Residing in Granville County were two free born women of color named Polly Ann Howell. These women were also first cousins, very close in age and their families often lived on adjoining properties. As a result, the records for both women can be mixed up if a thorough examination of the records is not performed. First there was Polly Ann Howell (born 1840) who was the daughter of Alexander “Doc” Howell and Betsy Ann Anderson. And second there was Polly Ann Howell (1844-1914) who was the daughter of John Howell and Jane Harris. Alexander Howell and John Howell were brothers, making their children first cousins. By carefully creating timelines based upon a deep analysis of primary source records, it is possible to differentiate between the two women in the archives.
Polly Ann Howell (daughter of Alexander Howell and Betsy Ann Anderson)
In the 1850 census for Tabs Creek district, Polly Ann Howell, age 10, is found residing in a household headed by her father Alexander Howell:
In the 1860 census, Polly Ann Howell is again found residing in a household of her father Alexander Howell in Tabs Creek district:
This is the last census record that Polly Ann Howell appeared in. If it was not for the records of her son Ben Howell (1867-1946), not much else would be known about her life. Polly Ann Howell does not appear in her parent’s household in the 1870 or 1880 census, indicating that she likely passed away around this time.
On 13 June 1873, Polly Ann Howell’s father Alexander Howell received a full $9.45 share from his deceased father Freeman Howell’s estate. This document establishes that the Polly Ann (Howell) Curtis who received an 85 cent payout from the estate cannot be the daughter of Alexander Howell. This is discussed in more detail later.
In the 1880 census, a 13 year old boy named “Bennie Howell” is identified as a grandson of head of household Alexander Howell. No person in the household is identified as the parent of Ben. This is typically indicative of Ben Howell having been orphaned or removed from his parents and being raised by his grandparents.
Ben “Bennie” Howell married Delia Brandon on 11 Dec 1891. In that record he is called “B J Howell”:
In the subsequent 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 census, Ben Howell is consistently enumerated in the Fishing Creek district and with the surname Howell. He is not ever referred to as having the surname Curtis.
On 5 January 1946, Ben Howell passed away and his death certificate provides direct information on the identity of his parents. The informant on the death certificate was Ben Howell’s son James Howell (1894-1979). So he was the person who provided the biographical information about his father Ben Howell. In the place of the decedent’s father, is written “D K” for both name and birth place. “D K” is shorthand for “Don’t Know”. In the place of the decedent’s mother, is written “Pollie Howell” for the name and “Granville County” for birthplace.
The death record combined with the information learned from the 1880 census in which Ben Howell is identified as a grandson of Alexander Howell, informs us that Ben Howell was the son of a woman named Polly Howell who was the daughter of Alexander Howell. The 1850 and 1860 census enumerations of Alexander Howell’s household shows he had a daughter named Polly Ann Howell. These records consistently show that Ben Howell (1867-1946) was the son of Polly Ann Howell (born 1840). In every census record and on his marriage and death certificates, Ben Howell is never identified as having the surname Curtis or being the son of a man with the surname Curtis.
But what about the identity of his father? Ben Howell’s surname was “Howell”, the surname of his mother. If his mother was legally married at the time of his birth which occurred circa 1867, then he would take the surname of his father. However Ben Howell took his mother’s surname, meaning he was born out of wedlock. This is consistent with James Howell indicating that he did not know the name of Ben Howell’s father as shown on the death certificate. It is incredibly difficult to find documentation that identifies the father of children born out of wedlock. To date, Ben Howell has not been located in the 1870 census. The 1870 census was the first census in which all residents, free born and formerly enslaved, were fully enumerated by name. As a result, there was a major undercount in the 1870 census in which many households and individuals were skipped over. If Ben Howell was enumerated in the 1870 census and that record could be found, it may help to identify his father. Ben Howell would have been approximately 3 years old in 1870. Other avenues of research are with genetic genealogy. Direct male descendants of Ben Howell can do a y-DNA test which specifically tests the y-DNA information that is passed down solely from father to son uninterrupted. The direct male descendants of Ben Howell will carry the y-DNA of his father, thus making it possible to find y-DNA matches. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) offers the best tests at different price points (the more markers tested, the better the accuracy): https://www.familytreedna.com/products/y-dna
Polly Ann Howell (daughter of John Howell and Jane Harris)
In the 1850 census for the Tar River district, Polly Ann Howell, age 6, is enumerated in the household of her father John Howell.
In the 1860 census for the Oxford district, Polly Ann Howell, age 16, is again enumerated in the household of her father John Howell.
On 13 March 1866, Aaron Curtis and his brother Terrell Curtis filed a marriage bond for Aaron Curtis’ marriage to Polly Ann Howell.
In the 1870 census, Polly Ann Howell, now 4 years married to Aaron Curtis is enumerated as “Polly A Curtis”, age 24, in the household of her husband Aaron Curtis. Please note there are no children residing in their household. Ben Howell was 3 years old at this time and is not found in their household.
On 18 June 1873, Polly Ann Howell, now known as Polly Ann Curtis received 85 cents as a legatee of her grandfather Freeman Howell’s estate. By 1870 Freeman Howell had passed away and his estate was divided among his living heirs. Each surviving child of Freeman Howell received a share of $9.45. If that child was deceased and had living children, then that $9.45 is equally divided among those children. This is why Freeman Howell’s son Alexander Howell who was still alive, received a full $9.45 and none of Alexander Howell’s children received a share. On the other hand, John Howell pre-deceased his father Freeman Howell. Therefore John Howell’s share of $9.45 was equally divided among his 11 living children. As a living daughter of John Howell, Polly Ann (Howell) Curtis was entitled to 85 cents. The following receipt and account included in Freeman Howell’s estate records show that Polly Ann (Howell) Curtis and two of her sisters, Sally (Howell) Williford (she was married to Lunsford Williford) and Joanna Howell all received their 85 cent share on the same day. This is direct confirmation through primary source records that the Polly Ann Howell who married Aaron Curtis was the daughter of John Howell.
In the 1880 census, Polly Ann Howell, still married to Aaron Curtis is enumerated as “Pollyann Curtis” in the household of her husband Aaron Curtis. Please note there are no children in their household. In 1880, Ben Howell was 13 years old and residing in the household of his grandfather Alexander Howell.
Though he died decades before North Carolina issued death certificates, there is a lot of documentation of when Aaron Curtis died because his estate records were filed with the court. In 1883, the administrator of his estate, A.J. Jones, filed a notice in the newspaper as required by law:
Source:The Torchlight. Oxford, North Carolina. 28 Aug 1883, Tue
Aaron Curtis’ extensive estate records are digitized and available to review on Ancestry. The documents outline that Aaron Curtis had one surviving spouse – Polly (also called Mary; Polly and Mary are the same name) and no surviving children. If Ben Howell was a son of Aaron Curtis he would certainly be named in the estate records. The records make it clear that Aaron Curtis did not have any children which is consistent with the 1870 and 1880 census enumerations which showed no children in his household.
Widowed in 1883 at the age of 39, Polly Ann Howell’s story did not end there. The following year on 17 Jan 1884, Polly Ann Howell married John Green. In the marriage record she is referred to by her first married name – Polly Curtis.
In the 1900 census for the Oxford district, Polly Ann Howell now married to John Green is enumerated as “Molly Green”, age 56 in the household of her husband John Green. The enumerator documents that they have been married for approximately 15 years which is consistent with the date of the 1884 marriage record. “Molly” is a common nickname for Polly/Mary. See: https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Traditional_Nicknames_in_Old_Documents_-_A_Wiki_List
In the 1910 census, Polly Ann Howell, still married to John Green is again enumerated as “Mollie Green” in the household of her husband John Green. The enumerator even noted that Polly Ann Howell was currently in her second marriage as noted by the “M2” notation for her marriage status. This is again consistent with Polly Ann Howell first marrying Aaron Curtis and second marrying John Green.
Polly Ann Howell died on 21 Sep 1914 at the age of 70 as “Mollie A Green”. Her death certificate provides additional corroboration of her identity. Her husband John Green is identified as the informant of the death certificate. Her parents are identified as John and Anna Howell. John Howell’s wife was named Jane so the incorrect identification of “Anna” may be a mistake or misinformation from John Green. But most importantly he correctly identifies Polly Ann Howell’s father as John Howell.
The primary source evidence presented above demonstrates that the Polly Ann Howell (1844-1914) who married Aaron Curtis in 1866, was the daughter of John Howell and Jane Harris. When Aaron Curtis died in 1883, his estate records unequivocally state that he had a surviving spouse named Polly Ann Curtis and that he had no surviving children. The following year in 1884, Polly Ann Howell, recently widowed, married for a second time to John Green. Her death record filed in 1914 clearly identified her as the daughter of John Howell. Additionally, Freeman Howell’s estate records firmly establish that the Polly Ann (Howell) Curtis who received 85 cents from the estate was the daughter of John Howell who was deceased.
The other Polly Ann Howell (born 1840) who was the daughter of Alexander “Doc” Howell and Betsy Ann Anderson had one son born out of wedlock named Ben Howell and because he was born out of wedlock, he was given his mother’s surname – Howell. There are no records located to date which identify Ben Howell’s father. Aaron Curtis cannot be Ben Howell’s father because Aaron Curtis’ estate records directly state he had no surviving children. This is confirmed by the judge, estate administrator, and the widow.
I hope descendants and researchers will update their family trees with the correct information so that none of the Howell family member are left out. It is important we present accurate information for future generations
North Carolina did not require deaths to be registered with the state until 1913. Therefore in earlier times, it is usually difficult to learn about the circumstances of one’s death. This is why the preserved coroner’s reports and inquests from the 1700’s and 1800’s found in the Granville County archives present an opportunity to learn how suspicious deaths were investigated. The discussion that follows, examines the records regarding a girl named Frankey Anderson.
Prior to modern medical examiners, North Carolina used a coroner’s inquest to find facts about suspicious deaths. A coroner’s inquest was not a criminal investigation to find fault for a death. Coroners were elected officials who took an oath of office. And if deemed necessary, the coroner would convene a jury to investigate a death. The jury were simply members of the public (in the context of antebellum North Carolina the jury were adult white men) who had absolutely no formal medical background. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that using non medical experts to determine a manner of death would lead to many wrong conclusions.
Frankey Anderson’s Death
On 17 September 1824, Granville County coroner Hardy Harris called an inquest into the death of Frankey Anderson. We learn from the following documents that Frankey Anderson suffered severe head and chest pain that resulted in vomiting and rendered her speechless. These symptoms continued over 2 days until she died on September 10th, a full week before the inquest. Frankey’s body was disinterred to allow the jury to examine her body. Due to the rapid state of decomposition, an examination of her body showed no visible signs of trauma that would explain her rapid decline in health that lead to her death. Shockingly, the jury came to the conclusion that Frankey Anderson was violently beaten by her grandmother Sally Anderson which caused her death. Though due to a lack of evidence, there was no possible way to pursue any criminal charges.
In modern times, medical professionals and even many in the public would immediately recognize Frankey Anderson’s symptoms as symptoms of a stroke. However in 1824, the jury that determined Frankey’s manner of death were not trained in medicine and came to the wrong conclusion. There are also other factors to consider.
It is pertinent to state that every juror was a white male resident of Granville County. Their names read as follows:
Thomas B. Littlejohn – Foreman
Joseph B. Littlejohn
Thos. P. Jones
Stephen K. Sneed
Thos. J. Hicks
Thomas Hunt (of I)
William M. Sneed
Frankey Anderson on the other hand was a free girl of color of the Nansemond tribe. The inquest did not identify her parents, but did identify Frankey as the granddaughter of George Anderson and Sally Anderson. George Anderson (born circa 1776) and his wife Sally (“Sarah”) Evans (born circa 1774) married on 14 Oct 1800 in Granville County. They resided in the Oxford/Fishing Creek area, surrounded by other Nansemond and Native families. George Anderson descends from the Anderson family which I previously discussed here and he also descends from the Nansemond Bass family which you can read more about here. His wife Sally Evans descends from Jane Gibson whose genealogy I discussed here.
