Image of ancestral Colvin cabin captures beautiful Virginia Autum.


Does anything beat a Virginia Autumn?

Does anything beat a Virginia Autumn?

In September, 2013, Rene Alston, a veteran video editor for USA Today and direct descendant of James Colvin and Alethea Preston shot this image of the couple’s century and a half-old Virginia cabin which resides on her property. Rene was kind enough to share the image for this blog. Rene’s photographic talents beautifully capture the quiet dignity of the modest cabin, nestled in the shade of a stunning Virginia Autumn, protected by family.

 

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From sea to shining sea


ImageBetween the early 1700s and present, the Colvins of Culpeper and Fauquier have undertaken migratory and other geographic activities that makes this family truly bi-coastal. This map, generated by my database software, gives a representational overview of where the Colvins of my study can be found either currently living, where they were buried,  where they married, or  where some other significant genealogical event occurred, such as military experience.  The pins are not click-able. Map is for illustration purposes only.

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James and the Giant Mystery


James Colvin Rev War Muster roll

James Colvin served his three years in the 13th (a.k.a. 9th) Virginia Regiment during the American Revolution as an artificer. But was he really born in 1768 in Culpeper as some claim? And was he really the son of Daniel Colvin? Help solve this riddle and save mankind all at the same time. Western civilization will thank you. Image Source: Fold3.com

Soon  homework  will overtake my life (Middle Eastern History and American Revolution, this semester, the former a Junior level class, the later a Senior level one,) and this will likely be my last post until I come up for air sometime in May. So if you’re interesting in playing history detective, be my guest.

James Colvin – presumably born in Culpeper 1768 and a son of Daniel Colvin (1737-1790) is listed among the several “artificers” at Ft. Pitt  in March, 1778. He enlisted in January, 1777 for a term of 3 years and seems to have served his time, judging by his appearance — though his extant military records are somewhat fractured — on a digitized original muster roll of Capt. James Sullivan as well as “indexed record cards” which list him with the 13th VA Regiment variously in 1778, ’79, and ’80.[1]  A brief excursion into the history of the 13th Virginia Regiment, however, reveals a few issues with not only the idea of James being from Culpeper but of both his being Daniel’s son and being born in 1768. Let’s take them one at a time.

1.  The 13th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army was raised at Ft. Pitt itself in February 1777 from men in Yohogania, Monongalia, and Ohio Counties. Those first two counties (now part of Western Pennsylvania,) originally belonged to Virginia but are located  nowhere near Culpeper.  Draftees tended to enlist in their own counties and they were typically in their late teens and early twenties although exceptions occurred and yes, there were those young drummer boys we all know about.  Proud patriots all.  Ft. Pitt was formerly known as Ft. Duquesne, built by the French in 1754 on the banks of what was then called the Forks of the Ohio at the beginning of the French and Indian War. With the French defeat by the British, it became Ft. Pitt. Today this is known as downtown Pittsburgh, where a national park enshrines the site.

2.  James’s birth date is based on a 1926 query letter from J.S. Jennings, to the U.S. Interior Dept. (where all such letters were sent in those days,) asking after the war records of  James who Jennings insisted was a son of Daniel.   But how reliable, really, is a letter written in 1926 by someone claiming Daniel was the father of James? Good question because Jennings had most of her facts correct. She noted, for example, James’s correct enlistment dates and his regiment’s name and even the regiment’s Commander. However….

