John Russell Colvin vs. John Richard Colvin: a comparative analysis using 19th Century Federal Census:

This analysis was conducted to determine if John Russell Colvin (1845-1922)[1] and John Richard Colvin (1847-1930)[2] were siblings in the family group headed by James Madison Colvin (1809-1888)[3] or if John Russell Colvin was an heir of Howard Mason Colvin,  (1811-1883)[4]  a sibling of James Madison Colvin.


A comparative analysis was designed, based on digitized copies of primary source records with The Colvin  Study held by the researcher.[5] In addition online digitized original records were used, as well as digitized images of tombstones. For the census examined, forty years’ worth of Federal Census were examined, and  tabulated for the number of times each target subject appeared in the James Madison Colvin household and the Howard M. Colvin household then  compared for patterning such as age changes and geography using pre-established locations and  ages based on birth, death, marriage and  other records. (Fig. 1).  In addition one addition individual in both households was tracked to insure the correct household was being studied as transcription errors and name misspellings are common in period Census. For example, in the 1870 census, what had been “Colby Colvin” in the 1860 census of the Howard M. Colvin household became “Covley  Colvin” in the 1870 census.  In the James Madison household,  William Danial Colvin, (1883-1905) was tracked. In the Howard M. Colvin household, William Mason Colvin (1843-1913) was tracked. They, in addition to the heads of households  served as the baseline against which the target individuals’ appearances were compared. Census used were the digitized copies of microfilms of original Culpeper County, Virginia  Federal census, 1850 through 1880.  The originals are held with Library of Virginia.

Historical Context:

John Richard Colvin first appears by name in the 1850 James Madison Colvin household in Jeffersonton, Culpeper County, Virginia as “John R Colvin” and thereafter as “John R. Colvin” in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 respectively. In the 1880, John is innumerate as a “widower” although his 1st wife is not yet known. In 1881, the next year, he married Ann “Annie” Elizabeth James (1865-1923) daughter of  John Pierce James and Martha Ann Burke, by who he had one known son, Earnest Adam Colvin (1882-1936).[6]  In the 1880 census, John was enumerated as a “farmer,” no doubt of great aid to his father, James Madison Colvin,  who was enumerated as being afflicted with “Dropsy” – a condition today we might today call cognitive heart failure,  the symptoms for which include painful swelling of the lower extremities. That condition would have made him all but unfit for many everyday tasks, let alone the rigorous toil of farm labor in  a pre-mechanized agricultural setting, especially at  age 71, although the enumerator gave his age as “72”.

John Russell Colvin  first appears in the 1850 Howard M. Colvin household in Orange County, Virginia as “John Colvin” and thereafter as “John Colvin” in 1860, “John R. Colvin” in 1870, where, at 23, he was working as a baggage handler for the railroad near the Continental Hotel in Upperville in Fauquier County and living apart from home. By  1880,  at age “34” his fortunes had changed considerably, but he was still enumerated as “John R. Colvin”, and still based in Fauquier. However ,  by time he was a railroad conductor, and a father of  three, having married on July 25, 1871, there in Fauquier County, Judith Amelia Johnson (1850-1826) the daughter of William Johnson and Sarah Cordelia Marshall.

Given the similar names of these two cousins, and their closeness in age, it would be easy to confuse them, were careful attention not given to the nuanced differences between  trades and subtle changes in ages and locations.  Their fathers were brothers – thus  both cousins shared a  paternal grandfather, Mason Colvin (1761-1853) who with his wife Elizabeth Hawkins, (1819-1902) raised eleven children in Culpeper. In 1833,  the county was sliced in half and from the second half was created Rappahannock County.  This cleaving and new county boundary line explains how Mason Colvin can appear in records to have been born in Culpeper but died in Rappahannock, when in fact he never moved at all.  The county line had moved.

Quantitative findings:

A study of this types leaves room for interpretation certainly, however, based on the study design, the following findings were reached:

In the James Madison Colvin household, the individual who most consistently appeared during the study timeline matched the ages one would expect from an individual born in 1847: John Richard Colvin.   No other individual in the household studied closely resembled this pattern either in age or name.

In the Howard M. Colvin household, the same pattern held true for what one would expect in predictable age changes for someone born in 1845: John Russell Colvin.  In the James Madison household, the baseline individual, William D. Colvin (1838- 1905) appeared consistently  in 75% of the entries examined.  In only one census, the 1880,  is he absent from his father’s home, by which time he would be approximately 42 years old.  This is explained by the fact that in 1871, he married Mary Thomas Mathews (1852-1939) in Culpeper on September 7, 1871, and was now heading his own house with children of his own. He was found with his wife, Mary and  the first three of their six children in Culpeper, enumerated as age 41, as expected of someone born in 1838.

The examination of John Richard Colvin’s age variations in the census over a four decade were consistent during 75% of the period examined.  In only one case, was there a deviation to this pattern: in the 1860 census his age was enumerated as “21” in what should have been age 13. In all other census examined however, the ages of  John Richard Colvin were consistent with what one would expect of an individual born in 1847.

In the Howard M. Colvin Household, the baseline individual,  William Mason Colvin appeared consistently  in 100% of the entries examined. However, in the 1880 census he is now head of  his household supporting his widowed mother.  No other individuals are present in the household.

