The John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland

John Willis Sr. was born about 1669 in Wantage, Berkshire County, England. He grew up with fond memories of this village before immigrating to the Province of Maryland as a young man. He gained employment with the Dorchester County Court at Cambridge and married in about 1688. He and his wife initially lived on rented land, raising a family and working off the cost of his passage to the New World. He farmed the rented property as a primary livelihood since the part time nature of work at court sessions did not provide steady or sufficient income. In 1702, John was able to patent his own property and acquired 50 acres, naming it “Wantage” after his hometown.

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

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

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

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

The Provable Facts

John Willis Sr. lived from circa 1669 until his death about November 1712. The date of his will in Dorchester County and the beginning of probate prove his date of death. I estimate his birthdate from two facts. First, a deposition in 1730 establishes that one son (Andrew) was born in 1690. Second, a 1746 deposition states that another son (John) was the eldest, making him born by at least 1689 to be older than Andrew. If these sons were only 22 and 23 years old at the time of John Sr.’s death, a reasonable minimum age for him would be 44 or 45 when he died. In that case, John Sr. would have been born in 1667-68 at the latest. (per a discovery after publication of this article, a John Willis is listed in the Berkshire, England Parish Register as born and baptized 3 Jan 1668/9, the son of John and Elizabeth Willis).

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

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

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

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

 Possible First Appearance – 1694

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

 Land Acquisition – 1702

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

 Will of John Willis – 1712

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

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

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

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

A few other comments regarding the terms of the will and its administration are in order. First, the will does not name a spouse of John Willis. We can logically assume that she predeceased John. Were she alive, he likely would have named her in the will with a life estate in the land or otherwise provided for her care by their adult children. Last, the will does not use a married surname for either daughter. We conclude that they were unmarried in 1712.

 Unnamed Children of John Willis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1685 – Grace                           1690 – Andrew

1687 – John                                     1692 – Thomas

1688 – Eliza                                     1694 – William

Disposition of Wantage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Id. at 23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Keddie, 75.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A strange coincidence and three Confederate Estes brothers

Ezra Church

By Gary Noble Willis and Robin Rankin Willis

The coincidence part

We like to do genealogy trips to state archives, county courthouses, and so on. We drive rather than fly, and occasionally find ourselves off the beaten path or onto one that makes us scratch our heads. This happened once when we were traveling to Raleigh, NC from Houston, and we were on I-20 going through Atlanta. We had to stop for gas, so Gary pulled off the freeway onto MLK Blvd. He immediately found a gas station, and I got out to stretch my legs with a quick walk. Heading up the hill, I found an historical marker about the Battle of Ezra Church — the one in the picture, above.

For the next two hours, I had a niggling feeling that I was supposed to know something about that battle: Ezra Church had grabbed my attention. Finally, I spit it out: “Gary, why does the battle of Ezra Church ring such a loud bell with me?”

Gary, a serious military and family historian, had a ready reply. “Because a member of your Estes family died there.”

What are the odds that we would wind up next to a battlefield where a relative fought and died, while getting gas in the middle of a huge metropolitan area? I thought it was quite a coincidence.

On our way home two weeks later, we pulled off again on MLK Blvd and took a tour of the battlefield, which is in the midst of a neighborhood. It is not even far enough from Atlanta to be called a suburb. There is a park, with commemorative markers and the like. Here is one.

 

Ezra Forces

Notice the marker says that probably not more than 12,000 Union troops were actively engaged in that battle. Yet there were 4,600 Confederate dead. What sort of military madness was going on there, we wondered?

The article

When we got home, we researched the battle and jointly wrote an article about the three Estes brothers who were in Ham’s Cavalry, including the one Estes brother who fought and died at the Battle of Ezra Church. If you like history, especially Civil War history, you might like this article. I like it because, among other things, I found out from their war records that the three Estes brothers in Ham’s Cavalry had black hair and a fair complexion, just like their great-great-great nephew, my father.

