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!


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