records a family inconsistent with the one shown in Washington County and the Caroline County 1783 Tax List. The 1790 census in Caroline lists Andrew’s household with five males age 16 or older, six males under 16, a total of four total females, and one slave. Arguably, the household could balloon from the 1783 to the 1790 level if another family (or two) moved in with Andrew. Regardless, the numbers don’t match the man who appears a decade later in Washington County with a relatively young family and no slave. I think this rules out Caroline County Andrew.

Dorchester County Andrew

The other great-grandson Andrew (son of John, son of Andrew Willis) lived in Dorchester County. One of Dorchester County Andrew’s brothers (Jarvis Willis) served during the Revolution in the same regiment and at the same time as Washington County Andrew, although in a different company. A logical theory is that after the war these two former soldiers left the Eastern Shore together. Dorchester County Andrew and Jarvis appear in the county in the 1783 Tax Assessment. Andrew has 60 acres of land called Fishers Venture with a household of seven people. Jarvis owns no land and has eight people in his household. And voila! Neither Jarvis nor Andrew appears in the 1790 census in Dorchester.

They both appear to be in Stokes County, North Carolina by 1790. That census lists Jarvis Willis with his family of eight, including two males younger than 16 years and five females. Andrew Willis does not appear in that census but shows up on a tax roll in Stokes County in 1791 with 250 acres of land.[9]By 1793, Andrew shows up on the Stokes County list of “insolvents” owing £5.10 in taxes. Often this meant that the party listed had abandoned their land and left the county.[10]It is possible, though highly unlikely, that Dorchester County Andrew had migrated back to Maryland. However, his family does not match the ages of the Washington County clan. Dorchester County Andrew apparently had six children born before 1783, per that year’s Tax Assessment, while Washington County Andrew had none.

Friendship Regulated Andrew

There is a third Andrew related to a Quaker family that lived near Federalsburg. Thomas Willis gifted 87 ½ acres of a tract called Friendship Regulated in Caroline County to his brother Andrew Willis in 1778.[11]The Tax List of 1783 shows Andrew in possession of that land and with a household of five males and five females. Andrew and his wife Sarah sell the land in 1784 to George Hutton of Sussex County, Delaware and do not appear in Caroline County again.[12]

Conclusion

None of the three men named Andrew Willis in Caroline and Dorchester Counties head a family that matches the size and structure of Washington County Andrew. That issue alone argues strongly that Washington County Andrew is not one of these three men. Additionally, the 1850 letter sent on behalf of Isaac Willis seeking bounty land states that Isaac believes his father was from Kent County. There is another Willis family in Kent that is not related to Wantage John. In sum, the evidence does not support any connection between Washington County Andrew is not descended from Wantage John.

[1]See Pension File S35141

[2]If born in 1752 per his pension application, the census understates Andrew’s age by four years, which is not a serious discrepancy.

[3]Ages of all family members track to the next appropriate age category except for the youngest daughter who remains at age under 10. I suspect she was an infant in 1800 and is actually 10 years old in 1810.

[4]31 Dec 1850 letter from Bennington & Cowan on behalf of Isaac Willis, online at Fold 3 pension file of Andrew Willis.

[5]Washington County, MD Deed Book Y: 439

[6]Washington County, MD Bond Book C: 427 and Administrative Accounts Book 7: 413. Nehemiah Hurley was administrator, Nehemiah Hurley, Hezekiah Donaldson and Isaac Willis were bonded.

[7]Washington County, MD Deed Book KK: 610

[8]Morrow, Dale W., Marriages of Washington County, Maryland, Volume 1, 1799-1830, Traces: Hagerstown, MD, 1977, D64.

[9]Harvey, Iris Moseley, Stokes County, North Carolina Tax List, 1791, Raleigh, NC, 1998, p 11

[10]Harvey, Iris Moseley, Stokes County, North Carolina Tax List, 1793, Raleigh, NC, 1998, p 43

[11]Deed Book GFA: 269

[12]Deed Book GFA: 777

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

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

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

Willis’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willis’s Luck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[6]IdatHD 23:183

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

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

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

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

Revised – A Surprising Willis – Quaker Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same document contains the following burial records:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________

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

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

[3]See www.barrattschapel.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Willis’s Parents … A New Look

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

New Information

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

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

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

Children of John Willis d. 1712

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

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

1689 – John            age 23                           1694 – William      age 18

1690 – Andrew     age 22                           1696 – Grace            age 16

1692 – Thomas     age 20                           1698 – Elizabeth    age 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westward Ho the Willises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie Sensor Willis – The Blizzard Baby

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

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

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

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

My Dear Jessie –

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Write or come up when you can.

                                    Goodnight –

                                                Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading …

 

 

The John Willis Family and the Maryland Supply Tax of 1783

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

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

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

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

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

The John Willis Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline County Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorchester County Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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

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.