William Dawson of Cumberland: Part 2

 

In the last post I talked about William Dawson’s life prior to his marriage and family. In this part I want to describe some of the details related to his rise to prominence in Cumberland County. He married Frances Rouse (1) in the late 1740’s or early 1750’s, but they are definitely documented as being husband and wife by 1754 (2). During the early 1750’s William and Frances were busy running their tavern and ferry while starting a family. Their first son, Joseph, was born around 1750 (3).

 

During this period William was establishing himself in his community as well. He had been appointed as a Justice of the Peace around 1754 (4) when Cumberland County was first formed out of Bladen. It is also on record that he became a Vestryman when St. David’s Parish was formed during that same year.

 

By all accounts he was certainly doing well by 1755. At the age of 25 he owned close to 1000 acres (5), was married, had one known child, and had become appointed as both a Vestryman and Justice of the Peace. His role in the community was firmly established and his future must have looked bright indeed.

 

In 1755 William was closely involved in the decision to determine the location for the newly formed Cumberland County’s first courthouse. Along with his long time friend and neighbor, Thomas Armstrong, (and another justice named Gilbert Clark) they decided to place the courthouse on property near the Cape Fear River in a location that was primarily accessible by the popular road called Green’s Path to the Pee Dee. Locating the courthouse along two major travel routes (Green’s Path and the Cape Fear River waterway) made a great deal of sense but it was also an excellent location for William’s business interests. Travelers along Green’s Path needed to use the Dawson’s Ferry to cross the Cape Fear so this location was certain to be a boon to him financially.

 

The late 1750’s also marked several accomplishments for William. Documents from 1757 show him bearing the title of Esquire along with a record showing the renewal of his tavern license. Another document from this same year shows that he had managed to get the North Carolina General Assembly to write legislature for providing upkeep for his ferry business.

 

1757 was not without its problems though. William Dawson and Thomas Armstrong were both named in a Petition by the Freeholders of Cumberland County who were not happy with their work as Justices of the Peace. To quote:

 

“To the Governor, Council & Assembly of the Province of North Carolina:  We, the persons listed have been much oppressed and injured by some of those in authority among us. In particular Thomas Armstrong and William Dawson whom we look upon as the cause of all the confusion among us; they have always opposed every good measure and endeavored to turn everything to their own private advantage as may be seen by the evidence delivered with this. They are a disgrace to the Bench and have rendered themselves unfit to sit upon it.”

 

The Governor seemed to agree with the petitioners and on the 28th of November Thomas Armstrong was struck from the Commission of the Peace and was also named by the North Carolina General Assembly as a “person of bad character.” In subsequent minutes of the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Thomas Armstrong was never listed among the Justices again. William Dawson seems to have escaped the scandal though as he remained a justice and was listed in the minutes regularly through 1761.

 

William’s family life during this period was active as well. In January of 1757 Anthony Berry (the three year old mulatto son of a woman named Margaret Berry) was bound to William Dawson. Unfortunately, a year later Margaret Berry was again in the Cumberland County Court with another child that was to be bound out. While there she confessed that Anthony was born while she was still a servant and the child was apparently taken away from the Dawson household (although the record is a bit vague on this fact). What is known is that the two year old child she brought to the court this time, named John Berry, was bound to William Dawson 18 January 1758. Amid all of this Frances had become pregnant again and she gave birth to their second son, William Jr., later that same year on the 14th of November.

 

This brings up an irregularity in the family that still puzzles me. The birth date of William Dawson Jr. as being 1758 is well documented (6) and Joseph Dawson was almost certainly born around 1749 but perhaps as late as 1754. In either case there is a substantial gap in the ages between these two children that has no explanation. My only guess is that other children had been born that did not survive into adulthood or that Frances and William had difficulty conceiving. The idea that at least one child had died young is supported by another odd absence. There is no evidence of a child named after his father, Geoffrey despite his having three sons.

 

The year 1760 was an interesting one for William Dawson. In January he sold the remaining 308 acres he still held of his father’s original land grant to John Smith. I believe this is the same John Smith who was to rename the ferry “Smith’s Ferry” which can be seen marked on maps made of the Cape Fear River during the American Revolution. By selling the old Geoffrey Dawson property and home it looks like William had wanted to get out of the ferry business.

 

He must have still enjoyed owning a tavern though because he was again given a license to run an ordinary at his home during this same year. This new home was probably located at a 440 acre parcel he bought in February 1760. This property was very close to the old Geoffrey Dawson land he had just sold but it was on the courthouse side of the Cape Fear and right next to the property of his associate William Robards. These 440 acres are also significant because William divided this property into two parcels and left them for his sons Joseph and William Jr.