3. If James was born in 1768, he would have been the youngest “artificer” ever to have served in the Virginia Line. Most artificers were more typically skilled craftsmen who provided skilled labor. As the National Archives October,  2010  blog post explains, “Simply put, artificers were skilled artisans and mechanics who kept military equipment in good working order so the troops could operate effectively.  They typically served under the jurisdiction of the Chief Engineer in the Quartermaster General’s Department, but were separate from other engineer regiments.  In the Continental Army, George Washington established a Corps of Artificers that was  often organized into specialized companies reflecting specific skills.”[2]

I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining a 9 year-old working in a makeshift military workshop banging out goods. It’s possible he was an apprentice, but I have a feeling there is a better explanation because there is little doubt that James married Martha “Polly” Hill on 13 November 1806 in Culpeper. That is, according to Catherine Knorr’s “Culpeper Marriages 1781-1815″ (self-published, 1954) and who herself scoured the old deed and Will books and ministers returns  for every early Culpeper marriage she could find.   James and Martha were married by William Mason,  a Baptist minister who apparently married every other Colvin in the same area and many more other Culpeper Baptists as well.  Still, there is something clunky about James’ birth date because he’s marrying at age 38 — somewhat late — and his first daughter, Eliza Hansborough “Ann” Colvin, (Elizabeth obviously gets her middle name from her paternal grandmother,) was herself born in 1803.  Its perplexing.

If you have insight and good sources and would like to try your hand at resolving this mystery and help save western civilization from eminent collapse, feel free to contact me at ajcolvin@uh.edu.

Inquiring minds deserve to be sated.


[1] Index record cards are not primary sources, but derivatives created in the 1880s, by Colonial F.C. Ainsworth, then chief of the Record and Pension Office in the Department of the Army. He had  his staff indexed these records originally to determine who was eligible for a pension.

[2] John,  “Family Tree Friday: Artificers in the Revolutionary War”  National Archives, NARAtions (blog), October 15, 2010, http://blogs.archives.gov/online-public-access/?p=288

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The Poorest of the Poor: How Benjamin Colvin of Culpeper made it into the Virginia Line and the history books


Benjamin Colvin patent for 40 acres, which he acquired in 1835, in Boone County, Missouri, some 14 after he appears to have arrived in the early 1820s. BLM records indicate it was located along the Missouri river, very near the small community known today as McBaine. Image source: U.S. Bureau of Land management online database.

It isn’t every day that one finds his Revolutionary ancestors mentioned by name in professional historical  monographs. In my case, I’ve never found a Colvin mentioned thusly. And I’ve been at this nearly two decades now. This is not to say that many of them, over the years, have not found their way into other media. Mostly one finds them snuggling in the warm embrace of amateur compilations, blog posts, and commercial databases – often with their genealogic particulars misstated or their surnames mangled nearly beyond recognition –  but not once in a respectable historic account. Not once. That is, until recently.

My discovery was precipitated by a leisurely stroll through some secondary sources in an attempt to ferret out more military history about some of the Colvin men from Kentucky who served in the war of 1812. Most who ended up enlisting were 1st generation Kentuckians whose parents had come there from their native Piedmont, Virginia where the Colvin line of my study is rooted. I  found an online digitized copy of  the 1891 edition of Report of the adjutant general of the state of Kentucky. Soldiers of the war of 1812 and began reviewing it using clues from other sources.[1] With these other clues, I was able to establish most of their military credentials as well as establish their relations to each other in some cases. Not all were from the same Colvin line, but I was satisfied that I had put in place another puzzle piece helping to answer basic questions such as: When did they served? What were their ranks? Etc. All of those who served were privates, and in one case, two brothers served in the same company. As for where they served and what they did, I decided to leave that for another investigation.

Then I turned my attention to some of the Revolutionary ancestors, not so much on any one individual, but more in terms of  historical context of the experience itself. I knew, for example, that a Charles Colvin from Culpeper  had been drafted in 1781, according to a Library of Virginia online catalogue indexed reference bearing Charles’s name, and linking it to  Emily G. Hont’s, 1983 work,  “A List of Classes in Culpeper County for January 1781.”  Was this the same Charles who was a tithable that same year of  Fauquier County farmer, William Waller,   according to extant  tax rolls?  It’s a good question.  That index entry indicated Charles fell within Class 11. Hoping to discover what that class signifies,  I  began to Google-trek to answers when I came across John R. Van Atta’s essay, “Conscription in Revolutionary Virginia: The case of Culpeper County, 1780-1781” published in the July, 1984 edition of  the venerable, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography which has, since 1893, been the scholarly journal  of the Virginia Historical Society — itself established more than three-quarters of a century earlier in 1811. So I thought that it would make for an interesting read.  I was not disappointed.

