Theft in the Graveyard

#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.


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.

Mount Airy, Mayberry, Siamese Twins and My Dudley Family

#52 Ancestors   Week 16    Air

Mt Airy North Carolina map

Mount Airy, North Carolina has a couple “claims to fame.”  For one, it was the birthplace and hometown of actor Andy Griffith.  In his television show, the town of Mayberry was inspired by this town of Mount Airy nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Another fact about the town is that it was the residence of Chang and Eng Bunker, the famed conjoined “Siamese Twins” who are buried just two miles from the main street.   Many of their descendants live in the area today.  In fact, the 200 acres of land acquired by Chang and Eng were previously owned by my ancestor and fifth great grandfather, Charles Dudley, in 1782!  (So very interesting!)

When I saw the prompt “Air,” I immediately thought of my ancestral Dudley Family who settled in Mount Airy, Surry County, North Carolina!  Charles Dudley and Robert Dudley, in particular, raised their families in that area.  Charles and Robert were originally from Caroline County, Virginia where Robert was born on 30 December 1772.   He was the son of Charles and Mary Dulyin.   Luckily, I can confirm Robert’s birth date as it was mentioned in his father’s Anglican Church Prayer Book and Psalms!   That was a great find, especially from the 1700s!


dudley, charles, bible record closeup 001
Charles Dudley’s Psalm Book noting births of himself, wife Mary, daughter Judith and son Robert Dudley. 


Before 1777, the Charles Dudley family moved to Surry County, North Carolina, just 3 miles south of the Virginia border, where Charles had received several land grants.  During the mid-to-late 1700s, the availability of land in North Carolina drew thousands of settlers from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  The process of patenting land in North Carolina was not really hard.  Anyone wanting to patent land just submitted an application or land entry to the land office and the land officer then issued a warrant. Surveyors surveyed the land and sketched a plat or map of the land claim which was filed in the land office or, after 1777, recorded by the county register of deeds.  Then the land patent was issued and recorded!

Charles Dudley’s first land grant Warrant of Survey is dated Nov. 21, 1777 in Surry County.  Three other grants at various dates were issued to him totaling about 1000 acres. Some of this land was on the Ararat River in Surry County and this is the river that flows through Mount Airy.  I am really puzzled as to the parentage of Charles.  One source claims he was the son of a wealthy nobleman in England but he ran away to seek adventure and went with a neighbor to America.  He established himself as a sort of sporting English Squire on his land and was a hospitable man who loved fast horses. You can read more about Charles in my post The Challenge of Finding Charles Dudley

Charles’ son Robert married a cousin named Clarissa Ross in about 1791 in North Carolina.  Clarissa was the daughter of Captain William Ross of Amherst County, VA and Rachel Coxey or Rachel Fugate (conflicting sources – needs more research!)  Clarissa’s family had also taken advantage of the land warrants offers in North Carolina.  Robert and Clarissa were both 19 when they married and went on to have ten children.  Their firstborn child was James Ransom Dudley, my third great-grandfather.  Robert and Clarissa did have their farm on Stuart Creek (Stewart’s Creek).  I found Robert’s name on the 1812 tax list for Surry County and, according to census records, they remained in the Mount Airy region.

Robert died in 1834 and left a will (see below):




Dudley, Robert Will 001
Robert Dudley’s Will.


The important thing to note in the will is that he wished “his property to remain as it then was and wished no division take place in the same until after the death of his wife or widow and until his daughters or children are all married.”   However, four years later in 1828, there was a sale of his personal estate and his widow Clarissa was living with her daughter Betsy and son-in-law, Hardin Herring, so the wishes of Robert were not carried out as he stated in his will.   Perhaps there was an agreement by his children and widow to dispose of his estate in this manner.   Clarissa Dudley lived until 1860.  It is quite possible that they both were buried in the Herring-Dudley Cemetery in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Mount Airy NC Twp Map 001
Map of Surry County Townships with Mount Airy at the top.  Highlighted rivers: Stewart’s Creek (left) where Robert Dudley owned land and the Ararat River where Charles Dudley owned land.