In the case of the target individual, John Russell Colvin, he appeared consistently in 50% of the households examined, leaving his father’s house between 1860-1870 and marrying Judith Amelia Johnson (1850-1926) in Culpeper on July 25, 1871. Thus, in the 1870 and 1880 census he is found heading his own house in Culpeper. However, in both cases,  his ages consistently match what one would expect of someone born in  1845.







(Click image to view in new window.)

Given this examination, it is reasonable to conclude that there is a high probability that John Russell Colvin was likely the son of Howard Mason Colvin, and that John Richard Colvin was the  son of James Madison Colvin.  The two men were likely first cousins.



[1] John Russell Colvin’s  full name is displayed on his tombstone in the Warrington Cemetery, Warrington, Fauquier County, Virginia. His obituary appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, May 9, 1922.

[2]  John Richard  Colvin and his 2nd wife, Ann Elizabeth James,  are buried in a private cemetery on Alamance Dr., Culpeper County. Their dates of birth and death are visible and are consistent with dates found in various census.

[3]  James Madison Colvin, in various records is referred to as “J. Colvin”, “Madison Colvin” and in other cases, such as Agriculture schedule of  1880, as “James M. Colvin.”

[4] Howard Colvin appears with his wife in various records such as Census, and city directories. He married Elizabeth Fichum February 12, 1839 in Rappahannock County. However, the marriage records have not yet been examined. Nevertheless this date correlates to years of marriage given to enumerators on census. Their burial places are not yet known.

[5] “James M. Colvin” household, 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Culpeper County, Virginia, lines 10-15; “Mathius Colvin”  household, 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Rappahannock County, Virginia, hh 173;  “James M. Colvin” household, 1870 U.S. Federal Census,  Jeffersonton, Culpeper County, Virginia, lines 21-28; “James Colvin” household, 1880 U.S. Federal Census, lines 19-21, hh 177. Jeffersonton, Culpeper County, Virginia.

[6]  “Earnest A. Colvin” appears with his parents in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, “John R. Colvin” household, Jeffersonton, Culpeper County, Virginia, line 63-65, hh 240. Earnest also appears in 1910-1930 Census. His WWI Draft Registration card  of  September 12, 1918, provides his full name and date of birth, and shows “John R. Colvin” to be his nearest relative. His 1st wife,  Gertrude Lawrence,  was buried in the Colvin Cemetery on Alamance Drive in Culpeper. Earnest is buried with his second wife, Ritchie Elizabeth Lawrence in the same cemetery.   Gertrude and Ritchie Lawrence were siblings.

Posted in Uncategorized

Mason Colvin marriage to Elizabeth Hawkins: April 24 1788, Culpeper County, Virginia (or thereabouts.)

Screenshot of's fee-based database. Is this really the best way to find an early Virginia marriage record?

Screenshot of’s fee-based database. Is this really the best way to find an early Virginia marriage record?

Recently, I went sleuthing for a marriage record for one of the British Colonial American Culpeper County, Virginia Colvins.  I noticed in my initial foray,  that the date used for Mason Colvin and his wife, Elizabeth Hawkins, was April 24, 1788,  but nowhere could I find a citation of an actual record. Most researchers, it became quickly evident were using a date based on lists compiled by, which they call “databases”.  In particular, a database they call, “Virginia Marriages 1660-1800″ was the list which yielded the date already noted.[1] It had been used, in fact, quite slavishly, the same date appearing among numerous family trees and the same database always cited.  However, nowhere was an actual primary record cited.

When I looked at the source citation for this database, I saw it was based on work by someone named Jordan Dodd, who was apparently under contract with something called Liahona Research, based, apparently out of either the LDS church or their affiliated library in Salt lake City, Utah. While that, in itself, isn’t troublesome, what is, is the statement in the source citation from regarding this “database.”:  “These marriage records, compiled by Liahona Research at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT, unfortunately do not contain citations for the origin of each entry.”

Yes. You read that correctly. Nowhere are we given information as to where the compiler obtained his data.

If however, you’d like more information on this database, the entry explains, you can visit the wiki on Culpeper County, Virginia. There, under the entry, “Marriage” among their bulleted list of sources you will find’s so-called database – Dodd’s uncited work.  In other words, you’re sent in a complete circle, which sends you back to  that uncited Ancestry’ database. In other words, the date given for this marriage is not a date which offers as verifiable through primary sources – a rather odd position to taken given that they spend so much effort and advertising offering genealogical records to establish dates of major events in the lives of our ancestors.

What to do?  The first thing to remember is: the date may be correct, and even if not, the record may actually exist. Thus the question becomes: where to find it?

In Virginia, there are two ways to find a marriage record in these early Federal years, typically in the form of a marriage bond and often as a listing on a county marriage registry if the marriage was performed by an Anglican priest.  Personally, I avoid Family History Center (FHC ) microfilms which are controlled by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) simply because I don’t see the point of “renting” microfilms and commodifying public records to  which access is usually free.  I avoid this trap by going straight to the records themselves and finding them is easier than ever.  In this case, the marriage index and registry listings on microfilm are directly available from the Library of Virginia via Interlibrary loan. Microfilms are basically photographs of the original records. In Virginia State Library’s case, two separate reels of microfilms are available to the public regarding early Culpeper County marriages on  Reel 60, the Index, and Reel 50, the Registry. At the Library of Virginia Culpeper County Microfilm webpage, the entry looks like this: [2]

60  ILL Index to Marriage Records, 1781 – 1950, Male A – Z, 352 p.

50  ILL Marriage Register, 1781 – 1853 c, (VSL ms compilation), 117 p.

I find it disappointing that hasn’t bother to digitize these records and offer them, indexed since they already charged their customers upwards of $300.00 a year to use customized “databases,” which, in many cases, are simply indexes.[3]  But indices are never a suitable substitute for a primary source record.  Especially when, in the case of Mason Colvin’s marriage to Elizabeth Hawkins, no one seems interested in producing the record  created at the time of the event which could actually prove it.