Atta’s sets up his primary thesis  by noting that, because of a strange quirk of fate,  Culpeper county’s military records with regard to Revolutionary draft class lists are amazingly extant, unlike most Virginia counties whose lists are too fragmentary to be used to base substantive research. That’s important because in order to understand some of the  mechanics of the revolutionary draft, one has to know something of the folks being drafted.  That’s where the Class lists come in. They help answer questions such as: How and why did this draft and substitution system operate? Who actually entered the Continental service and who managed not to? What, if anything, can be gleaned of the motives behind individual service in the Continental army during the latter years of the war? (Atta ,264). [2]   That, important, too,  in order to understand some of the finer points involved with how the quota system of enlistees established by the national Congress in 1776, would play out at the state level, then eventually, at the  county level. We were, after all fighting a formidable foe for independence, and needed as many soldiers to do it as possible. Thus, quotas. However, it turns out that, even with these quotas in place, they typically were not satisfied. Virginia, for example, in 1777 sent only 5,744 of its required 10,200, soldiers and even though its percentages improved slightly with each successive war year, like most states, it never satisfied its actual quota. There are numerous reasons for this,  including how the draft was itself designed and later executed. However, what intrigued Atta more, was what role did personal wealth (or a lack of it,)  play  in draftee selection, and particularly how  did economic standing impact the ability of draftees to use substitutes in those cases where they chose not to serve and what, moreover, might motivate someone to serve as a substitute?

One of the ways Atta sized up the situation was by also consulting the local personal property tax rolls which, I can tell you from personal experience, are excellent indicators of where a person stood in the local economic food chain. The colonists were taxed on pretty much everything at the county level, and since disestablishment was still a distant reality, they were also being forced to tithe to the Anglican church, even if they were Baptist or some other denomination. So our colonial Virginia forebearers were taxes on their cows, their watches, their wagons, and if all they owned was a horse. Well, the horse got taxed.  Unlike census, the personal property tax rolls were annual, (usually in the Spring,) so they’re very useful in tracking a household’s rise in prosperity or its plummet into poverty. This was about where I was in Atta’s essay – the part where he was making the case for who the draftees were and how they ranked as property owners. He was noticing that the less property a draftee owned, the lower the rank he would rate when he entered  military service. Fellas with a single horse, for example, might be drafted as a private – his neighbor with many acres and a few slaves, might be drafted as a captain. Apparently, in the draft, size mattered.  And as he was tallying these numbers up,  Atta also pointed out who, among the draftees was the poorest selected. Guess who he named?

            Benjamin Colvin.

That’s right. Of all the men in Culpeper county, without so much as a nag to his name, only Benjamin Colvin (1758-1834) was singled out in print as being “the poorest draftee found in the 1782-83 records…” (Atta ,272).  Apparently he had a working musket and was able to take up arms against the British. So that was a plus. When I saw the name, I laughed out loud. Somehow I’d always thought of my Colvin Revolutionary ancestors in more glorious scenes — surrounded by Redcoats  dashing their brains out with the butt of their flintlocks,  cannon smoke swirling everywhere. But, hey, maybe  less is more, right?  Maybe not. As poverty went, Benjamin had even less that William Brady, who Atta found was the poorest among the substitutes found on the draftee list. Brady at least had two horses. Benjamin, conversely ”own no property whatsoever and held no land.”  Bummer. As for that landless situation, that changed soon enough.  Fortunately, we  need not feel too sorry for  Benjamin because his military pension records reveal he went from rags to a nice bit of land along the Missouri, not too many years after he was discharged. Plus his deposition with the Boone County judge in 1833,  (he was 78 years old then,) give us real insight into what Benjamin  did, when and where.[3]

