In my research of ancestors in the 1700s and 1800s, it seems prosperity meant owning land – and the more land, the better! Land for production of wealth and providing a living was of immense importance. Everything we use and our ancestors used can be ultimately traced to land. Land, for many of my ancestors, could be called the original source of material wealth. They may have forgotten to register the births of some of their children but always recorded their land transactions! Some ancestors were able to amass large tracts of land and some didn’t. This week, I am particularly thinking about my fifth great-grandparents, Spencer James and Frances Davis James. They started out with little and bought a land here and there until they accumulated a legacy to pass on to their heirs.
Spencer James was really named “James Spencer James” but used the name “Spencer James” in most records. He was born about 1750 in Orange County, Virginia and lived in St. Thomas Parish. He was the son of Samuel James and Mildred Taliaferro. He married Frances Davis on 22 August 1780 in Orange County. Frances was the daughter of James Davis, an English Immigrant, and Catherine Samuel, the widow of Henry Samuel. James Davis and Catherine married in 1752 and Frances was born about 1753.
Two years after their marriage, Spencer was listed on the Orange Co. VA tax lists in 1782 where he paid taxes on 7 horses, and 4 cattle. The next year, they moved to Henry County, Virginia and paid taxes on one horse and two slaves in 1783. That part of Henry County later became Franklin County. Now this didn’t seem like they had much to start off with but on 3 October 1796, Spencer received a grant of 120 acres on Runnett Bag Creek and Smith River in Franklin County. The Creek and Smith River are outlined on the map below.
Then in December of 1797, he bought 200 more acres on Smith River for just 100 pounds and 20 more acres on Nicholas Creek. This was just the beginning of his land deals as he bought another 300 acres in 1809 from a future son-in-law, Waddy Thompson.
He sold 100 acres and 30 acres on Nicholas creek at a profit in 1801 and 1803 and continued buying more land. By 1811, Spencer and Frances had amassed more than 1400 acres! They had created a prosperous legacy to leave for their children. They had eight known children with the last child being born in about 1799. One son, Catlett James served in the Revolutionary War in the 1st and 10th Virginia Regiments. The daughter, Mildred James, married Jerman Baker who was later a member of the Virginia Legislature in 1813. Another daughter, Frances Baker James, married Ezekiel James and they were my fifth great-grandparents. A younger daughter, Phoebe Byrd James who I wrote about before, married Chesley Ashlin and they were my fourth great-grandparents! The youngest daughter, Elizabeth Booker James married William James who was known for making some of the best corn liquor in Smyth County!
Frances Davis James died in 1814 at about age61 or 62 but Spencer lived until age 84 and died 22 February 1834 in Franklin County, Virginia. Their burial places are unknown. You can find stories of their children that I have written on the following links:
In the couple of years I have been researching family history, I have made so very many discoveries! I have found a “new world” of ancestors out there just waiting to be recognized! The whole process of researching can be undaunting but also exciting. But my very favorite discovery came as a great surprise to me.
Last year, my daughter and I were attending a genealogical conference and taking advantage of the wonderful sessions given by professional genealogists. We learned new ways to search and find information on our ancestors. The Mayflower Society of Wisconsin had volunteers that would help with any of your research so we signed up for a slot to ask some advice. As I was going through my lineage that I had found so far, the volunteer realized that my lineage was going to end up at Stephen Hopkins – a Mayflower Pilgrim Ancestor. Seriously? I was floored! I could hardly believe that I was a descendant of someone who came on the Mayflower in 1620!
Then came about four months of intense research for records on all my direct descendants to prove my connection to Stephen Hopkins. That’s 15 generations of records! It was a ton of work but it paid off as I am finally admitted to the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Wisconsin! The whole process of discovery was pretty exciting! As an added bonus, the Mayflower volunteer who first helped me determine my correct lineage turned out to be a cousin! He was also descended from Stephen Hopkins! So I gained a new cousin and dear friend!
In my lineage are some of the people who I have been researching and have written blogs about without realizing where their lineage would take me! Of course, the line starts with my father and his father, Clarence Lyons. The continuing line includes Susannah Ashlin, my great grandmother and her mother, Mary Ann James. My recent blogs are about the James family including Mary Ann. Her mother, Susannah J Porter and her grandmother, Mary Polly Thomas are next. Freelove Cole, mother of Mary Polly Thomas and her mother, Remember Cole completes the lineage that I am familiar with and have written about. The surprising thing about this lineage thus far is that all of them are females in a maternal line starting with Susannah Ashlin!
My future research will include the Cole, Paine, Snow and Hopkins families, the rest of the Mayflower lineage. However, I still continue to research the other line as one never knows where it will take you!
