Excuse me…did anyone check for a deed?


            Very recently, I began to take a second look at the migration of some of the Colvins of Culpeper and Fauquier to Kentucky, where the migration is clear according to tax and land records. Pendleton County was a favored area. What drew my attention was an item at the Pendleton County Historical and Genealogical Society’s website:

screenshot of portion of Bray transcription regarding Charles Colvin home

It was a small section of a larger work. Wonderful! I thought; here we have evidence of Charles staying somewhere permanently for a while (he appears to have moved around a bit because of his overseer duties) but better yet, it accounts for where he was (or  went) after he disappears from the Strafford County rolls and census in 1810! He was at (or went) home – at least for what few years remained. He died less than a decade later in Pendleton. 

Not so fast.  The evidence, when scrutinized, has issues. We’ll get to that in a moment. 

My first step was to contact Ms. Nancy Bray, the poster who’d discovered the work at the Pendleton County Library, then saw fit to faithfully transcribe the whole of  it and offer it up to the PCH&GS for internet posting. During our email exchanges, she sent me scans of the pages from a book published in 2000 by the PCH&GS (by whom she is highly regarded,  for her numerous posts and transcriptions.) 

The scanned pages — 7 in all — from the book, Pioneers of Pendleton County, Kentucky were rather interesting because they outlined a lengthy, multi-generational genealogy of these Kentucky Colvin pioneers, in which Charles was featured rather prominently as being of the 2nd generation.(1)  It also featured that entry regarding Charles and that home built in 1805. The authors of that publication  cited  as their source, “the 1940 writings of Nell Woolery.” Some Old Homes in Pendleton County.  Same source Ms. Bray transcribed. Hmmm. 

Fortunately, I didn’t have to visit the Pendleton County Library; Ms. Woolery’s digitized notes are  available online in PDF form. And even though, when compared to the digitized notes, Bray’s transcription is verbatim, I somehow felt compelled to review the original typewritten source. One gets about two pages in before he encounters: 

The greater part of what we learn of the old homes is purely tradition, stories handed down from one generation to another, there being no public records from which we can ascertain dates houses were built. The homes that I mention are present day homes too and the ones with which we are all too familiar.

That probably held true among Pendletonians in 1940; it apparently (and unfortunately) no longer does. Querying Ms. Bray about the location of this alleged home and lands, I received from her the email equivalent of shrugged shoulders. She did, however, very kindly send me period images of various Colvin family groups gathered at Four Oaks,  the home Charles is alleged to have built at the turn of the 19th century. 

Bray’s lack of geographic reference to such a site was understandable, if disconcerting. It has, after all, been 70 years since anyone has noticed this old home, (or written about it.) Maybe it crumbled long ago, swallowed by weeds and thickets. And in the process, no  one bothered to notice a crumbling century-old house of a type which typically piques the interests of local historical society folks the way, say, old abandoned cemeteries do. Google Maps™ and Google Earth™ are virtually worthless in this sort of hunt; however, after various query-types, they rendered a map of a large suburban areas outside the county seat of Falmouth, called Four Oaks. Thus, until further analysis can be devoted to the subject, it can only be speculated just how much of that suburb was ever part of the original Four Oaks land and, by turns, connected to the Colvin line and Charles himself. Not exactly the stuff every Pendltonian  should care about, but the ultimate results may bear insight into an historic relationship between old Four Oaks, those pioneer Colvins, and the modern-day suburb of the seeming same name and location. 

What’s not so mysterious, however, is how an author purporting to advance historical knowledge regarding a pioneer homestead could claim that, in her day, no public records system existed to verify when said home was built. Perhaps no  record was extant to put a date on the home’s age; but that’s not the same thing as simply offering up a date with no reference to a source.  1805? According to whom? Other references to this same home, — at this same website  — claim it was owned and occupied  by Birkett Colvin, Sr. (and clan) in the early 1800s to wit:

“The small Methodist Society, which was an appointment on the Cynthiana Circuit, first met in the home of Birkett Colvin, Sr., of Mt. Vernon. ” 

In that posting (another Bray transcription; this time,  a 1954 church document,)  the authors loosely referenced the E.E. Barton Papers as one of their several sources. But without any more accurate reference, one could search ad nausim  among the voluminous Barton tomb for said claim. But at least its a start. 

The E.E. Barton Papers, held at the Pendleton County Library (and coveted by many for their contents’ resale value, alas,) are somewhat reliable — depending on what you’re looking at. Other’s have said, Birkett was too young to have himself purchased Four Oaks because,  it was allegedly bought with gold specie — a currency  U.S. banks suspended payment of  after 1821. Ergo, Birkett, being born in 1792,(2). could not have been the purchaser; he was only 13 years old in 1805.  Therefore, one has to look to an earlier or (related) generation of Colvins as the grantees.

Contrary to Woolery’s quaint notion, even in 1940, there were county clerks who faithfully recorded deeds and all manner of legal instruments. They’ve been doing so since 1798 when Pendleton County was formed.               

 Needless to say, my next step was to email the Pendleton County clerk’s office to query about Charles Colvin, grantee ca. 1799. I await their reply as of this writing. 

 This excursion into drilling into source citations (it took me about 2 hours thanks to the wonders of  Wi-Fi and the Internet,) has – as always — highlighted how suspect genealogic data routinely gets passed along as gospel, never being error-check enroute to its next recipient or audience, as in the case of the posted Bray transcription. When Woolery deposited her notes with the Pendleton Library in 1940, it’s likely her audience was very limited. Mostly locals, I suspect. Today her entire collection of notes are on the Internet  – in two versions, no less. In all likelihood, few of the thousands of visitors who read them will care about or notice her dearth of sources. They will more likely just be grateful someone wrote something about these old places. 

 Worst perhaps, is the all-too-common practice by webmasters of genealogical sites to offer up to visitor some catch-all disclaimer to the effect: we can’t guarantee 100% accuracy and some errors may have occurred, etc., etc. It’s a bit of a duck and cover approach allowing an array of submissions to make it past the smell test. The bad news is, occasionally, just occasionally, someone may fact-check a post and render it useless. It happens. 


(1.) Charles is listed as the brother of Mason Colvin who married “Catherine Springfield”  Unfortunately there was no marriage to any Catherine Springfield because  (1) her name was Catherine Stringfellow, and (2) the matrimony that many genealogists unwittingly assign to this couple has never been substantiated by any records or any kind. The fact that Charles is listed as Mason’s brother is also in error; the one brother that has been shown to be the most likely candidate for Charles is a John Colvin via Culpeper deed and probate records of the 1790s. His remaining siblings and parentage remain unclear.
(2). In the 1850 Census for Pendleton County, Birkett Colvin is listed as “57”, born in Virginia.  In their 1887  “Kentucky: a history of the State [short title],” Birkett is identified by authors, William Henry Perrin and J. H. Battle, as having migrated  from Culpeper, was a settler on Pendleton’s Blanket Creek, allegedly served as a Justice of the Peace, and was in the War of 1812.
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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 credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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