Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wishful Wednesday: To Stand Where My Ancestors Stood

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 
                              -From T. S. Eliott's Little Gidding

Every so often I get the opportunity to spend a weekend steeped in research. The definition of “steep” is: to soak in water or other liquid, as to soften, cleanse, or extract some constituent: to steep tea in boiling-hot water; to steep reeds for basket weaving. to wet thoroughly in or with a liquid; drench; saturate; imbue. That's exactly what I do, saturate myself in the research. The other part of the definition holds meaning for me as well. When I research, I not only soak up knowledge, I also try to extract something from it. So I think it is very fitting to say that I steep myself in research.

This past weekend I steeped myself in soaking up knowledge of the Watts family in Halifax County, Virginia. Saturday afternoon I was waiting for someone to come and take a look at the leak I have under my bathroom sink. I do not recall exactly how I stumbled online to the .pdf file of the form submitted in 2006 to register The Cove plantation and property in Halifax County, Virginia on the National Register of Historic Places. Nonetheless, that is the document that I began to study along with other records for the next several hours into the evening.

Mary Catherine Bateson writes in her book Peripheral Visions that “spiral learning moves through complexity with partial understanding, allowing for later returns.” This statement rings true with much clarity when I reflect on the process and journey my research often takes me. Today I was reminded that much of what I recently learned echoes what I had really already known, just a more in-depth version (partial understanding allowing for later returns). This time around the spiral, the knowledge contains richer nuances now that I know more about the family and the area.

The recent publication of the county's architectural history by the local historical society first clued me in to the fact that “Local tradition states that the Watts family lived on the plantation and oversaw its operation...” (page 69). The .pdf file, likely the source for the information in the architectural history book, contained more particulars about how the Watts family connected to this historic site.

I first heard of The Cove back in 1993 through an ad I placed in the local newspaper asking for information on the Watts family in the area. Robert Watts responded to me from Texas to tell me he was born in 1917 and grew up in The Cove. I did not know of any significance then and we never discussed his birthplace further. During the same time period of research, I made contact via letter with the Reverend C. H. Watts who still lived in the area. (Robert's father Ernest and C.H.'s father Samuel were half-brothers.) C.H. replied to my letter by telling me it would be best not to research the past as I might find “horse thieves or worse.” He was an elderly gentleman back then; he passed away at the age of 100 in the year 2000. Learning yesterday from that .pdf file that C.H. was born in the plantation house at The Cove in the year 1900 led me through that spiral again, adding more complexity to the partial knowledge I began with. I still have this correspondence and more in my research files. I note in my correspondence with G.C. Waldrep, author of a series of books on the cemeteries in Halifax County, that I had only been researching the family for four years at the time. This year makes 28 years of research.

The narrative of the .pdf file indicates that the plantation was sold in 1764 by John Randolph to David Lewis Sims (page 17). David had two brothers, William and Matthew Sims. Together the three settled in Halifax County before the Revolutionary War, established plantations and were active members of the community. As early as 1771, the Sims brothers established a ferry along the Staunton River. The ferry was located south of The Cove on lands that were part of the Black Walnut tract owned by Matthew Sims (another home that still stands today). The plantation house in the area of The Cove is said to have been built around the time of William Sims' marriage to Kezia East in 1773. William died in 1778 and his widow married John Hundley in 1781 (page 18). The Cove plantation remained with various members of the Sims family and in 1843 was sold to John Coleman, whose wife was also a member of the Sims family. John Coleman was described as one of the largest slaveholders and landowners in Halifax and Charlotte Counties (page 21).

The .pdf file speculates that the arrangement of the Watts family living on the plantation may have started with the sale of the land to John Coleman who at the time was living in Charlotte county yet had slaves on land he owned in Halifax County (page 22). The local tradition has it that the Watts family was still overseeing The Cove property after John Coleman's death in 1869 and they continued to live in the old plantation house well into the earlier part of the twentieth century (page 25). C.H.'s brother Samuel Durell Watts purchased part of the tract after 1954. He in turn sold his portion to Charles R. Saunders in 1965. Saunders purchased additional land which reunited much of the same land that was sold to John Coleman in 1843 (page 27). Today the property contains 1123 acres and is owned by the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation. Ward Burton shares in an online video that Charles R. Saunders was a friend of his and is buried near The Cove's plantation house.