Here is the article, which was originally published in “Estes Trails,” Vol. XXIII No. 3, Sept. 2005:

The Confederate Sons of Lyddal Bacon Estes Sr. and “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn Estes

Lyddal Bacon Estes, Sr. (“LBE”) and “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn,[1] who married in Lunenburg County, Virginia on 10 March 1814, had five sons: (1) Benjamin Henderson Estes (“Henderson”), (2) John B. Estes, (3) Lyddal Bacon Estes, Jr. ( “LBE Jr.”), (4) William Estes, and (5) Allen W. Estes. At least three of the five sons – Henderson, LBE Jr. and Allen – fought for the Confederacy, and this article is about them.[2]

Henderson and LBE Jr. served during 1861-1862 in an infantry regiment involved in the unsuccessful defense of Fort Donelson, Tennessee.[3] Beginning in 1863, the three Estes brothers all served as officers in Company A of Ham’s Cavalry. That unit was also known as the1st Battalion, Mississippi State Cavalry, and then as Ham’s Cavalry Regiment after it transferred from state to Confederate service.[4] Company A was nicknamed the “Tishomingo Rangers” – suggesting that the unit was formed in Tishomingo County, Mississippi and that many members of the unit may have lived there, as did the Estes family.[5] The three brothers’ military service records beginning in 1863 contain some interesting genealogical information for researchers on this Estes line, and also help to put a human face on what might otherwise be impersonal Civil War history.[6]

Infantry Service

B. H. Estes appears as a 3rd Lieutenant and 2nd Lieutenant with Company D of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, and then as a 3rd Lieutenant of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, Company D.[7] The unit was originally raised as the 2nd Mississippi Infantry under Col. Davidson in August-September 1861 and sent to Kentucky, where it was known as the Third Regiment and, after November 1861, the Twenty-Third Regiment. The regiment was involved in the defense and surrender of Fort Donelson in February 1862, although some of the unit escaped. Captured members of the regiment were held at Springfield, Illinois, Indianapolis, Indiana and at Camp Douglas, Chicago, were a number died and are buried. Survivors were exchanged in the fall of 1862 and the regiment was reorganized and recruited replacements for the war.[8]

LBE Jr. apparently served in the same unit. He (or some L. B. Estes, presumably the same man) is reported as serving as a Lieutenant in Company G of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment. part of Davidson’s command which became renumbered as the 3rd and then the 23rd.[9] Like his brother, we don’t know whether he was captured and exchanged, or escaped capture, at the surrender of the fort. In any event, both Henderson and LBE Jr. were available to serve in Ham’s Cavalry by March 1863.

It is possible that, after the prisoner exchange of 1862, both returned to their homes in Tishomingo County. By that time, Tishimingo and other northern Mississippi counties were outside Confederate control and beyond the reach of conscription or forced service. However, local partisan companies or so-called “state troops” were organized in these regions and sometimes operated without Confederate oversight. Often such troops were part-time soldiers, living at or near home and tending to their farms. That seems to have been the case with Ham’s Cavalry as originally organized.[10]

Henderson Estes (12 Dec. 1815 – 6 Jan. 1897)[11]

After 1862, the Civil War file for Henderson (who is shown consistently in the file as “Captain B. H. Estes”) indicates that he enlisted twice: this was not unusual, because soldiers frequently enlisted for a limited term and then “re-upped” when the initial term had expired. In most Confederate records, the name of the officer who enlisted or re-enlisted the soldier is also stated in the file. What is unusual in Henderson’s case is that his file indicates that he enlisted himself for his first term of service. Stated another way, the file shows that Capt. B. H. Estes was the enlisting officer for Capt. B. H. Estes, suggesting that Henderson may have been the person who organized the Tishomingo Rangers. This is supported by the fact that he signed one of the muster rolls as company commander, since it was common for an organizer to be a company leader. Further, since he was in his late forties when the war broke out, Henderson would have been a logical candidate to organize a unit that was presumably composed primarily of younger men. He was also from a relatively prosperous family, which was a virtual prerequisite for organizing a unit: the organizer frequently, if not usually, helped outfit the unit he recruited.

