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William Dawson, Militia Captain

militia_trainingThere is a transcribed roster of North Carolina Militia units I ran across recently that has an interesting bearing on the Dawson family of Cumberland County. There are four rosters on the sheet and two of them are undated. The dates for the other two are 1755-1760 for Carteret County and 1754-1759 for Currituck County. The two from Cumberland County are the undated ones but I believe one of them has the same date range – approximately 1754 -1760.  This list appears to be from a book but where I found the scanned page it didn’t list the original source.

This roster I am discussing in this post lists the following:

Cumberland County, no date given

Robert Rowan, Colonel (for Robert Palmer, removed)

Thomas Armstrong, Lieut. Colonel.

Thomas Gibson, Major (for James Rutherford, resigned)

Foot:

Hector McNeil, Captain

[Blank] Collins, Captain

William Dawson, Captain

 

This roster jumped out at me because I was already familiar with most of the names from earlier research and especially that of William Dawson. For this post I will go over each name in order, discuss any relevance these people had to the Dawson family, and demonstrate why I believe this roster should also be dated around 1754-1760.

Robert Rowan, Colonel

Robert Rowan was a son of the prominent political figure, Matthew Rowan who was appointed to the Governor’s Council in 1730. From what I could find Robert Rowan was born around 1738 and died in 1798. He arrived in Cross Creek (1) some time before 1756 where his name is found listed first on a Cumberland County petition to the North Carolina General Assembly. Thomas Armstrong was also a signer of the same petition. It is worth noting that Robert Rowan is on record as serving in the French and Indian War so this may be a militia roster from that period of his service (2). If he was indeed born in 1738 he would have been very young for a public official and senior militia officer but given the prominent standing of his family in the Colony it is certainly reasonable that this could be the case.

Thomas Armstrong, Lieutenant Colonel

The Armstrong family is very familiar to me since a Thomas Armstrong and his wife Margaret settled on property adjacent to Geoffrey Dawson’s in 1740. The two families were neighbors and a young William Dawson served as Justice in Cumberland County along with Thomas Armstrong. In 1755 Thomas Armstrong, listed as living on the Cape Fear, was referred to as a Colonel in a statement to the North Carolina General assembly. In the 1755 census of Cumberland County there is a Thomas Armstrong living at the same residence as William Armstrong who I believe was his son. As I mentioned in previous posts Thomas Armstrong was also implicated along with William Dawson in a petition to the Governor for abusing his position as a Justice. Later in 1757 Thomas Armstrong was subsequently dropped as a Justice along with Thomas Gibson (mentioned below) and James Nichols.

Thomas Gibson, Major

Although the 1755 Cumberland County Census only has a Gibson listed by his last name along with another just listed as O’Brien, there is a 1757 deed that names Thomas Gibson and Geraldus O’Bryan as co-owning 100 acres in Cumberland County on the Cape Fear River. These two notes, along with Thomas Gibson losing his seat as a Justice in 1757 suggest this may be the Major Thomas Gibson on the militia roster. Later, in 1769 Thomas Gibson of Cumberland County is found acquiring a series of properties in Anson County. In 1771 one of these purchases joins the property of “Jona. Luellen” who was probably the same Jonathan Llewellyn who lived adjacent to the Dawson’s on the Cape Fear and who was closely tied to the family. Another note about the Gibsons is that William Dawson’s eldest son, Joseph Dawson, married Elizabeth Gibson who was probably the granddaughter or niece of Thomas Gibson (3).

Hector McNeil, Captain

He is listed as one of the Scottish Argyll Colonists who came to North Carolina on the ship Thistle in 1739 and settled along the Cape Fear River. Hector McNeil acquired property on the Cape Fear just a few miles north of Geoffrey Dawson in 1740. Hector McNeil, or “Bluff Hector” as he was known, was the first Sherriff of Cumberland County. His will was probated in 1761 and one of the witnesses to this will was a Thomas Armstrong (4).

[unrecorded] Collins, Captain

This is almost certainly Thomas Collins who is listed on the 1755 census of Cumberland County. Thomas Collins served as a Justice and Clerk of the Court in Cumberland County alongside Thomas Armstrong, Thomas Gibson and William Dawson. He died in Cumberland County in 1778.

William Dawson, Captain

I feel confident this is the same William Dawson I have written about so often in the past. When looked at overall the interconnected nature of these officers in Cumberland County is striking. It is also interesting to note that several of these men died at about the same time. I’ve estimated that Thomas Armstrong died somewhere around 1758 or so and both William Dawson and Hector McNeil are both on record as having died prior to the spring/summer of 1761. Since it appears this roster was for a unit that served in the French and Indian war I wonder if these three officers may have died in during the war sometime around 1760 – 61.