The .pdf file (page 25) mentions that in 1850 there were three Watts families in the Northern District listed as overseers: Samuel R., Richard, and William T. (It should be noted that the researchers missed Linsey Watts also listed as an overseer in the Northern District.) Samuel R. was erroneously listed as James R. Watts during the 1860 census. The .pdf states that James was one more Watts overseer listed that year. That statement is not accurate. There were at least three additional Watts overseers listed in 1860: John H. Watts, James T. Watts, and George R. Watts. Nathaniel B. Saunders, also an overseer, lived two households away from John H. Watts. Nathaniel's wife was Sarah E. Watts and a sister to John H., Samuel R., and William T. (It would not surprise me in the least if I find out that Charles R. Saunders was related to this Nathaniel Saunders family.) All of these siblings have been established in my book as the children of Lindsey Watts and his wife Phoebe Rickman. The 1850 census grossly misidentifies Lindsey's family, giving his wife's name as Susan with two children Ann, age 10 and Thomas, age 8 in the household. I have never been able to reconcile this listing with Lindsey's actual family from other records. Although Lindsey would have had one son and daughter living with him at the time, their names were Martha Jane and George Richard. The latter would have been closer to age 10 as he was born in March of 1839, nothing more is known of Martha Jane. George R. Watts was my direct ancestor. His family bible was passed down to me and includes the notation that Lindsey died on 9 November 1852, two years after the 1850 census was taken.

C.H. and Samuel Durell's family line traces back to Samuel R[yland] Watts. In looking closer at the 1850 census, he and Richard Watts were within five household enumerations from John Coleman. This is undoubtedly the John Coleman of The Cove plantation. (Richard Watts, by the way, was a younger brother of Lindsey's and Samuel R.'s uncle). As far as clues as to which overseer each might have worked for: William T. Watts lived close to the Elijah D. Hundley household in the Mount Laurel area. Lindsey Watts was within five household enumerations of Thomas G. Coleman whose residence Longwood or Long Branch was listed just above the Scottsburg area but no longer stands. The sketch of an 1856 map drawn by William Green found here shows the location of plantation estates in the county. The map lists the residence of T.G. Coleman as Longwood.

I remember GC Waldrep telling me that the Wattses and Rickmans were not particularly wealthy and could be difficult to research, especially trying to find final resting places. I did not take offense to his characterization. I know that the families I descend had little and left less than little behind. Making connections between them and families that did leave something tangible behind stirs me deeply, though. This way I at least have the potential to stand where my ancestors stood. It is the best way I have to make a physical connection to them. Samuel Ryland's grandfather was Thomas M. Watts, son of the progenitor Samuel Watts. Both this Samuel and his son Thomas were listed as creditors and buyers in the estate of Matthew Sims. To confirm this connection between generations and between families means a lot to me. I so want to see and touch these buildings, ones my ancestors saw with their own eyes and perhaps touched with their own hands as well.

Main plantation house at The Cove, Halifax Co VA (2005)

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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Amanuensis Monday: Spotlight on Samuel Watts, Sr. of Halifax County, Virginia

 On the 18th day of July 1810, Samuel Watts Sr. of Halifax County, Virginia “for consideration of the natural love and goodwill which he hath for his daughter Polly Shaw at present the wife of Joseph Shaw as also all the children she may have” conveyed slaves he owned to James Eastham and John T. Palmer. These slaves were described as: "a woman named Nancy, a girl named Beckey, a girl named Jane and a boy named Burwell together with their future increase." In the deed, Samuel first reserved the use of those slaves so long as he lived and directed that after his death Eastham and Palmer were to dispose of said slaves for the use and benefit of Polly Shaw and her children. At her death, Eastham and Palmer were authorized to “deliver up such of the aforesaid slaves as may be then remaining in their possession together with their increase and to divide the same equally among all the children of the aforesaid Polly Shaw and their heirs begotten of their body.” This was recorded in Halifax County Deed Book 22, page 340 and witnessed by Nathaniel Barksdale, Laban Palmer and Benjamin Conner.

This transaction created a lot of controversy in ensuing years by the descendants of Samuel Watts, Sr. Seven different chancery cases were brought before the court stemming from this one transaction. The details of these chancery cases are quite interesting. I will talk about just a couple of them in this post as follows.

First, in the regular county court records, a suit was brought against Joseph Shaw and Polly his wife, Betsy and Moses Shaw, James Eastham and John T. Palmer twice in the year 1812. The plaintiffs were listed as Thomas Watts, Joseph Watts and William Watts the heirs and children of Samuel Watts Sr. and Sally Watts, the widow of Samuel Watts the younger as well as the children of Samuel Watts the younger. The first suit was dismissed by the plaintiffs attorney (Halifax County, Virginia Index to Court Orders).