Henderson enlisted himself and his brothers LBE Jr. and Allen W. Estes in Kossuth on March 10, year unstated, for a term of 12 months. That enlistment must have occurred by at least March 1863, because Henderson appears on the Company A muster roll records for September 18, 1863 through April 30, 1864. A March 1863 enlistment would also be consistent with the dates of his earlier infantry service. The record indicates that Henderson enlisted for a second time on January 20, 1864 in Richmond, Virginia. No enlistment term is stated. Henderson was not actually in Richmond on that date, since Ham’s Regiment never participated in any battles in Virginia. It is likely that Richmond was given as the place of re-enlistment for administrative simplicity, since the troop was in the field at the time (and was possibly re-enlisted en masse). Shortly thereafter, on May 5, 1864, Ham’s Cavalry transferred from Mississippi state service to Confederate service. A descriptive list of Company A, Ham’s Cavalry Regiment, notes that Henderson was 5’7″, with blue eyes, black hair, and a fair complexion.[12] He is described as a farmer, born in Virginia, age 48, which is consistent with the census records in which Henderson appears as a head of household.[13]

LBE Jr. (Sept. 20, 1826 – Apr. 18, 1903)[14]

LBE Jr., a Second Lieutenant, also enlisted on May 10 for a term of twelve months, by enlisting officer Capt. B. H. Estes. The year was not stated but, like Henderson, it was probably 1863. LBE Jr.’s record states that he was mustered into Confederate service on May 5, 1864 by Capt. L. D. Sandidge for the duration of the war. His file, like Henderson’s, records his appearance on the muster roll of Company A from at least September 18, 1863 through April 30, 1864. LBE Jr.’s file also indicates that Company A was in Tupelo, Mississippi as of 15 December, 1863. Like his brother Henderson, LBE Jr. states that he was a farmer. He gave Tennessee as his place of birth and his age as 37. LBE Jr. was almost certainly born in McNairy County, Tennessee, because that is where LBE Sr. and family appeared in the 1830 federal census. LBE Jr. re-enlisted, along with Henderson, on January 20, 1864. He appears on the descriptive list as 5’6″, age 37, blue eyes, dark hair, and fair complexion.

Allen W. Estes (about 1832 – July 29, 1864)[15]

Allen’s service record states that his name appears on a register of officers and soldiers of the Confederate Army who were killed in battle or died of wounds or disease. The youngest of the three brothers, Allen was age 32 when he enlisted. He was the tallest, at 5’8″, and had the same black hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion as his elder brothers. He was also a farmer, and, like LBE Jr., born in Tennessee, presumably McNairy County. His file states that Allen had his own gun; his brothers probably did as well, although only Allen’s file mentions that matter. Each of the three also undoubtedly had his own horse, which was a requirement for a member of a cavalry unit.

Like his brothers, Allen enlisted at Kossuth on March 10 (presumably 1863) for a period of 12 months. His rank at enlistment was Second Sergeant, and he appeared on the Company A muster rolls with that rank for July 8 through January 20, 1864, when the unit was transferred from state to Confederate service. On May 5, 1864, he appeared in his file for the first time as a Captain. Duration of his enlistment: “for the war,” although another record in his file indicates that Allen enlisted for a period of three years. The length of his enlistment was moot, however, because Allen died on July 29, 1864, in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Allen left a widow Josephine (neé Jobe) and a son Joseph, born about 1862.[16]