Soon I will be going to my local genealogy library, which happens to be quite substantial, and look through the reels mentioned. A call ahead confirmed the library had them. I hope to find what I’m looking for. If not, those using Dodd’s un-cited resource will have a serious problem and will need to re-think this marriage.

Finally, A word of caution regarding using early Virginia marriage registries. In the context of early Virginia religious practices and laws, “dissident “was the name given to any person of faith in Virginia who subscribed to any non-Anglican denomination. Baptist, for example, were considered “dissidents” and their marriages were often not recorded in early marriage registries, although the betrothed (or a family member or dear friend of same,) always had to pay the clerk his filing fee, which accounts for why the bonds often show up in county records, but the licenses issued by the dissident Baptist preacher (they appear on registries, if they show up ,  as “M.G.” – meaning, Minister of the Gospel), do not show up necessarily in the “return”lists. [4] There have been excellent scholarly treatments of this religious conflict in Virginia’s pre-Disestablishment years, although genealogists make too little use of them and think mistakenly the marriage never took place or speculate wildly about the couple’s marital status. True, Baptists and other non-Anglican faithful had a tough go of it, but they could and did marry.

[1] Jordan Dodd,. “Virginia, Marriages, 1660-1800″ [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 1997.

[2] Library of Virginia, Culpeper County Microfilms webpage,

[3] To be fair, let me go on record admitting that has digitized some  microfilmed marriage registries. Some early Colvin Pendleton County, Kentucky, marriages for example, can be verified, through some registry  microfilms that have been scanned. But’s heavily reliance on secondary sources is evident throughout their online catalogue.

[4] The basic marital process went as follows. The couple to be wed, went to the clerk (usually the male), paid the bond (surety), which was recorded, and the Clerk issued the license. The couple were married, the preacher/ priest, sign the licence after the ceremony then returned it (usually monthly along with the other similar documents) to the County clerk who then recorded it in the county marriage registry. If one finds a marriage bond, but no minister’s return or the name of the wedded party in a marriage register y, it likely means the couple were Dissidents. This is usually confirmed by finding them, if possible, in church records of the period which may list  them as members.

Posted in Uncategorized records, tombstone images assist in burial data collection. Some links to heirs, spouses declined

Henry "Harry" Colvin (1762-1839) "Colvin Family Cemetery" Pendleton County, Kentucky

Henry “Harry” Colvin
“Colvin Family Cemetery” Pendleton County, Kentucky

In keeping with efforts to support Find-a-Grave as a research resource,  about which I blogged   earlier  I have continued to submit edits to memorialists at that website in the hopes of keeping the information as accurate as possible. In most cases, my submissions  have been received graciously. In turn, I have been able to expand the Colvin Study knowledge base considerably in terms of exact location of  many 18th and 19th century burials of these family members for the benefit of future researchers.  Among these burials are relatives from Culpeper County, Virginia including  Henry “Harry” Colvin a Revolutionary War veteran and his wife, Catherine Williams.  Two of these cemeteries appear to be situated in the same general vicinity of Four Oaks,  the homestead established by Charles Colvin of Culpeper and Fauquier Counties  who settled here shortly before  he died there in 1810.  His burial place is not yet known.

The data collected includes updated death and burial dates and tombstone images from the Forsythe-Colvin Cemetery, the so-called “Colvin Family Cemetery, ” The Riverside Cemetery,  The Browning Cemetery,  and the so-called “Colvin Cemetery, Four Oaks” – all in Pendleton County. Data was also collected from  the Thomas Lincoln Cemetery in Coles County, Illinois because among those interred there is Robert F. Best (1820-1891) 1st husband of Malinda Waller Colvin, (1825-1827), daughter of  Birkett George Colvin (1792-1873)

In most cases, after reviewing data at the various cemeteries edits were submitted for correction to memorialists, in most cases the changes were graciously accepted. This helps future researchers in their ability to discern the ties among the various Colvins relatives especially among these early internments at  various cemeteries. However, in two odd cases,  that of the so-called “Colvin Family Cemetery” and the so-called “Colvin Cemetery,” at Four Oaks, which contain 17 identify able interments, every edit submitted was summarily rejected. Questioned, the memorialist who goes by the FAG moniker, StoneSeeker, but who’s real name is Susan Taylor,  cited as her reason that my  data “conflicted” with hers.  However, when asked about her data, Taylor admitted she has no records.  Yes, you heard that correctly. The records, I used to base my edit submission were the scans of original records from the E.E. Barton Papers or from scans of primary sources such as census, military, or early Pendleton County birth, death,  and marriage registries. Equally  troubling was the fact that Taylor, who created the FAG “Colvin Family Cemetery,” omitted the GPS coordinates which one normally finds in cemetery location descriptions, nor was she inclined to make that correction.  No genealogical effort is served when verifiable data is not available where it should be; it is especially hamstrung when verifiable data is offerd and rejected for no arguable reason.   Especially worrisome, however, is that such of lack of concern for location citation ignores the fact that without such details,  comparative geographic analysis becomes pointlessly hamstrung. Thus answering questions such as: How close or distant is  this cemetery from say, the Colvin Cemetery at Four Oaks — whose GPS coordinates are known ?  This bears on the question of where these internment sites were located in relation to one another on original Colvin lands in the vicinity.  Just as significant,  such lack of geographic information, means those patriots buried at the “Colvin Family Cemetery”,  such as Henry “Harry” Colvin, (see tombstone image,) who’s service during the  Revolutionary War service are already documented,  risk being overlooked by living descendants or others since they may not know where to look.

