Rouse Colvin vs. Rowzee Colvin: A case study in evidence conflict-resolution using merchant’s account records.


Rowzee Colvin in Moncure account books. Source: Virginia Historical Society, Edrington Family papers

Rowzee Colvin in Moncure account books. Source: Virginia Historical Society, Edrington Family papers

Old, hard-to-read, and hard-to-find account book records get a bad rap in genealogy for the reasons just mentioned. Many genealogists prefer to base their findings on the tried-and-true census records, the easier-to-find land records, and the fun-to-search-for probate records.  But what does one do, when these resources do not yield the information needed to separate two confusingly similar people?  Account books may hold the key.

In the early days of the Colvin Study[1], an evidence conflict beset data collection in the form of two frequently occurring names: Rouse Colvin and Rowzee Colvin. While at first it appeared that clerks and enumerators were simply misspelling the name of the same individual, continued review of various sources, especially, census and tax records began to show these individuals were not the same. Part of the demystifying came by discerning a pattern of consistent Christian name spellings among various documents. For example, Rouse Colvin, who was established as being a son of Mary Colvin, never appears in U.S. Federal Census records prior to 1870 by which time he is then age “10”.  Rowzee Colvin, conversely was, at a minimum, 21 years old by 1855 where he is listed in the Stafford County voting list. This meant Rowzee had to be a person entirely different from Rouse. The significance here lay not in the fact that the minimum age requirement to vote in a Virginia election was twenty-one but that, during the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1851, land-ownership as a requisite to voting was abolished. (One of the last states to do so.)

Further, this same Rowzee was a Stafford resident of the Aquia voting district at a time when Mary Colvin — mother of Rouse Colvin — was herself only 10 years old.[2] Clearly then,  Mary was not Rowzee’s mother. In addition, a daughter, “Margaret” was born to Rowzee Colvin and his wife “Sally” in 1855, according to birth records [3] The distinction was becoming clear, yet it was the account records of Edrington & Moncure, Stafford County, Virginia-area merchants and quarry operators[4], which aided in confirming these two Colvin males were not only two separate men,  but helped confirm at least one of their deaths – that of Rowzee Colvin.

Rowzee Colvin, for example, is found as both a customer and part time laborer at the store during the years 1856-57.[5] Data from the ledgers show he received credit several times by the merchant for his labors as one of the “different hands [who] worked during the local Wheat Harvest,” among other odd jobs he performed. He was being paid fifty-cents per day for his various efforts. On 12 August 1856, for example, he received 2 days’ pay for “Stacking wheat” and on 27 August that same year,  he received ten days’ pay — $5.00 — for worked he performed on an Ice House. In April, the next year, he purchased eight  bushels of oats at thirty-five cents per bushel using $2.80 worth of his credit.[6]

It is also this Rowzee whom Jerrilyn Eby, author of They Called Stafford Home, identifies along with Mary Colvin and Alfred Colvin as having accounts with this merchant,[7] leading some Colvin researchers to confuse this Rowzee with the younger Rouse and to link him with the Mary Colvin household, although the two men were quite different.

Rowzee Colvin died later that year on 22 October 1857 by downing.[8] This incident corresponds precisely with the abrupt end on the same day to the same Rowzee Colvin E & M account entries. The county death registry shows he left a consort, “Frances” and that John Edrington, identified as his landlord, reported the death. “Mary Colvin,” (most likely Rowzee’s daughter, “Margaret”) is also listed. Rowzee, the registry shows, was a “farmer,” leasing land from Edrington.

Clearly such account books can yield worthwhile finds when extant and when carefully reviewed. More significantly, however, is how their use, in conjunction with other primary documents can sometimes provide the missing piece to an otherwise nettlesome evidence puzzle.


[2] Mary Colvin household, 1850 U.S. Fedeeral Census, Eastern District, Stafford County, VA. [NED, pp 16, line 19, hh258,] CLCGR, Houston, TX.

[3]Rowzee Colvin entry, 29 Jan. 1855, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Births, 1853-1896, Stafford County, VA. [Reel 45, pp 13, line 155] Ill from VSL to author. [Margaret Colvin, “wfa” (white female) “F” (Father: “Rowzee Colvin” “farmer” “M” (Mother): “Sally Colvin” “rep by” (Represented by) “R.Colvin, father.”]

[4] Myrtle Grove was the Edrington homestead located in the Widewater area of Stafford. Today the area is part of Widewater State Park which the state purchased from energy company, Dominion Resources in 2004. See website http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=20392&folder_id=632 for purchase details and state preservation efforts.

[5] Virginia Historical Society, Edrington Family papers, 1766-1967 (bulk 1830-1897). Mssl Ed745

[6] Ibid.

[7] See also, Alfred Colvin (1819-1870) :Using census records and death registers to resolve evidence conflicts by this researcher.

[8] Rowzee Colvin entry, [–?–] October, Registry of Deaths, Bureau of Vital Statistics, 1853-1870, Stafford County, VA., [Reel 28, line 12]

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About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional publishing credits can be found at the link:
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