Theft in the Graveyard: John James

#52ancestors    Week 21: Tombstone

“It was just a six-foot slab of marble engraved with a few dozen words.   Two hundred years of harsh weather had deteriorated its once polished appearance and centuries of undergrowth and weeds had captured nearby surroundings.  But it was the James family’s only connection to their Revolutionary War-era relative.  And now it’s gone –stolen–swiped from its eternal resting place.”

This is the beginning of a newspaper article written by Cathy Dyson for the Fauquier Democrat on February 16, 1984.  I found this clipping while researching my seventh great-grandfather, Capt. John James — it was his tombstone that was stolen!  I managed to find a picture of the tombstone that was taken before the tragic theft.

James, John, gravestone, 1778, Elk Run, Fauquier VA 001

As eerie as stealing tombstones sounds, I found out that thefts do happen and are surprisingly common.  There is actually a sort of “black market” for them and old stones are like antiquities.  I suppose a Revolutionary War stone of an officer like Capt. John James would be valued pretty high.

So who was this John James?  According to my photo of the stone, he was born “March  the 16, 1709 and departed this life January the 2, 1778 age 68 years.”  The dates correlate perfectly with the information I had already uncovered, verifying for me that this was indeed my ancestor.  John was born in Elk Run, Stafford County, Virginia Colony, and was the son of Thomas James and Elizabeth Mason Barbee (widow of Andrew Barbee).   The grandfather of Capt. John James was also named John James (go figure!), and this John immigrated from Caenarvan, Wales around 1650 and married Elizabeth Underwood.

The title of Captain wasn’t just bestowed on him as he earned his rank in the Fauquier County Militia which fought in the Revolutionary War.  He also served in the French and Indian War.  He is on the DAR list of patriots.  But, of course, there is more than his military service to distinguish him.  Capt. John James was one of the first pioneers of Fauquier County, Virginia, and he owned many, many acres in the Elk Run area.  He was also a vestryman of Hamilton Parish in the County and appointed road surveyor in 1758.

Capt. John married twice with the first marriage in 1727 to Ann Sebastian in St. Paul’s Parish, Stafford County, Virginia Colony.  Ann died before 1738 and John then married Dinah Allen in 1738 in St. Paul’s Parish.  Dinah outlived John and died in 1800.   They do seem to have been wealthy judging by John’s will probated in 1778.  He bequeathed 500 acres of land to each of his four sons and there were still acres of land left for his wife to live on.  When she died, the remainder of the land and estate passed to the seven daughters.  His last will and testament revealed a number of possessions – horses, hogs, calves, wagons, sheep, feather beds and furniture, and 17 slaves.

Capt. John James’ tombstone is still missing as far as I know.  The Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department did investigate the theft but turned up little information in 1984.  The fourth great-grandson of John, Bill James, who is an area resident, made a public appeal for the missing marker.  He stated “I would hope that people would understand the significance of the tombstone and what it means to the James family.  Maybe the tombstone will reappear as mysteriously as it vanished.”  The stone was last seen in July of 1983.

I am thinking that John James’ tombstone is probably now being used as a unique coffee table or an ornamental patio decoration.  What else could you use a gravestone for?  It has such historical value for the James family, it is really sad that it was taken from them.  Another tidbit of information came from the article I read.  Because John James was the eighth great-grandson of Col. John Washington, Mr. Bill James is the first cousin, eight times removed, of George Washington.   Could that mean that I am also related to George Washington?  Hm-m-m, time for more research!


John “the Ranger” Taliaferro: Exemplary Service!

#52ancestors     Week 19: Service

This week’s writing prompt for 52 Ancestors is “Service.”  It made me think of John “the Ranger” Taliaferro as he was an excellent example of service – service in the military and in the community!   I recently have been researching John “the Ranger” Taliaferro and his wife, Sarah Susan Smith, as they are my seventh great-grandparents.  John and Sarah were the parents of John of Snow Creek who I recently posted a blog about.  You can see it here: John Taliaferro of Snow Creek

John ” the Ranger” Taliaferro was born 24 January 1655 in Powhatan, Essex County, Virginia Colony.  John was the son of Robert Taliaferro (1626-1671) and Katherine Grymes Dedman.  When John was about 27 years old in 1682, he married his cousin, Sarah Susan Smith, the daughter of Major Lawrence Smith and Mary Hitchon.   Sarah was born on the first of January 1659 in York, Essex, Virginia Colony.  Sarah was about 22 years old at the time of marriage and together they had eleven known children.

Essex County VA location in VA map 001

The first thing I wanted to find out about John is why he was dubbed “the Ranger.”   I found out that John served as a lieutenant in a company of the York Country Rangers raised to fight off the Native Americans in Essex County in 1692.  After his service, John earned the moniker “the Ranger” which did help to distinguish him from his son, John of Snow Creek!  Ten years earlier in the summer of 1682, he joined with Cadwallder Jones to range the great fork of the Rappahannock River.  They were early explorers of the first heads or springs of the two branches of the river and they also crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains to camp on the banks of the Shenandoah River.   This was a daring and dangerous feat to explore unknown territory at the time!

Essex County VA in 1700s 001

John continued his service to his community by taking the position of Sheriff in Essex County in 1692.  In 1699, John served as a burgess in the House of Burgesses for Essex County, and also served as a justice in Essex County between 1699 and 1700 and again in 1702, along with Francis Taliaferro (his uncle).

Taliaferro, John the ranger, Powhatan house 001
Powhatan House in James City County, Virginia, and former Taliaferro residence.

John and Sarah were large landholders in Essex County and had built a beautiful house on their Powhatan Plantation.  The bricks for the house were made in England.  At the time of their marriage, John’s brother, Francis Taliferro, who was the son and heir of their father Robert Taliaferro, gave 1,000 acres of land to the newlyweds.  As time went on, John was able to amass much more land.  Today Powhatan is in James City County not far from Jamestown and Williamsburg, VA.  It is a historic building.

**NOTE: I have since discovered that Pohattan was built in 1740-1750 by John’s first cousin, Richard Taliaferro, not by John the Ranger.  Richard Taliaferro was a famed architect in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia.  Thanks to several readers who alerted me to this error! (8 Oct 2021)

The will of John Taliaferro, Gentleman, of the Parish of St. Mary’s in Essex County was dated June 1, 1715, and John died on June 21, 1720.  His wife, Sarah, died around the same year.  All of their eleven children were named in his will.  One would think that by naming his children in the will, it would be easy to trace and research each of them.  However, that is not the case!  His brother, Francis, who married Elizabeth Catlett, also had a large family at the time and it seems that quite a few of his children had the same names as some of John and Sarah’s children.  Some of the duplicate names of John and Francis’ children that I found include Richard, Zachariah, John, Elizabeth, Robert, and William.  Since all the cousins were contemporaries, I must check all facts carefully to determine which family each belongs to!  It makes research on the Taliaferro families a bit more tedious, to say the least!


  • The National Cyclopedia of American Biography:  Being the History of the United States. James T. White and Company, 1898. Vol. VIII, Page 161.
  • Western Explorations in Virginia Between Leederer and Spotswood.  citing John Taliaferro in An American Family History (on-line).
  • Mackenzie, George Norbury, and Nelson Osgood Rhoades, editors.  Colonial Families of the United States of America: in Which is Given the History, Genealogy, and Armorial Bearings of Colonial Families Who Settled in the American Colonies From the Time of the Settlement of Jamestown, 13th May 1607, to the Battle of Lexington, 19th April 1775. , 1607-1775.  7 Volumes, 1912.  Reprinted, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1966, 1995; Page: 138.
  • The Kinnear’s and their kin: a memorial volume of history, biography and genealogy, with Revolution. North American Family Histories, 1500-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. (Page: 515)
  • Headley, Robert K. Married Well and Often:  Marriages of the Northern Neck of Virginia, 1649-1800.  Baltimore, MD, USA:  Genealogical Publishing Co., 2003; Page: 342.
  • 1717-1721 Essex County Virginia Wills, Inventories and Settlements of Estates No. 3; [John Frederick Dorman]: Pages 157-159.