The Will of Thomas Rowlett: Spider Web in a Family Tree

I first came to know the Rowlett family through my 2nd great-grandmother, Sarah Jane, who married James Dodson in antebellum Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

When Sarah was a young girl, Congress addressed the needs of its elderly war heroes by passing the Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1832.  This legislation provided full pay for any man, enlisted or officer, who had served at least two years in the Continental Line or state militias.  William Rowlett’s application is an extensive justification of his claim that also serves as biography.  It is this document that offered my first peek into Sarah’s Rowlett lineage, connecting her to the surname found in Chesterfield County (VA) and to the Butcher’s Creek, Mecklenburg County (VA) neighborhood of Sarah’s adulthood.

The pension files include documentation of William marrying Sarah’s mom, Rebecca Short, in 1825 while living in Chesterfield County.  It is clear from the tangle of story lines that this was William’s second marriage, that he had children from the first marriage, that he had served in the Revolution while living in Chesterfield County, that he emigrated to Mecklenburg County after the war ended and lived there for some thirty years before returning to Chesterfield County.  Between 1825 and the filing of the pension application, an elderly William, Rebecca, and Sarah relocated to Mecklenburg County, on a farm near James Dodson, and his parents, Edward and Mary Green Dodson.

In my last post I offered a brief synopsis and a transcription of the last wishes of a Thomas Rowlett. Written in the closing days of 1805, Thomas’ will confirms some relationships that I have been guessing about–neighbors and cousins, great-aunts and -uncles, and 3rd and 4th great-grandmothers–since first investigating Sarah Jane’s lineage.

Thomas Rowlett listed four primary relationships as beneficiaries of his estate :

  • his mother, Sarah, thought to be a second wife, and also known as Sarah Neal Archer.

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  • his brother, William, not known to have married.

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  • his sister Mary, who it is thought married a first cousin, William Rowlett, also known as 3rd-great-grandfather, William Rowlett, father of Sarah Rowlett Dodson.

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  • his deceased sister, Martha, daughter of Sarah, wife of William Wills Green, and mother of Mary Green Dodson, my 3rd great-grandmother.

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This one document helps confirm how intertwined my  branches are.

So, in short:

Sarah Jane had much older half-siblings:

  • Sarah, who married Thomas Coleman.
  • Thompson, who married Mary (Polly) Dodson.
  • William.
  • Peter.
  • Thomas.
  • John.
  • Mary.
  • Archer.
  • Martha.

The oldest two remained in Mecklenburg County, and I have accounted for them.

The others may have returned to Chesterfield County, and pose more questions than my brain can handle right now!

My 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Green Dodson, lost her mother before 1803, when William W. Green is recorded as having married widow Mary Hinton Poindexter.  The will suggests to me that as a young girl Mary might have been at least partly raised by her elder siblings.

  • Archer.
  • Abraham.
  • Elizabeth who had married James W Oliver in 1799.
  • Sarah.
  • William.
  • Martha.
  • Lewis.

Mary also had two younger sisters:

  • Susanna.
  • Rebecca Cole.

As I continue to gather documents and sift stories, I have an increasing number of relatives , neighbors, cousins to inquire after, to listen for.  I know folks refer to this genealogical hobby as building a tree, but right now I feel more like a spider spinning a web that collects specks of the past.

What story will come from these patterns?

Source:

The Last Will and Testament of Thomas Rowlett. Mecklenburg County (VA), Will Book 5, p 320, 1806; accessed digitally from Family Search (familysearch.org) September 13, 2018.

 

 

Sunday morning musing

I have been getting acquainted with my 19th century grandmothers during the last few weeks, creating more questions than stories at the end of each day, which is frustrating at many levels.

I catch myself re-centering the family account around the men, specifically the white men, who populate the records.  It is a habit.  A learned way of processing the world that I resist, unsuccessfully, as I try to bring womenfolk out of the past’s shadows.

So I end up tossing the paper into the bin, or cutting whole paragraphs of text, or moving the whole post to trash.

And I begin again.

This week I will (re)focus my attention on Mary Green Dodson, 1787-1858, daughter of William Wills and Martha [Archer Rowlette] Green; wife of Edward Dodson, Junior; mother of James H, my 2nd great-grandfather; and cousin to Sarah Jane [Rowlett] Dodson, my 2nd great-grandmother.

