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.