The witnesses who were called by the jury to provide testimony about Frankey Anderson’s death were almost all Native American/free people of color who were relatives of Frankey and her grandparents. Therefore the inquest involved all white men questioning men and women (including minors) of color.
The list of witnesses reads as follows. I have also included additional biographical information to help locate these individuals in our family tree:
James Day – James Day (born circa 1800) was the son of Jesse Day (1761-1837) and Priscilla (“Prissy”) Bass (born circa 1764)
Thomas Anderson – Thomas Anderson (1790-before 1837) was the son of Lewis Anderson Jr. (1743-1805) and Winnie Bass (1752-1809). He was married to Sally Day
Peggy Day – Peggy Day (born circa 1809) born to unknown parentage but is likely a close family member of James Day. She was a minor in 1824.
Elizabeth (“Grinaway”) Greenway – Elizabeth Greenway (born circa 1810) was the daughter of unidentified parents. She married Moses Curtis on 31 May 1832. She was a minor in 1824.
Patsy (“Grinaway”) Greenway – Patsy Greenway – I have not been able to locate any records on her in the archives. I presume she is a close relative of Elizabeth Greenway.
Sally Day wife of James – Sally McGehee (born circa 1807) born to unidentified parents. She married James Day on 15 March 1824 and was only married a few months when she was called as a witness.
Priscilla Day – Priscilla (“Prissy”) Bass (born circa 1764) was the daughter of Benjamin Bass (born circa 1722) and Mary Bass (born circa 1722). She was the wife of Jesse Day (1761-1837).
Glathey Anderson – Glathey Anderson (born circa 1810) was the daughter of Abel Anderson (1772-1817) and Susannah Evans ( born circa 1784). Glathey’s mother Susannah Evans married second to a Pettiford (one of the Reuben Pettifords) and as a result Glathey was sometimes known by her stepfather’s surname Pettiford. She went on to marry Cuffy Mayo (1800-1896) on 29 Dec 1828 and was inexplicably called a Hawkins in the marriage record. Glathey was a minor in 1824.
A Family History of Doctoring
Finally, it is important to provide context for why Frankey Anderson’s grandmother attempted to intervene in her rapidly declining health. As stated earlier, Frankey Anderson suffered what appeared to be a stroke. I’m unable to provide a certified medical causation for why a child suffered such a devastating death but I do have some thoughts on this. Frankey Anderson descended from generations of endogamous Bass and Anderson ancestors, including some first cousin marriages. Genetic disorders (that could cause strokes in children) may come as a result of this consanguinity. To see a child suffering from such traumatic symptoms must have been so frightening to her family and quick action was needed to save her life. This is where her grandmother Sally (Evans) Anderson stepped in.
Sally (Evans) Anderson was the great-granddaughter of Jane Gibson the younger and the great-great granddaughter of Jane Gibson the elder. Both Jane Gibsons (mother and daughter) were noted for their doctoring skills in the sworn deposition of Robert Wills in 1791. Specifically, Jane Gibson the elder healed Robert “King” Carter of the Shirley Plantation. I have wondered if that gift was taught and passed down to later generations. I don’t have any other documentation to support Sally (Evans) Anderson practicing doctoring, but I do believe that her attempt to intervene in Frankey Anderson’s dire condition is supporting proof. Unfortunately she was not successful in saving her granddaughter’s life.
It is noteworthy that Sally (Evans) Anderson’s descendants pursued formal education to become medical doctors. Her twice over 3rd great-grandson Roger Cole Anderson II (1904-1950) was a medical doctor. After graduating from Mary Potter High School in Granville County and receiving a B.S. from Virginia Union University, Roger Anderson earned a medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN – the first medical school in the South dedicated to educating African Americans and other people of color who were not allowed into segregated white schools. He was then employed with the hospital affiliated with the college, George W. Hubbard hospital where in the segregated South, Dr. Anderson served some of the most impoverished and underrepresented communities.
Working on this research also allowed me to see the significance of my 2nd great-grandfather, James E Howell (1840-1912), running for the position of Granville County’s coroner in 1882. His nomination was later revoked and a white man took his place on the ballot. James Howell was also a descendant of the Evans family and I wonder if he was taught the family’s history of doctoring. James Howell’s grandson (my grand uncle) Edward Gaylord Howell (1898-1971), just like his relative Roger Cole Anderson, pursued a formal education to become a physician. Dr. Howell received his B.S. from Yale University, his medical degree from Howard University and opened his own private practice in New Brunswick, NJ.
I am incredibly proud that Dr. Anderson and Dr. Howell pursued groundbreaking careers in medicine and followed their dreams to heal people.
I hope this blogpost will inspire you to learn more about how the history of medicine impacted your family history. I want to thank my friend Emerson Foster for helping me locate the Granville County Coroner’s Inquest folder and to genealogist Deloris Williams for helping me transcribe Frankey Anderson’s record.
Due to the amount of questions I receive about Jane Gibson the elder, I have compiled the most frequently asked questions into a blogpost. Though this content has been covered previously, I thought it would be beneficial to researchers to highlight this content again.
Did Jane Gibson the elder have a brother named George Gibson?
No, Jane Gibson the elder did not have a brother named George Gibson. Jane Gibson the elder did have a son named George Gibson who died without children. The mix-up in the relationship between Jane Gibson the elder and her son George Gibson comes from the testimony of Robert Wills. When reviewing the testimony of Robert Wills, it is imperative that researchers read both his testimony from 25 June 1791 ***AND*** his testimony from 9 July 1791. Robert Wills’ follow up testimony from 9 July 1791 adds to and corrects his original testimony from the previous month.
During his first testimony from 25 June 1791, Robert Wills mentioned a George Gibson but he either misspoke or his testimony was not transcribed correctly. Therefore in the follow up testimony on 9 July 1791, Robert Wills was asked a direct question about the identity of the George Gibson he mentioned in his first testimony.
Quest: Will you please to answer the second question in this deposition more fully, you have in your answer to that question said nothing about George Gibson the elder?
Ans: I never mentioned more than one George Gibson, the Son of the elder Jane Gibson, brother to Jane Evans. If it be so expressed in my former deposition it was misconceived, I never did know any but one of that name.
Source: Library of Virginia, Chancery Court records
You can read from the above excerpt that Robert Wills was very clear that the George Gibson that he referenced was the son of Jane Gibson the elder. He only knew one George Gibson and that person was the son of Jane Gibson the elder. Genealogist Deloris Williams transcribed Robert Wills’ entire testimony which can be found here.
What are the names of the parents of Jane Gibson the elder?
The names of her parents are not documented. It is important to remember that all of the primary source documents that identify Jane Gibson the elder, come from the testimony of her descendants and people who knew her. These are records that were generated after she died. As a result, there are no known primary source records that document her life when she was alive.
Was Gibson her married name or maiden name?
It is not known if “Gibson” was Jane Gibson the elder’s maiden name or married name. The testimony from Robert Wills makes no mention of this. It is also important to remember that Robert Wills only knew Jane Gibson during the last years of her life. If she did have a husband, he likely died long before Robert Wills came to live at the Shirley Plantation. If Gibson was her married name, it certainly opens up a new research inquiry into what Jane’s maiden name was and the identity of her Gibson spouse.
Another possibility is that “Gibson” was an adopted name. There are numerous examples from colonial Virginia of Indians adopting the surnames of neighboring white families. For example, there was an English born colonist named Thomas Busby (1632-1718) who resided in Surry Co, VA and was an interpreter to the Indians south of the James River during the years 1677-1691. In 1684, a colonist named Robert Caufield of Surry Co, had an “Indian boy” named Thomas Busby, age 10, residing in his household. It is reasonable to deduce that the Indian boy Thomas Busby was named after the colonist Thomas Busby. (See the National Park Service website here for selected 17th century references on Virginia Indians). Therefore Jane Gibson the elder could have similarly adopted the Gibson surname from the white Gibson family.
What tribal nation did Jane Gibson the elder belong to?
All primary source documents refer to Jane Gibson the elder as an “Indian” as well as a “Mulatto” but her tribal nation is never specified. For her descendants suing for their freedom, they only needed to demonstrate to the courts that Jane Gibson was a free Indian woman. Her tribal affiliation was not directly relevant to their pending freedom. Based upon Jane Gibson’s geographical location on the Shirley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, it would make sense that Jane Gibson was from a local tribe. Charles City is part of the original territory of the Chickahominy and Weyanoke tribes. I recently penned a blogpost about one branch of Jane Gibson’s descendants, the Bradby family, who descend from Jane Gibson’s granddaughter Elizabeth Evans who married Richard Bradby. The Bradby family today is found in both the Chickahominy tribe of Charles City and the Pamunkey tribe of King William.
The Weyanoke tribe was forced to leave their original territory on both sides of the James River in 1644, due to attacks by the English. Throughout the following decades they moved back and forth between the Nottoway and Blackwater Rivers in Southampton and Surry Cos, Virginia and Wicocons Creek in what is today Hertford Co, NC. This frequent movement came as a result from attacks by both neighboring tribes and the English. By the 1690s, the Weyanoke were sharing Indian towns with the Nottoway and Nansemond tribes and were later “absorbed” into those communities. However twice in the 1660s and once in the 1680s, the Weyanoke were taken into the English towns in Surry Co, to seek safety. Colonel Benjamin Harrison II (1645-1712) was responsible for sheltering the Weyanoke and in 1667, the tribe had set up their cabins in his plantation fields. (See Binford, Lewis. An Ethnohistory of the Nottoway, Meherrin and Weanock Indians of Southeastern Virginia. 1967, for a comprehensive history of the Weyanoke tribe during the 17th century). Interestingly, Benjamin Harrison’s family is connected through numerous primary source records to the Gibson/Evans family. Morris Evans (husband of Jane Gibson the younger) owed a debt to Benjamin Harrison’s son Colonel Nathaniel Harrison according to the account books submitted to the court in 1727 (Surry Co Deed and Will Book 8: 320). Benjamin Harrison’s grandson Benjamin Harrison IV was the owner of the Berkeley Plantation and was responsible for ordering the children of Elizabeth Evans (daughter of Morris Evans and Jane Gibson the younger) and husband Richard Bradby to be bound out. (April 1738 Court Session. Charles City County Order Book 1737-1751. Page 40). Benjamin Harrison IV’s in-laws (his wife Ann Carter’s family) owned Shirley Plantation where they invited Jane Gibson the elder to work and live. Perhaps the Evans/Gibson family were among the Weyanoke Indians who were brought into the English towns during the 1660s-1680s by Benjamin Harrison II. To repeat, I am not comfortable confirming a tribal identity for the Gibson/Evans family with the current available documentation. But I do believe the Weyanoke and/or Chickahominy affiliations are the strongest leads.
This blog post examines the documentary evidence about the Chickahominy and Pamunkey Bradby descendants of a woman known as Jane Gibson the Elder. Her identity is documented through court testimony which identified the Bradby family as her offspring. To expand and dig deeper into this connection, I also examined court orders and the relationships of the wealthy colonists who interacted with Jane Gibson’s family.
Jane Gibson the Elder and the Shirley Plantation in Charles City County
Towards the end of her life, an Indian woman commonly referred to as Jane Gibson the Elder (1640-1722), moved onto the Shirley Plantation owned by colonist John Carter (1696-1742), the son of Robert “King” Carter (1662-1732). The Carter family was one of the most wealthiest and politically powerful families in colonial Virginia. John Carter had recently married Elizabeth Hill and inherited the plantation from her father Edward Hill III. Jane Gibson was invited onto the plantation by John Carter where she practiced doctoring. For a detailed discussion of Jane Gibson who is the maternal progenitor of the Evans family of Granville County, please read this blogpost. The House Histree genealogy website has an excellent entry on the Shirley Plantation that can be accessed here. which includes a timeline of ownership.