  • The Heritage of Surry County; Surry County Historical Society, Family #209, P. 166.
  • Connor, R. D. W. History of North Carolina-North Carolina Biographies. Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, New York, 1919, Vol. 5, p. 76.
  • Charles Dudley Family Bible Record, 1749-1830; State Archives of North Carolina; North Carolina Digital Collections.
  • Yates Publishing, U. S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2004.
  •  Wikipedia, citing Mount Airy, North Carolina.
  • Cerny, John & Mark, Gareth L: Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources; North Carolina Land Records ( Wiki)

John Taliaferro of Snow Creek

#52ancestors     Prompt:  Water  (Week 14)

I found that many of my ancestors settled near rivers and streams which makes perfect sense as a source of water is a vital need.  Water was also used for transportation of people and goods – a way to connect with the rest of the settlers and the world.  Since this theme is water, I thought of an ancestor named John Smith Taliaferro.  John was the father of Mildred Taliaferro whom I wrote about recently.  You can read part of her story here – Mildred Taliaferro: A Strong Woman!  Just about every source identified John Taliaferro as “John of Snow Creek”  as that is where he settled and established his homestead in 1707.   Snow Creek flows into the Rappahannock River a short distance from Fredericksburg, Virginia.   John settled above Snow Creek below the falls, and there were then but three settlements above his house on the south side of the Rapidan River.  Settlements above the falls had been burned out by Indians in 1707.


Spotsylvania Co Map, taliaferro, John 001
Snow Creek runs into the Rapidan River in the upper left corner of Spotsylvania County VA.  John Taliaferro was in the Fredericksburg area. 


John Taliaferro was born in 1687 in Golden Vale Swamp, Essex County, Virginia.  I am thinking that this was a community, not an actual “swamp!”  He was the son of John “The Ranger” Taliaferro (He may have an interesting story!) and Sarah Smith.  His father deeded additional land to him in 1717 as shown by this deed extract below.  The land was in Spotsylvania County on the Rapidan River, “amongst ye Little Mountains.”

John Taliaferro of St. Mary’s Parish, Essex County, to John Taliaferro, junr son to the aforesaid John of same For natural love and affection Two plantations with 1000 acres on the upper side of Snow Creek in the forke thereof which was formerly given to me by my brother Fran Taliaferro late of said parish by deed of gift” (signed by Jno. Taliaferro)

spotsylvania County sign, taliaferro, John 001When John Taliaferro and Francis Thornton settled there on Snow Creek, that section belonged to Essex County, Virginia and was later incorporated into Spotsylvania County. They were not only near neighbors but also brothers-in-law.  John married Mary Catlett on 22 December 1718, daughter of John Catlett, Jr. and Elizabeth Gaines, his wife, and Francis Thornton had married John’s sister, Mary Taliaferro.   The Catlett’s owned a large estate at the mouth of Golden Vale Creek in present Caroline County.

Evidently, John of Snow Creek was a man of some note in the community.   He was a Justice of Spotsylvania in 1720.  The county seat of newly formed Spotsylvania was Germana and on 1 Aug 1722, six justices or magistrates were sworn in, one being John Taliaferro.  John was also known as a vestryman of St. George’s Parish in 1725.   A vestryman is not a cleric but one who would probably be like a church board member or a deacon today.   In some sources, he is identified as Major John, who was requested “to bring up the Surplice” in 1730 to the established church at Germana, a community of German settlers.  This puzzled me so I looked up what a “surplice” was and found it was an outer garment worn by clergy.  So was John was delivering church garments?  – still not sure on this but I did find a military record so it may have to do with something military.

Spotsylvania Courthouse, 1700s Taliaferro, John 001John Taliaferro was an officer in the Spotsylvania County Militia.  In order to receive their commissions, the officers had to take the requisite oath of office to the crown.  John was listed in 1736 as Lt. Col. John Taliferro.

John and Mary Taliaferro had six known children including two sons, Lawrence and William Taliaferro and four daughters named Martha, Lucy, Mary and Mildred.  Mildred was called “Molly” in John’s will.   Mary, their daughter, may have died before John as she was not named in his will.  Eventually, John had amassed huge land holdings – thousands of acres as witnessed by the land records I have just begun to study.


Hickory Neck church pic, Taliaferro, John 001
Hickory Neck Church and Cemetery

John died 7 August 1744 at Snow Creek at about age 57 and son Lawrence passed in 1748 at age 27 years old.  They were both buried at Old Hickory Neck Church in James City County which is near the present village of Toana.  Although their tombs were once well preserved, no trace of them remains today.  A few fragments of the stone of Lawrence was found and then embedded in the cement floor of the small entry porch of the old church.