He entered service on  April 20,, 1781, having drawn his draft ticket and was assigned to  Capt. Elijah Kirtley as a Private. He mustered with his troop at Hanover Va. and they were supposed to go to join Gen. Washington, but that didn’t work out and they were instead sent to the Potomac to guard the British from coming up. So they left Culpeper and marched down to join  Gen. Daniel Morgan at  Bird’s Ordinary in Amelia County.  From there they went on to Richmond where they received their arms at a place called the Bacon branch, and a short time later, they were joined by  Gen. Peter Muhlenberg. (Muhlenberg was an Anglican priest-turned soldier and moved up the ranks to become a General in the Continental Army. See John A,  Rogosta’s “Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty”  Oxford, 2010.)  Thus, with  Gens. Morgan and  Muhlenberg at the head,  the troops went on to a little town [Benjamin could not recall its name,] but there crossed over toward Roanoke River where Gen. Morgan mistakenly thought that Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton was “doing mischief.”[4]  By the time the troops arrived,  Tarleton was already gone. They left there and  marched back crossing the James River about 20 miles above Richmond. About 12 or 15 miles after they crossed the river, they  met up with Gen. Anthony Wayne, and within a matter of  days, were engaged in their first a small skirmish known as the Battle of  Spencer’s Ordinary near the Hot Water Plantation, several miles outside of  Williamsburg on  June 26th.  Benjamin said in his deposition:[5]

this engagement was with a party of the British who were out robbing the country of cattle, the British had a great many cattle fenced up in [Gen. Robert Lawson’s] field, we succeeded in getting them all from the British.

On the heels of that skirmish  came the Battle of Green Springs Plantation.[6]     Afterwards, the troops returned to  Richmond and remained there although Benjamin gives no details, noting only that they scouted  “round through the country from one place to another, occasionally exchanging shots & having light skirmishes with the British.”

His first term expired on October 20,  that same year and he had planned on mustering out. But in a strange coincidence, his company was newly joined by troops from Culpeper under Capt. Samuel Ferguson, and so he decided to reenlist another three months.  He must have been persuaded by seeing so many old friends. Many of the men, he explained to  the judge deposing him, were neighbors of his father’s  – “all raised from the young men immediately in his neighborhood.”

For his last remaining 3 months, things were fairly dull.  No skirmishes; no battles. He remained a private under  Gen. Daniel Morgan and the troops eventually returned to their headquarters near Richmond  where he eventually mustered out, although no date is given. However, Benjamin told the judge he’s served a total of 9 months and 10 days, and even though he’d received the proper discharge, he’d lost it. By Benjamin’s calculation, he left service in January, 1782. For his troubles,  begining in 1833, Benjamin was granted an annual pension of $31.11. In today’s’ economy, that would net him little more than $800.00  a year, according to the folks at Measuringworth.com.  Not much then. Not much now.   The National Archives has done an excellent blog post, Follow the Money, which details how Revolutionary soldiers pensions were applied for and paid, including the arduous process involved for the applicant and has untangled the twisted route otherwise needed by modern-day researchers to unearth the records needed to examine their Revolutionary ancestor’s pension records.

It is not known whether Benjamin was injured or suffered any serious postwar afflictions. But much beyond his brief wartime experience is known.  For example, from various bounty land warrant records, it can be shown that Benjamin was one of  at least seven children – six of whom were males, and each of whom served in the Revolution. Those relationships can be corroborated by  the depositions they give on each other’s behalf, as well as from the depositions found in their pension files, where some of the males name their siblings.

Apparently Benjamin’s  postwar fortunes began to improve. By 1787, he can be found in Culpeper personal property tax records with at least 1 tithe and now three—count them three — cows!  By 1800, he has  three horses! By 1810, he is heading a house in Culpeper consisting of 5 males under 10; 1 male 10-15; 1 male 45 and over, (most likely a parent); 1 female age 10-15,  and 1 female 26-45 (most likely a wife.)[7]

Sometime after 1816,   Benjamin left Virginia with his wife and 8 children  for Boone County, Missouri, where he can be found being taxed on at least 100 acres of land by 1821.[8]  By 1835, Benjamin received his patent for 40 acres of land (see Inset,)  which was likely located on or near the Missouri river near the present-day town of McBaine.