I mention this rejection as worrisome because it goes against what has traditionally been a cooperative and collaborative effort among genealogic researchers in the nearly two decades I have been compiling data on this family. In fact, that spirit of collaboration has been one of the great hallmarks among the vast majority of genealogists since its rise in popularity in the 1980s when, like many genealogists, I was first drawn to it.  Thus, it goes against that spirit when verifiable data is rejected for no sound reason. It is particularly worrisome when it is rejected by someone who, when asked, claimed to possess no records of her own despite her claim that my data (which is collected based on sound academic training and skill working in primary source records,) allegedly “conflicted” with hers, an obvious disingenuous claim.

Nevertheless, the tombstone images were easily collected, and their information analyzed and compared with data in the Colvin Study database.  They were each in turn linked to the correct individual, their data updated, and their FAG numbers noted.  This latest data collection effort thus far spans at least 5 generations beginning with Henry Colvin (1762-1839) and is ongoing.  Henry’s parentage is currently unknown.

Posted in Uncategorized

Culpeper Colvin Men in British Colonial War and American War for Independence. A list with sources.

The following is for the benefit of visitors who wonder what I may know about  the Colvin men in Culpeper County, Virginia who served in the American Revolution. Refinement suggestions can be sent to  me at


Sources: Digitized original revolutionary war muster rolls, digitized original payroll, digitized original and transcribed pension record affidavits, digitized original depositions from bounty lands warrant records, index to Culpeper County Revolutionary draft class lists.(Library of Virginia database online)

#1 Benjamin Colvin (1759-1837) Burial: unknown. Records on file: pension deposition dated June, 1832, Boone County, Missouri. Parents unknown. Rank: Private. Service dates: April 1781- January, 1782. Major Battles: Battle of Spencer’s Ordinary; Battle of Green Spring Plantation. which were two major battles in the last phases of the Yorktown campaign, Virginia Dept. of the Southern campaign. Commanding officers: Capts. (1) Elijah Kirtley, (2) Samuel Ferguson. There is some question as to what Companies either of these two Captains commanded and to which Regiment they were attached. Relationship to other  Culpeper Colvin men: unknown.

#2 Charles Colvin ( ~ 1745 -1810), Pendleton County, Ky. Burial: unknown. Records on file: See footnote. Parents unknown. Rank: unknown. Service dates:  Drafted, January, 1781.[1] (Class 11) [2] Regiment unknown. Major Battles: unknown. Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men: unknown.

#3 Daniel Colvin (1737-1790) Culpeper County. Burial: Masonic Cemetery, Culpeper County, Virginia. Records on file: transcribed deposition of Peter Trippett pension application, who names D. Colvin ( May 3, 1834) Service dates: enlisted 14 November 1779 Culpeper County  under Capt. Benjamin Roberts for Mjr. George Slaughter under  Clark’s Expedition. (aka Clark’s Conquest).[3] The secret nature of this expedition explains why neither Daniel nor Mason Colvin’s names  appear in usual official military records such as muster and pay rolls; however the Trippett deposition and other records corroborate  this military claim. Rank: unknown. Major Battles: Clark’s Expedition. Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men: father of Mason Colvin (1764-1834)

#4 Elkin Colvin (? – ~ 1758/1759 in service.) Burial: unknown. Records on file: digitized original deposition of Mason Colvin on behalf of deponent dated October 20, 1811, Culpeper County. Service dates: 1758 (or 1759) “Indian War” – French and Indian War?)[4] under a Capt. [sic] “Blog”. Rank: unknown. Major Battles: unknown. Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men: younger brother of Mason Colvin (# 9)

#5 Henry Colvin b. 17 June 1762, Culpeper Courthouse, d. 31 January 1839, Falmouth, Pendleton County, Ky. Burial: Colvin Family Cemetery, Pendleton, Kentucky. Records on file: digitized orginal pension deposition dated August 10, 1832, Pendleton County, Ky. digitized original deposition of Sarah Dillard Colvin, widow of John Colvin, dated December 14, 1836,  Culpeper County.  Service dates: enlisted ___1779 under Capts. (1) Andrew  Wallace (1st  VA Regiments) (2) John Anderson. (unknown Reg. – possibly 2nd  VA. Reg.) Rank: unknown. Major Battles: Battle of Gilford Court House,  NC, [15 Mar 1781], Battle of Eutaw Springs [8 Sep 1781], Battle of Hobkirk Hill near Camden SC, [25 Apr 1781][5]  Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men: Substitute for brother of John Colvin  (# 8), as identified in Sarah Colvin’s deposition.