Hickory Neck Church sign - taliaferro, John 001Mary Catlett Taliaferro lived to age 79 and passed in 1771 in Essex County, Virginia.  Daughter Martha married William Hunter in 1744 and died in 1750 in Fredericksburg. Her sister Lucy Taliaferro married Col. Charles Lewis and died after 1768 in Port Roayl, Caroline County, VA.   Daughter Mary, as mentioned before, died before her father and had married Joseph Jones.  Lawrence was married to Susannah Power and his brother William of “Snow Creek” had married twice:  firstly to Mary Battaile and secondly to Elizabeth Taliaferro of “Epsom”.  William died in 1798 at age 71 at his plantation, Newington, on Mountain Run in Orange County, VA.  Mildred Taliaferro married Samuel James and her story is linked above.  She was my fifth great-grandmother which makes John Taliaferro and Mary Catlett my sixth great-grandparents.  There will be more to come on the interesting Taliaferro family!

Virginia map and Spotsylvania Co., Taliaferro, John 001Sources:


  • Genealogical and Historical Notes on Culpeper County, Virginia; Ancestry Operations, Inc., Provo, UT, USA, 2002, Repository: Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
  • Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro; Chapter IV, p. 101 (citing the first John Taliaferro)
  • West, Edmund, comp., Family Data Collection – Individual Records [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2000.
  • Some Prominent Virginia Families, Vol. 1-4, p. 14,, 2005.; Also, Vol. II, p. 736-737.
  • Bockstruck, Lloyd DeWitt, Comp.; Virginia’s Colonial Soldiers: A Supplement.  Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly and Magazine of Virginia Genealogy.
  • 1717-1721 Essex County, Virginia Wills, Inventories and Settlements of Estates No. 3; An American Family History, [John Frederick Dorman], Pages 157-59.
  • Chalkley, Lyman. Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia, 1745-1800.  Extracted from the Original Court Records of Augusta County, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965. Originally published in 1912.

How Lucky Can One Be?

#52ancestors   Week 11  Theme: Luck


Lyons, LaFon, Army, 1942, Fort Sheridan Ilinois 001
LaFon C. Lyons, 1941

Maybe you had a parent or grandparent like my Dad – one who served in World War II but didn’t like to talk about it.  You wonder what kind of experiences they had that made them want to forget all about it or at least never tell anyone.   My dad, LaFon Lyons, was drafted into the army on 23 April 1941 in Detroit, Michigan where he lived at the time.  He was 23 years old and single.


Just a couple weeks earlier on March 31, 1941, he had been honorably discharged from the Civilian Conservation Corps or  “CCC’s” as they were dubbed.  He left Camp Paradise near Trout Lake, Michigan and was transported home to Mt. Clemens, Michigan just outside of Detroit.  His two-year term of enrollment in the CCC’s was up and he had served a year each as a truck driver and a Crew Leader in the Forestry Dept. at Camp Paradise.  Before this, he served a year (1935-36) in the CCC’s at Camp Mackinac at Rexton MI in the Reforestation Dept.  During this term in 1936, he was sent to the Fort Brady MI hospital when he accidentally cut off two of his toes with an ax.  Luckily they were able to reattach his big toe!

Lyons, LaFon, Army, 1943, Alaska 001I don’t know a lot about his military experiences but I know he was stationed at one time in Fort Sheridan, Illinois as that is where he met my mother.  After training, LaFon was sent to serve in the Pacific Theatre of Operations, mainly Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to ward off the Japanese invasion of the islands.  I know he achieved a Tec 3 or Staff-Sargeant rank and served in the motor pool as a mechanic trying to keep vehicles running in the unbearable cold.  He was in the 701st AAA Gun Battalion.

Lyons, LaFon, Aleutian Is campaign 001

But my story is about how he earned his nickname of “Lucky LaFon!”  My dad was a “talker” and very sociable but he didn’t talk about the war except for one story I remember.  During the battle of Attu in May of 1943, he was shouting orders to the men under his charge when he was shot by the enemy!  This is one time when he was lucky to have his mouth open as the bullet entered his mouth at an angle and nicked a couple teeth and exited his cheek!  If he would have had his mouth closed, he most likely would have been killed.  Lucky for him and lucky for me!  So he earned the nickname “Lucky LaFon” and I heard he was pretty darn lucky at playing poker too on the ship taking them back to Seattle in April of 1944.

All in all, LaFon served four years, one month and 26 days in the Army and was honorably discharged on 18 June of 1945.  By this time, he had married Elma Knihtila while on leave in May of 1944.  He had been stationed at Camp Maxey, Texas after returning to stateside.  Their first child, a son, was born after Elma returned to Bessemer, Michigan to care for her mother in May 1945.  LaFon didn’t get to see his son until the baby was about six weeks old and LaFon was finally discharged from the Army and could begin his new life.