The prompt for week 6 was “Same Name” and, at first, I was thinking of the Cole family in which there were three Hugh Cole’s as direct ancestors but they need more research. Then I thought of Thomas Thomas my fifth great-grandfather – yes, that was his real name but I have already written about him. While I was researching Phoebe James and her family last week, I came upon her brother named James D James, my fourth great-uncle. Wow, they actually gave him a first name to match his surname!
Now if I met James James and asked him his first name, he would say “James.” Then I would have asked his surname and he would say “James.” I would probably say, “Seriously, you are James James?” How confusing that would have been! No wonder most of his records have his middle initial of D. However, he did have an interesting story!
James D. James was born in 1789 in Franklin County, Virginia, the fifth child of Spencer James and Frances Davis. Another source states he was born in Jamestown which was James City County at the time, but I found no record of Spencer James ever living in Jamestown. Amazingly, I found out that his father, Spencer James’ name was really James Spencer James- another James James! Luckily, James Spencer James mostly dispensed with the first name and most of his records are under just “Spencer James.” Why he decided to name one of his sons “James James” is not for us to know!
One 13 March 1817, James D. James married Mary Foster who was born about 1799 in Jamestown, Virginia. Mary was half Cherokee Indian. They settled on a farm in Patrick County, VA and raised ten children. They were a busy couple! The first child was Foster James, born around 1818 and the second child was Spencer T. James, born c1820. After them followed four girls and four more boys with the last child born about 1843. One of the sons, unnamed, died young. The two oldest sons married and had families by 1844 and one lived in Patrick Co. VA and one in Franklin Co. VA.
The year 1844 was a turning point for the whole family. James, Mary, the two married sons and their families, and all the rest of the children packed up everything along with the two family dogs and left Virginia! They traveled by covered wagons and one of the wagons carried a complete blacksmith ship – very handy for farmers! Where were they headed? Heard County, Georgia! Perhaps they heard of better opportunities there or had a land grant but we don’t know the real reason for the drastic move of about 500 miles in covered wagons!
The family first settled in Ridgeway Community, then nearer to Texas Community near Cedar and Town Creeks. The Creek Indians were in this area. During the building of their log houses and getting settled, the dogs disappeared. It was thought the Indians had killed them. Two years later, a relative named Daniel Arrington came from Franklin County, VA with the two dogs! The dogs had made the long trip back to Virginia by themselves! I have heard of dogs traveling back to old homes so there could be some truth in this story!
Here’s some more family stories but they can’t be verified. One day, the James’s found two sacks of seed corn hanging in a tree and another time they found a wild, dressed turkey in a bag hanging in a tree. They took it as a sign that they were accepted by the local Indians. During the wagon trip to Georgia, daughters Amanda and Lucinda rode “shotgun” on horseback. Lucinda broke a tree limb to use as a riding whip and when she got to Georgia, she stuck it in the ground. It rooted and grew to be an apple tree! The family settled and lived their lives in Georgia.
James D James died January 1870 in Heard County, Georgia. I found a record of his death in the mortality schedule for Heard County, Georgia. (see below) He died of old age according to his entry which is the third line down. He was 81 years old. His wife, Mary Foster James also lived to about 81, dying 10 years later in 1880. They are buried in unmarked graves in Almon Cemetery in Heard County, Georgia.
Trimble, David B (David Buchanan), 1922 (Main Author); Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia; Austin Texas: D.B. Trimble, c1992; Pages: 10, 16.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Federal Mortality Census Schedules, 1850-1880, and Related Indexes, 1850-1880; Archive Collection: T655; Archive Roll Number: 9; Census Year: 1870; Census Place: Heard, Georga; Page: 160A.
Most of our ancestors lived in Virginia and North Carolina and when I think of it, they were so far away from where we live – So far away in distance and in time. The only way to get to know them is through research. I need to look at when and where they lived, their parents, siblings and children, their occupations, their neighbors, and anything else I can find. I want to envision them as individuals and not just a name on a pedigree chart. Last week I wrote about Mary Ann James, my second great-grandmother, who had married Columbus Perry Ashlin. Columbus was the son of Chesley Harrison Ashlin and Phoebe Byrd James. Yes, both Mary Ann and Columbus were of James lineages! ( I will add the links to what I have written about these families below.)
Phoebe Byrd James, my third great-grandmother, had a very interesting name and so far I have not been able to find anyone she may have been named after. Phoebe was born 17 July 1797 in either Henry County or Franklin County, Virginia and was the daughter of James Spencer James and Frances Davis. Her birth was most likely in Franklin County as her father, Spencer James, recorded a land grant there in 1796 and purchased more land in that county in 1797 and in 1799. Of the eight known children on Spencer James and Frances Davis, Phoebe was the seventh child.