#6 James Colvin b. 19 October 1768 d. 1841 Burial: unknown. Records on file: 1 digitized original muster roll. 13th VA Battalion, Ft. Pitt (present day Pittsburg) dated March 7, 1778; 8 digitized original Index Record cards 1777-1779; digitized original query letter dated Feb. 17, 1926 to Dept. of Interior from J.S. Jennings  requesting military records of  J. Colvin, claiming J. Colvin was a son of Daniel Colvin.[6] Service dates: enlistment 20 January 1777 under Capt. James Neal, 13th Virginia. The August-Sept. muster roll noted he was “stationed at Ft. Pitt.” Major Battles: unknown. Listed as “artificer” under Capt. James Sullivan on muster roll. Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men: possible son of Daniel Colvin (#3) and brother of Mason Colvin (1764-1834)[7]

# 7 Jeremiah Colvin b. 1758, Culpeper County d. January, 1778 in service.[8] Burial: unknown. Records on file: 13 digitized original muster and pay rolls, 10th Virginia Regiment; 7 digitized original index record cards (payroll); 9 digitized original index record cards (muster roll);  the digitized original deposition of Mason Colvin, bounty land warrant file, on behalf of J. Colvin Oct. 28, 1811; the digitized original land bounty warrant, assigned to John Colvin, heir-at-law of J. Colvin. Service dates: enlisted under Capt. John Gillison, 1776 and died in service after 1777. by which time he had achieved the rank of Sargent.[9] Rank: Sargent. Major Battles: unknown.  Appears to have died after being at Vally Forge encampment, December 1777.[10] Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men: younger brother of Mason Colvin (# 9)

# 8 John Colvin b. 16 March 1758, Culpeper County d. 29 March 1832, Culpeper County. Burial: unknown. Records on file: digitized original Last Will and Testament, John Colvin, Nov. 20, 1833; digitized original deposition of Sarah Colvin, widow of John Colvin, pension application, Dec. 14, 1836. Service dates: 1st enlistment by draft   22 September 1775 under Capt. John Green, 1st VA. Regiment, to Sept, 1776,; 2nd draft,  under Capt. ____ , Regiment unknown.  August 1, 1777 – March 1778. His 3rd draft under Capt. ____ (after his marriage to. S. Dillard,)  under Capt. ____, Regiment unknown.  May 1, 1779  ~ Oct 1779.  4th draft  was served by his substitute, Henry Colvin. His 5th draft was served by his substitute, Joseph Bowen. Rank: private, may have achieved rank of sergeant when discharged.  Major Battles: Williamsburg (1775). Others unknown.  Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men; brother of Henry Colvin (#5) and Mason Colvin (#9)

#9. Mason Colvin (? – ?)  Burial: unknown. Records on file: digitized original depositions on behalf of Jerimiah Colvin, Elkin Colvin,  and himself, regarding bounty land;  digitized original deposition of Sarah Colvin, widow of John Colvin, pension application, Dec. 14, 1836; digitized original deposition of Mason Colvin, August 16, 1832. Service dates: enlisted Culpeper County, by draft [date] and served 3 months under Capt. Francis Nalle, Virginia Militia, under Cmnd. Christian Charles de Klauman; 2nd draft [date] served 3 months under Capt. John Waugh under Cmnd. Edward Stevens (skirmish at Richmond); 3rd draft [date] served 3 months under Capt. Lewis Yancey under Cmnd. unknown. 4th draft, fall,  1781,  served 3 months under Capt. James Slaughter. Thereafter,  enlisted , under Capt. James Garnett into Col. William Washington’s Regiment of Dragoons. Discharged Nov. 1782 after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. Major Battles: pending.  Relationship to other Culpeper Colvin men: brother of Elkin Colvin (#4),  Henry Colvin (#5), Jerimiah Colvin, (#7),  and John Colvin (#8).


[1] “Culpeper Classes, 1781”, Library of Virginia online database: Index to the listing all the men from Culpeper County’s Revolutionary War militia and the individual drafted from each class or group. This collection lists all the men in each class and the individual drafted from each. In some cases a trade or physical description of the draftee is given. The LOV  database is based on Emily G. Honts, “A List of Classes in Culpeper County for January 1781.”  Daughters of the American Revolution, 1983,   Charles, however, does not appear on muster rolls for any of the companies in Culpeper or Fauquier raised for battle. It  likewise bears mentioning that few colonies ever met the Continental Congress’s imposed regimental quotas – although Virginia did better than many —  and that by 1781, Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown. Researchers trying to understanding these draft lists and their function during the war years will be greatly aided by John V. Atta’s “Conscription in Revolutionary Virginia: the Case of Culpeper County, 1780-1781” in the July 1984 edition of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. The Culpeper lists are particularly valuable in that they have survived almost entirely intact.

[2] See Library of Virginia online catalogue, “Culpeper County Classes, 1781”

[3] See “Virginia Soldiers in the Revolution” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Oct 1913, Vol. 4;11, 337-346.  More properly known as the Illinois Regiment. This regiment was raised under an act of Assembly passed in January, 1778, authorizing a campaign  for the protection of the western frontiers. George Rogers Clark was made  lieutenant colonel of Virginia militia by Governor Patrick Henry, and given secret instructions to raise seven companies of fifty men each for the purpose of attacking the British post of Kaskaskia. The expedition set out in May, 1778, with three companies. After the capture of Kaskaskia,  Clark’s force was increased by the enlistment of a number of the French inhabitants. The regiment was recruited from Virginia in the spring of 1779, when it numbered 350 men. In August, 1780 it was reduced to 130 men. It was disbanded  January 18,

  1. In addition, both Daniel and Mason (spelled Madison) Colvin’s names turns up on the list of soldier entries from  The Library of Virginia’s microfilmed collection of  Roger Clark’s papers in 1782. See:

[4] verification via military records pending.