Ham’s Cavalry

Ham’s Cavalry was active in various conflicts in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. The regiment participated with Gholson’s Brigade in three attacks on July 6 and 7, 1864, in an unsuccessful attempt to cut off the retreat of Union forces from Jackson toward Vicksburg, Mississippi.[17] Additionally, the unit was almost certainly involved in the battle at Tupelo on the 14th and 15th of July, 1864. In that engagement, Confederate Generals Stephen D. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest, with about 8,000 troops, attacked Union General A. J. Smith’s federal force of about 14,000 in a series of uncoordinated and piecemeal assaults. The Confederates were defeated with heavy casualties.[18] Battlefield maps clearly reveal the superior defensive position occupied by the Union forces on a ridge about one mile west of Tupelo.[19]

Atlanta is approximately 270 miles from Tupelo, and ten days after the battle at Tupelo, Ham’s Cavalry was again with Gholson’s Brigade in the lines at Atlanta, dismounted – that is, fighting as infantry rather than as cavalry. This recounting of the unit’s participation in that battle is from Dunbar Rowland’s Military History of Mississippi, 1803 – 1898:

“On July 28th [1864], fighting west of Atlanta, [Ham’s Cavalry] made a desperate charge on the breastworks in the woods, and sustained heavy losses. Colonel Ham was mortally wounded, and died July 30. Captain Estes, of Company A, and Lieutenant Winters, commanding Company D, were killed.”[20]

                  The Captain Estes referenced by Rowland was obviously Allen, who died the following day in an Atlanta hospital. Another account refers to this engagement as the Battle of Ezra Church (or the Battle of the Poor House), and indicates serious errors in judgment and leadership by some of the commanding officers. Confederate commander John B. Hood had ordered Generals Stephen D. Lee (who had also been present at the battle of Tupelo) and Alexander P. Stewart, each with two divisions, to intercept an advancing Union force under General O. O. Howard in order to prevent the federal troops from cutting the last western rail line leading to Atlanta:

“[Hood] instructed the generals not to engage in a battle, just halt the Federals’ advance down the Lick Skillet Road. He was preparing for a July 29 flank attack against Howard. Lee, however, violated orders. At 12:30 p.m. on July 28 his troops assaulted Howard at Ezra Church. Howard was prepared … and repulsed Lee’s first attack. Stewart launched a series of frontal attacks over the same ground … The Federals repulsed the attacks and inflicted heavy losses…”[21]

A battlefield map shows that Howard’s Union forces, located about three miles west of the Atlanta railroad depot, occupied a strong defensive position on a ridge line behind a rail barricade.[22] Attacking in such circumstances was not only contrary to express orders, it was virtually suicidal.[23] Estimated casualties: 562 U.S., 3,000 Confederate.[24] A marker at the battlefield states that Brantly’s Brigade of Mississipians on the extreme left of the Confederate forces made it over the log barricades of the 83rd Indiana Regiment. However, they were swept back by a counterattack. Ham’s dismounted cavalry was probably part of this attack, and this (we speculate) may be where Captain Allan Estes fell.

We do not, of course, want to honor the Confederate army, which was fighting to maintain slavery. We can nevertheless honor individuals who fought bravely for either side. Ironically, the family of Allen Estes, who died in that horrible war, did not own slaves.

By the following spring, whatever was left of Ham’s Cavalry was assigned to Armstrong’s Brigade as part of Ashcraft’s Consolidated Mississippi Cavalry.[25] According to Rowland’s History:

“The command made a gallant fight against odds, in the works at Selma, Alabama, April 2, 1865. Here a considerable number were killed, wounded or captured … The officers and men were finally paroled in May, 1865, under the capitulation of Lieut. Gen. Richard Taylor, May 4.”[26]

There is no indication in their individual military records as to when or where Henderson and LBE Jr. ended their Confederate service. However, LBE Jr.’s file expressly states that he enlisted for the duration of the war, suggesting that he was probably among those paroled at Selma. Given the history of the unit, it seems amazing that two of the three Estes brothers managed to survive.