All of what is documented about Jane Gibson the Elder’s life comes from the testimony of her descendants and people who knew her. Though she was a free woman whose free status should have been passed down to all her descendants, a branch of her offspring were illegally held in slavery for several generations. Beginning in the late 1700s and through the early 1800s, these descendants filed freedom suits claiming descent from a free Indian woman, Jane Gibson the Elder. The sworn deposition and in court testimony from a white man named Robert Wills, provided the most in depth discussion about her life and the identity of her descendants. The following is a bullet point summary of relevant information from Robert Wills sworn deposition and in court testimony from 1791 on two separate dates, June 5th and July 9th:
Robert Wills was born in 1710 (age 81 years when he testified)
Wills began living on the Shirley Plantation around 1720/1721 (age 10 or 11) when his father brought him to be a carpentry apprentice of John Carter.
Personally knew Jane Gibson the Elder (about the age of 80 in 1720/1721) who also was brought to live on the plantation by John Carter and practiced doctoring.
Personally knew Jane Gibson the Elder’s daughter Jane Gibson the Younger and her husband Morris Evans and children who lived 2 miles away from the plantation. Jane Gibson the Younger practiced doctoring and midwifery.
Jane Gibson the Younger and her Evans children worked often at the Shirley Plantation
The free colored Bradby family of Charles City County are lineal descendants of Jane Gibson the Younger and her husband Morris Evans, but does not specify the name of the Evans who intermarried with Bradby.
((Thank you to Deloris Williams who transcribed the Robert Wills testimony which can be read in its entirety here.))
Robert Wills’ testimony is very credible because in it, he provided specific memories about several generations of the Gibson/Evans family. It confirms that some generations prior to 1791, probably in the early to mid 1700s, a female member of the Evans family intermarried with a male Bradby. Charles City County is one of the many “burned” counties whose records were destroyed during the Civil War, thereby creating extra challenges for modern researchers. As a result, locating an Evans-Bradby marriage document in the colonial records of Charles City is not possible due to this record loss. However some Order Books from the colonial era of the county have survived and do provide some helpful clues about the Bradby – Evans/Gibson connection.
Richard Bradby (born 1700/1710) and his wife Elizabeth Evans
The Bradby family of the Chickahominy and Pamunkey tribes is documented throughout the colonial era mainly in Charles City County with some moving to nearby King William County beginning in the very late 1700s. The surname is most commonly spelled “Bradby” but spelling variations include “Bragby” and “Bradberry”. The earliest recorded member of the family was a man named Richard Bradby whose birth year is not well documented but based upon life events and the estimated birth years of his descendants, his birth year was likely between 1700 and 1710. Richard Bradby resided in Charles City County when the court ordered that he and his wife Elizabeth along with a woman named Mary Evans, report to the court about the condition of their children. I was able to locate two court orders in the Charles City County Order Books pertaining to this.
This first court order is from the April 1738 court session and is transcribed as follows:
“Benjamin Harrison, Gentleman, informing the court that Richard Bragby & Elizabeth his wife & Mary Evans doth not take sufficient care in bringing up their children in an honest way of living as well as in ye fear of God. It is ordered that ye Bragby and his wife & Mary Evans be summoned to the next court to show cause (if any) why their children should not be bound out as ye law direct.”
The second court order is from the June 1738 court session and is transcribed as follows:
“Mary Evans being sworn by order of court to show cause (if any) why her children should not be bound out it appearing to ye court and it appearing to ye court very reasonable and necessary they should. It is thereupon ordered they be bound by the churchwardens as ye law directs.
Richard Bragby & Eliza his wife being summoned as above ordered the children be bound as aforementioned.”
From the two above court orders we learn the following information:
Richard Bradby (“Bragby”) and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of several children who were ordered to be bound out (apprenticed out) in 1738 in Charles City Co.
A woman named Mary Evans was included in the same court order to have her children bound out.
Benjamin Harrison was the person who informed the court about the condition of the Bradby and Evans children and he believed the children were not being raised in a Christian manner.
I have examined hundreds of court orders of children being bound out in Virginia and North Carolina and this is the first time I have seen a religious argument so directly used in the actual order. The fact that Mary Evans is included in the same court order as Richard Bradby and his wife is a strong clue that Mary Evans was a close family member.
Benjamin Harrison IV, the man who started this process, is a key figure in how I was able to link Richard Bradby and his wife Elizabeth to the Evans/Gibson family. Benjamin Harrison IV (1693-1745) was born into the politically powerful Harrison family of Virginia. Harrison was born, raised and later became owner of the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County. Around the year 1722, Harrison married Ann Carter (1702-1743) who was the daughter of Robert “King” Carter of the Shirley Plantation discussed above. The Harrisons and Carters were two of the wealthiest land owning families in colonial Virginia, so the union of Benjamin Harrison IV and Ann Carter further solidified this wealth and status. The genealogy website House Histree also has an excellent entry on the history of the Berkeley Plantation that can be accessed here.
The Shirley Plantation (Carter family) and the Berkeley Plantation (Harrison family) are both located on the banks of the James River and the mansions of each plantation are just under 5 miles apart. During the late 1600s and throughout much of the 1700’s, the land holdings of both plantations certainly spread far beyond the structures, meaning that these were neighboring plantations. Therefore the happenings at one plantation would be well known to the other given that both plantations were owned by families who intermarried and lived just a few miles apart. In Robert Wills’ sworn deposition he stated that he regularly visited the home of Jane Gibson the Younger who lived only 2 miles from the Shirley Plantation.
When we piece together what we know about the Gibson/Evans family and their Bradby descendants from the testimony of Robert Wills with what we know about Richard Bradby and wife Elizabeth from the court orders, we can begin to make some connections. I believe that Richard Bradby’s wife Elizabeth was an Evans and the daughter of Jane Gibson the Younger and her husband Morris Evans. And I believe the Mary Evans who was included in the same court orders, was the sister of Elizabeth (Evans) Bradby. Benjamin Harrison IV who alerted the court about the condition of the Bradby and Evans children would certainly be familiar with the Gibson/Evans family. It’s even possible some of the Evans/Gibson family members worked on his plantation. Like her husband, Elizabeth Bradby was likely born sometime between 1700 and 1710 given that she had minor children bound out in 1738. This places Elizabeth Bradby within the birth year range of Jane Gibson the Younger and Morris Evans’ other known children who were born between 1685 and 1710.
What does this tell us about Jane Gibson the Elder’s tribal lineage?
Numerous documents state that Jane Gibson the Elder was an Indian but none of the documents specify which tribal nation she came from. Her Bradby descendants are found in the Chickahominy and Pamunkey tribes, but does that mean Jane Gibson was either Chickahominy or Pamunkey?
I don’t have a confirmed answer for this question but I have some thoughts and strong leads. Two of Richard Bradby (born 1700/1710) and Elizabeth Evans’ (born 1700/1710) grandsons named Richard Bradby (b. 1770) and Patrick Bradby (b. 1775), were first documented living on the Pamunkey reservation in the very late 1700s. However in 1818, the headmen of the Pamunkey reservation complained to the trustees that two “free colored” Bradby men moved onto the reservation and married Pamunkey women. Yet in the following years , the brothers continued to live on the reservation and their offspring counted on official Pamunkey tribal lists (because of the Bradby’s Pamunkey wives). This informs me that it is unlikely Jane Gibson was Pamunkey because if she was, her Bradby offspring would not have been so directly called out by the tribe for living on the reservation.
Instead I think that Jane Gibson’s roots are probably with the Chickahominy or Weyanoke tribes whose territory includes what is today Charles City County. The Chickahominy are from the northern part of the county where the Chickahominy River runs while the Weyanoke are from the southern part of the county where the James River is (and the Shirley and Berkeley plantations). Today there are two Chickahominy tribes (federally recognized in 2018) – the Chickahominy Tribe of Charles City and the Chickahominy Tribe Eastern Division in New Kent and the Bradbys are a core family in both communities.
The Weyanoke people on the other hand began to move away from the Charles City County area during the colonial wars in the mid 1600s and gravitated closer to the Virginia/North Carolina border where the Nottoway River and Blackwater River meet. They formed alliances with the Nottoway, Nansemond, and Meherrin tribes who also lived in that area and were later “absorbed” into those communities. There is a very intriguing connection between the Weyanoke tribe and the Harrison family. In 1677, it was reported that the Weyanoke were living on Colonel Benjamin Harrison’s land in Surry County, VA and that the Weyanoke Indian Town was next to his plantation. (See: Woods, J. Cedric. “Lumbee origins: The Weyanoke-Kearsey connection.” Southern anthropologist [Southern Anthropological Society] 30.2 (2004): 20-36.) Benjamin Harrison II (1645-1712) who was an Indian Trader with several tribes including the Weyanoke, was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison IV of Berkeley Planation who reported the condition of the Bradby and Evans children to the Charles City court in 1738. Is it coincidence that Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather had a close relationship with the Weyanoke tribe which may the tribal background of the children he recommended to be bound it? That is certainly possible, but perhaps there is something more here. To repeat, I am not comfortable confirming a tribal identity for the Evans/Gibson family based upon the documentary evidence analyzed so far. But I do believe the Chickahominy and Weyanoke tribes are the strongest leads.
Perhaps one of the most common errors I notice in Bass family trees, is the conflation of the identities of two different women – Prissy Bass and Prudence Bass. Though I have explained in another blogpost about the Nansemond Bass family, that these two Bass women are different people, I feel that a dedicated post to this topic is needed. So here we go!
Who is Prissy Bass?
Prissy Bass (born circa 1764) was the daughter of Benjamin Bass (1722-1800) and Mary Bass (born 1722) of Granville County. “Prissy” is a nickname that is short for Priscilla as shown in this handy nickname list available on Family Search here. A marriage bond dated 6 November 1782 from Granville Co, shows that Prissy Bass married Jesse Day (1761-1837). This means that Prissy Bass was the legal spouse of Jesse Day and their offspring carried the Day surname.
There is no record of Prissy Bass’ date of death. However it seems likely she died between the 1820 and 1830 censuses because the 1830 census shows Jesse Day in a household by himself. And Jesse Day’s estate records, first filed in 1837, make no mention of a surviving widow.
Who is Prudence Bass?
Prudence Bass (born circa 1768) was the daughter of Edward Bass (1728-1800) and Tamer Anderson (born circa 1742) of Granville County. Edward Bass’ 17 March 1790 will (proved in November 1800 Court), specifically identifies Prudence as one of his children to inherit his estate. Note that in the record she is called Prudence.
And this is where the lives of these two different women, Prissy Bass and Prudence Bass, intertwine. First it should be pointed out that Prissy Bass and Prudence Bass were first cousins – their respective fathers, Benjamin Bass (1722-1800) and Edward Bass (1728-1800) were brothers. In addition to sharing blood, both women apparently shared the same man, Jesse Day. On 30 January 1794, Prudence Bass filed a bastardy bond in which she named Jesse Day as the father of her child. Her father Edward Bass and her cousin Jacob Anderson were the bondsmen.
This means that twelve years after Jesse Day married Prissy Bass, he fathered a child with Prudence Bass. In addition to Prissy and Prudence being two different names, we know that this bastardy bond cannot be attributed to Prissy Bass because she was the legal spouse of Jesse Day.
By 1801, Prudence Bass was the mother of two children – Jethro Bass and Cullen Bass. This is documented in the Granville County Court Minutes, when the court ordered that Prudence’s children Jethro Bass (age 13) and Cullen Bass (age 6) be bound out to her brother Jason Bass.
Apprenticeship records reveal that Jethro Bass and Cullen Bass were indeed bound out to their uncle Jason Bass. Jethro Bass went on to move to the “Lost Creek” community in Vigo Co, IN in his adulthood while Cullen Bass remained in Granville and neighboring Orange Co with many of his descendants being the Bass family in the Rougemont community.