[5] Verification via military records pending

[6]This relationship has not yet been verified independently.

[7] This Mason Colvin should not be confused with the Mason Colvin (#9), the brother of John, Elkin,  and Henry Colvin.

[8] Jerimiah’s last appearance is on the company payroll, Nov. 1777 under Capt. John  Gillison at Vally Forge winter encampment.

[9] Additional data pending.

[10] See Vally Forge Legacy, Muster Roll project at:

Posted in Uncategorized

Book Review

The Revolutionaries That History Forgot?

Woody Holton’s Forced Founders

© 2014, Alex Colvin

Dr. James K. Martin, American Revolution

University of Houston

History 4304

Spring, 2014

When it comes to the American Revolution, Americans have a very selective memory. For many, George Washington, is seen not as a young Virginian frontier fighter who helped win the British victory in the French and Indian War, but rather as the hero of the American Revolution, immortalized in glorious images of his winter crossing of the Delaware. The words of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death!” are enshrined in American culture; his brash Virginia Resolves – particularly the three rejected ones – less so. Similarly, most Americas probably know that Thomas Jefferson was the author and signer of the Declaration of Independence and who designed his own home, Monticello; few may know, however, that he eschewed publication, despite his polymathic intellect and cannon of written works.[1]  And while Americans likely know that Washington, Henry, and Jefferson were all Virginians, their ties to the land and to the competitive and risky colonial land speculation trade are less well known.  That real-estate dimension of their collective image gets eclipsed in our patriotic fervor and our collective gallant notion of the American Revolution which we prefer to envisage as a  tiny, ragtag army of  upstarts taking on and winning victoriously against the world’s eighteenth-century superpower known as Britton.

But what if we’ve managed to skip a few critical episodes in our analysis of the American road to Independence in Virginia? What if we’ve omitted some underlying motives or ignored major chords in the music of our memory? Have we overlooked a deeper understanding of the why question in our quest to understand the who and the what questions about  the Virginian participants in their service to liberty?  Addressing that omission, this collective gap in our memory, is the essential thesis to Forced Founders.[2]  Author, Woody Holton, wants us to reimagine a different why – something other than taxes and billeting troops or the standard bedrock causes of the American colonial rebellion against its mother country. Those new motives have to do with land. And among those participants — those from Virginia who were among the largest stakeholders in the massive land grab prior to the French and Indian war — Holton claims, were Washington, Jefferson, and Henry.[3]

Yet, despite what at first blush in his opening chapter appears a promising insight into an old intrigue, Holton serves up instead what is best described as conjecture based on heavily footnoted scholarship.

Holton makes clear in his opening volley that those landed gentry, (such as Washington,)  who had gotten involved with land speculation in the 1760s in the Ohio River Vally had much to lose once the Proclamation Line of 1763 was enacted  which nullified and voided any previous patents or land claims held by speculators. Many students of the Revolution know, for example, that the British drew the Proclamation Line following their expansionist conquest in North American as a kind of redline which American colonists were not expected to cross, and for their obedience, the English send several thousand  troops allegedly to “protect” them from Indian raids. Americans were expected to pay for those Regulars with duty impositions against which they loudly protested.

.           What they may not know,  however, was that, hoping to remove part of this geographic impediment, in 1768, The Hard Labor Treaty was signed between Cherokee leaders and John Stuart – a British agent —  which essentially extended Virginia to the Ohio River and included what would become West Virginia – a geographic boundary that went far beyond the legal limit. Patrick Henry quickly became interested in this new area with a purchase of some 3,300 acres. (Holton, 9) [4]  Within a month, the Iroquois relinquished an almost identical tract to William Johnson at New York’s Ft. Stanwix in what became known as the Ft. Stanwix Treaty.  Yet despite the apparent conflict land speculators were sure Britton would honor any treaty involving their war allies, the Iroquois.  Many land speculators followed suit, sparking a land rush which, by 1769, caused the Virginia Executive Council (the upper house of the Virginia Assembly) to void all of the patents thus far obtained to put an end to a land rush in an area which was legally off-limits. Lobbying and petitions to Parliament ensued. So did inter-tribal conflict because those tribes selling land weren’t exactly authorized to do so. (Holton 14). Ultimately the whole affair came to nothing. As Holton notes:

Because of the British government’s denial of Virginia’s bid for Kentucky, its refusal to revoke the Proclamation of 1763, and the Indian coalition-building that had helped to bring about these imperial policies, the total yield of Virginia land rush set off by the Fort Stanwix treaty had been was a pile of rejected land petitions and worthless surveys. (Holton, 28). 

Unfortunately, Holton never convincingly ties these failed land ventures to what he argues was a resentment so deep against the British, the colonists went to war.  In the next chapter, Holton introduces a new set of Virginias – debtors and slaves, the non-elites, who likewise have reasons to hate the British.