 

By November of 1760 his friend and new neighbor, William Robards, had died. In the November Court William Dawson presented the Deeds of Gift from William Robards to the various members of his family and they demonstrated a great deal of warmth between William Robards and his family. However, I found this November court to be primarily interesting for another reason. The records of this court hold the first mention in Cumberland County of a man named Jefferson Williams. He was a witness for a deed involving William Robards Jr. and which was also witnessed by William’s long time associate, William Hodges (7). This places Jefferson Williams clearly in the social circle with the Dawson, Robards and Hodges families – all of which is very intriguing as Jefferson Williams married William Dawson’s widow, Frances, after he death just one year later in 1761.

 

Notes:

 

Note (1): Frances Rouse may or may not have been married to Jonathan Dawson prior to her marriage to William Dawson.

 

Note (2): A deed record for Cumberland County on 22 April 1754 lists “William Dawson and Frances his wife” selling property they co-owned with William and Patience Hodges to a man named Robert Williams of South Carolina. This is the earliest record of the marriage between William Dawson and Frances Rouse.

 

Note (3): Joseph Dawson was probably born in 1749. This date is estimated from the record of him selling land he inherited from William Dawson, “my father” which suggests he was at least 21 in 1770.

 

Note (4): William Dawson is recorded as an established justice – not newly appointed – in the North Carolina Assembly Minutes from 1755.

 

Note (5): It looks like he William had about 1000 acres in 1755. It can be difficult to sort out all of the land transactions and I am sure there were some that didn’t survive but I feel fairly certain about this figure.

 

Note (6): The birth date of William Dawson Jr. is recorded in his testimony for his Revolutionary War service pension. It is also corroborated in the pension application of Joseph Hodges who listed him among his relatives and also provided his birth date.

 

Note (7): Based on the transcript of the pension application testimony given by William Hodges’ son, Joseph Hodges, it is likely that William Dawson and William Hodges were related by either blood or marriage.

 

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Season’s Greetings!

I wanted to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of the followers and visitors to the Dawson’s Tavern. It has been a few months since I had last put up a post but I do have two of them almost ready to go (parts 2 and 3 of the William Dawson of Cumberland material) and I promise to get them both up in January.

So, until then, I raise my tankard and give a hearty cheer to all of you.

Huzzah!

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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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A Colonial Bookshelf of 1761

 When thinking about William Dawson, his wife Frances, and their children (Joseph and William Jr., and Jonathan) this small personal library helps to reveal some of the thinking and discussions that probably occurred in their home. This list of books is from the estate inventory of William Dawson, Esquire, presented by his wife Frances Dawson to the Cumberland County Court during the August session of 1761. I am not an expert on personal libraries of the colonial period but these seven entries seem like a substantial collection for a family living on the frontier of North Carolina.

The first book was Sherlock’s Discourse on Death. The full title was A Practical Discourse Concerning Death by Dr. William Sherlock. The book was written in 1690 and according to a paper written by Walter B. Edgar on common books found in Southern Carolina libraries it was a fairly common volume found in a Colonial period library. The best way I found to describe the work is from a quote by Sherlock himself:

“I know no other Preparation for Death, but living well: And thus we must every Day prepare for Death, and then we shall be well prepared when Death comes; that is, we shall be able to give a good account of our lives, and of the Improvements of our Talents; and he who can do this, is well prepared to die.”

The next book listed was the Duty of Man. The full title of this book is The Whole Duty of Man, Laid Down in a Plain and Familiar Way by Richard Allestree. Again, according to Edgar’s work, this is one of the most popular books found in libraries in South Carolina. It was widely used in the education of children on the Colonial frontier and it rivaled even the Bible in popularity. I even found it mentioned by Benjamin Franklin in a letter he wrote to his wife:

“I hope she [Franklin’s daughter Sally] continues to love going to church, and would have her read over and over again the Whole Duty of Man…”

In an interesting note, when I was reading up on these books I happened upon a quote from the poet, historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay (1800 – 1859). He was discussing Sherlock’s Treatise on Death when he wrote:

“During many years, [Treatise on Death] stood next to The Whole Duty of Man in the bookcases of serious Arminians.”

This certainly suggests William Dawson had Arminian leanings if he wasn’t actively of that religious school of thought. Arminianism was a type of Baptist that opposed the predestination concepts of Calvinists. From what I have read the Arminian doctrine holds the individual is responsible for their own salvation. Some notable Colonial Arminians were: William Smith (father of Abigail Adams), Jonathan Mayhew, and Charles Chauncy.   There was a strong Arminiain movement in the Colonies prior to the Revolution and it appears that William Dawson may have been part of it.

Webb’s Virginia Justice was the next book. Written by George Webb, it was first published in the 1730’s and was a detailed manual on being a Justice of the Peace. As William Dawson served as a Cumberland County Justice it is not surprising that this was in his collection.

The next book was only listed as a “Testament” and it was probably a New Testament printed in England as these weren’t printed in the Colonies until 1782. As he appears to have been actively interested in religious thinking it is not surprising he had this in his collection.

A Psalter, or book of Psalms, was also listed. Edgar’s work mentioned that this was a common book in Colonial libraries in the south so like the Testament it is not surprising this was in his collection.