I have not found any marriage records that can be attributed to Prudence Bass nor any death records. It is unknown what happened to her after her children were apprenticed out.
Please check to make sure your family tree reflects the above information that Prissy Bass and Prudence Bass were different women. Both women had children with Jesse Day which definitely makes one wonder what the full story of this complicated family was.
Given the endogamy of our Bass family, it should be no surprise that descendants of Prissy Bass and Prudence Bass intermarried. Pictured below is Willie Bass (1886-1948) with his wife Corinna Day (1895-1972). Willie Bass was the 2nd great-grandson of Prudence Bass (and Jesse Day). And Corinna Day was the 2nd great-granddaughter of Prissy Bass (and Jesse Day).
This blog post provides a closer examination of the signatures of my Nansemond 7th great-grandparents Edward Bass (1672-1750) and John Bass (1673-1732) as well as the signature of my Nansemond 8th great-grandfather William Bass Sr (1654-1741). Despite much record loss from the colonial period, the signatures of all three men survive to this day and reveal an interesting Bass family pattern of signing documents.
The Signature of Edward Bass (1672-1750)
Edward Bass (1672-1750) was the eldest son of William Bass (1654-1741) and Catherine Lanier. He resided with his Bass family in Norfolk until about 1720 when he moved a short distance across the state line to Chowan County , NC (modern Gates County). For an in depth genealogy of the Nansemond Indian Bass family, read here. Edward Bass is found in several records in Norfolk which help to illustrate the details of his life. One such record is from 1702, where Edward Bass confessed to owing 70 lbs of tobacco to the estate of William Whitakers. Edward Bass and Thomas Whitfield (another person who was also in debt to the estate) signed their names to the document. What is quite remarkable is Edward Bass’ signature is the letter “B” facing down.
As the Legal Genealogist explains in this blogpost, roughly half of the gentry population of the South was illiterate and could not sign their full names. Therefore on legal documents, most illiterate/semi-literate people who could not sign their full names, typically signed with the letter “X”. The third party who wrote the document would write the person’s name along with “his mark” or “her mark” in between the first name and last name and the person in turn would write “X” in that spot. An example can be seen here:
Another way of certifying a legal document, as the Legal Genealogist explains here, was through a seal. Next to the person’s signature, you will sometimes see a squiggly circle with the letters “SEAL” or “LS” (locus sigilli) inside the circle. Many could not afford or had access to the sealing wax and signet rings, so the squiggly circle sufficed. An example can be seen here:
Though Edward Bass could not sign his full name, clearly he could write the letter “B” instead of the common “X”. But why did he not write the letter in a standard format? Could this be an anomaly? Perhaps he signed the document at an angle? An examination of another record for Edward Bass, shows a consistent signature. On 25 July 1748 in Northampton County, NC, Edward Bass wrote his will which divided his massive land holdings among his many children. And he signed his will, the exact same way that he signed the document in Norfolk, with the letter “B’ faced down:
Not only is this additional validation that Edward Bass (1672-1750) was the same Edward Bass who lived in Norfolk and was the son of William Bass and Catherine Lanier, but it shows that Edward Bass had a particularly unique way of signing his name.
The Signature of John Bass (1673-1732)
Edward Bass (1672-1750) was not the only member of his family whose unique signature was documented. The signature of his brother John Bass (1673-1732) can be located on his 18 January 1732 Bertie County will. The will was proved the following month in February 1732 Bertie County court indicating that John Bass’ health was in rapid decline. John Bass like his brother Edward Bass owned a substantial amount of land in the Urahaw Swamp area that was divided among his offspring. At the bottom of the will, John Bass’ signature can be seen and it is the letter”B” backwards:
So Edward Bass (1672-1750) signed with a facing down “B” and John Bass (1673-1732) signed with a backwards “B”. The similarity of these unique signatures does not seem to be a coincidence and I was very curious to see if this pattern held true for other Bass family members.
The Signature of William Bass (1654-1741)
William Bass (1654-1741) was the father of Edward Bass (1672-1750) and John Bass (1673-1732) and remained in Norfolk for the entirety of his life. His will which was written on 1 October 1740, was proved in Norfolk court on 17 September 1742. He did not have much land or personal property to pass onto his children, but made sure each of his living children (son John Bass predeceased him) inherited something. His will was signed with the mark, “WB”:
Similar to his sons, William Bass signed with his initials but unlike his sons, he used both of the initials of his first and last name. This pattern of signatures is indicative of the varying levels of literacy within the Bass family. The patriarch John Bass (1616-1699) was a literate preacher who kept a prayer book which recorded the major life events of the Bass family. I don’t know the extent of how literate (in the English language) the Nansemond offspring of John Bass were, but they at minimum were able to sign their names with more than the custom “X” mark.
Unfortunately I have not located any documents with the signatures of brothers William Bass Jr (1676-1751) and Thomas Bass (b. 1687). Wills have not been located for either man. I do wonder if ever recovered, their signatures would show a similar pattern of the letter “B” in a rotated position.
The Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677
The Nansemond were one of several tribes that were signatories of the Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677 – a treaty between Charles II of England and the Virginia tribes. The treaty was signed at the conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion and formally designated the Nansemond and other Virginia Indian signatories as “tributary tribes”. The Nansemond, Pamunkey, Nottoway, and Weyanoke were the original signatories in 1677 and in 1680 the Appomattox, Nanzatico, Monacan, Saponi and Meherrin tribes signed onto the treaty.
From the signatures you can see the “kings”, “queens”, and chiefs of the tribes, some identified by name, and some not identified by name all signed with unique marks. Some appear to be initials in letters that look like variations of the Latin alphabet and some appear to resemble glyphs. The King of the Nansemond who is not identified by name, signed with two intersecting lines. The horizontal line is not straight and instead is bent. The so-called “traditional Nansemond” who signed the treaty, at this time, lived on the Nottoway River, on the Virginia/North Carolina state border close to the Weyanoke and Nottoway tribes who were also signatories. Perhaps the two intersecting lines represent intersecting rivers such as the Nottoway and Blackwater rivers where the Nansemond chief resided. The signatures on this treaty, especially those that are letters do remind me of the Bass family signatures of the letter “B” in rotated positions. A comparison of these signatures against signatures found in additional colonial records of men (and women) from the listed tribes, might provide avenues of further observations and analysis. The Bass family was also quite aware of this treaty and William Bass (1654-1741) specifically cited it when protecting his rights as a Nansemond Indian in Norfolk court in 1726/1727:
An Inquest pertaining to possession and use of Cleared and Swamp lands in and adjoining ye Great Dismal by William Bass, Sr. and His kinsmen who claim Indian Privileges, Sheweth by the testimony of White Persons and sundry records of great age and known to be authentic, That said William Bass, Thomas Bass, and Joseph Bass and spinster daughter Mary Bass are persons of English and Nansemond Indian descent with no admixture of negro, Ethiopic, and that they and all others in kinship with them are freeborn subjects of his Majesty living in peace with his Majesty’s Government entitled to possess and bear arms as permitted by Treaties of Peace by and between Charles II of blessed memory and ye Indians of Virginia and the said William Bass, Sr. and als are in Rightful, and Lawful possession thereof and are not to be further Molested by any person or persons whatsoever under any pretended Authority under Penalties etc. etc., whilst ye said Bass and his kinsmen claim Indian privileges pursuant to the aforesaid Treaties of Peace.
I think the Bass family’s engagement with English literacy (along with other adaptions to Anglo culture) is one of the reasons for how the family came to own such large amounts of land in North Carolina. And yet at the same time in the 1700s, the Bass family was still citing treaties from the previous century to show the government that they were still Indigenous peoples with inherent sovereign rights. In the modern context, we use the phrase “walking in two worlds” to describe how it feels to be a contemporary Indigenous person. I think this metaphor also applies to our Bass ancestors surviving in colonial America.
This blog post takes a closer look at the records attributed to William Chavis (b. 1760) who was the son of Gibeon Chavis (1737-1777) and Ann Priddy. When his father died when he was still a minor, William Chavis stood to inherit the entirety of his father’s large plantation when he reached adulthood. The surviving offspring of William Chavis, if any, are unknown, so I’m hoping that by identifying him in the records, I may in the future be able to learn if he has any living descendants.
William Chavis (b. 1760) was the son of Gibeon Chavis (1737-1777) and Ann Priddy. Gibeon Chavis was the son of William Chavis Sr (1706-1777) and Frances Gibson (1700-1780). William Chavis Sr was the “original” owner of an immensely large tract of land, 51,200 acres, on the north side of the Tar River in Granville County (in what is today Granville, Vance, and Franklin Counties). This land was described by late 19th century local historian Oscar Blacknall who wrote extensively about the Indian identity of the “free negroes” of Granville County. William Chavis Sr’s wife Frances Gibson also came from a land owning family who like the Chavises, originally came from the Virginia lower tidewater area.
Ann Priddy was the daughter of Robert Priddy (1694-1794) and Susannah Harlow who were a wealthy white planter family residing in Granville County. Before Ann Priddy married Gibeon Chavis, she had two daughters named Susannah Priddy and Patience Priddy. Their identities are documented in the 2 July 1759 will of Robert Priddy. In his will, Robert Priddy gave 200 acres of land to “my granddaughters & both daughters of my daughter Ann.” Later in the will, Robert Priddy identified his daughter “Ann Chavers, wife of Gibby Chavers” when he gave her five shillings. Genealogist Paul Heinegg believes that Susannah Priddy and Patience Priddy were daughters that Ann Priddy had with Gibeon Chavis however I strongly disagree with that conclusion. The will makes it clear that both daughters had the surname Priddy. Also, the division of his estate makes it evident that Robert Priddy divided his estate among his living children and only mentions grandchildren when they stood to inherit in place of their deceased parent. For example, Robert Priddy’s son Harlow Priddy predeceased him, so in Harlow’s place, Harlow’s daughters inherited his share of the estate. Ann Priddy Chavis was still living in 1759 and married to Gibeon Chavis, yet Robert Priddy mentions her daughters by name when he gave them a sizable amount of land. This indicates to me that Robert Priddy wanted to make sure that his two granddaughters Susannah Priddy and Patience Priddy inherited land since they were “illegitimate children”. They had no legal claim to their step-father Gibeon Chavis’ property. I don’t know who fathered Ann Priddy’s daughters. Perhaps a closer look at the Granville Court Minutes, bastardy bonds or apprentice records may lend some clues.
An Orphan of Gibeon Chavis
Gibeon Chavis died in 1777 when according to Oscar Blacknall, he was killed by jealous competitors in a horse racing contest. His 4 January 1777 will names his wife Ann and son William Chavis who stood to inherit his father’s plantation. For reasons not clear to me, Gibeon Chavis’ son Jesse Chavis is not named in the will (perhaps because Gibeon Chavis left his entire estate to his son William Chavis). Estate records show that Jonathan Kittrell who was executor of the estate, posted an inventory and sale of Gibeon Chavis’ estate. Jonathan Kittrell Sr (1726-1811) was the 3rd great-grandfather of Oscar Blacknall which probably explains how Blacknall was familiar with the details of Gibeon Chavis’ death. Included in the estate records is a document which shows that George Priddy was assigned to be guardian of Gibeon Chavis’ orphaned son William Chavis until he reached the age of 21. In 1777, William Chavis was about 17 years old and still a minor. The term “orphan” was not used in the same way today and did not necessarily denote that both parents are deceased. George Priddy was Ann Priddy Chavis’ brother, thus William Chavis’ uncle.
Gibeon Chavis owned 400 acres of land that was gifted to him by his father William Chavis Sr on 1 June 1755. The land was described as 400 acres on both sides of Little Creek on the north side of the Tar River and is what William Chavis (b. 1760) stood to inherit when he turned 21. This was also land within the boundaries of the 51,200 acres that Oscar Blacknall said William Chavis Sr originally owned. So knowing that William Chavis (b. 1760) was raised by his uncle George Priddy and owned 400 acres on Little Creek is how he can be tracked in the records.
