© Robin Rankin Willis June 2016
One of the things that surprised me about family history research is that I started liking some of my ancestors. Amazingly, one can learn a great deal about people who lived a couple of centuries ago, including their fundamental character and even specific personality traits. A fertile imagination helps, but is not essential. Even ostensibly dry county records are often revealing, and the occasional personal record can be a fabulous find. I love my great-great uncles Napoleon Bonaparte Rankin (“Pole,” a house painter) and Washington Marion Rankin (“Wash,” a “clever engineer”), who wrote each other letters in the 1880s. Their correspondence revealed a shared wicked sense of humor and considerable affection. Letters from one of their aunts, Martha Estes Swain, to their mother, Mary Estes Rankin, are full of family gossip – one can almost hear them tut-tutting. Concern for “the connection,” as they called their extended family, also comes through clear as a bell.
Other ancestors are patently obnoxious. I will save examples for another post.
Fortunately, likeable ancestors abound. My ancestors James and Ann Alexander of Rowan County are among them for two main reasons. First, they executed sweet gift deeds to five of their six children. Second, Ann Alexander bested William, their eldest son, on at least one legal issue. Eighteenth century women rarely appeared in county records, making it difficult to learn much about them. Courtroom victories by females were even less common. Ann, who appeared in several records, clearly had some mettle. I admire her determination, and imagine that having an adverse relationship with her son was not easy.
Moving on, this article contains: (1) links to some websites that provide a great deal of information about Alexanders; (2) a brief description of some major unknowns about James and Ann Alexander’s family; and (3) what the records do reveal about them.
Let’s start with the links, including two for the Alexander DNA project.
The first link summarizes Alexander family lineages for all y-DNA project participants. The line of James and Ann Alexander is designated the “Spartanburg Confused Family,” or “SpartCons” for short.[i] Find the SpartCons here:
The next link tabulates the Alexander y-DNA project results. It also refers to the line of James and Ann as “Spartanburg Confused.”
Finally, here is the website of my distant cousin and fellow SpartCon John F. Alexander. It has a wealth of information about the line of James and Ann. John asks me to add that it is a work in progress and that readers are welcome to send him comments, corrections and additions that are supported by evidence.
As for the major unknowns about James and Ann, I really hope that someone can fill in some of these blanks. The Alexanders qualify for me as what genealogists call a “brick wall,” meaning that my efforts to identify their parents have been unsuccesful. In fact, I don’t even know where or when James Alexander was born, much less who his parents were. Ditto for his wife Ann. They are both undoubtedly Scots-Irish, but … were they the original immigrants, or were they born here, and their parents were immigrants? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, although it’s not for lack of trying.
I do think I know where James and Ann came from before they arrived in Anson/Rowan County. They most likely lived in Amelia County, Virginia in the 1740s. Admittedly, the only clue regarding their origin in the North Carolina records was that James had some Virginia currency among the assets of his estate.[ii] That’s pretty thin circumstantial evidence, but better than none. In any event, some James and Ann Alexander lived in Amelia County from about 1742 through 1749.[iii] The timing is perfect, since that is just before James and Ann appeared in Anson County, NC some time before 1752. James and Ann were the only Alexanders who appeared in the Amelia records during that time period, except for a William Alexander who witnessed one deed and who may have been their eldest son.[iv] The absence of other Alexanders raises the inference that James and Ann may have migrated with Ann’s family of origin rather than James’s.
James and Ann lived near several other Scots-Irish families in Amelia, including Ewings, Wallaces, Gillespies, and Cunninghams, and appeared in records with several of them.[v] James Ewing, one of their Scots-Irish neighbors, came from Cecil County, MD, where he owned land.[vi] James and Ann undoubtedly also came to Amelia from the area around Philadelphia/Wilmington, where many Scots-Irish arrived from the Ulster Plantation of northernmost Ireland during the eighteenth century. Their families most likely first lived in Chester or Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Cecil County, Maryland, or New Castle County, Delaware. I have no proof, although there are many Alexanders, Gillespies, Ewings and other Scots-Irish in the records of those counties in the 1700s.
The last entry for James and Ann in the Amelia County records was in September 1749, when they sold their tract on Fort Creek adjacent the Gillespies and Ewings.[vii] In 1750, James first appeared in the records of Anson County, North Carolina, in a land grant and a survey there.[viii] The family was clearly living in Anson County by 1752, when James received a Granville grant for the 640 acres on Kerr Creek (also known as James Cathey’s Mill Creek) that had been surveyed for him in 1750.[ix] The deed referred to him as “James Alexander, Gent., of Anson County.”