Holton summarized that chapter nicely: “The struggle between Virginia Tobacco growers and British merchants helped to spark the American Revolution”  (Holton, 43).  For evidence, he cites the deaths – two suicides and a murder — of three members of the emerging grower-gentry whose deaths he ties to their crushing debt, itself a consequence of their financial links to a failed  speculative venture, the New River lead mine to have been located west of  the Proclamation Line of 1763. Unfortunately, the connective tissue of evidence needed to show how debtors who did not resort to suicide but who were somehow part of the “forced founders,” and who participated in the mounting rebellion is missing. Instead, Holton spends the rest of the chapter illustrating how Virginians felt “enslaved” to the Navigation Acts which forced them to import only British goods and export only to British ports. However, that frustration was shared by every American colonist, and the suicides resulting from debt could well have been a way to escape the dismal prospect of debtor’s prison.

Although neo-progressive interpretations of the Revolution often provide welcomed and overlooked focus of unsung contributions to Revolutionary activities by individuals or small groups, Holton does not appear content with so narrow a task; he wants instead to add an entire new layer of understanding to what motivated Virginians – a herculean task by any measure. Yet  he attempts to do so within the confines of  fewer than 300 pages and in many cases without convincing evidence.  In his approach,  Holton appears to be  continuing the work of Rhys Isaac’s provocative, “The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790”  (University of North Carolina Press, 1999.) in that  his focus is somewhat microsiciological, re-aligning the broad lens of  Virginia Revolutionary history onto matters of less contributory significance as though they shared equal weight. Thus, in the same Issacian approach, he is using “top-down sources (to support claims about) bottom-up history” (Holton, xxi).  Holton’s  reviewers, therefore,  have been no kinder to his approach than they had been to Isaac before him.[5]

The most glaring weakness of  “Forced Founders”, however,  is stylistic rather that evidentiary; the language is both dense, and  the evidence used to support it a thick collection of  footnotes which are frequently longer than the text,  leaving the reader bleary-eyed by the first chapter’s end on page thirty-eight.

Much of that chapter deals with land speculator’s claims and counter claims as it concerned Kentucky and disputed Indian lands, highlighting royal treaties, grants,  Virginia Assembly legislation, as well as  the intricacies of  Anglo-Indian deals and counter-deals, not to mention inter- and intra-tribal friction, all to illustrate how in the colonial period, land speculators, the Virginia gentry, the King’s Privy council,  the Virginia Assembly,  as well as the Indian allies of each sphere often worked at cross purposes.  This insistence upon detailed footnoting and language density, however, reduces what could be a fascinating analysis into a clinical monograph of ad nauseum detail.

Nevertheless, “Forced Founders” offers the reader an excellent magnifying glass by which to examine in more detail the complexities of Revolutionary Virginia’s backstory, and provides us with a finer-grained view of the mechanics involved amongst those who had every right to feel betrayed by the British Empire and its imposition of the Proclamation Line of 1763.      Moreover, while Holton’s overall thesis has not impressed scholars, his concise and detailed collection of revelations about how the frustrations of rebelling Virginians played out enroute to war, makes “Forced Founders” a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf of any student of Virginiana.

[1] Kevin Hayes, “The Road to Monticello” (Oxford University Press, New York, 2008)

[2] Woody Holton, “Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia, (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1999.)

[3] George Washington’s dealings  in the Mississippi Land Company and his interest in the 2.5 million-acre land grant in the Ohio River Vally from the Crown are well known. See:  “Mississippi Land Company” in  Digital Encyclopedia, George Washington’s Mount Vernon website Thomas Jefferson, contrary to Holton’s view, never dabbled in speculation beyond the Appalachians although he’s received offers to do so. See Thomas Jefferson and the Northwest, in Richard J. Bean, “The Founders and the Pursuit of Land,” Lehrman Institute Historical Essays

[4] In 1774, Patrick Henry began a land speculation agreement with William Byrd, but later backed out of the arrangement because of his standing in the House of Burgesses and did not wish to sully his reputation; moreover, he felt at some point, were he to become a jurist in a land dispute case, he would have to recuse himself due to conflict of interest. See: Deposition of Patrick Henry, June 4, 1777, in “Collins’ Historical Sketches of Kentucky: History of Kentucky, Volume 2” ( Collins and Company, Covington, 1882.) 496 It is curious, given this deposition, and Henry’s standing as a Virginia assemblyman  since 1765, that Holton nevertheless attributes to Henry an implied resentment against the British related to his land holdings.

[5] A. G. Roeber, “The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790 by Rhys Isaac” (review) The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, (Vol. 106, No. 4 Oct., 1982) 569-571.

Posted in Uncategorized

Virginia joins the Revolution: a re-consideration

Since this post has pretty much nothing to do with Colvins, you have my permission to turn away. However, if you’re interested….

I’m working on a lengthy Capstone paper (think Graduate course lite) which re-examines Virginia’s entrance into the Revolution.  Here’s my thesis:

Virginia’s entrance into the Revolution has often been miscast as a result of disparate events such as a reaction by embittered investors in land schemes, and Dunmore’s War. True, settlers’ push for land beyond the Proclamation line of 1763 and the Indian reprisals it fomented played significant roles which helped ignite Dunmore’s War. Yet, unto themselves – or even combined – these events do not fully explain Virginia’s joining the independence movement. There were additional compelling factors such as the drive for religion liberty and the weakness of the imperial state. These additional factors, however, are often overlooked but which served as part of a confluence of events which ultimately drove Virginia toward colonial independence from Brittan which newer studies have begun to explore.