Both LBE Jr. and Henderson Estes returned to Tishomingo County after the war. Henderson appeared in the records there as a Justice of the Peace in the late 1860s[27] By 1870, his mother Nancy had died, and he had moved his family to McLennan County, Texas.[28] By 1880, LBE Jr. had joined Henderson and their sister, Martha Estes Swain, in McLennan County.[29] LBE Jr. and his sister Martha are buried in the Fletcher Cemetery in Rosenthal, McLennan County; Henderson is buried at the Robinson Cemetery, also in McLennan County.[30]

© 2005 by Robin Rankin Willis & Gary Noble Willis.

[1] Nancy did not have four names, of course. She went by Nancy, which was most likely a nickname for Ann. She appeared in the records as Ann Allen Winn (Lunenburg Will Book 6: 204, FHL microfilm 32,381, will of her father Benjamin Winn, naming among his other children Ann Allen Winn), Nancy Allen Winn (Lunenburg Guardian Accounts 1798 – 1810 at 136, FHL microfilm 32,419, account naming Nancy Allen Winn and other orphans of Benjamin Winn), and Nancy A. Winn (numerous Tishomingo Co., MS records, e.g., Tishomingo probate Vol. C: 391, FHL Microfilm 895,897, bond for administrators of the estate of Lyddal B. Estes).

[2] We haven’t found any record of Civil War service for the other two sons, John B. Estes and William Estes. John left Tishomingo before 19 Aug 1853, when he and his wife Avy or Amy Ann Somers executed a deed from Nacogdoches Co., TX. Tishomingo DB Q: 305, FHL Microfilm 95,878. John appeared in the 1860 and 1870 U.S. census for Nacogdoches Co. but not thereafter. William Estes had already left Tishomingo by at least 18 Feb 1853, when he executed a general power of attorney in favor of Benjamin H. Estes. Tishomingo DB Q: 307, FHL Microfilm 895,878. The power of attorney recites that William was then a resident of San Francisco Co., CA.

[3] H. Grady Howell, For Dixie Land, I’ll Take My Stand (Madison, MS: Chickasaw Bayou Press, 1998) at 830-31.

[4] http://www.mississippiscv.org/MS_Units/Hams_MS-CAV.htm.

[5] LBE Sr. and his family appeared in Tishomingo in the 1837 and 1845 Mississippi state census and the 1840 U.S. census. LBE Sr.’s widow Nancy appeared in the 1850 and 1860 census for Tishomingo Co. The service records for all three Estes brothers state that they originally enlisted in Kossuth, MS, now located in Alcorn Co. (created from Tishomingo in 1871). All the companies in Ham’s Cavalry were recruited from Tishomingo, Yalobusha, Itawamba and Noxubee Counties. http://www.mississippiscv.org/MS_Units/Hams_MS_CAV.htm

[6] Unless expressly noted otherwise, the information in this article is from the National Archives & Records Administration’s military service records for B. H. Estes, L. B. Estes, and A. W. Estes. These Civil War files for the Estes brothers cover service from 1863, but not the earlier service referenced elsewhere.

[7] Howell at 830; www.mississippiscv.org/MS_Units/23rd_MS_INF.htm, which provides information from Dunbar Rowland’s Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898.

[8] See www.mississippiscv.org/MS_Units/23rd_MS_INF.htm, information from Dunbar Rowland’s Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898.

[9] Howell at 831. An L. B. Estes is also reported as having served as a non-commissioned officer (a corporal) in Company D of the 32nd Infantry Regiment. Based on the dates of formation of this unit and the 2nd Mississippi, it is likely these are two different people. Since Henderson Estes was in the same command, it is likely that Lt. LBE rather than Corporal LBE is the son of LBE Sr. and Nancy Estes.

[10] See www.mississippiscv.orgMS_Units/Hams_1st_MS_ST_CAV.htm.

