Virginia Winns Part 6: Competing Theories About the Hanover Winns

There is a lot of speculation about the Winn family of Hanover County, Virginia on the web. You can find it on trees posted at Ancestry.com, at the Winn DNA Project website, and Winn message boards. I get a perverse kick out of this, because there is very little that the few extant Hanover records (and records from counties between Hanover and the coast) actually prove about the Hanover Winn family in the first half of the 18th century.

In fact, a mere three deeds contain a good bit of what we can actually prove about the early Hanover Winns. Here they are:

  1. 3 January 1733, John Winn of St. Paul’s Parish, Hanover Co., carpenter, to Benjamin Hawkins, same, for 2,000 lbs. tobacco and £15 current money, 140 acres grantor purchased from Richard Leak of Hanover. Witnesses were Richard Winn, Phebe Winn, and John Winn.[1]
  2. 19-20 January 1733, deeds of lease and release from Richard Winn and his wife Phebe of St. Paul’s Parish, Hanover, to John Winn of the same, £82 for 517 acres with plantation on Chickahominy Swamp in Hanover purchased by said Phebe in her widowhood by name of Phebe Pledger from John Hogg of New Kent. Witnesses were John Winn, Ann Wheeler, and Mary Pledger.[2]
  3. 31 Jan – 1 Feb 1733, deeds of lease and release from John Winn of St. Paul’s Parish, Hanover, to Richard Winn of the same, £100 for 517-acre plantation on Chickahominy Swamp in Hanover purchased by Phebe Pledger from John Hogg of New Kent. Richard and Phebe Winn sold to John Winn 19-20 Jan. last. Elizabeth Winn, wife of John, relinquished dower. Witnesses were John Winn, Ann Wheeler and Mary Pledger.[3]

OK, what do these three deeds tell us?

  • the three Winn men (Richard, John, and John Winn) who appeared in these deeds were undoubtedly family.
  • all three men were of legal age by 1733, so they were all born by 1712.
  • the first John Winn, grantor in deed #1, may have been unmarried in 1733 because relinquishment of dower wasn’t mentioned.
  • the second John Winn, grantor in deed #3, had a wife named Elizabeth.
  • Richard Winn’s wife was Phoebe, and she was previously married to a Mr. Pledger.
  • the witness to two of the deeds, Mary Pledger, was surely related to Phoebe in some fashion.

We can consider these matters proved by these deeds, except perhaps for the question whether John Winn, the grantor in deed #1, was married.

With this information in our arsenal, let’s get down to brass tacks: where did these Hanover Winns live before they came to Hanover?

There are two competing theories among Winn family history researchers about the origins of the Hanover Winns. Please keep in mind that both theories are speculative, which is why we are calling them “theories.” If a statement in the remainer of this article has documentary proof, the statement has a footnote containing a citation to a source. If there is not a citation to a source, then the statement is speculative. Following the principle of “belt AND suspenders” (meaning you can never have too many safeguards), I will put FACTS in regular typeface, like this. I will put speculation in italics.

As a wise distant cousin likes to say: family history without proof is fiction. PERIOD. If you claim you were descended from President George Washington, that’s fine. But please be aware that Washington had no children with his wife Martha Dandridge Custis, so your DAR application will be a bit tricky.

Here are the competing speculative Winn theories …

The Gloucester Theory.

The Abingdon Parish Register of Gloucester County records the baptism of Richard Winn, son of John Winn and his wife Elizabeth, in 1704.[4] The Gloucester Theory (this is speculation!) is that the Richard born in 1704 was the same man as the Richard Winn of Hanover County who married Phoebe Wilkes Pledger some time before 1733. According to the Gloucester theory, Richard’s parents John and Elizabeth Winn were the grantors in deed #3, above. John, the elder of the two John Winns in the three deeds, died in Hanover without leaving any record. That is believable, because Hanover probate records prior to 1785 are virtually nonexistent. The younger John Winn, who was the grantor in deed #1 and the witness in deeds #2 and #3, was Richard’s brother. John’s birth wasn’t recorded in the Abingdon Parish register for any one of several plausible reasons.