In the chancery court index for Halifax County, we find that on 28 January 1812, a summons was issued to these defendants to appear before the justices at the courthouse in Halifax County to answer a bill in chancery by the fourth Monday in March. There is nothing else in this digital record but the cover of that summons and the index page.

The next chancery record spells out the complaint of the plaintiffs. The essence of which being that Samuel Watts the elder, deceased, had, "a considerable time before his death due to the effects of disease and his great age," become greatly impaired so that he was incapable either of managing in disbursing his estate with understanding and was easily influenced to do acts which were indiscreet and irrational, that great influence was frequently made over the said decedent by one Joseph Shaw and Polly Shaw the daughter of the said Samuel and a short time before his death when his intellect was greatly impaired the said Joseph Shaw and Polly Shaw did prevail upon him to execute a deed whereby he conveyed he whole of his slaves and personal estate to one John T. Palmer and James Eastham as trustees.

On November 23, 1812, the trustees John T. Palmer and James Eastham answered saying that Samuel Watts the elder did convey to them in trust several slaves as appears by deed recorded at the county clerk's office but that these respondents were not present at the executing of said deed and therefore are not able to say whether the said Samuel Watts was of a sound disposing mind or not but supposed he was weak like most other men of his age but further answer they prayed that if the aforesaid conveyance be considered good and sufficient that the court supply their places by appointing other trustees in their places.

On November 26, 1812 defendants Joseph Shaw and Polly Shaw answered that they never exercised any influence or used any artifice by persuading Samuel Watts the decedent to execute the deed of trust mentioned, that the conveyance was made after much reflection and deliberation and was an act founded in reason, that the said Samuel Watts the elder lived with these defendants two years before the execution of the said deed of trust [1808] and three years afterwards until his death that the said Samuel Watts the elder never murmured or repined for having made the said deed of trust, but in his life time always said that it was just and reasonable that he should secure the property mentioned to his daughter Polly and her children as a reward for her unremitted [sic] attention, kindness and affection to him in his old age when he was neglected, ill treated and deserted by the rest of his children. These defendants further answering say that Samuel Watts dec'd was aged and infirm many years before his death but was not incapable of managing and disposing of his estate with understanding and discretion and at the time of making the said deed of trust and afterwards was sane, rational and in every respect competent to dispose of his property. They further reported that the said Samuel Watts used great precaution to prevent the defendant Joseph Shaw from possessing any part of his estate as the said Samuel Watts would often declare that the said Joseph Shaw was so idle, careless and extravagant that he would in a short time waste the whole property and the said Samuel Watts frequently expressed much concern to have his negroes conveyed to the defendant Polly and her children, denying all confirmation they pray to be here dismissed.

On March 20, 1813 Thomas Seamore gave deposition that he had been a “nigh neighbor” of Samuel Watts for some time before his death and it was his impression that the old man's mind was rather unsound at the time of his death and had been so for some time before, that he was extremely forgetful and uncertain in his movements. He always, though, understood that the old man intended to give the negro woman and her increase to Mrs. Shaw his daughter and he had been a neighbor of Watts for four years.

Laban Palmer gave deposition at the tavern of James Mullins May 21, 1814 that he has known the old man Samuel Watts for 7 or 8 years and that he was witness to the deed of gift from the old man to Joseph Shaw's family, that he saw no deficiency in the intellect of the old man and that he appeared to be as much in his senses at the time of signing the deed as he was before since the deponent knew him.

On the same day and place, Nathaniel Barksdale gave deposition that he was employed to write a deed of gift from old Samuel Watts to Joseph Shaw's family – the old man while deponent was employed in doing the writing seemed to act as if he was in his senses – he gave directions, he freely of his own accord, undirected [sic] by any other – this deponent after he had finished the deed had not pleased the old man whereupon the matter was suspended for about ten days when he was again called upon to again draw up a deed, which finally gave satisfaction to the old man – at both meetings the old man appeared to this deponent as being the same thing as to his senses and appeared at both times as if he was in his senses.

On the same day and place, Jeffery Palmer gave deposition that he had known and been acquainted with old Mr. Samuel Watts for 45 years [1769] before Watts death and that the old man was at his house [emphasis added] when he executed the deed of gift to Joseph Shaw's family that the deponent believed the old man then was as much in his senses as he ever had been and continued to as far as the deponent believed until his death – in fact he saw no change in the old man's senses of any consequence from the time he first became acquainted with him until his death.