Yes, they called him “Lucky LaFon” but us kids were the lucky ones!  He was a wonderful, loving father and husband and doting grandfather.  He passed away on March 12, 2000 at age 82 but still lives in our hearts.

Lyons, LaFon, grave, 2000, Bessemer, Gogebic MI 001

Mildred Taliaferro: A Strong Woman!

#52ancestors      Week 10:  Strong Woman

In the few years that I have been actively researching our ancestry, I have come across so many strong women.  As I read there stories, I sometimes wondered how did they survive in olden times especially with diseases, wars, bearing children and building a homestead and a life on a piece of land?  It was really had to choose who to write about for this prompt!  After researching the history of Mildred Taliaferro, I knew she was my choice for this week’s prompt!  Although I have no photo of her, I can almost picture the face of a strong, determined woman!

I came across Mildred Taliaferro while researching the James family line as she married Samuel James and they were my fifth great-grandparents.  They were the parents of Spencer James whom I wrote about in the last blog. Spencer James – Prosperity Meant Land!  Now Mildred was especially interesting as she brings me into another whole line to explore – the Taliaferro family of Virginia!  Mildred was born about 1726 and there is strong evidence that she is the daughter of John Taliaferro of Snow Creek (1687-1744) and Mary Catlett (1692-1771).  She was born on the Snow Creek Plantation.  Mildred’s mother, Mary Catlett, also opens up another whole new lineage to explore!  It seems the James’, Taliaferro’s and Catlett families were intertwined in many ways and generations!

Mildred’s husband, Samuel James, was the son of Capt. John James Sr. (1707-1778) and Anne Sebastain (1710-1778).  Samuel and Mildred married about 1740 in Orange County, Virginia.  Early records from 1753 have Mildred and Samuel living in the St. Thomas Parish of Orange County, Virginia.  Samuel was actually the overseer of the Snow Creek Plantation in Orange County owned by Mildred’s father, John Taliaferro.  As an overseer, Samuel was hired to serve as a general manager of routine farming operations.  We can assume that Samuel was generally knowledgeable in the fields of agriculture, planting, harvesting, and husbandry and in the care and management of servants, slaves, and other laborers.   He worked long hours preparing daily tasks, seeing to the security of all property, tending to the needs of the workers, making nightly rounds and maintaining the directives of the owner.

While Samuel was busy with his job taking all day and some of the night, Mildred was left to take care of their seven children, their farm, and household duties by herself.  This could not have been easy!   Then things got even harder for Mildred.  At age 32, Samuel must have been ill as he proceeded to make out his will on 14 Dec of 1754!  Two months later he died on 27 Feb 1755 leaving Mildred Taliaferro James and seven children.  The cause of death is unknown.  Their children ranged in age with James “Jimmy” James the oldest at 13 years old, Betty James at 10 years, Catlett James at 8 years, Thomas Stephen James at age 7, Spencer James (my 4th great grandfather) at age 6, John James at age 3, and little Mildred James at age 1.

In his will, Samuel left his property to his wife Mildred, but, his brother Thomas was designated as the guardian of his children if Mildred died or remarried.  This did not seem to be unusual as I have found other wills that appointed guardians of young children even if the wife was surviving the husband.  Thomas James, as guardian, was entrusted to protect the interest of the children and divide Samuel’s estate among them when they came of age.  If Mildred did remarry, her new husband could not lay claim to the children’s portion of her estate.

However, Mildred did not remarry.  She devoted herself to providing for herself and her children.  Not an easy task in the 1700s when women were thought of “second class” citizens and many of them could not even own property or participate in political or business affairs.  It wasn’t like she could just go out and get a career and hire someone to take care of the children!  She did the best she could for the children as evidenced by what she did for her son John.  On 28 Mar 1765, she apprenticed her son John James to Hezekiah Brown for five years to learn the carpenter and joiner trade.  These were uncertain times for Mildred and for the colonies as the fight for independence was imminent.

In 1782, her son, Cpl. Thomas Stephen James died in Smyth County, Virginia at about age 34.  He had married Mary Ann “Polly” Pickett in 1769 and served in the Revolutionary War in 1778 in Hazen’s Regiment of Continental Troops.  Perhaps he died from injuries sustained during his service but the true cause of death is unknown.  So sad for Mildred to lose her son at an early age like she lost her husband.  Although times were not easy for Mildred, by 1783 she owned three houses, six cattle and one slave with her slave being exempt according to Orange County personal Property returns for 1783.  Two years later, in 1785, the State Enumerations listed her as head of the family with three white souls, one dwelling and two other buildings.

