Not Their Father: A Response to the Errant Descendants Ascribed to Mason Colvin b. ca. 1684.


In 1923, John Fewell Reynolds, using a local printer in his hometown of Wentworth, North Carolina, published a slim volume of data about, presumably, his ancestors. He had very little luck in finding most of them and he thought he did not do a very good job recording those he did uncover. As he explains in his ‘Introductory”:

Many mistakes and imperfections will be found in its pages. It is far short of the expectations and wishes of the undersigned, inasmuch as it has been impossible to trace our family line back to the date of their landing upon American shores.

An honest appraisal of his work if ever there was one. He likewise lamented not being able to find the Christian name of ____Fewell in his genealogic travails.  Fewell married “Eliza[beth] Colvin” and it turns out, he was Henry Fewell (1735-1777) and who also appears to have served in the American Revolution and who, at least according to some references, married Elizabeth in 1765. [1] Where, exactly, is unknown, but very likely in Culpeper County, Virginia.

He also ascribes to Elizabeth a parentage and some siblings which are, to put it mildly, impossible. This has not prevented some researchers from slavishly copying and using this data in their own family trees, passing it along the genealogy pipeline, despite the fact that none of the forgoing is verified through actual records. That, however, is the least of the problems with Fewell’s claims of which there are two:  time and biology, and as noted, authenticity.

Let’s start with her alleged parents.

In his introduction’s conclusion, Fewell claims a Mason Colvin was Elizabeth’s father who, he writes, “came to America about 1700.”[2]  This is very likely the Mason Colvin born in 1684 in either England or Fauquier County, Virginia, depending on whose research one examines, the said Mason reportedly having married a Lavinia Tool. There has never been a record to substantiate this marriage, nor a will or other document found to show Mason was the father of a daughter, Elizabeth. Nevertheless, many researchers have adopted this connection as settled. In my own brief query, I found no fewer than twenty-five cases in one database alone where Elizabeth was linked to Mason, but nowhere does one find a record offered up as evidence. Both he and Levinia are given birth and death dates: Mason: 1684-1743; Levinia: 1694-1743. In some cases, it is Levinia who is born in England, in others it is Mason. Odd? Yes. And it gets worse. Elizabeth had a few siblings, according to Fewell.

In Fewell’s assessment, Elizabeth had four brothers: Mason, Daniel, Gabriel, and John. But none of them could have been Mason and Lavinia’s heirs which leads to the first reason Fewell’s Colvin family group is wrong: time and biology.

The Mason Colvin named is alleged to have served in the American Revolution, according to Fewell. Actually, there were two such Masons and we know when and where they served thanks to extant records. One is Mason Colvin, born 1764 who served in the Revolution with his father, Daniel Colvin (1740-1790). We know who this Mason Colvin’s father is because of his extant Revolutionary War pension and bounty land records. Among them is an affidavit from a fellow patriot, Peter Trippet, who knew Mason but thought it rather odd a son and father were serving together on a service tour. [3]

It is likewise probably no coincidence that this same duo also signed the now-famous, “Ten Thousand Names” petition asking the Virginia Assembly to put an end to the harassments being suffered by Baptists at the hands of Anglicans at a time when the Anglican church (The Church of England) was the state church of Virginia.[4] Attendance was mandatory and fines and other punitive measures were taken against “dissidents” which included Danial Colvin, his family, and thousands of other Virginia Baptists. It was the largest such civil petition ever sent to the Virginia governing body at the time. The father of the other Mason Colvin, born 1761, in Culpeper County, Virginia is unknown, but his military experience is not so mysterious. Neither is his marriage to Elizabeth Hawkins in 1788, nor are any of his twelve heirs born between 1793 and 1811 which includes eight sons and four daughters. [5] But there is a simple reason, the Mason Colvin named as his father by Fewell could not have been his sire: biology. The only Mason Colvin in the region born in 1684 also died in 1743 – nearly two decades before Mason Colvin b. 1761 was born. And that is only if one takes as granted the data from researchers who provide no documents to support the vital statistics claims about either Mason or Levinia. Still, even if neither Mason nor Levinia died in 1743,  is it really reasonable to expect a man born in 1684 to be conceiving sons at age seventy-seven? Or for a woman, Levinia, who would have been sixty years old if born in 1692 to be giving birth?  Biology says absolutely not.

This is the same reason which explains why Gabriel Colvin, born 1763 in Culpeper County, could not have been sired by Fewell’s Mason Colvin. His father, according to extant records, was also Daniel Colvin. Elizabeth’s remaining alleged brother, John, was actually John Colvin, born 1758 according to extend records which include a letter from his son, Robert, giving his father and mother’s information. We also have his extent revolutionary war records because his widow, Sarah [Dillard] Colvin (1762-1841), was interviewed in 1836 by a Culpeper County court clerk, as part of the pension application process.[6]

All of the five children attached to Fewell’s Mason Colvin were born when he was in his seventies and reportedly dead nearly twenty years, as was his alleged wife. In short, who the heirs of Mason Colvin, born 1684, are is unknown, just as who the parents of Daniel Colvin, John Colvin and Elizabeth are unknown.  What is likewise unknown is why Fewell ascribed to someone an entire family group for which there is no documented evidence, or why he failed to offer even a semblance of a reasonable deductive argument to defend his claims.  I suspect it was because he knew he was in error. It remains to be seen whether researchers will make corrections to this ill-conceived Colvin family group linkage, but I somehow suspect that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

NOTES:


[1] The date and marriage are based on Ancestry.com’s database “U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900” which lacks digitized images of marriage records. The database is a collection of family group sheets and other un-sourced records from genealogy hobbyists with no links to any primary records. It is not considered a trustworthy source in this researcher’s opinion.

[2] John Fewell Reynolds, “Genealogical sketches of Reynolds, Fewells, Walls and kindred families,” Press of the Commercial Printers, 1992, p 28.

[3] Digitized original, Peter Trippet affidavit, 1834, Culpeper County, Virginia, Daniel Colvin Bounty Land Warrant file, Library of Virginia Bounty Land Warrant database online.

[4] Danial and Mason Colvin signatures, digitized original, “Ten Thousand Name” petition, 1776, p. 93, Library of Congress, American Memories website.

[5] Mason Colvin, probate document naming all heirs, digitized transcript, Rappahannock County Minute Book “G” March 9, 1857, Ancestry.com

[6] Sarah [Dillard] Colvin Widow Pension Application transcription, December 14, 1836, Culpeper County, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters website.

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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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