The Gloucester Theory can’t account for the gap in the records between 1704 and 1733, instead pointing to the state of the Gloucester records and the burned counties between Gloucester and Hanover. The Gloucester Theory would chart the early Gloucester/Hanover Winn family like this:

1 John Winn and wife Elizabeth (maiden name unknown) lived in Abingdon Parish, Gloucester County around the turn of the century. They moved to Hanover County some time before 1733.

2 Richard Winn was baptized in 1704 in Abingdon Parish, Gloucester. He married Phoebe Wilkes Pledger, widow of a Mr. Pledger.

2 John Winn’s birth year is unknown, although he was definitely born by 1712. He was in Hanover county, unmarried by 1733.

As a practical matter, the Gloucester Theory starts with known facts – the Abingdon Parish registry and the Hanover deeds – and simply weaves a plausible story to explain the provable facts. But it is nonetheless speculative. Absent a family Bible or other compelling evidence, it may be impossible to prove this theory. The Gloucester courthouse has burned three times, most recently in 1864. Colonial records for Hanover County are also sparse, and that’s putting it mildly. Records for King & Queen, New Kent, and King William counties (located between Gloucester and Hanover), where the family of John and Elizabeth Winn might have lived in the three decade gap between 1704 and 1733 – assuming the Gloucester Theory is correct – are similarly difficult.[6]

The Middlesex Theory

We don’t have to go far for this theory: just to the north of Gloucester County, across the Piankatank River, to Middlesex County. Christ Church Parish, which had the same boundaries as the county, has these entries for six children of Richard and Sarah Winn:

  1. Mary Winn born 16 Xember 1696-97.
  2. Sarah Winn born 17 January 1698-99
  3. Richard Win, son of Richd and Sarah Win, baptized 28 Sept 1701.
  4. Elizabeth Winn, dau of Richard and Sarah Winn, baptized 18 Apr 1703.
  5. John Winn, son of Richard Win and wife Sarah, baptized 20 Jan 1705.
  6. Jane Winn, dau of Richard and Sarah Winn, baptized 15 Feb 1707.

The Middlesex Theory (this is speculation!) is that the Richard Winn (b. 1701) and John Winn (b. 1704-05) in Middlesex are the same men as the grantors/grantees in Hanover deeds #2 and #3, above. The Middlesex Theory doesn’t account further for Richard, the father of those six children. The last entry I found for Richard in Middlesex (which has quite extensive colonial records) was in 1710, when he served on a jury, so he probably left Middlesex after that.[7] The Middlesex Theory doesn’t attempt to explain the gap between 1710 and 1733. The theory just postulates that Richard and Sarah Winn’s sons Richard and John migrated to Hanover County by 1733. Richard married Phoebe Wilkes Pledger some time before 1733. Also some time before 1733, John Winn married Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Elizabeth died, and then John married as wife #2 Mary Pledger, who witnessed deeds #2 and #3.

The Middlesex Theory would produce this chart:

1 Richard Winn and wife Sarah ______ who lived in Christ Church Parish, Middlesex County, in the late 1690s.

2 Richard Winn b. 1701 m. Phoebe Wilkes Pledger before 1733.

2 John Winn b. 1705 m. #1 Elizabeth LNU before 1733 and m. #2 Mary Pledger after 1733.

There is one glaring problem with the Middlesex Theory that I wish someone could explain satisfactorily. Who is the second John Winn who witnessed deeds #2 and #3? If you’re going to weave a credible story, you really need to account for all the players.

The Middlesex Theory says that Richard (grantor in deed #2) was born in 1701, and John (with wife Elizabeth, grantor in deed #3) was born in 1705. That would make Richard and John about 32 and 28, respectively, when they executed those 1733 deeds. Neither one of them was old enough in 1733 to have a son John who was able to write, much less witness a deed. There is nothing speculative about that: the second John Winn was unquestionably also of legal age.

The options are narrowing, aren’t they? The second John Winn was definitely not a son of either Richard and Phoebe or John and Elizabeth. The second John Winn wasn’t the father of Richard m. Phoebe and John m. Elizabeth & Mary, since the Middlesex theory identifies a Richard as the father of Richard and John father. But the second John was clearly family.

Cousin seems to be the last remaining reasonable possibility. Oh, boy … where did he come from? And where did he go? There was only one Winn family in the Christ Church Parish register and in Middlesex County. Somebody out there has to have some idea.

