Spencer James – Prosperity Meant Land!

#52ancestors:  Week 8     Prosperity

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.

Map, Orange County VA Map 1740

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.

Franklin Co VA road sign 001Two 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.

James, Spencer, map of land 001
According to land records,  Spencer James had his land on Runnett Bag Creek and Smith River which are in red above. Part of his land was in neighboring Patrick County as well as the southwest part of Franklin County. 

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:

James James

Getting to Know Phoebe Byrd James Ashlin

Franklin Co, VA Map 001




6 thoughts on “Spencer James – Prosperity Meant Land!

  1. Good evening!
    I was curious to know if you or anyone else has discovered whether James Spencer James participated in the American Revolution or rendered aid. Your articles on the James Family are quite interesting, as I descend from Spencer James’s daughter Elizabeth Booker James James 1797-1867. Some question her middle name of Booker. It must be true, as her daughter Virginia named her son Alonzo Booker Davis 1875-1968.


    1. Hello William, Thank you for the comment on my blog! To answer your question, I have not found any evidence that James Spencer James participated in any way in the Revolution. I researched information in “A History of Orange County, Virginia” by WW Scott which lists many of the participants from Orange County – Spencer was in Orange county until 1783 when he moved to Henry County. I also checked “Rejected or Suspended Applications for Revolutionary War Pensions” to see if he had applied for a pension and was rejected. If I do come across any information in the future for him for military service or aid, I will keep your comment and let you know! Hope this is helpful but probably not! Take care, Marilyn


      1. Good evening: With your research, perhaps you can help me determine the whereabouts of William & Elizabeth Booker James’s property. Most courthouses are closed, and the LDS Family History Centers are mostly closed too. I have a feeling that they are buried on their land or some James Cemetery. On various censuses they are listed as being near Sugar Grove, Cripple Creek, and even 7 Mile Ford. By the way, if you go to FindAGrave, I have added the actual photograph of William and Elizabeth James to their memorials. An elderly cousin had their enlarged portraits that she wanted to give me, but someone near Radford either stole them or threw them away.
        Thanks for answering my query!


  2. Spencer James and James James (also called Jimmy) are two different people. They are brothers and both are sons of Samuel James and wife Mildred. The name “James Spencer James” came from a book by Marshall Wingfield called “Pioneer Families of Franklin County, Virginia.” That name is likely an error on Wingfield’s part. error

    Numerous deeds confirm the fact that James James and Spencer James are brothers. They were both named on multiple deeds, etc. James “Jimmy” James is not to be confused with Spencer’s son, James D. James who moved to Georgia from Franklin county, VA and married a Foster.

    James “Jimmy” James married Ruth/Rutha LNU (widely reported without proof as Fielding). This is because James and Ruth named their second son Fielding James. It is James James and his daughter Mildred who are named in the will of Mildred James’s 1803 will.

    Mildred James had inherited 12 acres of land in Orange county from her son Catlett James who predeceased Mildred. These same 12 acres were sold in 1804 and the funds from the sale were distributed to Mildred James’ living children named as: James James and wife Rutha; Spencer James and wife Frances”; John James and wife Frances; Elizabeth (Betty) Smith and husband William Smith of Surry county, North Carolina; and Mildred Atkins and husband Joseph.

    James James left Franklin county, VA and moved to Warren county, KY and died there February 4, 1826. His children are:
    Samuel James married Martha “Patsy” Sneed in 1791 in Franklin county, VA.
    Mary “Polly” James married Peyton Smith, her first cousin, in 1805 in Franklin county, VA. Peyton Smith is the son of Elizabeth “Betty” James and William Smith.
    Fielding James married Sally Custer in 1813 in Barren county, KY
    Mildred James married John R Karr in 1808 in Warren county, KY.

    Following is documentation that shows James and Spencer are not the same person. This is the same land that Catlett James purchased and Mildred James inherited from her son Catlett James.

    Orange Co. VA Order Book 19, page 162: This Indenture made the 23 day of July one
    Thousand Seven hundred & Eighty seven Between Benoni Hansford & Grace his wife
    of St. Thomas Parish and County of Orange of the one part and Catlett James of said
    County Parish of the Other Part. … for and in consideration of the sum of twenty Four
    Pounds Current money of Virginia … all that Tract or Parcel of Land situate lying and
    being in the sd County of Orange containing twelve acres & seventy seven Poles be
    the same more or less … Beginning at a white Oak in Colo Lewis Willis’s line … to Colo
    George Taylor’s … on the east side the road leading to Orange Courthouse at Corner
    to the said Colo George Taylor & Doctor Charles Taylor …

    Orange Co. VA Deed Book 24, page 109: This Indenture made this 3d day of
    December in the year one thousand eight hundred and four, between James James
    and Rutha his wife, Spencer James and Fanny his wife, John James and Fanny his
    wife of the County of Franklin, also William Smith and Elizabeth his wife of the sate of
    North Carolina in the County of Surry, also Joseph Atkins and Mildred his wife of the
    County of Orange of the one part, and William C. Willis of the County of Orange of the
    other part. … in consideration of the sum of one hundred pounds current money of
    Virginia … sell unto the said William C. Willis and his heirs and assigns forever, all that
    tract or parcel of land lying and being in the County of Orange containing twelve acres
    seventy seven poles be the same more or less …
    Ibid: At a Court held for Orange County at the Courthouse on Monday the twenty third
    day of June 1806. This Indenture was acknowledged by Mildred Atkins a party thereto
    (she being first privily examined as the law directs).

    I have more information if you are interested.

    Dorles Repass


    1. Wow, you are a wealth of information. Excellent documentation! Thanks so much for sharing all of this with me! I intend to go through all of this and add it to my research. I do have one question for you. Do you have surname for Mildred that married Samuel James? I saw some sources that point to her surname as Taliaferro, however, there is some dispute about her being a Taliaferro and possibly daughter of John Taliaferro and Mary Catlett. Let me know if you have anything on Mildred! Thanks again for sharing all your valuable work and research! It is appreciated! Marilyn


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s