Because it looks like William Dawson of Cumberland was also a militia captain there is another interesting implication from an earlier record that had had previously puzzled me. In the document, Record of the Dawson Family from 1743 to 1900 (5) where the elder William Dawson is omitted, a curious recollection is credited to William Dawson Jr. who served in the American Revolution.

“William Dawson was a Colonel in the Revolutionary War and was frequently engaged in contests with the Indians. On one occasion he had a hand to hand encounter with an Indian whom he killed by cutting his throat. He was a man noted for his courage and powers, there being but few men who could cope with him in feats of strength.”

Now, from William Dawson’s own pension records we know he had held the rank of private during the Revolution and never served as an officer. However, since his father William was a militia captain that may have served in the French and Indian war I wonder if this recollection was actually of the elder William Dawson. It would make sense for the two to be combined since the elder William was forgotten to the family by the time these family stories were written down. There is no way to ever know if this was the case but like so many things, it is certainly possible.

Bringing this back to the elder William Dawson, several important inferences can be drawn from the information described above. First and foremost, William Dawson, Esquire can have militia captain added to his list positions held during his lifetime. The evidence for this is quite strong. Second, given that Robert Rowan is known to have served in the French and Indian War it is likely that William Dawson also served during that conflict. At the very least this merits more investigation on my part. In addition, the year of death of William Dawson, Hector McNeil and Thomas Armstrong makes it possible that one or all three may have died during the war. Lastly, I think the exploits attributed to William Dawson during the American Revolution may have in fact been about his father during the French and Indian War.

None of what I am suggesting above is of absolute certainty but all of it carries with it varying degrees of likelihood and it certainly adds a new dimension to the life of the Dawson family and their community along the Cape Fear during the 1750’s.

 

[Notes]

Note 1: Cross Creek was renamed Fayetteville in 1783.

Note 2: The French and Indian War went from 1754 to 1763 and given the dates of the other rosters these appear to have been units raised during that conflict.

Note 3: The father of Elizabeth Gibson was almost certainly Patrick Gibson (their second son was named Patrick Gibson Dawson). There is a Patrick Gibson serving in the Anson County militia in 1756 and later a Patrick Gibson was involved in an armed border dispute with the North Carolina authorities in 1762 in Anson County along the boundary with South Carolina. In 1766 Patrick Gibson is recorded as purchasing property in the Old Edgefield District of South Carolina. This property was just a few miles from that purchased by Joseph Dawson in 1771 just after his marriage to Elizabeth Gibson. I have suspected for some time that Patrick Gibson was either the eldest son or brother of the Thomas Gibson of Cumberland County mentioned above.

Note 4: This was probably a son of the Thomas Armstrong mentioned above.

Note 5: This is one of the recorded family folklore documents that have some factual errors probably due to it relying on the memories of family stories handed down over several generations that may have been misremembered in certain details.

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William Dawson Part 3: 1761

This last post about William Dawson covers the final year of his life and draws some conclusions about his family, his death, and his place in this Dawson lineage. I have spent a lot of research time on William after learning about him a few years ago, and I feel fortunate that he left a significant paper trail to follow.

His tavern license was renewed again in February 1761, but when the Cumberland County Court assembled again in May he was not present and was only listed as having “an account due”. It would appear that he was either ill or perhaps out of the area. In either case he never returned to his duties as a Justice. Only his widow, Frances Dawson, returned to the court to present William’s estate inventory during its August session.

There is a will for William Dawson mentioned in a 1770 deed but the actual document does not appear to have survived. However, in this deed dated 17 May 1770 his son, Joseph Dawson, sells 220 acres that he received from William’s “last will and testament”. This was half of the 440 acres that William purchased from Edward Connor in 1760 and which had apparently become his primary residence. The other 220 acres was left to Joseph’s brother, William Jr. What is interesting about this property is that it is divided equally between his two sons – Joseph and William – but no mention is made about his third known child, Jonathan. Jonathan was born around 1761 so it is possible that William died before making any provisions for him (1). In fact, Frances may very well have been pregnant with Jonathan at the time of William’s death.

One thing I would like to note here is the odd similarity to the stories about Frances’ first husband, Jonathan Dawson “the mariner” (who is said to have died in about 1751) and her second husband, William Dawson (who died in 1761). According to family folklore (2) Frances was supposed to have been pregnant with her third child, Jonathan Jr., when her first husband, Jonathan, died at sea. Although the dates for this version of the story don’t match the records (3), it is extremely likely that Frances was indeed pregnant with her son Jonathan when her husband died, but that this should be property attributed to William Dawson’s death in 1761. This is further supported by a complete lack of evidence that Jonathan received any inherited property although this evidence does exist for both of his older brothers.

