John Robert Colvin, Sr. and the Pilsches of Maryland.

John R. Colvin Sr 1880

1880 U.S. Federal Census, Washington, D.C., showing John R. Colvin and his 1st wife, along with their son, as well as John’s mother-in-law, Lucinda Knox.

The lines of descent from James W. Colvin continue to fascinate me. Recently I researched the heirs of his eldest son, John Robert Colvin, Sr., who married into the Pilsch family of Maryland.  Seeing  his original  “mulatto” designation made me wonder how many generations it continued. Turns out, it ended abruptly upon his marriage to Fannie Knox. Yet this sudden change point out how sometimes genealogy is a study in sharp contrasts, sometimes occurring as rapidly as within the same generation. While John Robert’s sister, Catherine “Katy” Bell Colvin married into the Tapscot line and continued a mulatto line for several generations, such was not the case for her brother.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” C. Pilsch was born in Maryland in 1871 to Jacob Pilsch, Sr., and Elizabeth Edmeads. Her parents were of a split heritage; her mother was born in England, having immigrated with her parents aboard the vessel “Independence” in 1847,  and her father, Jacob Pilsch was from a more established line of Pilsches of Maryland. In the 1880s, just prior to marrying John Robert Colvin, Sr., she lived at home in Baltimore where her  father, Jacob, was an established grocer. At that time, her family consisted of her parents and seven siblings – three brothers and  three sisters, among whom she was the third eldest child, and  the first daughter. They resided  at 475 North Gray Street.

Elizabeth married John Robert Colvin, Sr. in 1892, according to the 1900 census. By that time, John had fathered four sons with his previous wife, Fannie Knox, who he is believed to have married between 1870-1879. However, by 1879, following the birth of their last son, Thomas S. Colvin, born in August 1879, in Washington, D.C., Fannie no longer appears in the records and is presumed deceased.

John Robert Colvin, Sr., was born in 1853 on the  Fauquier County, Virginia homestead  and was the eldest son of James W. Colvin. He was the first born of  seven siblings, which consisted of  (like Elizabeth’s siblings,) three brothers and three sisters. Like his other siblings, John Robert Colvin is first found in the 1860 census in the Preston household with his father, and is enumerated as “John Preston’;  he is likewise enumerated as “mulatto.” This racial designation remains in the 1870 census, by which time, however,  his surname has changed to Colvin and his father, James W. is heading the household, His mother is listed as Alethea. An earlier investigation has determined that Alethea Preston, a mulatto, was the mother of all of James W. Colvin’s children. This is the last census where John R Colvin or any of his heirs are racially identified as “mulatto.”

By 1880, John R. Colvin, Sr., was living in Washington D.C. working as a carpenter, heading his own household which consisted of his wife, Fannie Knox, and their first son, as well as his mother-in-law, Lucinda Knox. In this census, John’s racial classification has changed to “white.” Between 1882-1889, Fannie bore another three children. Though exactly when and where she died is yet unknown, it may be she died giving birth to her last son, Thomas S. Colvin born August 1889, in Washington, D.C. What is clear is that by 1892, John had re-married to Elizabeth Pilsch of Maryland, although where they married is yet unclear. Nevertheless, in 1900, they told federal census enumerators they’d been married eight years. John gave his occupation as boat laborer. By now, too John had fathered two addition children, a son and daughter born between 1894-1898. And they’d relocated to 637 8th Street Northeast. By 1910, John and Elizabeth had increased their family with two addition sons and two daughters, born between 1901-1909, bringing them a total of  6 children, and making John the sire of  ten heirs between two wives.

By this time, too, John’s  eldest daughter, Columbia F. Colvin (born January 1892, in Washington, D.C., while her father was still married to Fannie Knox,) had married into the Pilsch clan also. She married Jacob Pilsch, Jr., (born February 17 1880 in Maryland) the brother of her father’s second wife, around 1905, an estimation based on their claim in the 1910 census that they had been married “5” years. In fact, the pair can be found under John Robert Colvin, Sr.’s roof in that Washington D.C. 1910 census, along with their first three children. John Robert Colvin, Sr. gave his occupation as “laborer,” and his son-in-law stated his occupation as “machinist” at an iron works plant.

John Robert Colvin, Sr. is believed to have died in 1929, in Washington, D.C.; his wife Elizabeth outlived him by a few years.  By 1930, according to federal census data, she was living in the home of her 2nd eldest daughter, Mary Dorothy Colvin. She is enumerated as the “mother” of the head of house, and as “Wd” meaning widowed. A 1930 D.C. city directory lists the address as 235 14th Ave. N. E.  Elizabeth is believed deceased by 1936.

Update: 1/31/15 This couple is buried in the Cedar Hill Cemetery, Prince George’s County, Maryland. Their virtual memorials can be found at My thanks to those who created the memorials, and to Fred Sanford for providing grave marker images.


U.S. Federal census, 1850-1870, Fauquier County Virginia

U.S. Federal Census, 1880-1930 Washington, D.C.

U.S. Federal Census , 1870-1880, Baltimore, Maryland


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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.