At this point in the inventory there is a fraying of the paper so that the quantities of items below the previous entry were lost. This is unfortunate as the next item listed was only recorded as “Spelling Books”. There were certainly more than one but there is no way to know how many of these the Dawson family actually owned. I would guess though that it may have meant he had several of these spelling books. This leads me to think that William Dawson may have acted as a schoolmaster of sorts in his community. This is just speculation on my part as he was never listed as such on any documents.

The last book is simply listed as an “Old Bible”.  Of William’s books this is the one I would certainly love to see as it may have contained notes about the early history of his family. It is impossible to know if this Bible was lucky enough to have survived the last few hundred years and even if it did, where it ultimately ended up. The fact that he had both this book and a new testament suggests this “Old Bible” was not for everyday use. In all likelihood it was something of significance to him and may have been passed down from his father Geoffrey.

Taken as a whole, William Dawson seems to have been a fairly progressive thinker. It also seems that he took his duties seriously as he kept books that corresponded to his roles as a Justice, Vestryman and perhaps that of a school teacher as well. I feel extremely fortunate that this document survived and that I had even this small window into what he may have thought and believed.

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Frances Rouse

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:

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The Dawson Household: Part 2

As mentioned in my last post there were also one or more bonded individuals living in the Dawson household.  This information comes from surviving court records transcribed in the book Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina: from the colonial period to about 1820, Volume 1, by Paul Heinegg. In his book the transcript recounts the bonding of three children of a woman named Margaret Berry (b. about 1735) between 1757 and 1758.

In January of 1757 Timothy Cleven had a claim rejected in the Cumberland County Court to have Margaret Berry’s three year old “mulatto” son Anthony bound to him. Instead, Anthony was bound to William Dawson, Esquire. The reason for this rejection was not stated but it could have been due to Timothy Cleven’s health as he is deceased by October of the same year.

Margaret Berry was in the Cumberland County court again in the January session of 1758. This time it was in regard to her two year old “orphan” son John Berry (born about 1756). It is unclear if her husband had died prior to her 1757 court appearance or between that date and this appearance in 1758. In either case her ability to support them seems to have come into question.

John Berry was supposed to be bound to Michael Blocker but this was rejected by the court and John was instead bound to William Dawson. This apparently arose from a complication with the bond of Anthony Berry who was born while Margaret was still a servant. It is not clear from the record if Anthony Berry was taken from the Dawson’s but if Anthony’s father had been a slave he would probably become that unnamed master’s property.

Later that year in the July court Margaret was before the justices again with her infant son named Thomas (born in 1757). Thomas was bound to Michael Blocker without further commentary. I should also note here that 1758 was also the year William Dawson Jr. was born so the Dawson’s may have been too busy to take on another child. As a Justice, William Dawson seems to have moved the court grant his requests and I do wonder why he seemed to force the issue of taking custody of two of these children.

After this there is no other mention of Margaret Berry and it is unknown what became of her afterwards. I also don’t know if all three of her children were illegitimate or not – or if perhaps only Anthony was. The name of her husband is not mentioned though there must have been one for John to have had an “orphan” status.

In either case she was apparently unable to care for them after the death of her husband. I can only guess it seems that she was likely pregnant with the last child at the time of his death. I do find her plight eerily similar to that of Frances Dawson’s although their outcomes are quite the opposite. Both women had three sons and were pregnant when their husbands died. Without friends, family and assets it could have been Frances there before the justices to see her children taken from her and bound into service. Life on the North Carolina frontier was not an easy one.

However, a difficult time was ahead for everyone living in the Cape Fear region. According to Harnett County historian Malcolm Fowler, a “black death swept the Cape Fear country and wiped out the river families by the dozen” before the end of 1761. If there were other Dawson children that didn’t live to adulthood this may have been the time when they were lost. In 1761 Frances had just become a mother again with the birth of her third son Jonathan.

During 1761 there were also two notable deaths I need to mention. The first was Michael Blocker who died in January of 1761 and what happened to Thomas Berry after that is unknown. The second is the death of tavern keeper and Cumberland County Justice – William Dawson, Esquire. He was recorded as deceased by the summer of 1761. It seems likely that both men may have succumbed to the disease that swept though the region at that time. Based on an estimated age William Dawson was about 32 years old when he died.

Frances survived though. By 1762 she appears to have remarried again and between 1765 and 1768 she and her new husband, Jefferson Williams, had packed up their household and moved to the Old Ninety-Six district of South Carolina. I mention this because there is an interesting note about a John Berry from that area.

At the time of the American Revolution there was a John Berry who served as a Lieutenant and later as a Captain in the Lower Ninety-Six District regiment. He served in the militia from 1776 to 1782. Jefferson Williams, Joseph Dawson and Jonathan Dawson were all militia captains and it would be interesting if this John Berry turns out to be the one bound to William Dawson back in 1758. I haven’t found much on this John Berry so far but I look for him from time to time. The romantic in me hopes it’s him.

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