Which of the two theories is your pet? The vast majority of Winn researchers have adopted the Middlesex Theory. In fact, I can no longer find anyone with a tree posted on Ancestry.com who still claims descent from John and Elizabeth of Abingdon Parish, but my search skills stink. There were a few around on the web at one time. I suppose they have all been shouted down by the Middlesex Theory advocates.

In that regard, some Winn researchers state the Middlesex Theory as fact. This ought to merit the genealogical equivalent of the death penalty, or at least permanent loss of credibility.

Unfortunately, YDNA doesn’t help, if you look closely at the DNA results. There are (as nearly as I can tell) two participants in the Winn Family DNA Project who claim descent from Middlesex Winns. The others who are their matches apparently claim only provable ancestry (and good for them!), but not back to Middlesex. What is the proof of those claiming descent from Richard and Sarah of Middlesex? Gee, it would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?

In my own family tree software, my Winn line ends with Richard and Phoebe Wilkes Pledger Winn of Hanover. The Gloucester Theory seems to me to weave a better story in terms of reconciling all the known facts. But … it’s still just speculation. Call me prissy and old-fashioned. Guilty!

I’m hoping somebody who reads this will post a comment with more evidence one way or another.

At least one compiled family history (Jarvis-Winn) has more to say on the Hanover family. It was written by a pair of descendants of John Winn of Hanover County. The authors were both born in the 1800s, and the evidence they compiled appears to have been substantial. I’ll get to that in the next post on the Winns, in which I’ll share a picture of a fabulous oil painting sent to me by my friend and cousin Sandra Wynne Irwin.

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[1] Rosalie Edith Davis, Hanover County, Virginia Court Records 1733-1735: Deeds, Wills and Inventories (1979), at 19.

[2] Id. at 13-14.

[3] Id. at 16-18.

[4] Robert W. Robins, The Register of Abingdon Parish, Gloucester County, VA 1677-1780 (Arlington, VA: Honforn House, 1981).

[5] Here is a link to part 2, a link to part 3, a link to part 4, and a link to part 5. Whew! If you click on all of those, you will have opened a bunch of tabs. <grin>

[6] New Kent county deed books begin in 1865. King & Queen County deed books begin in 1864. The King William County clerk’s office burned in 1885 and most records were destroyed. This is where family lines go to become unprovable.

[7] Ruth and Sam Sparacio, Middlesex County, Virginia Order Book 1708 – 1710 (McLean, VA: The Antient Press, 1998), abstract of Order Book 4: 290.

Virginia Winns Part 4: Samuel Winn, Scoundrel, and a Famous Creek

We are all, dear readers, related to so-called “black sheep.” Every family tree has some criminals, KKK members, people who deserted their children, and just plain ol’ ne’er-do-wells among its branches. When you find a compiled genealogy extolling the inherited family virtues of thrift and hard work, all of them wealthy and hugely respected in the community, judges and war heroes as far as the eye can see – these abound in published family histories, believe it or not – you know you’re reading fiction. Or, at best, half-truths. In my own direct lines, I have a Civil War deserter and a ne’er-do-well named Benjamin Winn, grandson of both Daniel Winn and Col. Thomas Winn of Lunenburg County, Virginia.[1]

Benjamin stayed out of the records, leaving no proof of his character other than his father Joseph’s will. The will provided for Benjamin’s support, but made sure that Benjamin’s bequest was subject to neither his debts nor his control.[2] I actually like Benjamin, who married a strong and resourceful woman (Lucretia Andrews) and who probably did not set out to disappoint his father.

On the other hand, Samuel Winn of Lunenburg/Amelia left plenty of evidence that he was a worthless scoundrel – at best. And he probably belongs on the Winn tree we’ve been discussing.

Let’s recap. The prior three articles in this Winn series (read them at this link, and this link, and this one)  concluded that  Col. Thomas Winn of Lunenburg County, Daniel Winn of Lunenburg, John Winn of Amelia, Phoebe Winn Holland of Amelia, and Susanna Winn Irby of Amelia were siblings. Further, those five were sons and daughters of Richard Winn of Hanover County. We haven’t established yet that Richard’s wife was Phoebe (probably née Wilkes) Pledger Winn, but we will address that shortly.