This essay proposes to both re-consider the miscast roles played by some events and to include those which were also part of a larger, complex web of events leading Virginia inexorably into the Revolution. By demonstrating that it was several factors – not just one or two –which drew Virginia into the independence movement, a clearer understanding of the road to revolution by one of British North America’s oldest and largest colonies will become more apparent.

This is what you get to deal with as a senior at a Tier One University and sign up for a Capstone course with one of the nation’s top scholars in American Revolutionary military history, Dr. James Kirby Martin.  You get to write lengthy papers. Really lengthy papers. And do research in primary sources which just may completely up-end what you thought you knew.  Would I have it any other way? No. Ah, the joys of being a budding Historian. Who knew thinking could be so thrilling?

Posted in Uncategorized

Summer wrap-up 2014: The Colvin ethnicity and some file housekeeping chores.

With summer quickly coming to a close, and my return to academics on the horizon, now is a good time to mention some of what this summer’s research has yielded. Firstly, there’s the 5,000-word essay on the Colvin Piedmont ethnicity which took me into two research areas I normally don’t indulge in — namely, etymology, and linguistics. But it seemed appropriate and perhaps somewhat overdue — particularly linguistics which, in the Piedmont Colvin case is, for me, especially compelling evidence of their ethnicity. I have long suspected the Colvin ethnicity was of an English origin; the essay, however,  forced me to research the topic more rigorously as a way to articulate my position. Of course anyone is welcome to challenge my findings. All I ask is that you not use excessive ear-hair as your rational for thinking the Colvins of this study are of a Scottish origin.

Sadly, little new data is known on the Colvin progenitor of the Piedmont line, but perhaps another summer may yield him.

A close relative recently gifted The Colvin Study with never-before seen images of my own father as a teenager, donning swimming trunks, as well as images of his mother with her companion, Timothy Miller, in what appears to be her Washington, D.C. apartment.

I have spent much time this summer at the website, said visits yielding quite a few heretofore unknown Colvin burial locations and headstone images. Some of which  were incorrect. For example, for the  memorial (# 58802659) for John Calhoun Colvin (1845-1921) the poster — a FAG contributor who goes by the name of Audrey (ID # 46877347) had a digitized obit of John, but no other information, and so for reasons unclear, placed his memorial in the Catlet Methodist Church Cemetery in Fauquier County although the most recent cemetery survey of his original interment at Hazelwood, John’s ancestral home in Nokesville, Prince William County — shows that, in 2001, the family enclosure and tombstones were still on the grounds in situ! More curious, Audrey linked John to his son, George McCoy Colvin (1877-1955) and his wife Dora Rebecca Ruffner (1877-1967)  — as his parents!  And then linked George’s children as John’s siblings! I provided a few edits and also sent Audrey an email asking that she transfer the memorial to me, explaining that FAG had no cemetery listing in its database for the private cemetery at Hazelwood. I hope she is as generous with this request as she has been with the many hours she’s spent building FAG memorials.

But this appears to be an extreme case, thus, as a way to reciprocate the other more fruitful finds and to help support this valuable resource, I have begun creating original Colvin memorials as well as adding to extant memorials already at the website. In doing so, however, I quickly noticed that none of my database death-related entries showed a memorial number, which I set about to correct only to discover this is an awfully big chore when you consider that only about 16% of the nearly 3,000 individuals in the database  have had their burial locations identified. Thus, as time allows, I will be going through the entire database in order to not only included these FAG memorial numbers with the headstone images on file, but to also attempt to ferret out those burial locations where FAG memorials are non-existent of which, apparently, there are quite a few.  Ultimately,  not only will all known burials in the  database  be accounted for but each will have a FAG memorial and corresponding number.  So I’ve added to my never-ending list of genealogy projects.  Good for me.

Update 8/27. Audry has kindly transferred the J.C. Colvin FAG memorial to me and I have renamed it as “Unknown” and removed all the data and annotated the memorial with a comment regarding J.C. Colvin’s actual known burial location in Price William County.  I have also requested its deletion from FAG.

On a lighter note, I’ve upgraded the Colvin Study Blog banner to reflect seasonal changes and plan to use it to help ring in seasonal changes or any other special occasion.

The family featured are the heirs of Hiram “Jack” Jackson Colvin (1840-1904) who is believed to be a great-grandson of Charles Colvin, Sr., (~1745-1810) though his heir, Charles B. Colvin, who in some documents is likely the same individual being referred to as Charles Colvin, Jr.

The actual image from which the blog banner is taken features two rows of individuals – all of them H.J. Colvin’s heirs. However, the edited banner image uses only the back row of  subjects. They are:

L to R: : Rachael Anita Colvin (1863-1935); George J. Colvin (1872-1922); Myrtle Edmonda Colvin (1878-1945); Issac Newton Colvin (1873-1952) and Addie Hahn (wife of Charles Alvin Colvin, in first row not shown)

As usual, I’ve gotten my share of emails from folks who invariably inspire met to go on a fresh sleuthing trip to discover the particulars about this or that Colvin who may or may not be related, but who, more often than not, are and  I am always grateful for their correspondences which help to motivate me and expand the knowledge base. These excursions always serve to reminds me how much The Colvin Study matters. To date, the database consists of nearly 3,000 individual profiles comprising nearly 1,000 family groups. and nearly 1,700 digitized images of individuals and primary source records. My thanks as always to those who continue to contribute images and data and especially to those for whom this work holds enduring value.

Posted in Uncategorized