Mrs. Patsy Oaks on the same day and place gave deposition that she had been intimately acquainted with old Mr. Samuel Watts for twenty or twenty-five years [1790s]. She saw the old man a few days before he executed the deed of gift to Joseph Shaw's family. He conversed with her a good deal on the subject in which his intention was clearly expressed to give the property to his daughter. The old man seemed to talk as much in his senses as he ever had done before since the deponent knew him. She could not discern any alteration in him more than old age generally produces. She signed "Martha Oaks, her mark X."

Lewis Hardwick gave deposition at the same place on the 20th of March 1813 that he was at Halifax Court at the time he understood old Mr. Watts intended to record his will. He saw old Mr. Watts and he is convinced the old man on that day was out of his head but he believed it proceeded from intoxication.

Littleberry Owen gave deposition at the same place and same day that he had been a neighbor for several years of old Samuel Watts. His impression and belief was that the old man was out of his mind at his death and had been so for some time before his death. Particulars he was unable to give, only his general opinion.

John Nichols Sr. gave deposition same place, same day that he had known old Samuel Watts for he believed 20 years [1793]. His impression was that the old man for some time before his death was at times not exactly right in his mind. The particulars he was unable to give but his general opinion was that the old man was rather deranged.

Benjamin Conner gave deposition on May 21, 1814 at the same place that he had been acquainted with old Mr. Samuel Watts for he supposed twenty years. He saw the old man a few days before he executed the deed to Joseph Shaw's family, that he had a good deal of conversation with him on the subject in all of which the old man appeared to be as much in his senses as he ever had before quite as much as he appeared to deponent to be sufficient to dispose of his estate understandingly. In the course of his conversation he took occasion particularly to express his intention of giving the property to his daughter Polly and her children, giving his reason that he had given the rest of his children of their just properties [?]

William B. Banks gave deposition at the store house of Clark and Bailey that one time five or ten years application was made by an old man named Watts to enter into a deed of gift to one of his children (the name he cannot remember) that some person whom he supposed to be children or near relation of the said Watts were present at the time. That the deponent was ready to have proceeded to write the paper but for some reason was declined. The deponent well remembered that the said Watts was a very old man, the – of his understanding from the effects of old age he thought to be considerably impaired and perhaps owing to that circumstance the deed of gift was not written. March 28, 1814.

Capt. William Bailey gave deposition at the store house of Clark and Bailey that he was well acquainted with Sam'l Watts dec'd for three or four years before his death, that about 4 years before his death he applied to this deponent to write his will which he declined doing. At the time he said he wished to give his property to Wm. Watts and Joseph. That some twelve months afterward he again applied to this deponent to write his will which to gratify him he did. he then gave it to Thomas Watts and Polly Shaw and this deponent believed from the state of his mind at the time that if he had requested him he would have given him any part of his estate that he appeared then to be completely in his late age and continued until his death as far as this deponent knew or believed that he saw him frequently in his latter days and saw no change in him. 23rd May 1814.

28 March 1814 at the store house of Clark and Bailey, Elisha Palmer gave deposition saying that some 3 or 4 years before the death of Saml Watts, he applied to deponent to write his will. Deponent thought at the time that his mental faculties were so feeble apparently from old age as to be incapable of making a will but to gratify the old man told him if he would come another day he would write it but he did not come according to appointments. Deponent frequently saw him at other times until his death and always thought his mind worse that he believed he gradually declined until the day of his death.

Finding these chancery records have been quite a boon. It is taking some time to transcribe the records and then process the information and compare to what has previously known about these Wattses in Halifax County. I have researched this particular family for all of my adult life and rarely does so much new information come to light. I still have yet been unable to identify any further generations back from the first Samuel and still cannot get out of Halifax County, but the knowledge that I have gleaned is helpful nonetheless to have a fuller picture of these early lives.

The information given in the depositions, etc. over the chancery suit about Samuel's conveyance of slaves to his daughter Polly Shaw shed more light on who Samuel was and how the family interacted. These records show clearly that Samuel was an elderly man before he died around the year 1812 (I put his age at about 74 which was quite old back then). It also indicates that his wife was more than likely dead by then as well. She was not a party to the original transaction wherein Samuel conveyed those slaves in trust for his daughter in 1810. Indeed, the daughter mentioning that Samuel lived with her and her family about two years before that transaction took place (1808 by inference) may indicate that Samuel's wife was already gone by then and Samuel needed someone to take care of him.

Stay tuned as I share more from these old chancery records to shed more light on the lives of these long ago ancestors.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Faces from the Past: Moorefield

I am perusing through old photographs from my paternal grandparents side these days. In essence, I have been visiting Kentucky although really only in my mind. Things like this come and go in spurts. I have not looked at the research I have done on these lines in a number of years but every now and them something draws me back.

What pulled me this time was an email from a gentleman who saw a photograph on my blog that was taken by Randolph in Cadiz, Kentucky (see the photo here). This gentleman informed me that he and another local historian were doing research on this photographer who did work in Cadiz from about 1893 to 1913. He wanted to know if I would share an electronic copy of the photograph and also asked if I had anymore photographs taken by Randolph.

I hunted around and found one more. This is a photograph identified by my grandfather as "My daddy's first cousin [John Willis Watts], Otis Moorefield."

Otis Moorefield (1875-1958)
Until I put the two together, it never occurred to me that the young girl in the first photograph might have been a Moorefield. Over the years I have asked a number of my older Watts kin if they knew who this young girl might be, but I have not been successful in identifying her. I most often put her in the Sizemore files, but she could just have well come from the Moorefield line which ties into my Watts family. My great-great grandmother, Emily Jane Chaffin Watts, had two sisters who married two Moorefield brothers.

I am hopeful that by sharing the photograph of this girl with these researchers, someone yet might be able to identify her. Interestingly enough, the other researcher, Kim, shared that there is a connection between this Moorefield family and the photographer, whose name is Mamie Randolph. Mamie had a son named Jack who married Bessie Bagby. According to Kim, Bessie's mother was Fannie Moorefield Bagby, one of Otis Moorefield's sisters. Fannie would have also been my great-grandfather's first cousins. How ironic! It makes me think more than ever that the girl may have also been Moorefield kin.

A day or two later, I realized that I just might have more photographs taken by Mrs. Randolph. You might recall that a couple of years ago, I came into possession of a photo album once owned by my grandfather's sister, Ivy Watts Diuguid (see original post here). I looked through my original scans of the photos from that album and identified four more that has Mrs. Randolph's imprint as well.  I plan to scan them again at a higher resolution and share them with those researchers. I am delighted to be able to help someone with a local history project such as this and is one of the reasons for sharing this on my blog.

(l to r) Howard Marshall Freeman (born 1904) and Levingston Lindsey Freeman (born 1902)
sons of Levingston Lindsey and Elsie Diuguid Freeman;
Cabinet card photo taken by Randolph, Cadiz, KY 1906

possibly Willie (b. 1893) or Robert (b. 1891) Diuguid;
sons of George Marshall & Henry Ada (Quisenberry) Diuguid
Cabinet card photo taken by
Mrs. Randolph, Cadiz, Kentucky

Unknown group of women; Cabinet card photo taken by
Mrs. Randolph, Cadiz, Kentucky

Jessie Martin Freeman b. 15 June 1906;
3rd child of Livingston Lindsey & Elsie (Diuguid) Freeman
Cabinet card photo taken by
Mrs. Randolph, Cadiz, Kentucky

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Talented Tuesday: “A Woman that Understood Something [of] the Nature of Phisick and a Tolerable Good Nurse”

As I continue to look through these chancery court records available for Halifax County, Virginia, I am finding wonderful tidbits of information that help provide a clearer picture of the lives of those who lived there so long ago, especially for women who so often did not have a voice in any extant records. Since it is women's history month, I thought to highlight what I recently found out about a collateral ancestor of mine:

Image from

Sally Burchett was married to Samuel Watts Jr. who was born around the year 1767. Their first child was born about 1785. Samuel Watts Jr. died in 1805 and Sally was administratix of his estate. In 1812 she married James Mayne. A marriage bond was dated April 3, 1812 and five days later on April 8, the two had an agreement recorded wherein they “agreed to be joined together as man and wife” and said Mayne “wished to claim none of the property belonging to said estate but at her death go to her children.” These actions would lead one to believe that she was a smart woman. A further record shows that she was a skilled nurse as well:

On November 12, 1819, Rowling [sic] Watts gave a deposition to Matthew Rowlett, a Halifax County Justice of the Peace, in reference to a chancery case between Elizabeth Majors by etc. against Phillip Majors (page 37 of 98). In his deposition Rowling stated that he was an overseer for Phillip Major “this present year” and was frequently in and about the house and on the 14th day of February, Phillip Major was very sick “and I thought he would die” “and he Philip Major wanted me to go for Col. Coleman as I expected to do some writing for him (but did not say what writing)...” Rowling (known variously in records as Roling, Rowling, Rowland, Ryland) said that he sent for his mother, Sally Mane, as she was “a woman that understood something the nature of Phisick and a tolerable good nurse...”