Samuel Winn may be another sibling of those five Winns. Lunenburg land records establish a definite connection between Samuel and at least Col. Thomas and Daniel Winn. First, in 1740, Samuel patented 150 acres which were then in Brunswick, and later fell in Lunenburg after the latter county was created.[3] Samuel’s tract was on the south side of perhaps the most famous creek in Virginia genealogical research. This requires a slight digression, during which we will attempt fruitlessly to tap dance around a common obscene gerund.

Winn researchers on message boards sometimes refer to this watercourse as “Tucking Creek.” This artless dodge so clearly calls to mind the actual creek name that it seems a waste of time. Even better, some cartographer with a well-developed sense of irony renamed it “Modest Creek” at some point. It appears by that name on current maps. The original deed books, modesty not yet in vogue, just call a spade a spade and identify it as “F_cking Creek.” (I’ve omitted one letter, also an artless dodge, hoping to avoid complaints.)

Wouldn’t you love to know how the creek got its name? Was it shaded and full of algae-covered rocks, making people likely to slip when crossing it? Once home, did the victim explain his soaking clothes by saying “I slipped and fell into that effing creek again!” Or perhaps a couple was caught in flagrante delicto down by the creek? There is surely a good story there.

Back to Samuel. He next appeared in 1746, selling his Modest Creek patent to Thomas Wynne of St. Paul’s Parish in Hanover.[4] That, as you know, is Col. Thomas. In 1752, Samuel sold Daniel Winn of Prince George Co. 100 acres on Hounds Creek.[5] He is Col. Thomas’s brother. Sales of land among family members were so common that they are generally deemed evidence of a familial relationship. These two deeds, however, are the only evidence I have found that Samuel was related to Col. Thomas and Daniel, other than the fact that Samuel’s eldest son was named Richard Winn (suggesting, in turn, that Samuel’s father was named Richard in accord with the Anglo naming tradition). Pretty thin stuff.

Lunenburg court records provide the first hint that Samuel wasn’t a model citizen. In 1748, a Lunenburg grand jury indicted him for a crime, probably assault.[6] The order book for the same court session also mentioned a civil suit against Samuel for trespass and assault.[7] In all fairness to Samuel, he was ultimately fined just a token 5 shillings in the criminal case and the civil suit was dismissed.

Nevertheless, I’ll bet no one reading this has ever been indicted by a grand jury for assault, even an obviously minor one.

A number of Lunenburg suits against Samuel sought to collect money. The July 1750 order book alone records three attachments against Samuel’s personal estate. In all three cases, the court records say Samuel “absconded,” meaning he had already gotten the hell out of Dodge when the sheriff came to collect on the judgment.[8] “Absconded” probably also means he took with him property subject to attachment. There are more such records, but I quit taking notes on them, having already gotten the picture.

Samuel’s financial irresponsibility extended to support for his family, which he probably abandoned. In February 1756, the Lunenburg court ordered the church wardens of Cumberland Parish to bind out Ann, Sarah, Richard, and William Wynne, Samuel’s children.[9]

A few months later, in September 1756, Samuel Winn’s wife Sarah tried to sue him in Lunenburg. The court order book (I looked at the original) doesn’t specify the nature of the complaint, which was dismissed “for reasons appearing.”[10] If Sarah and Samuel were still married, she had no legal standing to sue anyone in her own behalf. Divorces were notoriously difficult for colonial women to obtain, except for impotence (not possible here). I haven’t a clue what this was all about, or how Sarah managed to get a case far enough for a dismissal. Curious. It’s clear, though, that Sarah had no use for Samuel.

Earlier Amelia County records provide a good reason. The Amelia County order book for April 1750 has this entry:

For examination of Samuel Wynne, committed for rape on the body of Mary Wynne, his daughter … Prisoner brought to bar on arraignment and pled not guilty. Mary Wynne, the prosecution and witness for the King, was called, but failed to appear. She had entered bond with John Ellis for £50 that she would appear and give evidence. No other evidence appearing, the prisoner was discharged.[11]

It is just barely possible that the Samuel Wynne who was accused of raping his daughter in Amelia was not the same man as Samuel Wynne of Lunenburg who abandoned his children. Note that the Lunenburg court didn’t name a Mary in the list of Samuel’s children six years after this rape charge (which might just mean that Mary wasn’t living in Lunenburg, or she was already of legal age by 1756).

