Monday, April 3, 2017

Matrilineal Monday: A Female Ancestor's Voice From Years Ago

On 21 May 1788, Moses Fontaine took a deposition from Mary Watts for a chancery suit brought by Reuben Abney against Dr. Walter Bennett saying "that she had been for twenty years a practitioner of the obstetrick art and is a neighbor to Doctor Walter Bennett six or seven years...”
Halifax Co. (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1753-1911. Reuben Abney against DR Walter Bennett 1790-026. Local Government Records Collection, Halifax County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
It has taken me some time to process the information about Mary Watts who was previously unknown. It has been my experience that there is a genealogy corollary of sorts in that one will find lots of proof of a line for which there is already an abundance of evidence but less for a line that does not. Therefore, I at first was inclined to say that with my luck, she was not part of my family. But now analyzing the records with this new information, I lean towards the hypothesis that this Mary was the wife of Samuel Sr. 

My reasoning/proof argument:

First, the name Mary is plausible with Samuel's known daughter who was called Polly. Polly is a known nickname for Mary; therefore their daughter may have been named for her.

Second, as I explained in the post about Sarah the wife of Samuel Watts the younger, it was likely her listed in the 1812 tax list because of her actions to protect the property she had through her first husband and her second marriage that took place in 1812. In analyzing the records more, I realize the wife of Samuel Sr would no doubt have been deceased before 28 January 1812, when the first summons was written by the Halifax County clerk in regards to the chancery suit Samuel Watts Sr.'s son Thomas and others brought against Samuel's daughter and husband. His wife is not listed as a party on either side of this suit.
Halifax Co. (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1753-1911. Sally Watts widow etc. vs. Joseph Shaw and wife etc., Index No. 1812-007. Local Government Records Collection, Halifax County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
Third, Samuel Sr.'s wife was probably dead by 1810 and as early as 1808 when Samuel's daughter Polly states in her deposition that her father lived with her two years prior to him writing a deed of trust in 1810 conveying slaves to her. Him being aged and alone was a plausible reason for moving in with his daughter. It would make sense that he deeded the slaves to his daughter if his wife was already gone and there was no need to provide for her. Certainly we established in the second point that his wife was dead before his other children brought suit against his daughter regarding those slaves he conveyed. See this post for more information regarding this chancery suit. 

Fourth, Mary Watts was a contemporary of Samuel Sr.  In her deposition, she states in so many words that she was a midwife and had been since about 1768. This indicates Mary was no youngster at the time; at the very least we could safely assume she was at least 18 when she started practicing but perhaps even older. Another deposition in this chancery record referred to a Mrs. Lax as a “granny of report in the neighborhood.” (Deposition of Elizabeth Cox, wife of Elisha Cox). I infer this was a term used for older midwives in the area. If she was at least 18, that puts her birth at least 1750 and maybe earlier. From other evidence, I have Samuel's birth as taking place around 1738.

Fifth, the deposition shows she lived in the same area as Samuel Watts Sr. did. He purchased 128 acres of land on the branches of Difficult Creek in 1775. William Nichols' land was one of the boundaries. A description of a road that ran through his property was given in 1787 that included Walter Bennett as a neighbor. (Halifax County, Virginia Pleas No. 12, p. 268 (from microfilmed record). I do not know yet when Walter Bennett became a neighbor but obviously both Samuel and Mary were neighbors of the doctor as well as Samuel's children. Judging from a deposition in that same chancery case by a William Pride late of the county of Amelia as to Dr. Bennett's character, Dr. Bennett may have hailed from there a few years before being in Halifax County.

There are fragments of evidence of some other contemporary or older Wattses in the area, but they do not appear to have stayed in the area for any length of time. There is nothing that places them in the same neighborhood as Samuel and several of them already have wives accounted for. The early James Watts was married to Susannah Taylor in 1755. James died by August of 1787 as his son Richard was named his acting executor. There was a John Watts from Bedford County, Virginia who married Elizabeth (Betsy) Roberts in Halifax County in 1792. County records show a William Watts listed as an attorney in Halifax County who died in Campbell County, Virginia by 1802. John Watts of Bedford County, Virginia was his executor. It does not appear that William spent much time in Halifax County, the only records on him are court records. It does not appear that he ever purchased land there.

So here I have laid out my reasoning for putting forth Mary as the probable wife of Samuel Watts Sr. It is exciting to not only have a name but also to have a detailed glimpse of who and what she did from her deposition. It is like hearing a maternal ancestor's voice from all those years ago.    

Prints and Photographs Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine.
Rueff, Jakob, ca.1500-1558, Author. Published Zürych: Christoffel Froschover, 1554.

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