When I first discovered this early ancestor she was the one person who fascinated me more than any of the others. I may be uncertain about whom exactly Jonathan Dawson had been but there is little doubt that Frances was the mother of the three Dawson boys and later several Williams children.
Let me quote a few passages from family lore about Frances. The first is from the Pherbia Atwater Allen’s 1926 letter:
His [Jonathan Dawson’s] wife was Frances Rouse – she was living at Wilmington at the time of her marriage… In those times men would go to sea when crops were layed by who had large farms. Jonathan Dawson was a sea captain and was lost at sea but owing to the delicate condition of his wife her friends would not tell her of his death till after her baby (Jonathan Dawson II) was born [in] 1750…After his death his wife, Frances married General Williams and had several children. They moved to Edgefield District (It was then 96 dist).
There is also this passage from the document written by Joseph Washington Dawson in 1875:
He [Jonathan Dawson] died on a boat and the fact of his death was kept a secret from his wife for six months as she was pregnant. She was a woman of delicate feelings, and it was feared that the shock would kill her… His wife was a Miss Frances Rouse. She was living in Wilmington at the time of their marriage… After the death of Jonathan, his widow married Gen. Williams of South Carolina and removed to that state.
The early life of Frances Rouse is still largely clouded in speculation. She was born sometime between the mid 1720’s and the early 1730’s. My estimate of her age based on the life events of her children is that she was born in about 1727. According to the family traditions quoted above she was living in New Hannover County, near or in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1748. This would make her about 21 at the time of her marriage but she certainly could have been younger. There is still a great deal of uncertainty regarding who her parents were and where she was actually born. She may very well have been Welsh as the Dawsons, Willams and other allied families generally were. Her most likely origin is with either the Alexander or John Rouse families that settled in the Dulpin and Dobbs counties of North Carolina.
It is confirmed that she was literate at least to the degree that she could sign her own name and probably well beyond that. The estate inventory of her husband William Dawson was recorded by the court clerk but presented by Frances by what was likely her own written list of his possessions.
In both accounts of her she is said to be of a delicate nature to the degree that the death of her husband was kept from her while she was pregnant. This may have been the case but she seems to have become quite resilient as she grew older. She lived most of her life on the southern frontier, survived three husbands, raised at least three confirmed Dawson children and probably two more by her third husband Jefferson Williams. Her children went on to become patriots and at least two (Joseph and Jonathan) served as Captains in the American Revolution.
She lived on the Cape Fear River for nearly 20 years before moving with her third husband, Jefferson Williams, to South Carolina in about 1768. Jefferson died before 1785 and according some unconfirmed sources she died in the Edgefield District in 1790 when she was approximately 63 years old.
Many children in the Dawson and Williams lines named descendents after her for several generations. Among her children their fathers lived and died but she remained constant throughout their lives and into their adulthoods.
I thought it would best to close this post with an image of her own signature: