When it comes to my father’s side of the family, I’ve always told people that no one went past the Mason-Dixon line. They were all Southern as Southern can be, mainly in Virginia and Kentucky, especially the Watts family. So it’s somewhat ironic to me that I ended up marrying a man from the North and eventually settling there to raise my family.
The Watts family originated in Halifax County, Virginia and there was mention of the surname as far back as the formation of the county in 1752. And that’s basically where I’m stuck on that particular line. I traced all the Wattses in that county back to one progenitor, Samuel Watts, who first bought land there in 1775. I speculate from tax records that he was born about 1738. I descend from his eldest son Thomas M. Watts who was born about 1765.
I know nothing of Samuel’s origins, other than he might be English. Of course that far back, he had to come from somewhere unless he was Native American, which does not appear to be the case. The only other clue I have is the fact that in April of 1780, he appeared before the Halifax County court and made oath that he had been an inhabitant of Virginia for many years. He stated he was recruited within the same and served as a common soldier in the First Virginia Regiment. He was under Captain Thomas Bullet “in the last war” and he served until discharged from his commanding officer. (Halifax County, Virginia Pleas, No. 10, p. 130: microfilm of original.)
I have a note from my early research that I took down the following from a book at a library in Tampa, FL: “Samuel Watts rec’d military certificate 1014 on 19 May 1780 for service in Dunmore War from Halifax Co, VA and served in 1st VA regiment under Capt Thomas Bullet (VA Land Ofc Records),” but I did not properly record the source. Crozier’s Virginia Colonial Militia states much the same as the County Plea Book and gives a date of 21 April 1780. The Virginia State Library’s List of the Colonial Soldiers of Virginia shows Samuel Watts bk. 2, p. 467 in the French and Indian Bounty Warrants, 2 manuscript volumes. Bockstruck’s Virginia’s Colonial Soldiers lists a warrant for 50 acres issued to Samuel Watts, a solder in the 1st Virginia Rgmt under Capt Thomas Bullet 21 April 1780 Halifax Co. Bockstruck explained that eight months after the Treaty of Paris closed the French and Indian War, King George III issued a proclamation whereby men who served in military units from 1754 until disbanded were entitled to bounty land and that the same proclamation became the basis for soldiers seeking bounty land after Lord Dunmore’s War. Further, in May 1779 the Virginia Legislature placed a time limit of twelve months on receiving such land. The claimant had to produce a certificate from Lord Dunmore while he was the Royal Governor or from the county court before which proof of military service had been made and that most of the bounty land was in the western section of Virginia (i.e., Kentucky).
All this research was done nearly twenty years ago and just seemed to go circular without expanding my knowledge. I didn’t have access to any other resources that could help me go further. In fact I lacked the genealogical skills to go further in colonial Virginia. I don’t have a firm grasp in my mind about this time period. When I thought of the French and Indian War, I guess I just imagined this took place in the hills of Virginia.
The place where I transplanted my roots is next door to the Seneca Indian reservation. I am sure the valley I live in was once a place the Haudenosaunee called home as well. There is a rich history here to learn and I did some of my undergraduate work on Native American culture. In fact the faith community of which I am a part is led by a native Mohawk. I count many in that community as friends, although I have encountered others who still struggle with feelings of distrust of us who identify as white. I try to be sensitive to those feelings. I realize that I cannot walk in their shoes, but I hope to seek to understand and perhaps bear respectful witness to some of their experience. I was disconcerted once several years ago to hear one talk of what he went through at an Indian boarding school. What I thought was old history was still a living memory.
It was at the local library on this reservation where the other day I picked up the book Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir which I reviewed in this post here. Ever since my undergraduate research for my paper on Handsome Lake, I have been interested in learning more about Native American history. These pictures were taken on a local trip with a friend whose father descended from Handsome Lake and Cornplanter’s family, although I did not know of his connections at the time I wrote the paper. An odd thing happened after I wrote the paper though. I had a brief dream of driving down a road with beach sand on either side and was marveling at this sight. A few weeks later on a rainy day in August, I read about a planetarium in Erie, PA and decided to take my children there for a Saturday outing. We went to lunch afterwards and I found a pamphlet about a lighthouse on Presque Isle, a state park in the area. I thought it would be neat to see, so we drove over to check it out. What a sense of déjà vu I had when we drove in and around the isle and discovered lovely beach areas on both sides. I had read how Handsome Lake had taken a group of Europeans to explore the island once but I never really connected anything with the trip. It just seemed odd to me.
Another book I picked up at the local library was about another Native American called Guyasuta of Haudausaunee origin. I have not heard of him before, but the author started discussing the French and Indian War, mentioning Lord Dunmore’s War as well.
Wait, was there a connection to my Samuel Watts? I got online and typed in CaptainThomas Bullitt. Between Wikipedia and a couple of other sites, I discovered that Captain Bullitt was indeed past the Mason-Dixon line (Yes, I know that term was not in existence until the Civil War, some one hundred years later). Bullitt led forces in the early skirmishes in the Battle of Great Meadows, the march against Fort Duquesne with the Braddock Expedition and again at the Battle of Monogahela on July 9, 1755. At the end of the war in 1763, Thomas Bullitt became adjutant general of the state militia. In 1773, Governor Dunmore authorized Bullitt to organize a party to survey northern and eastern Kentucky. Bullitt gathered a group of about forty men and tried to maintain peaceful relations with the Indians, even traveling to speak with Chief Cornstalk of the Shawnee. In 1775, when Governor Dunmore took his last stand, Bullitt was part of the forces that assembled for the Battle of Great Bridge and by the end of December 1775, Bullitt was promoted to Colonel.
I am still unsure whether Samuel was in just Lord Dunmore’s War in 1775, took part in the other battles or both. I don’t know how to go about finding out right now, but I find the possibility intriguing that unbeknownst to me, my ancestor may have been closer than I thought.