In early 1753, James and Ann executed deeds giving land and livestock to five of their six children (all except William).[x] James may have been getting his affairs in order, since he died later that year. All five deeds are dated January 7, 1753, and all of them recite love, goodwill and affection for each child as the consideration. Although there are similar recitations of consideration in many other colonial gift deeds from parent to child, it continues to strike me as a lovely thing to put in the permanent records. Also, Ann Alexander, although not named as a grantor in any of the deeds, signed at least four of them with her mark.[xi] As a married woman, she had no legal existence of her own and consequently no legal right to convey that land. Adding her signature simply put her stamp of approval on both the conveyance itself and the love and affection recited as consideration.
Each of the four deeds to their sons – gifts to James Jr., John, David and Robert – refers to the grantee as “planter.” This was a designation of one’s profession: e.g., planter, blacksmith, trader, or just “gentleman.” In January 1753, David was probably just teetering on the brink of adulthood. He was definitely not more than eighteen, and probably a year or two younger than that. Robert was about age ten. Their parents may have been taking pains to treat their younger sons as adults, and perhaps there was a twinkle in the parental eyes when they executed those deeds.
Eleanor, the only Alexander daughter, did not receive land, which isn’t unusual. A colonial female rarely owned a fee simple interest in land. If a woman owned any interest at all in real property, it was usually just a life estate in some or all of her deceased husband’s land. Instead of land, James and Ann gave Eleanor a “gray mair” [sic] and three “cow yearlings.” Her appearance in that deed is important for more than proof of her parents and siblings, because her name is a source of minor controversy among family history researchers. Most call her “Ellen,” which is the name on her tombstone and what she was probably called.[xii] They may be right, but I will just say this: a court record identified her given name as Eleanor;[xiii] at least three deeds (one with her signature as “Elender”) do the same;[xiv] and she had a daughter and at least five granddaughters, all named Eleanor rather than Ellen.[xv] Those facts surely establish that her given name was actually Eleanor. Her nickname was Ellen. For the record, Eleanor, daughter of James and Ann Alexander, married Samuel Rankin about 1759 – early 1760.[xvi] Eleanor’s brother David (not her father, as the author of one Rankin family history incorrectly speculated) sold Samuel his 320-acre tract on James Cathey’s Mill Creek in 1760.[xvii]
Back to James and Ann. A deed from William Alexander to his brother Robert states that James died on June 15, 1753.[xviii] Ann was appointed guardian for David, Eleanor and Robert on October 22, 1755, proving they were underage on that date.[xix] David and Eleanor were allowed to choose their own guardian, establishing that they were at least fourteen but not yet twenty-one. The court appointed Ann guardian for Robert, stating that he was then about age twelve.
The Rowan county deed and court records prove one more son, William. He wasn’t a grantee among the 1753 gift deeds, which may just mean that James and Ann had already provided for him in some fashion. In 1756, William executed confirmation deeds to his two minor brothers, David and Robert, for the land they had received as gifts.[xx] As the eldest, William was James’s heir under the North Carolina law of intestate descent and distribution, and would have been entitled to inherit James’s land had James owned any when he died (assuming, of course, that James had left no will: the rule of primogeniture only applied if a deceased did NOT leave a will). James, however, had given it all to his other four sons. Ann paid William something more than the standard gift deed price of five shillings (although still substantially less than the land was worth) to obtain those confirmation deeds. The “conveyances” insured that her sons had good title and that William would not dispute it.[xxi] I have seen a number of similar confirmation deeds, and the consideration recited was always “love, goodwill and affection.” William apparently preferred cash.
The records leave no doubt about the state of Ann’s relationship with William. In 1755, she had hauled him into court, asserting that he was withholding assets belonging to his father’s estate.[xxii] Ann’s attorney also charged (undoubtedly on her authority and behalf) that William was abusing an indentured servant. I don’t know how the claim regarding the estate assets turned out, but the court sided with Ann on the abuse issue and discharged the indentured servant.[xxiii]
The records suggest that the six Alexander children were born on approximately the dates shown below. The birth dates are estimates, except with respect to David, Eleanor and Robert, whose birth years are reasonably supported by various records: [xxiv]
– William, born by 1728
– James Jr., born about 1730
– John, born about 1732
– David, born about 1736
– Eleanor, born 1740
– Robert, born about 1743
I haven’t found any record of William Alexander’s family (if any) or his whereabouts after Rowan County. James Jr. lived in Spartanburg, SC; John Alexander married Rachel Davidson and went to Burke/Buncombe County, NC; David married Margaret Davidson in Rowan in 1762 and went to Pendleton District (now Anderson Co.), SC; and Robert married Mary Jack and remained in Lincoln County, where he was a justice of the county court.[xxv] Perhaps I can persuade some of the SpartCons to collaborate with me on an outline descendant chart for James and Ann which I can post on this site. I confess that I have not tracked any of James’s and Ann’s children except for Eleanor Alexander, wife of Samuel Rankin. Samuel and Eleanor are probably my ancestors, although an additional y-DNA test of one of Sam and Eleanor’s descendants is needed. Without DNA evidence, I can prove Samuel and Eleanor as ancestors only through a family legend and very strong circumstantial evidence. I will save that story for another day!