Sally Main also gave deposition herself on the same day to Matthew Rowlett saying “that sometime last fall Mrs. Elizabeth Majors was sick and and Philip Majors sent for me by [a] negro boy of his to come immediately to see his wife...” She went on to say that she “gave her some drops that night and next morning I gave her some pills and she got better...” Sally also explained that “last spring Mr. Majors was taken sick” and “he sent for me by Rowland Watts and I came with him...” Sally noted Mr. Majors' symptoms and asked for honey to make a mixture for him, telling him what she was “going to make for him to take was very bad and if I made it he must take it and he told me he would...” (page 15 of 98, note the Main surname was unindexed in this file). 

Sally's husband was the brother of my direct ancestor, Thomas M. Watts, whom I have discussed in my book and in a recent blog post. In that post, I wrote about how I discovered information that shed more light on five of Thomas' daughters. These chancery records have turned into a real boon in regards to documenting women's lives. I will share more as time allows and hope to do so within this month to celebrate Women's History month.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Amanuensis Monday: Watts Chancery Records in Halifax County, Virginia

I mention in my Watts book that the search for the parents of my ancestor Lindsey Watts led to research on all the Watts families that lived in Halifax County and became the basis for that publication. Since around 1989 when I started researching, I have not been able to find any record that directly names Lindsey as the son of Thomas M. Watts and his wife Sarah “Sally” Overton but all evidence points to that conclusion. I believe I have done a reasonably exhaustive search over the years to develop this assertion.

So after all these years have I finally found such a record? Well... maybe.

Let me first provide here my bare-bones narrative on the family of Thomas M. Watts and Sarah “Sally” Overton his wife from the latest edition of my book. (You can contact me or check the book for the source citations.)

Thomas M. Watts, son of Samuel Watts Sr., was born around the year 1765 and died between May and September of 1819 in Halifax County, Virginia.

He was married to Sarah Overton on 15 November 1792 in Charlotte County, Virginia by the Reverend Thomas Dodson of Hunting Creek Baptist Church. Sarah, called Sally, died after 1860 and was the daughter of William Overton and Judith Brumfield, daughter of William Brumfield.

Circumstantial evidence has indicated a relationship to either Thomas, Sally or with one another in records of the following persons:
  1. Elizabeth Watts, born about 1797; married Billington Owen bond dated 14 September 1814 Halifax County, Virginia.
  2. Lindsey Watts, born about 1800; married Phebe Rickman bond dated 29 November 1819 Halifax County, Virginia; died 9 November 1852 Halifax County, Virginia.
  3. Charity G. Watts, born between 1793-1800; married Joseph Ashby Jr. bond dated 9 December 1824 Halifax County, Virginia; died after 1860.
  4. Sarah Watts; married Berry Nichols 3 August 1825 Halifax County, Virginia. No further information.
  5. James Watts; married Philadelphia --- before 1829; died before 1850?
  6. Samuel G. Watts, born about 1803 Halifax County, Virginia; married Katherine Ann Faulkner before 1834; died between November 1866 and May 1867 Halifax County, Virginia.
  7. Richard M. Watts, born around 1815-1818 Halifax County, Virginia; married first Christeann Chissum bond dated 27 June 1836 Halifax County, second Emeline Sneed 14 October 1867 Halifax County; died by April 1878 Halifax County.
In 1829, Sally Watts and Joseph Ashby Jr. mortgaged sixty-two acres that was laid out as her dower. Apparently Billington Owen purchased the property and let her continue to live there. He later sold it to Joseph Ashby, Jr. and they then mortgaged it. There was no record of the release of this mortgage. The mortgage described this property as sixty-two acres more or less bounded by the lands of Miss Martha M. Clark, James Hill and others along with personal property. [Halifax County, Virginia Deed Bk. 36, p. 579 "Sally Watts, etc. to Thos. G. Coleman, Tr." dated 2 January 1829, recorded 12 January 1829.]
This transaction suggests a connection between Sally, Joseph Ashby Jr and Billington Owen. The likely connection is that of mother-in-law and son-in-laws, coupling this deed with the fact that Joseph and Billington both married Watts women. Elsewhere in my book, I explain other connections and clues, such as the fact that Elizabeth, Thomas M. and Sally Watts all signed consent for Elizabeth's marriage to Billington Owen. From all the records researched I was able to compile this probable family group with some assurance of its accuracy.