[11] Central Texas Genealogical Society, Inc., McLennan County, Texas Cemetery Records, Volume 2 (Waco, Texas: 1965) at 154 (abstract of tombstone of Benjamin Estes in the Robinson Cemetery). He is listed in the 1840 census as “Henderson Estes,” see U.S. Census, Tishomingo Co., MS, p. 231.

[12] The NARA record indicates that the descriptive list is contained in an original record located in the office of the Director of Archives and History, Jackson, MS, M.S. 938010.

[13] 1860 U.S. census, Tishomingo Co., MS, Kossuth P.O., p. 91, dwelling 606, (Benj. H. Estes, age 43, farmer, b. VA); 1870 U.S. census, McLennan Co., TX, Waco, p. 157B, dwelling 755 (B. H. Estes, age 55, farmer, b. VA); 1880 U.S. Census, Brown Co., TX, Dist. 27, p. 443D (Benjamin Estes, 64, b. VA, parents b. VA).

[14] Central Texas Genealogical Society, Inc., McLennan County, Texas Cemetery Records, Volume 2 (Waco, Texas: 1965) (abstract of tombstone of Lyddal Bacon Estes in the Fletcher Cemetery, Rosenthal).

[15] See 1860 U.S. Census, Tishomingo Co., MS, Boneyard P.O., p. 87, dwelling 583 (listing for Nancy A. Estes and Allen Estes, age 27, thus born about 1833); service record of A. W. Estes (age 32 at enlistment in 1863, thus born about 1831).

[16] Irene Barnes, Marriages of Old Tishomingo County, Mississippi, Volumes I and II (Iuka, MS: 1978) (marriage of Josephine Jobe and W. A. Estes, Oct. 1859; marriage of Mrs. Josephine Estes and G. L. Leggett, August 1868). Grimmadge Leggett and wife Josephine appeared in the 1880 census, Alcorn Co. MS with his stepson “Jos. Ester” [sic]; see also 1900 census, Alcorn Co., MS.

[17] See http://www.mississippiscv.org/MS_Units/Hams_MS_CAV.htm.

[18] See http://www.decades.com/CivilWar/Battles/ms015.htm. Casualties estimated at 648 US, 1,300 CS.

[19] Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC: (Government Printing Office, 1891-1895, reprinted 1983 by Arno Press, Inc. and Crown Publishers , Inc. and in 2003 by Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.), at p. 167, Plate 63 – 2.

[20] See http://www.mississippiscv.org/MS_Units/Hams_MS_CAV.htm.

[21] See http://wwwhttp://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/civwar/html/

[22] See Atlas (note 14) at p. 153, Plate 56 – 7.

[23] General Lee also made serious military errors at Tupelo, committing understrength forces piecemeal against federal troops occupying a solid defensive position. He was obviously well-regarded, because he was the Confederacy’s youngest Lt. General and was the commander of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana.

[24] See . Another source estimates casualties at 700 U.S. 4,642 CS. http://wwwhttp://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/civwar/html/.

[25] Howell at 213-214, listing Henderson Estes, Captain, and Toney Estes (LBE Jr.’s nickname), First Lieutenant, Company A, Eleventh Mississippi Cavalry (Ashcraft’s).

[26] See http://www.mississippiscv.org/MS_Units/Hams_MS_CAV.htm.

[27] Fan A. Cochran, History of Old Tishomingo County, Territory of Mississippi (Canton, OH: Barnhart Printing Co., 1972)

[28] Nancy does not appear in the 1870 census. An 1872 deed from Henderson to LBE Jr. recites that Nancy was deceased and that Henderson resided in McLennan Co., Texas. Tishomingo DB 2: 590, FHL microfilm 0,895,389.

[29] 1880 U.S. Census, McLennan Co., TX, p. 261 (listing for Lydal P. [sic] Estes and family).

[30] John M. Usry, Fall and Puckett Funeral Records (Waco, Texas: Central Texas Genealogical Society, 1974); McLennan County, Texas Cemetery Records, Volume 2.