Benjamin appears to have died a few short years later, by 1837. He had executed his Will in 1835  which was probated in 1838, wherein all of his heirs are named. To date, his final resting place is unknown but is believed to be in Boone County, perhaps on private land.  Nevertheless, Benjamin is not forgotten, nor does his humble beginnings appear to have been a barrier to later achievements. Currently only two generations of  descendants have been accounted for by this researcher,  but which now consists of at least 7 known children – all born in Virginia — and an equal number of grandchildren, all Missourians by birth. Ongoing research will no doubt reveal a far longer line of descendants and a far richer legacy from a simple Culpeper resident once deemed among the Culpeper draftees of 1781 as being someone who “own no property whatsoever and held no land.”


[1] Report of the adjutant general of the state of Kentucky. Soldiers of the war of 1812.”, Frankfurt, 1891. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7119132M/Report_of_the_adjutant_general_of_the_state_of_Kentucky.

[2] John R. Atta, “Conscription in Revolutionary Virginia: The case of Culpeper County, 1780-1781”   The Virginia Magazine of  History and Biography 92:3, 263-281.

[3] Transcribed pension application of Benjamin Colvin, transcriber, C. Leon Harris. Southern Campaign Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters (http://revwarapps.org/index.htm)

[4] Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, is best remembered for his sound whipping by the Continental Army in the Battle of Cowpens, in South Carolina in January 1781 – months before Benjamin enlisted. Gen. Morgan is often credited with much of the success of the British defeat, and the campaign itself and  is noted by historians as being a critical turning point in the Rev. War both tactically, and in terms of providing a much-needed psychological lift to the soldiers. The battle last only an hour, but Tarleton after being brutally whipped by  Gen. Washington with a saber, fled.

[5] The skirmish arose because British troops under Col. John Graves Simcoe were attempting to reprovision themselves with whatever was at hand.  It is typically called the  Battle of Spencer’s Ordinary because it was fought near a tavern named Spencer’s Ordinary at a road intersection not far from Williamsburg,Virginia.

[6] June 6, 1781. Gen. Anthony  “Mad”  Wayne  received his moniker because of his charge against the British after having been trapped by an  ambush during this battle.  Troops under his command had been sent to this location in James City County , to reinforce the Marquis de Lafayette’s  troops who were losing to the British forces. With Gen. Wayne’s reinforcements the tide turned, despite Gen. Wayne’s accidental entrapment and ambush.

[7] Ben. Colvin household, 1810 U.S. Federal Census Population Schedule, Culpeper County, Virginia..

[8] According to various census and other records, the youngest of Benjamin’s  Children was  Anna Colvin, born 1816 in Culpeper County. All of Benjamin’s children were named in his Last Will and Testament which was probated  January 3, 1838 in Boone County.

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Daniel and Mason Colvin on Virginia’s “Ten Thousand Names” petition of 1776.


Daniel and Mason Colvin were among the 10,000 Virginian asking  their state legislators know to kick the Anglican Church to the curb.

Daniel and Mason Colvin were among the 10,000 Virginians asking their legislators to kick the Anglican Church to the curb.
Source: Library of Congress: American Memories website.

I thought I’d spend a wee bit more time on Daniel Colvin just to see what pops up, and sure enough, something intriguing did. It was that he and his son, Mason Colvin, had signed the famous Ten Thousand Names Petition, which helped exacerbate the movement in Virginia toward disestablishment or what we modern folks like to think of as the legal framework behind the idea of  separation of church and state.  It’s the very first  part of the first clause of the First Amendment among our hallowed Bill of Rights — containing what’s come to be known as the  Separation Clause essentially preventing the formation of any state religion on U.S. soil.  The second part of that same clause gives us our freedom of religion.  Our right to worship as we see fit. There are  folks nowadays, for example,  who insist that L. Ron Hubbard was somehow linked to an alien deity of sorts. Thus, with the blessing of the IRS, Scientologists have  the blessing of the government to do and think whatever it is that Scientologists do in the name of, well, in the name of L. Ron Hubbard.  I won’t debate the merits of worshiping a science fiction writer from Nebraska,   but none of that freedom would exist without  the Ten Thousand Name Petition which is what launched the whole  U.S. freedom of religion business.