William Chavis (b. 1760), a Young Adult and Heir in Granville
The 1780 tax list for the Fort Creek district of Granville shows that George Priddy paid for the tax on William Chavis’ 400 acres of land assessed at 2,362 pounds. William Chavis did not hold onto this land for much longer because on 13 March 1785, he sold the 400 acres on Little Creek. That same year, he was counted as a head of a household of two polls in the Granville County tax list (the districts were not recorded). In the North Carolina state census for 1786, William Chavis was counted as the head of household of one male age 21-60, one female and one slave in the Fishing Creek district of Granville. This would seem to indicate that by 1786, William Chavis was married and that he also owned a slave. The slave he likely inherited from his grandparents William Chavis Sr/Frances Gibson who were documented owning slaves in the tax lists and in their estate records. In that 1786 census, William Chavis was enumerated next to a few other “free colored” households, including some who were his relatives: Ann Snelling, Lettice Snelling, William Pettiford, Reuben Bass, Hugh Snelling, and Bartlet Tyler. Lettice (Chavis) Snelling was William Chavis’ aunt. She was the widow of Aquila Snelling and the mother Hugh Snelling. Land grants show that the Snelling family owned land on Little Creek. The 1786 tax list for Granville shows that William Chavis was taxed on one free poll and one slave.
On 13 October 1786, William Chavis purchased 20 acres of land adjacent to the Snelling family. He then sold this land on 10 February 1788. And the 1788 tax list shows William Chavis was a tithable in Fishing Creek district. The Granville Court minutes reveal that William Chavis sold a slave named Jack to his first cousin Hugh Snelling on 3 March 1789. This was probably the slave that was counted in his household in the 1786 census. Also in 1789 (exact date not recorded) William Chavis was sued by his neighbor Bartlet Tyler in which the plaintiff won a judgment.
According to testimony given by William Hicks in 1800 to the British Claims Commission “William, son of Gibia, who in right of his father, inherited a tract of land and other property of the said deceased, sold the same in the Year 1785 and removed to South Carolina or Georgia.” William Chavis Sr (1706-1777) who owned a large amount of land and slaves, had outstanding debts at the time of his death to British citizens. As a result, the British Claims Commission inquired about what became of William Chavis Sr’s massive estate. We know from the records that William Chavis (b. 1760) did inherit his father Gibeon Chavis’ 400 acres and later sold it. He remained in Granville County for several more years until at least 1789 when he sold his slave to his first cousin Hugh Snelling and was sued by his neighbor Bartlet Tyler. After 1789, I lose William Chavis in the Granville records and it is probably because around this time he did leave the area. If William Chavis (b. 1760) still resided in Granville County in 1800, then the William Hicks would not have said that he moved out of state. This means William Chavis (b. 1760) left Granville County sometime between 1789 and 1800.
A Different William Chavis in the Granville Records
Around 1790, a different William Chavis begins to appear in the Granville records and I believe some researchers, including genealogist Paul Heinegg have incorrectly attributed these records to William Chavis (b. 1760). On 13 March 1790, a William Chavis married Sarah Kersey. Heinegg has attributed this marriage record to William Chavis (b. 1760), but I’m not too sure about that. The Kersey family lived across the state line in Mecklenburg County, Virginia with some family members moving into Granville County in the very late 1700’s/early 1800’s. In Mecklenburg, the Kerseys were neighbors to and intermarried with the Chavisies who lived in Mecklenburg. It is not known nor documented if the Chavises in Mecklenburg are related to the family of William Chavis Sr (1706-1777). For this reason, I suspect that the William Chavis who married Sarah Kersey was from the Mecklenburg Chavises.
The 1791 tax list for Granville shows a William Chavis who was taxed on a free poll in the Abrams Plains district. Abram Plains is located on the very northern part of Granville, right across from the Mecklenburg County, Virginia border. Most of the “free colored” families who lived in Abrams Plains came from Mecklenburg. In the 1791 tax list, this William Chavis is shown living next to James Chavis. This is James Chavis (b. 1748) who was in fact from Mecklenburg County and moved to Granville County by 1786 when he was taxed in the Abrams Plains district. Thus it appears that the William Chavis who married Sarah Kersey and who was taxed the following year in Abrams Plains was the son of James Chavis (b. 1748).
Finally, there is a page from an estate record for a William Chavis which shows that the executor of the estate, Claiborne Spain, posted the sale of the estate on 2 July 1814 in Granville. No other information is provided in the estate records, so it is hard to learn more about who this William Chavis was. Paul Heinegg has attributed this estate record to William Chavis (b. 1760) but I disagree since William Chavis (b. 1760) was last recorded in Granville in 1789. This record perhaps could be attributed to the William Chavis who married Sarah Kersey and lived in Abrams Plains but without having additional info, it is difficult to make a correct attribution.
So where does this leave us? It means that the trail for William Chavis (b. 1760) after 1789 should pick up in either South Carolina or Georgia. The hunt continues…
Beginning in the early 1900s (and in some cases a few decades earlier), large numbers of Granville County’s Native American families moved to industrial cities in Southern New England such as Providence, New Haven, Brockton, Boston, Springfield, Hartford, and New Bedford. Escaping racial violence, Jim Crow laws, changing economies, and education were among the most common reasons for this exodus to the North. Upon arriving in these cities, Granville’s former residents would form relationships with southern New England tribal peoples, often resulting in intermarriage and opening new kinship patterns. This blog post takes a close look at several examples of individuals from Granville County whose spouses come from southern New England tribes such as Narragansett/Niantic, Nipmuck, Mattakeeset/Massachusett, Nemasket/Wampanoag, and Montauk. The genealogies of their spouses who come from notable families including: Fayerweather, Hazard, Perry, Harry, Cornwall, Brooker, Granderson, Gardiner, Dailey, and Willard are carefully presented and offer an opportunity to compare and contrast Northeastern and Southeastern tribal ethnohistories.
This topic is of special relevance for me personally, because my maternal great-grandfather Edward Brodie Howell (1870-1942) left Granville County for New Haven in the early 1900s. Interestingly in New Haven, he had a business partner named Moses Spears who may be connected to the large Spears family of the Narragansett tribe. Documenting these kinship connections up and down the East Coast feels especially fulfilling to me, because I grew up and still live in southern New England and have family ties to the tribes here. I hope the research presented in this blog post will also give you a great appreciation for the resiliency of our ancestors and how their kinship patterns evolved when they moved North.
Before presenting the genealogies below, I’d like to offer a few points about southern New England tribal history. Just like Virginia and North Carolina, southern New England was the epicenter of early contact between European colonists and indigenous peoples. As a result of colonial attacks, genocide, warfare and disease, the indigenous populations suffered huge losses similar to what took place in Virginia and North Carolina. However the tribes rebounded and rebuilt their populations in part by intermarrying with European colonists and African slaves and indentured servants. Southern New England tribes also suffered from paper genocide which resulted in the loss of land and attacks on sovereign rights. In spite of those setbacks, many tribes have found success with federal recognition, economic development, and cultural revitalization in the 20th and 21st centuries. All of the southern New England tribes are Algonquian speaking peoples and many of their place names live on today in the names of cities and towns across the region.
I’d also like to especially thank Danny Menihan (Mashantucket Pequot tribal council member), Gloria Miller (Narragansett descendant), Cheryl Toney-Holley (Hassanamisco Nipmuc Chief and genealogist), and Ric Murphy (award winning author) for their contributions and assistance with my research.
William Francis Pettiford (1891-1985) and Edith Fayerweather (1910-2004) (Narragansett)
The first example I will discuss is that of the marriage of William Francis Pettiford and Edith Fayerweather, a Narragansett woman. William Francis Pettiford (1891-1985) was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1891 to John Pettiford (1840-1900) and Mary Copeland (born 1858). His father John Pettiford was born and raised in Richmond, VA and moved up North to enlist in the Civil War on 15 Nov 1861 in Philadelphia, PA. He served as a landsman for the U.S. Navy aboard the vessels USS Brooklyn, USS Richmond, USS Philadelphia and USS Princeton. After his service, he settled in Providence, RI where he married and had children with a widower named Mary (Copeland) Rogers who was also originally from Virginia.
Though John Pettiford left Richmond for the North, his parents and siblings remained in Richmond during and after the Civil War, and eventually relocated to Springfield, MA by the late 1800’s. John Pettiford’s paternal grandmother was a woman named Ary Pettiford (born 1809) who lived in the nearby city of Petersburg, VA. As with many free people of color in Virginia, she had to register her status as a free woman and did so on 14 July 1829:
No. 1518, Ary Pettiford, a free woman of color, born of free parents about the year 1809, dark complexion, four feet eleven and an half inches high. 14 July 1829. Petersburg, VA.
Ary Pettiford’s free born parents were Thornton Pettiford, born 1772, originally from Granville County, NC and Alice Goff of Virginia who were married on 31 March 1804 in Petersburg, VA. In the late 1700s/early 1800s, several individuals from the Granville County community moved (sometimes temporarily) to Petersburg, VA. Petersburg at this time may have been similar to what we know today as an “urban Indian community”. So when Thornton Pettiford moved to Petersburg, he did not do it alone and instead was joined by other Granville kinsman such as Jesse Chavis and Hardy Bass.
Thornton Pettiford’s wife Alice Goff most likely descended from a man named Edward Goff who was an “Indian” tithable in nearby Surry Co, VA in 1702. No tribe is specified in the tax list and I don’t know of additional genealogical research into the exact tribal origins of the Goff family. Further cementing his relationship with the Goff family, Thornton Pettiford and his fellow Granville kinsman Hardy Bass were paid as witnesses in a lawsuit filed by Fanny Goff against Molly Lee in 1807. I don’t know what the relationship was between Fanny Goff and Thornton Pettiford’s wife Alice Goff, but perhaps they were sisters.
The Granville County Pettiford family are lineal descendants of the Nansemond Indian Bass and Anderson families, so in addition to Alice Goff’s unknown tribal origin, William Francis Pettiford was of Nansemond descent.
Census records indicate that William Francis Pettiford was a patrol driver for the Providence Police department. In 1942, he was required to fill out of a draft card for World War 2 and notably both the “Indian” and “Negro” boxes were marked for Race.
In Providence is where William Francis Pettiford met and married Edith Fayerweather (1910-2004). Edith Fayweather was born in the Narragansett Indian community in South Kingstown, RI, to Corinne Fayerweather (1893-1971). Corinne later married fellow Narragansett Indian Alvin Stanton, so sometimes Edith Fayerweather was known as “Edith Stanton”, the surname of her step-father.
Corinne Fayerweather (1893-1971) was the daughter of James Fayerweather (1857-1922) and Mary Elizabeth Harry (1861-1948). Both James and Mary Elizabeth were lineal descendants of the Sachem Ninigret (1610-1670) of the Niantic tribe, through the Harry family. The Niantic were close allies and merged with the Narragansett tribe, resulting in many Narragansett tribal members today, being also of Niantic descent.
Rebecca Howell (1898-1996) and Benjamin Harrison Hazard (1898-1960)(Narragansett)
Rebecca Howell (1898-1996) was born in Fishing Creek township in Granville County, the daughter of Freeman Howell (1867-1917) and Lucy Ann Hedgepeth (1865-1953). Rebecca was also my grandfather’s 3rd cousin (as well as a distant cousin through other shared lineages). Both of Rebecca’s parents have deep roots in Granville’s Native American community from the Howell, Hedgepeth, Brandon, Evans, Bass, Bookram, and Scott families that are the subject of previous blog posts. Her Howell lineage goes through Freeman Howell (1777-1870) who was the progenitor of the “free colored” Howells in Granville, Person, Orange, and Alamance Counties. You can learn more about Freeman Howell here. Her Howell lineages extends further back into Tidewater Virginia, specifically to Dorothy Howell of New Kent Co, who was a Pamunkey woman that lived across the river from the Pamunkey reservation in the home of colonist Sherwood Lightfoot. You can read more about the Pamunkey origins of the Howell family here.