If you add to this the record of William Dawson having “an account due” to the court, I think it is likely William was simply out of the area during its May session. Depending on where he was he may have actually been the one who was lost at sea or even in a boating accident along the Cape Fear itself.

Given the age gaps between his known children (4) I think that William and Frances had other children that have been forgotten in the family folklore. I think that after Joseph there were perhaps two other children born in around 1752 and 1755. These were possibly a daughter and then a son named Jeffrey who died while still quite young. I want to make sure I emphasize that this is pure speculation on my part and no evidence exists for them. However, In addition to these other possible siblings I think it is even more likely that there had been an older sister of Joseph’s named Mary who later married William Llewellyn (5).

You may notice that in this post I am attributing Joseph Dawson to being a son of William Dawson. As time goes on it has become harder for me to reconcile the existence of a first husband of Frances Rouse named Jonathan Dawson. I go back and forth on this frequently but there are no deeds or other records to support that Jonathan was ever married to Frances Rouse at all. Even in deeds Joseph refers to William Dawson as “my father” so these days I am inclined to think that the names Jonathan and William were simply confused in the family folklore. However, that being said, there is at least one deed where William Dawson refers to himself as the “eldest son” and “sole surviving heir” so he did have a brother. Perhaps in time this will turn out to be Jonathan Dawson. I will certainly keep an open mind about it.

After William’s death his wife Frances did marry again and with her new husband, Captain Jefferson Williams, it was not long before the entire family left the Cape Fear region and headed for South Carolina. By the outbreak of the American Revolution they were all firmly established in South Carolina’s Back County near the OId-Ninety Six district.

William Dawson may have died young but his family certainly thrived. His son’s Joseph, William and Jonathan all enlisted in the South Carolina Militia during the Revolution, served with distinction, and then went on to have large families of their own.

 

Notes:

Note (1): I have never found any deed that suggests Jonathan Dawson (born about 1761) received any inherited property from William at all.

Note (2): the traditional account of Jonathan Dawson and Frances Rouse is that their son Joseph Dawson was born in 1745; William in 1748 and Jonathan in 1751 after his father had already died at sea in about 1750-51. I have been able to verify that the birthdates were all incorrect. If any of the children could have been born to Jonathan Dawson and Frances Rouse it would have been Joseph but that is unlikely.

Note (3): Jonathan Dawson is supposed to have been born in 1750 according to family folklore but this date is about 10 years to late from what the records suggest. In addition to the evidence pointing to a 1761 birth date mentioned above are the records about his family and his service in the American Revolution. He was the last of the three bothers to enlist with his first mention in 1781 which would make him about 20 at the time. What’s more significant is that he didn’t start a family until after the war. If the 1761 date of birth accurate then his first child would have been born when he was 37 years old and the last when he was 53. Although it still seems a bit late by the standards of his day he would have been 48 when his first child was born for the 1750 birth date to be accurate.

Note (4): Joseph Dawson was born about 1749 based on the dates of his earliest land transactions and his marriage to Elizabeth Gibson. The age of the next sibling, William Jr., is confirmed in two documents (both Revolutionary War pension applications) to have been in 1758.

Note (5): There is a Mary Dawson of unknown parentage that marries a man named William Llewellyn in about 1760’s. This William Llewellyn may have been related to Jonathan Llewellyn, the long time friend of the Dawson family.

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William Dawson of Cumberland: Part 1

Finding William Dawson of Cumberland was one of the greatest successes I have experienced while doing family history research. It started with William Dawson Jr., who in his pension application for service during the American Revolution mentioned that in early 1779 he returned to his “native place” of Cumberland County. I knew the Dawson family was from North Carolina but that one phrase made me think that Cumberland County may have been his place of birth. That turned out to be the case and it led me to discover an ancestor who had been forgotten in the family traditions. This was the existence of William Dawson Sr., tavern keeper, vestryman, and Justice of the Peace.

As I mentioned in my post about Geoffrey Dawson, the origin of the Dawson family prior to their arrival in Cumberland County is unknown. I estimate that Geoffrey’s oldest son (1), William Dawson, was about 8 years old when the family arrived on the Cape Fear in 1737. The name of his younger brother is never specified but I will explain later that I believe he was the Jonathan Dawson who married Frances Rouse and was later lost at sea.

Not much is known about William’s childhood but it is likely he worked on the family farm and in the tavern after it was established.  As there is no mention of further siblings other than William and his brother I suspect that his mother may have had died early. Perhaps it was even prior to the family settling in Bladen County. At some point William did receive some degree of education and was certainly literate as an adult (see the earlier post about his books). The late 1730’s was also the time when Jonathan Llewellyn started to become associated with the family and he eventually settled on property adjacent to the Dawson land. This close family friend would soon play a major part in William’s life.

In 1740, when William was 11, neighbors settled on the parcel of property along the southern boundary of the land owned by the Dawson family. This was a Highlander named Thomas Armstrong, his wife Margaret and several children (2). They are on record as part of the group of “Argyll Colonists” who arrived in 1739 aboard the Thistle (3). Thomas Armstrong appears to have been a man of some distinction and he rose to prominence in Bladen County quite quickly. He became a Justice of the Peace for Bladen sometime in the 1740’s and was appointed Coroner for Cumberland County in 1755. It is just my opinion but I think William might have been apprenticed to Thomas Armstrong as perhaps a clerk and that may have been where he received his education.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that William’s younger, unnamed sibling was the Jonathan Dawson who is mentioned as the earliest Dawson ancestor in those family histories originating on the Cape Fear. I think that with William poised to inherit their father’s estate his younger sibling Jonathan joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman. Typically this would have been between the ages of 12 and 14 so this would mean he would have left the Cape Fear around 1743. Meanwhile William would have remained in Cumberland and learn how to manage the small estate that he would one day inherit.

However, in 1745, tragedy struck when Geoffrey Dawson died and William and Jonathan were left as orphans. It is in this year that Jonathan Llewellyn is entered into a bond to oversee the Dawson estate until William Dawson came of age (4). There is an odd land transaction that seems to support this where 100 acres of the Geoffrey Dawson estate is given to Jonathan Llewellyn who then gives it to William Dawson. It is then returned to Jonathan Llewellyn in 1750 when William turns 21.

Regarding William there isn’t much about him between 1745 and 1750 when he turns 21. It is most likely he continued to run the farm, tavern and ferry as he seems well established in the community by the time he becomes an adult in 1750. It is also during this time period, if the family stories are correct, that his brother, Jonathan seems to have risen steadily as a maritime officer if even a fraction of the accounts are true (see the post about Jonathan Dawson form more details). From the family folklore he appears to have achieved the rank of a naval officer of some standing and I suspect he may have been a ships Purser. It is unlikely he could have been a Captain so young but that doesn’t diminish whatever success he was experiencing at the time. In 1748 when Jonathan was just 17 he married Frances Rouse who was living in Wilmington, North Carolina, and who I am guessing was about the same age (5). As a promising officer it was probably seen as a good match but the marriage was not to last. He died at sea while she was pregnant with their first child just a year later in about 1749.

Frances, now a young widow with a new baby, then married Jonathan’s brother, William. It is likely they married in around 1750 at about the same time William turned 21 and inherited his father Geoffrey’s estate. They were certainly married no later than 1754 when they appear together as spouses in several different deeds. Although it seems likely that Joseph was the son of Jonathan Dawson I should mention that in 1770, Joseph Dawson is noted in a deed as calling William Dawson, “my father” and receives the bulk of William’s estate. Given the scarcity of records about Jonathan Dawson it’s hard to say either way. Regardless, he was raised by William Dawson.

Besides being newly married William Dawson also began buying and selling property throughout the 1750’s. Some of his earliest land transactions are joint properties he owns with William Hodges in 1751 and again in 1754. William Hodges is another neighbor closely associated with William Dawson along with Thomas Armstrong and Jonathan Llewellyn. William was eventually involved with multiple land transactions will all three of them.

Now an adult, William Dawson was enjoying the benefits of having both property and position. Throughout the 1750’s he continued to his expand his influence in the community and became one of Cumberland County’s more prominent citizens in his day. In part two I will go into more detail about his life during the 1750’s and conclude with his untimely death in 1761.

 

Notes:

Note (1): I used the term “oldest son” as this is how William is described in a [date] deet, as the “oldest son of Geoffrey Dawson.” Whether this means he was actually the oldest son or just the oldest surviving son is unknown. I suspect the later though.

Note (2): The Armstrong children were probably Thomas Jr., William and Francis.

Note (3): There is also some evidence that suggests Thomas Armstrong was in North Carolina much earlier in or near Bertie or Onslow Counties and not part of the Argyll Colony at all.

Note (4): The record of this bond is just an abstract and it is fairly vague but this is my interpretation of its meaning.

Note (5): The ages of Frances Rouse and Jonathan Dawson are estimated based on William’s estimated birth date and then having a sibling born two years later.

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Geoffrey Dawson: The Canny Welshman

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.

[Notes]

*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.

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