By   the 1760s, Virginian dissidents (any non-Anglican church member)  were fairly fed up with not only the constraints of the Church of England such as its tithing and other  requirements but with the endless — and often violent — harassments  endured by them both from the Anglican Church and their own government.[1] For example, if you were a Baptist in Virginia and wanted to get married you could find a parish minister, but he’d likely be Anglican and would charge you three or four times the amount of tobacco (or chickens or whatever you paid,) that your Anglican neighbor paid for the same service. If you were  a Baptist minister, you may well be jailed, beaten, or harassed endlessly, along with your congregants in any number of ways. Mean? Yes. Plus,  finding a Baptist preacher to perform the rite was a bit tricky.  Many worked “underground,” at their peril. Further even if a dissident minister did marry you, the county clerk was not  obliged to  record a Baptist  marriage return in the local marriage registry.[2] This is also why one finds so many marriage bonds in early colonial Virginia records, but far fewer  ministerial returns.   In other words, the Anglicans had the church monopoly sewn up and were hell-bent on keeping it.

That began to changed dramatically in 1776 when the most massive religious petition ever signed in colonial Virginia was sent to the state’s General Assembly. But wait…there’s more. It’s true that dissident petitions had been sent to Virginia’s General Assembly before the outbreak of hostilities between England and her colonies, but the timing of this petition is what makes it significant because, by-mid 1776, with the colonial war effort already underway, it became, for the Baptists and their Presbyterian allies, a disestablishment bargaining chip. Those at Richmond knew by mid-year that recruitment of much needed soldiers was going badly; they needed more riflemen and more soldiers to hold off the British — thousands more. In North Carolina, some Scottish Presbyterians had already joined British forces, and the risk of that happening in Virginia was very real. The Baptist knew it, and their government leaders knew it too,  thus Baptists and their allies adopted the stance that if the new forming government wanted their united loyalty to win the war, the price was religious freedom.    It was an irresistible, perfectly-timed masterstroke. And it worked in large measure, so far as Virginia’s laws were concerned regarding religious practices. After December that year, non-Anglicans would no longer be required to pay the ridiculous fines for  non-attendance of Established services — which had been the status quo — nor would they be required to pay the usual monthly tithe which supported Anglican churches, glebs, and poor houses.   It did not bring an end to the harrasments, but it was a serious start.  Virginia’s  eventual break  with the Anglican church had to wait nearly another decade yet, petitions such as this — and a continuing stream of smaller ones which followed it — ultimately helped pave the way for disestablishment being codified in our Bill of Rights.

Two other aspect of this document that intrigued me are  less patriotic. The first is deductive; the other visual. First, the fact that these two Colvins appear on the petition as dissenters gives great weight to the idea that they were Baptist. Secondly, and perhaps just as important, is how seeing the names Colvin, clearly spelled, confirmed for me for the umpteenth time how the surname COLVIN is rarely  misspelled in original documents  despite the fact that for numerous decades folks have been mistranscribing it in every way possible. The Virginia Genealogy Society Quarterly, ( 36: 1)  for example,  for unknown reasons,  transcribed those same names in their 1998 edition which featured a partial transcription of the petition, as ‘Corbin”.  They did manage to get the page number of the petition correct. That made  finding it among the 250 pages of the digitized version (which the Library of Congress has displayed  in its entirety  and made available online,) fairly easy. Daniel Colvin is in left hand column; his son, in the right. As to whether those are the actual signatures of  said  petitioners, I have  doubts since many of the names close by appear to be written in a similar hand. This pattern is similar throughout the page.


[1] An excellent overview of how Virginian dissenters helped shaped the idea of separation and how their efforts spearheaded what ultimately became the 1st amendment of the Bill of Rights can be found in  Dr. John A. Ragosta’s “Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win The American Revolution & Secure Religious Liberty”  Oxford University Press, 2010. Dr. Ragosta’s treatment has been well-received amongst  reviewers in scholarly journals because it fills a much needed gap in helping to understand the critical role Virginians played in not only shaping our nation’s Revolutionary history,  but  in particular how the efforts of  Virginian dissenters played a critical but historically under appreciated role in influencing one of our nation’s most cherished rights.

[2] Inexperienced genealogists  sometimes  use a marriage bond date as a surrogate for an actual marriage date. This is a mistake since  a bond is only a surety. They do this because  the marriage return  is sometimes missing among the microfilmed colonial  clerks’ marriage records.  Their absence is often an overlooked indicator that the marriage was performed by a dissent cleric, (if in the Virginia Piedmont, this most likely means  a Baptist cleric,) who’s own returns the county clerk was under no legal obligation to record.

 

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Nancy and Casbitrand Colvin. Heirs of George?


Susan Traux DC 1933

Is the Nancy Colvin in this death certificate (mother of the deceased) a sibling of Casbitrand Colvin and heir of George? Inquiring minds want to know. Source: FamilySearch.org

Somewhat recently I received a query from someone researching George Colvin (1804- ?)  husband of  Sophia (_____?). This George was one of the early Colvin pioneers of Monroe Country, Ohio, having taken advantage of the 1820 Ohio Land Act and bought several acres and received two separate patents in the mid and late-1830s. George, it is believed,  hailed from Stafford County, Virginia, made a pit stop in Pennsylvania enroute to settling in Monroe County where generations of descendants followed. In fact, many  present day Ohio Colvins can trace their lineage directly to George.  This was apparently what my inquirer was also attempting to do, but had hit a brick wall sometime back in trying to connect his direct ancestor, Casbitrand Colvin (1840-1889) and his  alleged sister, Nancy Colvin (1830-1867) to George as their father.  Thus, the  inquirer was hoping for my help.

I offerd what I knew about George and his known heirs of which there were three: Eliza Jane (1835-1915); Charles (1837-1913), and Roseberry (1842-1923)  I base that claim on what I’ve found in the census, rather than on what is popularly published on the web. In my reply, explained that I’d seen the pervasive Casbitrand / Nancy Colvin claims around, but  nothing in the way of sources cited for those supposed connection. I should also point out that these persistent claims are little more than slavish copies of one another with little hard evidence offered up.

So, intrigued, and in the interest of  research integrity, I dashed off  on a cyber-hunt. I looked for Casbitrand and Nancy Colvin. I found  interesting things. For example, Nancy Colvin, apparently married a ne’er-do-well by the name of Elson Hissom who, in the 1870 Monroe County, Ohio census is a jailed convict. On another website, I found the transcribed article of the May 3rd 1870 account published in the Spirit of Democracy newspaper  which provided the escape notice of Hisom’s  jail break and in another account in the same periodical  was the testimony by Hisom’s  daughter, Isabelle,  who at her father’s hearing explain how dear ol’ dad had tried to rape her; testimony was also given by Hisom’s son, James, who testified he’d stabbed father dear  repetedly in self-defense, after being savagly whipped,  etc., etc.  Pretty dreary stuff,  but in my cyber-sleuthing I found nothing  connecting them to George. I did find Casbitrand Colvin in the home (at age 21) of Elson and wife Nancy  in the 1860 census of Monroe County, Ohio, so I saw  why folks linked them as siblings. But at this point I found nothing even indicating  Nancy was a Colvin. I reported all this back to my inquirer who quickly said there was a death certificate for an heir of  Nancy ca. 1933. I quickly sought and found said certificate, (see inset.) Sure enough, the decease’s mother was the Nancy Colvin of my  inquierer and her  maiden name was Colvin, and so  I reported again to my inquirer that, yes, Nancy was a Colvin (and that’s always a plus,) but, alas,  that does not establish her as an heir of George nor that Casbitrand was her brother. For that, I explained,  we need better evidence. So I suggested  a search strategy.  Other items to consider are: (which I have never seen cited in those ubiquitous cyber family trees connecting the said Nancy/Casbitrand/George dots,) any probate documents related to  George, his death notice, obit, or  other evidence that  that satisfies a reasonable proof standard.  I’m speaking of course of some  evidence that was generated near the time of an event which provides the  link. That evidence would be  far more welcome and trustworthy than hearsay generated a century and a half after the fact.