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[i] The name ‘Spartanburg Confused’, or SpartCon, was assigned long ago, before discovering that James Jr., John, David and Robert were all sons of James and Ann. There are now so many references to SpartCons that changing the designation would be difficult, even though the family is not exclusively from Spartanburg (and the confusion has abated!).
[ii] Jo White Linn, Abstracts of the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rowan County, North Carolina, 1753-1762 (Salisbury, NC: 1977), Order Book 2: 92, entry of 25 Oct 1755, inventory of the estate of James Alexander, dec’d, included £52.11.2 Virginia money.
[iii] Gibson J. McConnaughey, Court Order Book 1, Amelia County, Virginia, 1735-1746 (Amelia, VA: Mid-South Publishing Co., 1985), abstract of Order Book 1: 281A, entry of 19 Aug 1742, James Alexander paid for attending court to testify in a lawsuit; Gibson J. McConnaughey, Deed Book 3 and Deed Book 4, Amelia County, Virginia Deeds 1747-1753 (Amelia, VA: Mid-South Publishing Co., 1988), abstract of Deed Book 3: 531, 30 Sep 1749 deed from James Alexander and wife Ann conveying a tract on Fort Creek.
[iv] McConnaughey, abstract of Deed Book 3: 278, 19 Jul 1749 deed witnessed by William Alexander. The grantor was a resident of Augusta County, and the witnesses may have lived there. If the witness was William, the eldest son of James and Ann, then he had probably arrived at legal age and was born by 1728.
[v] FHL Film #1,902,616, tax lists for 1744 through 1749 for the upper part of Amelia from Namozine Cr. to Cellar Cr. included James Alexander, several Cunninghams, Samuel Wallace, Samuel Ewing and Gillespies; 1744 deed to Robert Gillespie for land on Fort Creek adjacent to James Alexander (I have lost the deed book citation for that deed); McConnaughey, abstract of Amelia Deed Book 2: 315, 1746 deed from James Alexander to James Ewing, land on Fort Creek. Grantor’s wife Ann relinquished dower.
[vi] McConnaughey, abstract of Deed Book 3: 371, power of attorney from James Ewing of Amelia County to Joshua Ewing to sell a tract of land in Cecil Co., MD.
[vii] Id., abstract of Deed Book 3: 351, deed of 30 Sep 1749 from James Alexander to John Reed, 300 acres on the north side Fort Creek adjacent Robert Galaspye [sic, Gillespie], James Ewing, Samuel Ewing and James Parks, with all houses, etc., witnessed by John Cunningham et al.
[viii] NC Land Grants Vol. 4: 1040, grant dated 7 Apr 1750 to James Alexander, two tracts on both sides Rocky River; Patent Book 11: 1, survey dated 12 Nov 1750, 640 acres in Anson adjacent Andrew Kerr.
[ix] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. I 1753 – 1762, Abstracts of Books 1 – 4 (Salisbury, NC), Deed Book 3: 547, Granville grant dated 25 Mar 1752 to James Alexander of Anson Co., Gent., 640 acres adjacent Andrew Kerr. Witnesses included William Alexander. Notation in the margin: “to his widow.” This tract was on Kerr/James Cathey’s Mill Creek.
[x] Copies of Anson County, NC Deed Book B: 314, deed from James Alexander (also signed by Ann) to James Jr., 320 acres on Cadle (sic, Coddle) Cr. and 250 acres on the Catawba River; id. at pp. 314-315, deed from James (also signed Ann) to son John, the other half of the two tracts given to James Jr.; id. at 315, James Sr. to son David, half of the tract where I live (the tract on James Cathey’s Mill Cr.) and livestock; id., deeds from James to daughter Elener and son Robert (the other half of the tract on James Cathey’s Mill Cr.). An abstract of Anson County deeds omits the second deed, a gift of land and livestock to John Alexander. See Brent Holcomb, Anson County, N. C. Deed Abstracts Volume 1: 1749-1757 (Clinton, SC: 1974). I have copies from the deed books, however, so am confident that John is a proved son of James and Ann Alexander.
[xi] The deed from James Alexander to their daughter “Elener” doesn’t mention Ann’s mark, although these deeds have been transcribed from the original deed books and are now typed.
[xii] Microfilm at Clayton Genealogical library titled “North Carolina Tombstone Records, Vols. 1, 2 and 3,” compiled by the Alexander Martin and J. S. Wellborn chapters of the DAR; transcribed lists filmed 1935 by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Tombstone of Ellen Rankin, b. 16 April 1740, d. 26 Jan 1802. Other researchers give the birth date on her tombstone as 1743, although that is not consistent with the court allowing her to cloose her own guardian in 1755. That required her to be at least fourteen.