Recently I learned from a post on the Facebook page of Halifax County VA Genealogy and History that the chancery court records from that county have been scanned and are available online at the Library of Virginia's Virginia Memory web page(

Never one to pass up an opportunity to research in original records, I looked up the surname Watts. I originally searched for Watts as a plaintiff as well as defendant and came up with 6 records altogether. At first, I was using the search engine wrong if I wanted all records that included the Watts surname. There were 14 records altogether when I searched for just the Watts name as plaintiff, 8 records when I searched Watts as defendant (of course these would both include the 6 from my original search). I found a whopping 73 records with Watts as surname one and two (and that worked whether or not I had the name Watts in one or both of those surname categories.) These show if the surname Watts is listed in the chancery record whether a witness or other relation and will be interesting to read through as time permits.

While I have gathered records on all Halifax County Wattses over the years, my primary interest has been my direct line of Lindsey Watts and Thomas M. Watts, so I focused on those names this first time around. I found a chancery record regarding the heirs of Lyndsay [sic] Watts, but it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know from previous research in a deed record of the heirs selling land and a court minute book record. The other Watts names I was not interested in as much. Thomas G. Watts, James H. Watts, Joseph W. Watts and Joseph H. Watts were all listed under defendants. Out of curiousity, I did go back to look at the entry for Thomas G. Watts. I was pleasantly surprised to find this was actually in regards to my ancestor Thomas M. Watts. Several times in this record he was listed as Thomas G. but with all the other evidence, there is no doubt in my mind that in reality it references Thomas M. instead.

Halifax Co, VA Chancery Record Index No. 1837-009, no original case number listed, Sarah Watts, etc. against Admr of Thos G. Watts, etc, p. 4 of 39, 3 August 1831, online from Library of Virginia's Virginia Memory online digital collection:]. 

The records show that in January of the year 1831 Richard R. High, admr of Thomas G. [sic] Watts, dec'd., Nathaniel Barksdale and William Abbott were summoned to answer a bill in chancery against them by the following:

Sarah Watts
Gilly Watts
Billington Owen and Eliz his wife
Lindsey Watts
Joseph Ashby and Charity his wife
Samuel Watts
Littleberry Nichols and Sally his wife
Nancy Watts
Delpha Watts
Jane Watts
Richard M. Watts
Narcissa T. Watts

The records also states that Jane, Richard M. and Narcissa T. sue by “their next friend” Samuel Watts. This wording indicates that these three Watts were underage at the time. The bulk of the records are summonses ordered at each term of court from 1831 through 1837. Finally, in December of 1837, a letter was sent to the court clerk by Billington Owen authorizing and requesting the suit be dismissed.

Halifax Co, VA Chancery Record Index No. 1837-009, no original case number listed, Sarah Watts, etc. against Admr of Thos G. Watts, etc, p. 2 of 39, 23 December 1837, online from Library of Virginia's Virginia Memory online digital collection:].
As you can see, this is the same family I have put forth for Thomas M. Watts:

The administrator of his estate was Richard R. High, his wife was Sarah and he had children
Elizabeth Watts who married Billington Owen;
Lindsey Watts;
Charity G. Watts who married Joseph Ashby Jr.;
Sarah Watts who married Berry (or Littleberry) Nichols;
Samuel Watts;
Richard M. Watts.

What is also interesting is that this record uncovers several more children previously unknown or not correctly identified:

Gilly Watts
Nancy Watts
Delpha Watts
Jane Watts
Narcissa T. Watts

Thus I now revise the family of Thomas M. Watts and his wife Sarah “Sally” Overton to the following:
  1. Gilly Watts, born ca. 1795; died by 1848 (when Elijah Hundley was appointed administrator of estate). Gilly Watts (and other spelling variations) was listed as head of household for 1820, 1830 and 1840 federal census in Halifax County with only females old enough to be head. She was likely named for her mother's aunt, Gillie Brumfield who married Carolus Featherstone (see the will of William Brumfield, Charlotte County, Virginia Will Book 2, pg. 158-159; a transcript can be found here).
  2. Elizabeth Watts, born about 1797; married Billington Owen bond dated 14 September 1814 Halifax County, Virginia.
  3. Lindsey Watts, born about 1800; married Phebe Rickman bond dated 29 November 1819 Halifax County, Virginia; died 9 November 1852 Halifax County, Virginia.
  4. Charity G. Watts, born between 1793-1800; married Joseph Ashby Jr. bond dated 9 December 1824 Halifax County, Virginia; died after 1860.
  5. Samuel G. Watts, born about 1803 Halifax County, Virginia; married Katherine Ann Faulkner before 1834; died between November 1866 and May 1867 Halifax County, Virginia.
  6. Sarah Watts; married Littleberry or Berry Nichols 3 August 1825 Halifax County, Virginia. No further information.
  7. Nancy Watts. She was probably the Nancy Watts born 1812 in the home of Martin Canada in Halifax County, Virginia during the 1850 Federal Census (see page 26 of my Watts book). Nancy gave a deposition in the chancery matter of William Stegall and wife Elizabeth [nee Shaw] against Williamson [and Martin] Canada, 6 August 1854 [Halifax Co, VA Chancery Record Index No. 1854-023, original case no. 021, William Stegall and wife against Williamson Canada, p. 20 of 32, taken at the office of John L. Pleasants, online from Library of Virginia's Virginia Memory online digital collection:].
  8. Delphia Watts, b. ca. 1813. Although her children identified their parents as James and Delphia, it appears that Delpha was the daughter of Thomas and Sarah. The chancery record does not list her as the widow of a Watts. A chancery record in 1854 named her as “Miss Delphia Watts.” [Halifax Co, VA Chancery Record Index No. 1854-009, original case no. 021, Thomas Johnson against Moses Shaw, p. 12 of 26, deposition of Miss Delphia Watts, et al. taken in the store house of Clement M. Adkisson at Mt. Laurel 27 April 1854, online from Library of Virginia's Virginia Memory online digital collection:].
  9. Jane Watts, born ca. 1814. This is the Jane Watts who married William Lax 19 September 1838 (see page 152 of my Watts book). The family was listed in Halifax County during the 1860 federal census. A death record at lists Jane W. Lacks who died in Petersburg, VA 23 October 1889. She was listed as age 85, born in Halifax, parents Thos. (another entry says L) and S Watts. The age is off by about 10 years but everything else fits. She was buried in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg City according to Find-A-Grave. She has not been located on any other census after 1860.
  10. Richard M. Watts, born around 1815-1817 Halifax County, Virginia; married first Christeann Chissum bond dated 27 June 1836 Halifax County, second Emeline Sneed 14 October 1867 Halifax County; died by April 1878 Halifax County.
  11. Narcissa T. Watts, born between 1815-1818. Died young?
There is lots more to uncover from these chancery records. I will share more as time allows.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sibling Saturday: Neighbor Children?

I am going through some photographs that originally belonged to my paternal grandparents. These two that I post I have been unable to identify. They are both RPPCs (Real Photo Post Cards) and have an Azo stamp box on the reverse with 4 triangles facing up. This identifies them as having been taken between 1904-1918 according to Playle's Guide to Real Photo Post Cards.

The one of the three children has "Ruby and Amie" written in pencil on the back by an unknown hand. Ruby (born in 1898) and Amy (born in 1902) were my great-aunt and grandmother, daughters of William Lewis Hardy and his wife Alice Samantha Lovelace. I am guessing that we might be able to narrow it down to about 1917 or before. I base this on the fact that Ruby married and had her first son by December of 1917 (Amy married in September of 1918). I am supposing that it is a probability that the postcard was given to both of them when they were both single.

During the 1910 federal census, Ruby and Amy along with their younger brother Willie were living with their aunt and uncle James L. and Mary (Hardy) Sadler. Also in the household was Jim and Mary's daughter Vara, Mary's sister Elizabeth and Mary's mother Martha (Sizemore) Hardy. The family lived in a house with a later mailing address of 1580 Clark Store-Sinking Fork Road, Cerulean, Kentucky. Amy was also a member of the Sinking Fork Christian Church Disciples of Christ.  I am thinking that these children may have been neighbors of the family or possibly attended the same church.

Although the child in front on the left at first glance appears to be a boy judging from the short hair, I'm more inclined to believe it's a girl. The hair is parted in the middle which is most often indicative of a girl (note the boy on the right has a side part). The shoes also appear to be a girl's style.

Unknown children, RPPC ca. 1904-1918; Christian Co, KY.
Unknown children (older two are boys), RPPC ca 1904-1918; Christian Co, KY.