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.
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.