Her son Catlett James also served his country in the Revolutionary War and never married.  Sadly, he also died rather young at about age 41 on 22 May 1788.  The year before his death, he had drawn a pension from the State of Virginia for his services and in 1787, he had bought land in Orange County.  Mildred inherited that land and in 1791, she petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for the delinquent payments on the Revolutionary pension of her son Catlett and eventually her request was granted.  She received the pension for caring for Catlett during the last days of his illness.  “The petition of Mildred James humbly showeth that her son Catlett James was a pensioner residing in the County of Orange.  That the said Catlett was entirely supported by your Petitioner from the 29th day of December 1786 till 22nd day of May 1788 when the said Catlett James departed this life…”  (Virginia Revolutionary War State Pension).

Because Mildren had to raise her children by herself after losing her husband at a young age and she did manage to do fairly well for herself and her children despite many obstacles, I consider her a very strong, determined woman!  She had her share of sorrow in losing two sons during her lifetime but didn’t ever give up.  Mildred made her own will on 28 Oct 1802, leaving her property to some of her children and grandchildren and she died 25 April 1803 in Orange County at about age 76.  In her will, she mentions daughter, Betty Smith, son James, granddaughter Milly James and leaves her land to daughter Milly Atkins in equal part with her brothers.   Even in the end, all she did was for her children.


  • Trimble, David B, Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia, Austin, Texas: D. B. Trimble, c1992; Pages 10-16.
  • Bassett, John Spencer, ed., The Southern Plantation Overseer as Revealed in His Letters, 1925.
  • Find A Grave, database and images (; memorial page for Samuel James, Memorial No.: 190225311
  • Marshall, Wigfield, Pioneer Families of Franklin County, Virginia, Berryville, VA. Chesapeake Book Co., 1964: Orange County, Virginia, Tithables.
  • Heads of Family, Virginia, 1790.
  • Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large…of Virginia (Philadelphia: Thomas Desiler, 1823). Vol. 13, p. 322; Petition #2532, Virginia State Archives.
  • Virginia Revolutionary War State Pension, published by Virginia Genealogical Society: James, Catlett; File 213: Orange Co., 23 Apr 1792, Court Order to pay Mildred James pension due her on account of Catlett James, dec’d, signed by James Taylor.
  • Virginia Revolutionary War Muster Rolls, Petition #2532; Virginia State Archives; Orange County, Virginia, Deed Bk. 19, p. 162.
  • Orange County, Virginia, Deed Bk. 13, p. 497: Deed Bk. 24, P. 109; Will Bk. 4, p. 74.


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




Seriously – The Mayflower?

#52ancestors:  Week 7  Favorite Discovery

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!

Mayflower ship 2 001


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!

Mayflower seal WI 001


James James

#52Ancestors:  Week 6       Theme: Same Name

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!

Capture.PNG Franklin Co VA to GA
Nowadays this trip would be 464 miles by car but the James family traveled by covered wagon and horseback and there most likely was no direct route like there is today.  At least this gives you an idea of the length of their trip.  It must have taken months to complete!

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.

James, James D, Mortality Sched, 1870, Heard GA 001


  • 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.
  •, Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.
  • Find A Grave, database and Images (, memorial page for James D. James (1789-Jan 1870), Find A Grave Memorial Number: 161277365.
  • Google Maps,



Getting to Know Phoebe Byrd James Ashlin

#52 Ancestors:  Week 5:   So Far Away

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.

James, Eliz Booker James, picture 001
Elizabeth Booker James, sister of Phoebe Byrd James.  Did they resemble each other?

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.

Chesley & Phoebe grave 001

Links to Columbus Ashlin and Mary Ann James: Mary Ann James: Living Close to Home

A James Family Line with an Interesting Twist!

Are We Related to Jesse and Frank James?

Link to German Baker Ashlin: German Baker Ashlin/ A GREAT-Uncle!


  • 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: Operations, Inc., 2007.
  •, Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.
  • 1840 U.S. Census, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: 578; Page: 382; Image: 782; FHL microfilm: 29692.
  • Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current ( Operations, Inc.)
  • U. S. Federal Census; Year: 1860; Census Place: Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M653_1377; Page: 1050; Image: 532; FHL film: 805377.
  • U. S. Federal Census; Year: 1870; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M593_1679; Page: 97A; Image: 197; FHL film: 553178.
  • Virginia, Deaths and Burials Index, 1853-1917 ( Operations Inc.)