On 30 December 1822, she married Chesley Ashlin. At the time of marriage, Phoebe was 25 years old and Chesley was 29 as he was born in 1796. The average age at that time for woman to marry was 20-21 and for a man was 26, so they were a bit older than the average to marry. The 1840 Census for Smyth County, Virginia only lists the head of house and numbers of free white person and number of slaves. Chesley and Phoebe’s household in 1840 consisted of nine whites (2 parents and 7 children) and nine slaves and employed an additional 5 persons in agriculture. Comparing all their census information to their neighbors, Chesley and Phoebe were fairly well off.
In 1850, Chesley’s real estate was valued at $5000 which would be about $165,000 today – very comfortable! Of course, all that changed after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the many slaves Chesley owned. His personal estate dropped from about $400,000 in 1960 before the War to about $9,000 by 1870. The War was certainly devastating and life changing for the Ashlin family! By this time, Phoebe and Chesley were in their early 70s and may have looked back to see how very much their lives had changed in the last ten years.
Of course, it would be wonderful to have a picture of any ancestor but most of the time, there are no photos. I have not found any pictures of Phoebe but I did happen upon a picture of her sister, Elizabeth Booker James who married a William James, her second cousin. Now sisters don’t always look alike, of course, but a picture of a sibling is interesting, nonetheless!
During the better years, Chesley and Phoebe Byrd raised their family of seven children. Their first child, Frances Elizabeth Ashlin, named after Phoebe’s mother, was born 23 Oct 1823 when they lived in Franklin County, Virginia. Frances married Andrew Adam Kincannon in 1841 when she was just 17 years old. Her husband served in the Civil War and they had a farm in Smyth County, Virginia before moving to Atchison County, Missouri in about 1875. Andrew died in 1901 and Frances died in 1912 of pneumonia. They are buried in the English Grove Cemetery in Clarke, Missouri.
The second child was Lucy Ann Ashlin, born about 1826 in Smyth County, and according to one source, was a superb horsewoman and very beautiful. She was named after Chesley’s mother, Lucy Baker. In 1847, Lucy married John Hill Groseclose, and they lived on a fine plantation on Cripple Creek, Wythe County, VA. However, John was a womanizer and drinker. Lucy died in 1860 at about 34 years old of tuberculosis but family legend says she died of a broken heart due to John’ drinking!
James Hartwell Ashlin, third child of Phoebe and Chesley, was born in 1828 and married Elizabeth Dutton in 1851. James fought in the Civil War in the 48th Regiment of the Virginia Infantry, Company D and was in many battles. How Phoebe must have worried about him and his brother German Baker who also fought in the War! After the war, James died of “pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis)” at just 42 years old in 1870. My great-grandfather, Columbus Perry Ashlin was the next born in 1830 and I will add a link to his story below.
Daughter Catherine Mildred Ashlin, called “Kate,” came along in 1834 and married Robert Crow Williams in 1867. They lived in the Sugar Grove, Smyth County area and Robert served in the Civil War and lived until 1907, dying of old age. In 1916, Catherine applied for a widow’s pension which revealed that she had an income of only $95 a year and owned no property. She passed away in 1924.
Virginia Clementine Ashlin was born in 1836 and married John P Myers in 1875. It seems Virginia had a hard life as she was sickly and on the 1880 Census, she was just 42 and listed as “maimed, crippled or bedridden” with dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is a condition of the stomach that may include gall bladder trouble. John Myers died at 42 or 43 in 1884 and Virginia died in 1890 at age 54. The last child of Phoebe and Chesley was German Baker Ashlin, who I have already written about and will put a link to his post below. He had an interesting story!
Phoebe and Chesley had a lot of struggles in their life together for sure. They had to contend with losing their standard of living after the war. They had to worry about the safety of their sons in the war along with worrying about their other children- one who moved to Missouri and one who was sickly. They also endured the early death and burial of their daughter Lucy and their son James Hartwell Ashlin both dying of tuberculosis after a prolonged illness. Chesley Ashlin died on 10 June 1876 in Sugar Grove, Smyth VA and Phoebe passed away the next year on 24 April 1877. They were buried side by side in the Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery on Chesley’s farm in Sugar Grove.
Trimble, David B. (David Buchanan), 1922 (Main Author); Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia. Austin, Texas: D.B. Trimble, c1992; Pages: 10, 16.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Non-population Census Schedules for Virginia, 1850-1880; Archive Collection: T1132; Archive Roll Number: 10; Census Year: 1870; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia.
National Park Service; U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.