Publishing unfounded claims as unassailable gospel from the Internet  is no more proof than is clever speculation based on mathematic or geographic coincidences. If that connection exists, it’s recorded in some way, somewhere.  But that’s a big IF.  George died 1840-1850. And I suspect he died inteststate. Even so, a probate may have been performed. We know George died during that time frame because Sophia turns up in the Monroe County 1850 census as a widow, with her  three children, and by 1893, she is buried in the Whitten Cemetery in Belpre, Monroe County. One can visit her obelisk headstone and see that she is there alone, because where her husband’s  gravesite is located remains as mysterious as his death date, despite efforts by many to find him.  Thus, what can we learn from this little excursion down genealogy lane? Jumping to conclusions is a bad health care plan. Make connections stick by carefully gathering verifiable evidence.  If one does not know where to look, ask. But never presume a connection exists because you saw it in someone’s online family tree.  It is better to leave the question open-ended than to try  to prove an assumption based on flawed  heresy. In short, the task of those who believe Casbitrand and Nancy Colvin are both siblings and  heirs of George is simple: find and provide the evidence. Many Colvin descendants and researchers, including me, will thank you.

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Revolution-era Bounty Land Warrants establish relationships.


Mason Colvin explains how he knows Jeremiah Colvin. Source: Library of Virginia Bounty Land  Warrants database.

Mason Colvin explains how he knows Jeremiah Colvin. Source: Library of Virginia Bounty Land Warrants database.

I’ve spent the past week in the  Library of Virginia’s  Bounty Land Warrant database which is a great place to wile away your hours,  reading digitized 19th-century handwritten affidavits and getting eye-strain from squinting. Yet the fruits of such labors are well worth it. In this recent excursion,  I had  downloaded all of the Bounty Land Warrant files I could find on the Culpeper County, Virginia Colvin men  and then began the reading and sorting process, establishing who fit with whom. That task was made  easier by the deponents themselves each of whom explained  how they knew each other as they testified on each others behalf. And those depositions were critical to their land claim which were themselves how their government rewarded their service during the Revolution.  But being entitled to land and receiving it were two different things.  When you made your claim,  you next had to prove you had actually served. In some cases that process became a trial as veterans, now in their elder years, had to track down old acquaintances and service members and with them recall specific details of their wartime experience. And sometimes the details were fuzzy.  Not an enviable task for someone who had served honorably but was paid only in land  –and not always the most desirable land — rather than spendable currency.  Hence, witnesses were critical to the success of a land claim.  In the case of  Jeremiah Colvin (1758-1778) who had served in the 10th Virginia Regiment (and had been to Vally Forge,) he had plenty of witnesses in the form of his  brothers, each of whom had not only served in a Virginia Company but had survived to tell their tales.  But wait, there’s more.  In the case of  the deposition of his brother, Mason’s Colvin, his testimony not only  clearly establishes his sibling relationship to Jeremiah but his order in that relationship as well.  Think of it as double-bonus-points. In this digitized deposition, for example, notice how Mason explains he is Jeremiah’s eldest brother. That’s a two-fer, genealogically, speaking and highly valuable when trying to establish sibling order. Better still,  Mason makes this same claim for some of his other brothers as well. Thus,  documents like these prove their value by helping to clearly establish  familial  links among  colonial Colvins in Revolution-era Virginia.

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