Rebecca’s Brandon lineage is connected to the Saponi/Monacan Brandon/Branham family which you can read about here. Her Evans lineage traces back to the Indian woman known as Jane Gibson the elder of Charles City Co, VA which you can read about here. Her Bass lineage traces back to the Nansemond tribe which you can read about here. And her Bookram family traces back to a Nanticoke man named Elias Puckham/Bookram who moved from Maryland to Granville County which you can read about here.
By 1910, Rebecca Howell and her family had moved up to New Haven, CT. She remained in New Haven through most of her life before living in a convalescent home in Stoughton, MA where she died in 1996. In New Haven is where Rebecca met and married her husband, a Narragansett man named Benjamin Harrison Hazard.
Benjamin Harrison Hazard (1898-1960) was the son of James Alexander Hazard (1867-1933) and Drusilla Jones (1871-1932). Both of Benjamin’s parents were from the same Narragansett Hazard family, with his father James Hazard being a double Hazard. Further back along the Hazard family line is an ancestor named Sarah Perry who comes from the large Narragansett Perry family. Certainly the endogamy that was common in Granville County can be seen in the Narragansett tribe through Benjamin Hazard’s family tree.
By 1920, Benjamin Hazard and his parents had moved from the rural Narragansett community in rural Rhode Island to the nearby city of New Haven, CT. The move was temporary for most of the family as they returned to Rhode Island by 1930. Benjamin however, remained in New Haven with his wife Rebecca.
Marie Howell (1907-2002) and Harold Cornwall (1901-1991) Nemasket/ Wampanoag and Mattakeeset/Massachusett descendant
Marie Howell (1907-2002) was born in Brockton, MA to William Badger Howell (1878-1946) originally from Granville County, NC and Matilda Watson originally from Mecklenburg Co, VA. Marie Howell was also my grandfather’s second cousin. William Badger Howell had deep roots in Granville’s Native American community through the Howell, Harris, Evans, Chavis, Gibson, Gowen/Goins, Anderson, and Bass families. As with Rebecca Howell discussed above, William comes from the Pamunkey descended Howell family. Through his grandmother Jane Harris (1817-1900), William descends from community founder William Chavis (1706-1778) and wife Frances Gibson (1700-1781) via their daughter Sarah Chavis (1730-1785) who married Edward Harris (b. 1730). As you can see in the family tree below, I am still working on confirming the exact identity of the Evans ancestors along the Harris line, but ongoing research indicates that this is the Evans family that descends from the Indian woman Jane Gibson the elder of Charles City Co, VA. So if you are using this information to add to your family tree, please note the Evans line is not yet confirmed. Additional lineages include the Nansemond descended Bass and Anderson families. And the Gowen/Goins family who were early residents of Granville.
Marie’s parents William Badger Howell and wife Matilda Watson moved up to Brockton, MA shortly after they married in 1905. The family also spent a short time in New Haven, CT before returning back to Brockton, MA.
In Brockton MA, Marie Howell met and married Harold Cornwall, a descendant of the Wampanoag (Nemasket) and Massachusett (Mattakeeset) tribes of Massachusetts. Harold Cornwall (1901-1991) was the son of Benjamin Cornwall (1869-1918) and Grace Jackson (b. 1879). Benjamin was the son of William Henry Cornwall (1844-1926), a veteran of the Civil War who enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry. William’s mother Harriet Brooker’s lineage goes back to the Granderson family of Mattakeeset band of Massachusett Indians who resided in South Scituate (present day Norwell), MA and the Nemasket Band of Wampanoag who resided in Bridgewater, MA.
It is possible that Harold Cornwall’s mother Grace Jackson (born 1879) was of Montauk descent. Grace Jackson’s mother Keziah Gardiner (born 1850) was from Long Island, NY and her family descends from slaves emancipated by New York’s gradual emancipation laws, in the early 1800’s. Their former slave owner was a wealthy man named John Lyon Gardiner, proprietor of the estate on Gardiner Island. John Gardiner’s ancestor Lion Gardiner purchased the island from the Montauk Indians in 1639. John Gardiner was noted for also employing free people of color and Montauk Indians who worked side by side with the slaves, so some intermarriage among those groups may have occurred. Additional deep dive research on the Gardiner family is needed to see if there is anything to support this theory.
Jack Ronald Cornwall died Dec. 31, 2010, at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Brockton. He was 80. Loving son of the late Harold and Marie (Howell) Cornwall, he was the brother of Janyce Russell, Joan Murphy, Harold Cornwall, Alan Cornwall and his wife Jean, Craig Cora and the late Elaine Cornwall. Jack is also survived by many nieces, nephews and cousins. Jack was a carpenter after serving in the Army during the Korean War. He was a member of the combat engineering division. He was also a member of the Nemasket Trading Post of the Wampanoag Indian Tribe. Jack was also a amateur boxer in the welter weight class. Visiting hour in the Sampson-Hickey-Grenier MacKinnon Family of Funeral Homes, 309 Main St., Brockton, Thursday at 10-11 a.m., followed by a service with the Rev. Dr. Gordon Postill officiating. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend. Burial will be at Melrose Cemetery in Brockton. In lieu of flowers, the family would like donations to the Old Colony Hospice, One Credit Union Way, Randolph, MA 02368. Arrangements by Sampson-Hickey-Grenier-MacKinnon Family of Funeral Homes. For directions to send an online condolence, visit http://www.mackinnonfuneralhomes.com.
Another Wampanoag connection to the Cornwall family, comes through the intermarriage with the Peters family. Hanford Truman Cornwall (1856-1922) was the brother of Harold Cornwall’s grandfather William Henry Cornwall. Hanford was married to an Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian Mary Peters who was the daughter of Samuel Peters and Mary Jeffers.
Badger Emory Howell (1911-1996) and Irma Champion (1911-1972) Wabaquasset Nipmuck
Badger Emory Howell (1911-1996) was the brother of Marie Howell (1907-2002) discussed above, so I will not provide an overview of his genealogy. As his sister, Badger descends from the Howell, Harris, Gowen/Goins, Anderson, Bass, Evans, Chavis, Gibson families of Granville County. Badger was also my grandfather’s second cousin. In 1931, Badger Howell married Irma Champion, a Nipmuck woman whose genealogy is discussed below.
Irma Champion (1911-1972) was born in Scituate, MA to Benjamin Champion (born 1867) and Fannie Willard (born 1864) who were both originally from Woodstock, CT. Irma descends from the Nipmuck tribe on her maternal side which traces back to a Nipmuck man named David Dailey (born 1793). Because there were successive generations of out of wedlocks births on this side of the family along with several remarriages, the genealogy can be a bit tricky to untangle so I will explain this family line in detail.
Woodstock, CT was the site of a “praying town” of Nipmuck Indians called Wabaquassetwhich was set up by missionary John Eliot. Woodstock is located in the Northeastern corner of CT, on the border with MA. In fact, the town used to part of MA until 1749. It is here we begin with David Dailey who is discussed in the following text:
In 1850, however, Native people at Woodstock included: Charles Dorus, a shoemaker, with wife Mary Ann Dixon and children Franklin and Polly Dorus; his brother Esbon Dorus, a shoemaker, with wife Angenette White Dorus, their children Hezekiah, Henry and Betsey, along with Esbon’s mother Polly Dorus, his mother-in-law Betsey White, and a nephew James Nedson; and, relatives of the Nedson and Dorus families, Hosea Dixon, a basketmaker, with wife Hopey and their four children.
Other Woodstock Natives in 1850 included Sarah Crowd, serving in a white household; and the families of brothers George and DAVID DAILEY, both laborers, while other Indians were living at neighboring Thompson.
Source: Doughton, Thomas L. “Nedson, Dorus and Dixon Families
Nineteenth-Century Native Indian Community
At the Massachusetts and Connecticut Border” 1997. Online access: http://massasoit.0catch.com/nedson.htm
Indeed in the 1850 census, we find David Dailey (born 1793) as the head of household in Woodstock, CT. His household consisted of his wife Abigail (Fellows) Dailey (born 1799), daughter Mary Dailey (born 1819), daughter Nancy Dailey (born 1834), and granddaughter Lydia Willard (born 1846). Everyone in the household is enumerated with the Dailey surname except for the youngest Lydia. This means Lydia’s father was a Willard. Given the ages of the two daughters Mary and Nancy, Lydia could only be Mary’s daughter.
The 1860 census helps to confirm that Lydia was indeed Mary’s daughter. By 1860, Mary Dailey had married a man named Richard Addison and with him had a son named Francis “Frank” Addison, born in 1857. In the 1860 census, Mary who is working as a domestic servant for a white Goddard family, is enumerated with the Addison surname. Her son Francis Addison is enumerated in the household as is her daughter Lydia who is also enumerated with the Addison surname. Because Mary Dailey had remarried, her daughter Lydia Willard who was from a previous relationship with a male Willard, adopted the Addison surname as well. Trying to explain the complex nature of the household to the census enumerator was something that Mary and her employers perhaps did not care to do. So it may have been easier to identify the entire family as Addison. Mary Dailey’s husband Richard Addison was enumerated in the 1860 census in a different household where he was employed which is why he is missing from their household.
In 1861, John Milton Earle, released a census of Indians residing in the state of Massachusetts, commonly called the “Earle Report“. The Dailey/Daly and Willard surnames are listed under the Dudley band of Nipmuc Indians. The town of Dudley, MA borders the town of Woodstock, CT so these are likely people from the same Dailey and Willard families that resided in Woodstock. (Note: There is a Dudley Indian named Lydia Willard, age 13, residing in Uxbridge who is included in the report, but she is a different Lydia Willard than the daughter of Mary Dailey).
By 1870 Lydia Willard (daughter of Mary Dailey), had two daughters: a daughter Fannie Willard born 1864 and a daughter Lillian Tanner born 1869. Lydia (enumerated as Lydia Tanner) and her two daughters were enumerated in the 1870 census in the household of a white family named Burley, where Lydia worked as a domestic servant. The two different surnames of Lydia’s daughters indicates that the oldest Fannie was born out wedlock, so she received her mother’s Willard maiden surname. The youngest Lillian was born to a marriage that Lydia had with a Tanner, so Lillian received her father’s Tanner surname.
In the 1880 census, Lydia Willard’s daughter Fannie Willard was enumerated without her family and living as a domestic servant in the household of a white woman named Maria Corbin.
On 20 June 1893 in Hingham, MA, Fannie Willard married Benjamin Champion. Both Fannie Willard and Benjamin Champion were from Woodstock, CT, so they presumably knew each from their hometown. For reasons not clear to me, they moved to Hingham, MA where they married and they settled in nearby Scituate, MA. On the marriage record, Fannie Willard’s parents are listed as “James” and “Lydia Addison”. This further proves that Fannie Willard was the daughter of Lydia (Willard) Addison. Her mother’s surname was given as Addison on the marriage record because Lydia at that time was known as “Lydia Addison”. Because Fannie was born out of wedlock, James may be the first name of her father. But with no last name given, I am unsure of his exact identity.
And finally we have the birth record of Irma Champion (1911-1972) which shows that her parents were Benjamin Champion and Fannie Willard.
Hello readers! I apologize that I have not authored a new blog post in over a year. I have been working on an important, exciting research project with a group of leading scholars of Native American and North Carolina/Virginia genealogy and history. As a result, most of my research time is dedicated to this contract which leaves me with limited time for outside work. I am grateful for the comments that have been left on blog, and please know that I do try to read most comments but just don’t have the time to respond to many queries. In the meantime, I encourage readers to make use of information that has already been published in the blog. The “Search” button is a helpful feature to quickly access information.