Mary grew from girl to woman, wife to widow, mother to elder, in the watersheds of  Allen’s and Butcher’s Creeks, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  I have looked out on those woods, walked those hills, with red clay, that Mary saw every day, clinging to my shoes.  Childhood treks from Chase City to the country that had held generations of ancestors made little impression on me until I strolled up cow-worn paths with my father, his drawl spreading stories of his childhood on my children.

I have lots of records for many branches of my families, but I return to those from Mecklenburg County time and again, because of this connection to the white feldspar-studded land.  And this genealogical homecoming has prodded my reckoning with the unspoken family lore.

The land and its tobacco guaranteed food security, housing security, community esteem.  And none of that was possible without the work of black people-enslaved, sharecroppers, tenant farmers.

When I reconstruct pieces of Mary Green Dodson’s life, I also feel those African Americans emerging from shadows.

I hope I do all of these folks justice with my story-telling.

Their hopes, dreams–and nightmares–built this country.

 

Mystery Among the Roots

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Genealogical Society in Hanover, Pennsylvania may seem an odd place to find this Virginia root hunter.  But one of the perks of belonging to my local library is accessing their subscription to Family Search files which includes ALL the digital files within the vast Salt Lake City-based repository.

Every Thursday you can find me in front of a computer, exercising my eyes on handwriting of folks long gone from Mecklenburg County’s red soil.  For some weeks I have been tracing the land purchases and sales of William Wills Green, a colonial ancestor in my Dodson branch. Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 2.28.46 PM

Today while summarizing a few 18th century deeds,  I found a connection within two records that I zipped past during my first read-through.

In the spring of 1778 William W. Green purchased land along a creek off of Church Road, in Mecklenburg County, from Peter and Mary Oliver.  The 500 acre parcel included buildings, woods, waters, ways [paths], and cost £500 current Virginia money.

In the fall of 1781 William Green sold that same parcel of land, identified as  lying on Butcher’s Creek, to William Wills of Amelia County–for £100 current Virginia money.

Add these two facts from other records:

  1. Abraham Green, Sr. , William’s father, purchased land in Amelia County (VA) in 1741, and it seems likely that William Wills Green grew up there.
  2. Butcher’s Creek is west of Allen’s Creek.  The land in between the two creeks is showing up in deeds of William W. Green and Edward Dodson, Sr., including land that Abraham Green sells to his son, William.

Carrying this information into today’s review, I find myself asking:

Is the 1781 buyer, William Wills, the man for whom my 4th great-grandfather is named?

Is the relationship a reason that Green took a £400 loss on the land?

Were the Greens and Wills consolidating community and power during the Revolution?  Or did Wills purchase the land to give William W some extra funds during that turbulent time?

Back to the past for me.  Will I find William Wills in Amelia County deeds?  Next door to the Green family?  Roots push deeper into the past, ever deeper.

 

 

 

 

Leaf Litter from the Family Tree

The leaves from our deciduous forests are turning yellow, or brown, and dropping with alacrity to the ground.  They carpet every surface–grass, water, rocks, moss, driveways.

Falling LeavesFor years I have used the family tree metaphor to structure my genealogical research.  Only today did it strike me that leaf litter can also be an inspirational metaphor, as in those leaves, those ancestors, that get dropped, and disappear to nurture the soil of the family’s winding tale.

 

And as a review of this deed transcription suggests it is often women who carpet the family forest floor.

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On 15 June 1770, Samuel Whitworth sold 120 acres of land to William Wills Green, my fifth great-grandfather.  The parcel included houses, outbuildings, orchards, woods, water, and parts of Allens Creek, Mecklenburg County, Virginia…land that lay not far from where my father grew up.

William W Green took possession of the real estate on the same day.  His neighbors included Edward Beavils, Francis Moore Neal, Abram Green, and Thomas Whitworth.

No women were present for the sale.  No dower rights were acknowledged.

 

English common law crossed the ocean with the European settlers from which I descend.  Among the provisions of this legal framework was coverture, the principles enshrined to govern married women, prohibiting their agency to hold property, run businesses, conduct trade,  and act as citizens.

Therefore, though I know from William Wills Green’s last will and testament that he had 10 children, there is no record of their mother in this deed, or among the long list of deeds I have uncovered.  There is no acknowledgement of the women with whom she quilted and cooked; no indication that a midwife helped birth all those babies; no public record of any domestic work that contributed to the Green estate development.

Which is frustrating.  I have to snuffle in the leaf litter of history to discover the women in my past, more imagining than documenting their stories to fill out my family tree.

If you are a women’s studies buff, please leave any sources and ideas for research questions in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.