In the cold of February, 1737, a Welshman named Geoffrey Dawson secured a grant for 640 acres (1 square mile) in Bladen County from the North Carolina Governor’s Council. He brought with him a small family to settle this property which was located along the eastern bank of the upper Cape Fear River. Geoffrey was about 31 years old at the time and his family probably consisted of his wife and at least one child. Although I don’t know it for certain I do have a strong suspicion that he was also a Quaker.
Where he lived prior to the Cape Fear is unknown. One possibility is that he was part of the large migration of Welsh settlers coming from the Welsh Tract in what is now Delaware. These settlers began heading south in about 1735 and most were bound for an area that was to become known as the “Welsh Neck” on the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. Interestingly, William Dawson, Geoffrey’s son, sold several hundred acres of property in the Welsh Neck settlement in 1754. Whether he inherited this property from Geoffrey or obtained it by grant or another source is unknown.
Regardless of whether Geoffrey was part of this migration or not, he appears to have had a plan in mind with his land on the Cape Fear. The Dawson property was located opposite the mouth of the Lower Little River and along a trail called the “Green’s Path to the Pee Dee”. This path was a well travelled route between Virginia and South Carolina and it is even possible that Geoffrey first saw this spot on his way to the Welsh Neck settlement. Today the location of Geoffrey’s land grant is located in Harnett County and is not far from the Averasboro Battlefield site.
Although I don’t know it for certain I strongly suspect that it was Geoffrey who first established the Dawson’s Ferry and Tavern. Neither was documented until years later when they are owned by his son, William. However, when William secured support from the North Carolina Colony for the upkeep of the Dawson’s Ferry in 1757 it was recorded as, “hath been of long standing; and found very convenient for travelers and others.” I understand that “long standing” is a bit subjective in terms of when the Ferry and Tavern were started but I think the odds are good that both began prior to Geoffrey’s death in 1745.
Another factor that leads me to believe that Ferry and Tavern were started by Geoffrey is from the modification of his deed for the 640 acres. Although Geoffrey is listed as the sole recipient of the grant in 1737 I did find an abstract that indicates the deed was later amended. This change was the inclusion of someone named Thomas Dawson as a co-owner of the land. The change read that the property was owned by “Jeffrey Dawson and/or Thomas Dawson”.*
Who was this Thomas Dawson? My best guess is that he was a relative (probably a brother) who later invested in these enterprises and as a result was given some degree of controlling interest in the property. This seems like a plausible reason for why he wasn’t part of the original grant and why the deed was later amended with that “and/or” reference. I should mention that I have found a few intriguing leads on who this Thomas Dawson may have been but I will save that for another post. However, by the time of Geoffrey’s death in 1745, his son William inherits everything: land, tavern and ferry.
There is another very interesting person associated with Geoffrey Dawson that I want to include here. He was another Welshman named Jonathan Llewellyn**. He was a young carpenter who arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in 1735. I only know of his early history from a fellow researcher named Billie Harris who kindly shared this information with me. Rather than paraphrase I will quote her below:
“In 1735 Jonathan Lewellen arrived as an indentured servant in a town near the French Church in Charleston. He was a carpenter and his master a Mr. Reynolds. That same year in the SC Gazette there was an ad about a runaway from John Reynolds, carpenter, near the French Church in Charlestown… the runaway was a young fellow about 19 named Jonathan Lewellen. When he ran away, he had 3 coats, 2 shirts, a pair of Ozenbrigs and one pair of leather breeches, a pair of stockings, a pair of pumps and a pair of shoes, one of the coats in white Dowlas, the other a whitish colored cloth and the other a dark colored cotton. There was a L5 reward offered by John Reynolds.”
Sometime between 1735 and 1741 this young carpenter arrived on the Cape Fear where he met and became closely associated with the Dawson family. By 1741 he appears with both Geoffrey and his son William in a bond, as a witness to deeds, and with the exchange of various properties to become their neighbor. Given that Geoffrey’s land grant was in 1737 and that Jonathan’s occupation was that of a carpenter I think it is likely that Jonathan Llewellyn built or oversaw the construction of the Ferry and Tavern. In two deeds from the 1750’s Jonathan is actually listed as a Joiner so it seems carpentry continued to be his primary occupation.
Geoffrey did not remain the proprietor of the tavern and ferry for long though. He died in late 1744 or1745 at the approximate age of 39. There is a very brief abstract of a bond between Jonathan Llewellyn and William Dawson regarding Geoffrey Dawson dated 1745. The abstract lacks much detail but based on William Dawson’s approximate age (about 16 in 1745) it looks like he may have been bound out to Jonathan Llewellyn until he was old enough to inherit Geoffrey’s estate.
From different deed records written in the 1750’s William Dawson is listed as the both the “eldest son” and “sole heir” of Geoffrey’s estate. From this and the lack of other Dawson records it looks like Geoffrey’s wife and other children preceded him to the grave. Until I learn more it appears that after 1745 William was an orphan even in the modern sense of the term.
The full story about Geoffrey Dawson leaves many questions unanswered. At the very least he was a perceptive individual with the ambition to settle and develop a successful business that went on to help his son gain a position of local prominence in county.
*Geoffrey is the first name used in the earliest records about him. Most of those written later spell it Jeffrey. For consistency sake in the text I use only the Geoffrey spelling.
** Jonathan Llewellyn’s last name is spelled in various documents Lewellyn, Lewellen, Lewelling and Sewelling. I use only the Llewellyn spelling for consistency in the text.