Genetic Genealogy Online Resources
I also do want to bring to your attention some excellent online resources. Advances in DNA testing has been pushing the field of genetic genealogy into the forefront and assisting traditional methodologies. Acclaimed genetic genealogist Blaine Bettinger’s blog is great way to get credible help and advice about using DNA testing to advance genealogical research. One of my favorite blogposts by Blaine Bettinger, is his article “A Small Segment Round-Up” which warns researchers against lowering thresholds for autosomal cousin matches. Tools available on the popular genetic genealogy website Gedmatch, allow for users to adjust threshold levels when making comparisons between DNA kits. However, Blaine Bettinger warns that matches below 7 centimorgans (cM’s) are not credible.
“Beware any research or conclusion that uses these small segments without specifically addressing the issues that are known – based on all the scientific research and evidence gathered to date – to surround small segments.” – Blaine Bettinger
Genealogical Proof Standard
How do we know when we have successfully proved a genealogical connection? This is an important question to always keep at the forefront as you attempt to draw conclusions from your genealogical research. The Board of Certification of Genealogists does provide a way to assess the credibility of a genealogical claim. The Genealogical Proof Standard is how you can asses the merits of research conclusions:
Making as wide a search as possible for sources that could help establish the identity, event or relationship under investigation.
Recording in proper, acceptable format the source citation and/or the provider of the information.
Analyzing and correlating the collected information—evaluating the quality of sources and the reliability of information within them.
Resolving any conflicting, contradictory evidence with reasoned argument.
Stating your conclusion convincingly (more than a “balance of probability”).
Familysearch.org is a free genealogy website that has a seemingly infinite amount of digitized records online. Some of these records are indexed, meaning that they can be located via keyword searches. And some records are not indexed, meaning that these records are not keyword searchable and instead must be browsed to find relevant information. Just because these records are not indexed does not make them any less valuable. In fact, if you are doing “deep dive” research, it is often the unindexed records that prove to be most valuable. This is time intensive research because you typically will have to browse through hundreds if not thousands of pages of historical records, just to find the one reference you are looking for. There are no short cuts for doing comprehensive genealogical research.
The following weblink will bring you to Unindexed Records for North Carolina:
There is a drop down menu, where you can select the North Carolina county of interest:
The availability of records varies greatly from one county to the next. Not all records have been digitized and if they have not been digitized, there are instructions for how to view those records in person. For records that have been digitized, there is a camera icon next to the accompanying folder.
The folders are generally organized by date, but aside from that, you will need to spend a great deal of time browsing the records page by page, to narrow in on what you’re looking for.
For Granville County, I have a particular interest in viewing the County Court Minutes. Anytime a case was heard before the courts, the minutes were recorded in these books. So life events such as land sales, bastardy bonds, estate sales, wills, civil trials, apprenticeships, guardian cases, etc are documented in these books. Therefore browsing the court minutes provides an excellent snapshot into the happenings in Granville. You can observe which families are repeatedly interacting with one another, the socio-economic status of specific individuals, and the names of the town clerks, judges, and sheriffs. These records have been extremely helpful in my research and allow for me to adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard, by exhausting all known available sources.
The following are just some of the court minutes I have recently found pertaining to people from the Native/FPOC community in Granville:
In two previous blog posts accessible here and here, I discussed my research about identifying the parentage of brothers Racey Bass and Willis Bass. Milly Bass was a woman who had children out of wedlock by her neighbor, Jesse Chavis. Those two sons: Racey Bass and Willis Bass were subsequently apprenticed out. I had previously located apprenticeship records and bastardy bonds which helped confirm their parentage. And in the unindexed Granville County court minute books, I found several references to Racey Bass and Willis Bass being the sons of Milly Bass. It is great to multiple sources which corroborate the same conclusions. This record is also a great find in that it provides exact birth dates for Racey and Willis.
Drury Pettiford (1755-1838) was a Revolutionary War soldier who filed for a pension on 27 May 1818. Two years later on 25 August 1820, Drury Pettiford provided additional testimony about the names and ages of the family living with him at that time. He testified that Jesse Pettiford, age 18 resided with him. While it may be inferred that Jesse Pettiford was Drury’s son, Jesse’s age made it more likely that he was Drury’s grandson. However it was not known which of Drury’s children, was the parent of Jesse. The Granville County court minutes, identify Jesse Pettiford as the son of Fanny Pettiford. The reason Jesse resided with his grandfather Drury now makes sense, given that Jesse was born out of wedlock.
Sometimes simple road orders such as the one seen above, can be helpful. Brothers Stephen Bass (b. 1758) and Darling Bass (1777-1845) are documented sons of Edward Bass (1728-1800) and wife Tamer Anderson. Darling Bass can be found enumerated in the Granville census records, but for some reason Stephen Bass was not enumerated in the census. With his absence from the census, we need to turn to other records to let us when and where he was still live. He is mentioned in a few tax lists and his land referenced here in this 1802 road order, lets us know he was still alive in 1802.
I still have many more decades of court minutes to browse through. So whenever I have extra time, I try to get through these folders. Whenever I recognize a name of someone from our community, I make note of that record. So when I am finished with these court minutes, I will have identified every time someone from our community made a court appearance.
John Chavis (1763-1838) is often credited as being the first black man to become an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church and credited for being the first black man to attend a university or college in the United States. After completing his missionary work among enslaved people, John Chavis opened a school in antebellum Raleigh, North Carolina where he taught both white and free black pupils. These are just some of the fascinating details about the life of John Chavis, a man whose name and legacy continues to inspire people today.
The purpose of this blog post is not to retell the biography of John Chavis, but rather is about correctly locating John Chavis in the historical archives. Having a name like “John Chavis” in antebellum Virginia and North Carolina is akin to having a name like “John Smith”. That is, there were many John Chavises who were contemporary to John Chavis (1763-1838). As a result, the records for these other men who happened to share the same name, have been confused and incorrectly attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838). In 2001, scholar Dr. Helen Chavis Othow published a biography titled: “John Chavis: African American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor.” In her book, Dr. Othow wonderfully recounts the life of John Chavis, however some very key biographical details are not correct. Dr. Othow wrote her book before Paul Heinegg published his seminal genealogical research: “Free African-Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware”. In his book (which he continues to update and correct online with the new research), Heinegg has an entire section dedicated to the Chavis family, including John Chavis (1763-1838). (John Chavis 1763-1838, is number 42 in the Chavis family sketch that can be accessed here). I can only imagine that if Dr. Othow had access to Heinegg’s genealogical research before she published her book, her conclusions would be different. Heinegg does correct most of the outdated information in Dr. Othow’s book. For example, Paul Heinegg correctly identifies Rev. John Chavis’ parents as Jacob Chavis and Elizabeth Evans of Mecklenburg Co, VA. I cannot say if Heinegg was the first person who corrected John Chavis’ parentage but his book was the first one I read which did just that. (So please do not credit me for correcting John Chavis’ parentage. Heinegg did that). But I still found some minor inaccuracies in Heinegg’s summary of John Chavis (1763-1838). This is why as more records and research becomes widely available, it is crucial to revisit and update older work.
John Chavis (1763-1838) Timeline
In this section, I will present a timeline of John Chavis’ (1763-1838) life from the primary source records found in the historical archives. Creating timelines is something I emphatically encourage researchers to do because it helps to avoid common genealogical mistakes such as conflating the identities and records of people who share the same name.
For example if John Smith (1750-1804) is documented with a wife named Betsy and residing in Warren County, NC through land deeds and census records, then he cannot be the same man also named John Smith (1760-1797) who is documented with a wife name Rebecca and residing in Cumberland County, NC where his will and estate records are located.
So even if John Chavis (1763-1838) is not relevant to your research interests, I still encourage you to read this blog post so you can see the benefit of creating timelines.
1763– Lunenburg Co, VA (now Mecklenburg Co, VA): John Chavis was born to “free colored” parents Jacob Chavis (1736-1808) and Elizabeth Evans (1745-1818). His birth year is an approximation based upon his age reported in later documents, so it is possible he may have been born a year before or after 1763. His father Jacob Chavis is documented through land deeds and court cases in Lunenburg (now Mecklenburg) during these years, so this is undoubtedly where John Chavis was born. John Chavis is identified as the son of Jacob Chavis and Elizabeth Evans in the 22 May 1787 Mecklenburg Co will of his grandfather Thomas Evans and in the chancery suit of Thomas Evans Jr in 1819.
20 Dec 1778– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis swore an oath of allegiance to enlist in the Revolutionary War. This information comes from an article in the Raleigh Register on 27 Oct 1835 in which John Chavis showed his oath of allegiance to prove that he was a Revolutionary War veteran.
1786 – Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse.
1787– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse
22 May 1787– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is named in the will of his maternal grandfather Thomas Evans (1723-1788).
1788– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse.
1789 – Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis is taxable on one tithe (himself) and one horse.
1789– Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis was employed to tutor the Greenwood orphans of the late Robert Greenwood according to this source. This is a key detail because it shows that John Chavis was not only literate but educated enough to be entrusted to teach white children. It may have been this experience and others like it that propelled him to become a minister and teacher.
1790s – I have not located John Chavis in any records in the 1790’s until 1799 (see next entry). He is not listed as a tithable in the Mecklenburg Co tax lists as he had been in the 1780’s, which means that he moved outside of the county. One possible explanation is that he was a student at Princeton during these years. There are reports that he took private classes at Princeton University under Dr. John Witherspoon and there is a 1792 Board of Trustees report that the university accept a free black man named John Chavis of Virginia. John Chavis is not listed as an official alum of Princeton. Perhaps because of his race, John Chavis was an “unofficial” student at Princeton.
1799– Lexington, VA: The first time John Chavis appears in the records of the Presbytery of Lexington when he attends their meetings.
1800 – Lexington, VA: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church grants John Chavis a license to be a missionary.
1801 to 1807 – Lexington, VA: John Chavis begins his missionary work among enslaved people of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
6 April 1802– Rockbridge County (Lexington is the capital), VA: John Chavis’ free papers are recorded which refer to him as a former student of Presbyterian Washington Academy (now Washington and Lee University) and that he completed the regular course of studies.
8 November 1802 – Rockbridge County (Lexington is the capital), VA: John Chavis’ free papers refer to him as a free black man of 40 years of age (placing his birth year approximately in 1762).
August 1805– Chatham County, NC: While doing missionary work in North Carolina, John Chavis’ conversation with an educated black woman was reported in the August 1805 issue of the The Association Missionary Magazine of Evangelical Intelligence.
15 May 1806– Wake County, NC: John Chavis purchased 233 acres adjoining Mine Creek and Haw Branch in Wake County for $700 from Joshua Eastland of Chatham County. This is the first record that shows John Chavis as a resident of North Carolina.
11 July 1806 – Mecklenburg Co, VA: John Chavis’ father Jacob Chavis gives him power of attorney to recover a debt from William Stewart (born circa 1715) of Wake Co, NC. William Stewart formerly lived in Mecklenburg Co, VA and owed money to Jacob Chavis from when Jacob Chavis successfully sued his own father-in-law Thomas Evans. William Stewart had agreed to pay Thomas Evans’ court costs but left the state for Wake Co. Because John Chavis had just relocated to Wake Co, it would make sense that his father Jacob Chavis would ask him to recover this debt.
26 August 1808 – Wake County, NC: In an article in the Raleigh Register, John Chavis provides details about classes in a school he recently opened.
1809 – Wake/Orange/Granville County, NC: John Chavis joined the Orange Presbytery while residing in Raleigh (capital of Wake Co), which serviced Wake, Orange, and Granville counties.
28 June 1815– Wake County, NC: John Chavis purchased 111 acres on the south side of the Neuse River on Laurel Creek.
3 December 1827– Wake County, NC: John Chavis wrote to his friend Senator Willie P. Mangum about a deed of trust for land adjoining Tignal Jones and Job Rogers in Wake County which was given to him and his wife Frances during their lifetimes. This record confirms that John Chavis was the same John Chavis who owned land in Wake County and establishes that John Chavis’ wife was named Frances. I have found no record of their marriage nor records that help to identify her maiden name or birth year.
18 December 1827– Wake County, NC: John Chavis wrote again to his friend Senator Willie P. Mangum inviting him to attend the next examination at his school in Wake County at Revises Crossroads.
22 April 1830– Wake County, NC: It is reported in the Raleigh Register that Joseph Gales (editor of the paper), had recently attended an examination “of the free children of color” at the school and “seldom received more gratification from any exhibition of a similar character”.
8 July 1831– Granville County, NC: John Chavis made a quit claim deed relinquishing any right to the estate of his brother Isaac Chavis (1766-1831). Isaac Chavis had moved from Mecklenburg Co, VA to Granville Co, NC in the early 1790s and is well documented in the Granville census records and tax lists until his death. He had no living children which meant that his estate would be divided among his siblings.
1831– Wake County, NC: The Orange Presbytery assigned Samuel Smith Downey and William McPheeters of Raleigh to take care of John Chavis and his wife Frances.
27 October 1835 – Wake County, NC: In 1835, North Carolina passed a new state constitution which stripped away the voting rights of free people of color, including John Chavis. During a debate at the state convention it was argued that no free men of color took the Oath of Allegiance. In an article from the Raleigh Register that was republished in the Fayetteville Observer on 27 Oct 1835, it was noted that an “old colored man” named John Chavis a resident of Wake County who was a licensed Presbyterian Preacher, showed the crowd his Oath of Allegiance from 20 Dec 1777 signed by James Anderson of Mecklenburg Co, VA.
15 June 1838 – Wake, Orange or Granville County, NC: John Chavis’ died on this date according to an obituary published in the Watchman of the South, Obituary Notice by Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly. There is conflicting information on the location of his death. John Chavis was documented as a resident and land owner in Wake County up through 1835, so it would stand to reason that he died at his residence. However a Richmond Presbyterian paper reported that his death was in Orange County. A 28 Sep 1880 (over forty years after his death) article in the Oxford Torchlight, reports that John Chavis died at his residence somewhere between Oxford and Williamsboro (Oxford is in Granville and Williamsboro was in a part of Granville that became Vance County in 1881). It is believed that John Chavis is buried on the plantation of his friend and former student, Senator Willie P Mangum in Rougemont in Durham County, NC.
Discussion On John Chavis’ Timeline
By sequencing John Chavis’ life events into a timeline, we can begin to draw out a broader narrative of his life. John Chavis was born and raised in Mecklenburg County, VA and lived there until he went away to study to become a minister in the 1790’s. His formal education took place in Lexington, VA at the Presbyterian Washington Academy and probably in New Jersey at Princeton University. By 1800, he was a practicing Presbyterian preacher and traveled throughout the region doing missionary work.
John Chavis then settled in Wake County, NC by 1806 where he was licensed to preach by the Orange Presbytery and also opened a school where he taught both free black and white students. He was not only well known in Wake County but also known in neighboring counties such as Granville and Orange. Land deeds show that he owned property in Wake County yet I have found no records of him selling his land. It’s possible he lost the land due to taxes and other debts. In 1831, North Carolina forbid men of color from practicing ministry and in 1835, North Carolina disenfranchised all free people of color. As a result, this may have put John Chavis in a bad financial situation. This is evident when the Orange Presbytery assigned caretakers for John Chavis and his wife Frances. I have yet to find estate records for John Chavis, therefore I have no records of surviving children or heirs. John Chavis’ widow was apparently receiving financial assistance from the Orange Presbytery until April 1842 when it was reported she went to live with friends. I cannot confirm her in any later census records and I have not found a record of her death. It’s quite possible the couple had no surviving children given that widow Frances went to stay with friends and not with any of her children (if she had any).
Records and Family Relationships That Are Not Attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838)
In this last section, I will discuss the many records and family relationships that have been incorrectly attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838). Frequently on Ancestry and on other genealogy websites, I have noticed researchers attaching just about any “John Chavis” record to John Chavis (1763-1838) which has added to the confusion about his identity. So all of the records discussed in this section are NOT for John Chavis (1763-1838) and instead I explain who these records should be attributed to.
On 27 July 1801 in Mecklenburg Co, VA, John Chavis married Sally Blair with Thomas Cypress as security. This marriage record is for John Chavis (born 1780) who was the son of a Revolutionary War soldier also named John Chavis (1755-1787). As we can see in the timeline established above, John Chavis (1763-1838) did not reside in Mecklenburg Co, VA in 1801. Instead he was living in Lexington, VA where he had recently completed his studies and received his license from the Lexington Presbytery to preach.
On 8 June 1815 in Granville Co, NC, John Chavis married Sarah Anderson with Abraham Anderson as the bondsman. This marriage record is for John Chavis (1790-before 1840) who was the son of Jesse Chavis (1766-1840) of Granville County. You can read more about Jesse Chavis’ family and ancestors here. Sarah Anderson (1798-1820) was the daughter of Lewis Anderson Jr and Winnie Bass of Granville County. Bondsman Abraham Anderson was a brother of Sarah Anderson. John Chavis and Sarah Anderson had two children together: Anderson Chavis (born 1816) who married Harriet Turner on 21 November 1842 in Granville and Joyce Chavis (born 1816) who married William Mayo on 12 June 1834. Both Anderson Chavis and Joyce Chavis were named legatees in the 1844 will of their aunt Patience (Reeves) Anderson (1776-1844). Patience was the widow of Augustine Anderson (1776-1827) who was a brother of Sarah Anderson and died with no living heirs. As a result, Augustine Anderson and wife Patience, left their estate to their orphaned nephew and niece Anderson Chavis and Joyce Chavis. Sarah Anderson was deceased by 1820, when her husband John Chavis remarried a woman named Nancy Harding on 19 July 1820 in Granville County. John Chavis was deceased sometime between 1830 ad 1840. The reason why Patience (Reeves) Anderson left her estate to her nephew and niece was because they were orphaned and she wanted to ensure that they were financially taken care of. We know that the John Chavis mentioned in these records are not John Chavis (1763-1838) because his wife’s name was Frances and she lived to at least the year 1842. Furthermore the 1820 and 1830 censuses show John Chavis to be born between 1776 and 1794 which is clearly quite younger than John Chavis (1763-1838) and is consistent with John Chaivs (1790- before 1840).
Also note that John Chavis (1790-1840) and Sarah Anderson’s (1798-1820) son Anderson Chavis (b. 1816) shares the same name, “Anderson Chavis” with two other men in Granville and neighboring Wake County. As a result, I have noticed a number of researchers mix up and conflate the identities of all three different Anderson Chavises. Anderson Chavis (b. 1816) who was the son of John Chavis and Sarah Anderson was enumerated in the 1850 and 1860 censuses in Granville County (Oxford district) with his wife Harriet (Turner) Chavis but no children. There was also Anderson Chavis (b. 1810) who married Tabitha Hinton on 4 July 1838 in Wake County and was enumerated in the 1840, 1850, and 1870 censuses in Wake County with his wife and children. The 1850 census shows a woman named Nelly Chavis b. 1770 living in Anderson Chavis’ household and it seems likely she is his mother, aunt or another immediate female member. And finally there was Anderson Chavis b. 1820 who married Carole Jones on 11 Jan 1859 in Granville and enumerated in the 1860 census in Granville.
As stated in the timeline, there are no estate records for John Chavis (1763-1838) or his wife Frances, which makes identifying any possible surviving children extremely difficult.
Charlotte “Lottie” Chavis (born 1803) was the wife of Littleton Taborn of Granville County. Paul Heinegg incorrectly guesses that Lottie Chavis was a daughter of John Chavis (1763-1838). This comes from the fact that her marriage record to Littleton Taborn on 14 April 1818 in Granville County, shows the bondsman as a John Chavis. However this bondsman was John Chavis (1790-before 1840) who was discussed above. More importantly, there is an apprenticeship record for Lottie Chavis which directly identifies her as a daughter of Mary Chavis. On 8 November 1815 in Granville County, Charlotte Chavis, aged thirteen, was called the daughter of Mary Chavis when she was apprenticed out to Richard Lemay. John Chavis (1763-1838) was alive and well in 1815, married to Frances and living in Wake County where he ran a school, so there is nothing that connects him as the father of Lottie Chavis.
Revolutionary War Records
John Chavis (1763-1838) was not the only John Chavis from Mecklenburg County, VA to enlist in the Revolutionary War. We know that John Chavis (1763-1838) enlisted on 20 December 1778 with James Anderson signing his Oath of Allegiance. This is the certificate that John Chavis presented to the North Carolina state convention in 1835 when they voted to disenfranchise all free people of color. Another John Chavis (1755-1787) who lived in Mecklenburg County is also a documented Revolutionary War soldier.
In March 1783, Captain Mayo Carrington certified that John Chavis (1755-1787) had “faithfully fulfilled [his duties] and is thereby entitled to all immunities granted to three year soldiers”. This is consistent with a July 1778 payroll which shows a John Chavis in Captain Mayo Carrington’s Company. We know that these records are for John Chavis (1755-1787) because his heirs on 20 April 1818 filed suit to be compensated for their late father’s war service. According to a letter from William O. Goode on 12 January 1836, John Chavis (1755-1787) and his brother Anthony Chavis (1757-1831) were both wagoners in the Revolutionary War. His letter further states that John Chavis (1755-1787) was issued a certificate for public debt for 89 pounds signed by Captain Mayo Carrington. So this confirms that the John Chavis who enlisted in Captain Mayo Carrington’s Company was not John Chavis (1763-1838) but rather John Chavis (1755-1787).
Chatham County Land Deeds and Census Records
The following records from Chatham County have been attributed to John Chavis (1763-1838) by Paul Heinegg. However, the timeline shows that there is ample evidence that John Chavis’ place of residence during this time period and his school were in the city of Raleigh located in Wake County. I think the reason why Heinegg attributed the Chatham County, NC records to John Chavis (1763-1838) was from when a conversation between John Chavis and an educated black woman was reported in 1805. However John Chavis did missionary work in Chatham County which is probably why he was recorded there. These records of a John Chavis residing in Chatham County are actually for John Chavis (born 1775) who was the son of the above mentioned Anthony Chavis (1757-1831) and his first wife Betsey Evans.
9 November 1804 in Chatham County, John Chavis purchased 100 acres of land on Weaver’s Creek.
In the 1810 census for Chatham County, John Chavis is enumerated as the head of household of five “free people of color”. In this census he is enumerated next to his brother Peter Chavis (born 1772 – after 1850) and his uncle-in-law Charles Evans (born 1783). Peter Chavis (1772-born 1850) is a confirmed son of Anthony Chavis (1757-1831) and his first wife Betsey Evans from the Revolutionary War pension file on Peter Chavis. Charles Evans (born 1783) was the apparent brother of Richard Evans (1772-1855) who gave a deposition for Anthony Chavis’ pension application in which he stated that his wife Lucy Evans was the sister of Anthony Chavis’s first wife Betsey Evans. These families moved together from Mecklenburg Co, VA and neighboring Nutbush township (split between Granville and Warren counties, NC) to Chatham County, NC in the early 1800’s.
23 July 1811 in Chatham County, John Chavis purchased another 100 acres of land on Weaver’s Creek.
28 April 1817 in Chatham County, John Chavis sold 100 acres of his land on Weaver’ Creek for 100 pounds.
7 March 1818 in Chatham County, John Chavis sold his remaining 100 acres of land on Weaver’s Creek for $650.
In the 1820 census for Chatham County, John Chavis is enumerated as the head of household nine “free people of color” (household looks consist of husband, wife, and seven children).