What are the odds, though, that there was a worthless Samuel Winn with wife Sarah in both Amelia and Lunenburg counties? Amelia records establish that the mother of the non-appearing witness Mary Wynne was named Sarah. John Ellis of Amelia County, the man who provided security on Mary’s court appearance bond, definitely had a daughter Sarah who married a Winn. And Sarah Ellis Winn’s husband didn’t provide for her, which is consistent with the Samuel we’ve come to know. Here is the evidence: John Ellis’s 1762 will included a provision for his “son Richard Ellis to provide proper support and maintenance for my daughter Sarah Winn.”[12]

There is probably more information about this sad family in the Lunenburg and/or Amelia County records. But I was fed up with Samuel, and decided to move on to some fun issues. Getting the Lunenburg/Winn family further back in time definitely qualifies. Next, we will finally look at the Hanover Winn records in Part 5 of this Winn series.

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[1] Benjamin was a son of Joseph Winn (who was a son of Daniel) and Elizabeth Winn, a daughter of Col. Thomas. See the prior articles in this series discussing Lunenburg Order Book 17: 134. For an article about John Allen Rankin, the Civil War deserter, see this link.

[2] Joseph’s will took care of Benjamin’s support, but provided that Benjamin’s legacy would not service his debts or be within his control. Lunenburg Will Book 5: 20-22, will of Joseph Winn dated 28 Mar 1800 proved 12 Jun 1800, bequeathing “to executors for support of son Benjamin Winn, 2 negroes but not liable for payment of any of his debts, and after son’s death … [enslaved persons] to be divided equally among son’s children by present wife Creasy [sic, Lucretia] Winn when they are 21 or marry; at wife’s death, property lent her by this will divided between eight children Minor Winn, Daniel Winn, Jos Winn, Bannister Winn, Mourning Gunn, Elizabeth Brown, Sarah B. Winn, and children of Benjamin Winn by his wife Cressey.”

[3] Dennis Ray Hudgins, Cavaliers and Pioneers Volume IV: 1732 – 1741 (Richmond: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1994), Volume 4: 238, abstract of Virginia Patent Book 18: 905, Samuel Wynne patented 150 acres in Brunswick (now Lunenburg) on the south side of F_cking Cr. adjacent Read/Reed, 1 Dec 1740.

[4] Original of Lunenburg Deed Book 1: 71, deed of 8 Apr 1746 from Samuel Winn of Brunswick to Thomas Wynne of Hanover, 150 acres in Brunswick adjacent Read. Witnesses John Winn, John Stone, Richard Stone.

[5] Original of DB 3: 226, 4 Nov 1752 deed from Samuel Winn of Lunenburg sold Daniel Winn of Prince George 100 acres on the south side of Hounds Cr., David Stokes, Hampton Wade, and Thomas Winn, witnesses.

[6] June Banks Evans, Lunenburg County, Virginia Order Book 1, 1746-1749 (New Orleans: Bryn Ffyliaid Publications,1999), abstract of Order Book 1: 425, May 1748, grand jury returned an indictment against Samuel Wynne, venire facias to issue for him to appear at the next court to answer the King’s indictment.

[7] Id. at 428. Ebenezer Shearman v. Samuel Wynne, action in trespass/assault was continued until the next court.

[8] Id. at 300-302. The Order Book states that Hampton Wade obtained a judgment against Samuel for £16.15.8. The sheriff attached sundry goods and chattels and sold them at public auction to collect that debt. Second, Drury Allen obtained a judgment for £2.5.6, plus 40 lbs tobacco, and also obtained an attachment. Third, William Dobbins obtained an attachment for a judgment of £13.9.9.

[9] Original of Lunenburg Order Book 4: 82.

[10] Id. at 204, entry of 9 Sep 1756, Sarah Wynne, complainant, v. Samuel Wynne, defendant in chancery, dism’d.

[11] Gibson J. McConnaughey, Amelia County Virginia Court Order Book 2, 1746-1751 (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1997), abstract of Order Book 2: 159.

[12] Gibson J. McConnaughey, Will Book 2X Amelia County, Virginia Wills 1761-1771 (Amelia: Mid-South Publishing Co., 1979), abstract of Will Book 2X: 21, will of John Ellis of Nottoway Parish executed and proved in 1762.