[xiii] Linn, Abstracts of the Minutes, Order Book 2: 90, entry of 22 Oct 1755, David and Elinor Alexander (spelling per abstractor) came into court and chose their mother Ann Alexander as their guardian.
[xiv] Copy of Rowan County DB B: 315, gift deed from James Alexander to his daughter Elener; Linn, Rowan County Abstracts, Deed Book 6: 225, deed dated 31 Aug 1765 from Samuel Rankin and wife Eleanor (spelling per the abstractor) to John McNeeley, 320 acres on James Cathey’s Mill Creek; original of Lincoln Co. Deed Book 1: 703 (viewed by me at the courthouse, although my notes do not say whether it was Gaston or Lincoln County), deed of 26 Jan 1773 from Samuel Rankin of Tryon to Philip Alston, 150 acres on Kuykendall Creek signed by Samuel Rankin and Elender Rankin (two other deeds the same day, see DB 1: 702 et seq. were not signed by “Elender,” although she is identified in both as “Elen,” a grantor).
[xv] At least five of Samuel and Eleanor Rankin’s children named a daughter “Eleanor” (not “Ellen”), including Samuel Rankin Jr., Jean Rankin Hartgrove, Robert Rankin, David G. Rankin, and Eleanor Rankin Dickson. See, e.g., the tombstone of Eleanor, wife of Joseph Dickson, Ellis Cemetery, Shelby Co., Ill., died 4 Apr 1848, age 62, at www.findagrave.com.
[xvi] Virgil D. White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Volume III: N-Z (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Co., 1992). Abstract of the pension application of William Rankin, the eldest son of Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin, states that he was born January 1761 in Rowan County.
[xvii] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. II. 1762 – 1772 Abstracts of Books 5, 6, 7 (Salisbury, NC: 1972), Deed Book 5: 272, 14 July 1760 deed from David Alexander to Samuel Rankin, for £29 NC currency, 320 acres on both sides James Cathey’s Mill Creek.
[xviii] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. I 1753 – 1762, Abstracts of Books 1 – 4 (Salisbury, NC), abstract of Deed Book 3: 495, deed of 10 Jun 1756 from William Alexander, described as the eldest son and heir of James Alexander, to his brother Robert Alexander, reciting that James died intestate on 15 June 1753.
[xix] Linn, abstract of Rowan Order Book 2: 90, David and Elener Alexander chose their mother Ann as guardian and the court appointed Ann the guardian of Robert, about age 12.
[xx] Linn, abstract of Rowan Deed Book 3: 495, deed dated 10 Jun 1756 from Wiliam Alexander, eldest son and heir of James Alexander, to Robert Alexander, orphan of James, under 21 and brother of James (who died intestate 15 Jun 1753), for 75 shillings paid by the widow Anne Alexander, mother of Robert and William, 320 acres on both sides James Cathey’s Mill Cr.; Deed Book 3: 498, William Alexander to David Alexander, orphan of James Alexander, under 21 and brother of William, by Anne Alexander, for 7 shillings sterling, 320 acres both sides James Cathey’s Mill Cr.
[xxi] I don’t know why similar confirmation deeds were apparently not needed for the gifts to James Jr. and John, who were of legal age at the time of the gift in 1753. North Carolina law at that time apparently treated conveyances of realty to minors differently than conveyances to a grantee of legal age. Other Rowan County records establish that Ann Alexander had an attorney, see note 22, and it seems likely that she would have obtained advice about the ability of an heir to challenge a conveyance of land via deeds of gift.
[xxii] Id., abstract of Rowan Order Book 2: 77, entry of 16 Jul 1755, ordered on motion of Edward Underhill, Esq. (Ann Alexander’s attorney) that citation issue against William Alexander returnable immediately to give an account on oath what estate he has in his hands or had which were of James Alexander, dec’d, and account with Ann Alexander, administratrix for same.
[xxiii] Id., abstract of Order Book 2: 78, ordered on motion of Edward Underhill, Esq., that James Nicholas be discharged of his indenture to William Alexander due to ill usage. Discharged. The next day, the court ordered William to produce James Nicholas in court or else to “stand committed.” Order Book 2: 81. I don’t know what “stand committed” means, but suspect that it means held in contempt of court and committed to jail.
[xxiv] See note 12 (tombstone showing Eleanor’s birth year as 1740), note 19 (in 1755, Ann Alexander chosen as guardian by Eleanor and David and appointed as guardian of Robert, about age 12) and note 20 (1756 deed reciting that David Alexander was still a minor).
[xxv] https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/alexander-y-dna/about/results, see lineages for those members of the “Spartanburg Confused Family” who trace their line back to James and Ann.